Years ago, Cat used to work in a department store. In a comparison to the fictional Grace Brothers of ‘Are You Being Served’ fame, she was not the perky sales assistant Miss Brahms, played with cockney aplomb by the late Wendy Richard.
Nor was she the blousy Mrs Slocombe, nor even ‘young’ Mr Grace’s buxom nurse. If there had been such a character in AYBS, Cat would have been the printer, sitting in a shack on the roof with a hypochondriac hippy and a leathery lothario producing price tags – ‘Big girls’ blouse £16.99’. Good times.
Of course, this was on the mainland – they do things bigger over there. At a more human scale is Newport’s smallest department store, Beavis in Upper St James Street. A vertical chamber, on the ground floor of which can be found all manner of unusual trinkets, from ceramic unicorns to lenticular bookmarks. The centrepiece of the first floor is Chapel Coffee Lounge, an intimate mezzanine where one can have a light meal or tea and cake.
Ascending the central staircase, Matt and Cat followed their ears and noses to the sounds and smells of coffee being served in cups with saucers. Hungry after a long drive from their holiday home in St Lawrence (more of which some other time), M and C shook off their coats and settled in for lunch. The menu offered mostly sandwiches, baked potatoes and ciabattas with a handful of items on the specials board, including two types of soup – celery, and broccoli and Stilton. Matt, always keen to have the most substantial dish available, pinned his hopes on sweet and sour chicken with rice. Cat chose cheese and onion quiche with salad. Both had a cup of tea.
On returning to the table having placed their order, Cat noticed that Matt’s vast hand was buzzing and whirring as he moved it around the tablecloth. What was he doing? On closer inspection the mystery was solved. Matt was using a tiny battery-powered plastic sheep to suck up the table’s crumbs. If only it had been a cow; a cow Hoover or ‘moover’, if you will*. Each table had one of these little suckers on it – an excellent gimmicky way to encourage patrons to clear their own tables. Plus, in an inspired bit of marketing, the animal vacuums were for sale. What’s not to love!
The coffee lounge was moderately busy; M and C’s unscientific assessment of their fellow diners seemed to suggest that venue was popular amongst old ladies with meagre appetites. Matt was the anomaly.
Thinking they’d had all of the fun that could be had out of the ewe-bank, Matt and Cat turned their attention to their lunches which were delivered with a cheery smile by the cook. Cat’s quiche was fantastically fluffy; nice and cheesy with some finely chopped onion to add a bit of texture and a slightly sweet tang. The salad was a good mix of the standard – iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes – plus exotic kiwi fruit. It was a lovely little meal and Cat ate the lot.
Matthew’s portion of sweet and sour chicken was smaller than he’d hoped but, to be honest, that is nearly always the case. In a Proustian moment he declared it to taste like something that he’d made in home economics class nearly 35 years ago – simple and undemanding.
The tea was served without milk, in cups with saucers. Fresh milk came alongside in the world’s tiniest milk jugs. It was surely impossible to fill them from a standard container of milk and Cat speculated on a decreasingly-sized jug scenario where milk was poured from a large jug into a slightly smaller one, then a smaller one again until the final tiny jug was filled. Drinking their tea and chomping down on their complimentary chocolates, M and C took turns to vacuum the most imperceptible of crumbs. The Chapel Coffee Lounge had provided the duo with a pleasant lunch, a flashback to the past and the chance to manipulate an electronic ovine. In the words of Mr Grace “You’ve all done very well!”.
*Note: researching for this review, Cat discovered that the animal vacuums are called ‘Crumb-pets‘!