the obald – episode 10

A history of frothy coffee…

Ronnie covers his tracks in the office. Cooper enumerates the many steps taken towards armageddon. Mel reveals her deep anxiety about the other boyfriend. When Ronnie gets home, he realises someone has been in his flat…

The Italian coffee place in the indoor market. The one I’m thinking about is actually in Nottingham, but transferred in this chapter to the Arndale Centre in Luton, where it is much more convenient for Ronnie to reach in a lunch break. The problem with all indoor markets, of course, is the smell. Some places sensibly keep the fish and meat stalls separate from the rest, in a separate hall or building, but inevitably there’s an aroma that lingers. Still, it was exciting to get a cappuccino, even if it wasn’t at breakfast time.

Places like this are reminders of the days before coffee chains. These days, you could trip over as you leave a Starbucks and land face forward in a Costa, or a Nero, or another Starbucks. Back in the 80s, if you wanted a cappuccino, you had to find something like the little stall in the indoor market, or a corner café on a side street. Reaching back further into the dim and distant past, there was a place on High Street North in Dunstable called The Milk Bar. I have a faint memory of having a milk shake in there, must have been in the 60s, before it closed. Did the milk bar also offer a species of cappuccino? I think it must have done, because there was also a Milk Bar in Bute Street, Luton, where I would go with my older brother on the way to (or from?) football matches.

Meanwhile, in the pub, Cooper has news about Operation Able Archer, and informs Ronnie about the Korean 747 jet that the Soviets shot down in September 1983. Crashed submarines, downed Jumbos, four minute warnings… 1983 was da bomb. And amidst all this Cold War tension, Cruise missiles arrive on UK soil. Picture Ronnie, hearing this news: pint paused on its way to his mouth.

Then there’s talk of office revenge plots. So many of these seem to involve fish, which takes us back to the indoor market. The legend of the fish dangling outside a tax inspector’s window while he interviewed a tax defaulter made me laugh so much at the time that I almost gave myself a hernia. Fish in the workplace: always unacceptable. I wish more of my colleagues appreciated this.

Finally, Ronnie’s love life is melting his head. His newfound tenderness towards Mel is complicated when he arrives home to find a bean casserole in his oven. This scene was a little holdover from the original (lost) version of The Obald, written contemporaneously. I just thought of packaging all that cold war paranoia and giving it a twist. What if someone did break into your house, but instead of stealing your stuff, or planting bugs, or searching through your papers, they just left you a nice casserole?


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