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IN WHAT’S a journey of self-discovery, via owning and running a coffee shop on St Leonards station in East Sussex, Joanna Murray interacts with a whole variety of great and evocatively named characters, from Stig the station manager to The Pirate, the Ice Queen, Dot Cotton and Station Man.
And there’s Harriet Harpie, whose rudeness finally gets her banned, leading to the memorable outburst: “That bitch wouldn’t serve me because I wouldn’t say please.”
There are amusing recurrent themes, such as people asking for the toilet but being told that there isn’t one on the station or in the coffee shop — not that this stops them repeatedly asking the same question.
Murray’s coffee shop experience is also a journey of discovery, with her daily work punctuated by reminiscences of her own life, her various relationships and a refusal to commit amid something of a rolling-stone existence — until the stone comes to a halt at the coffee shop.
With its short, sharp witty chapters on each character or episode, each punctuated by the station announcer’s relay of the stations on the lines along the coast and up and down to Charing Cross, an engaging rhythm develops.
Most sections end with an amusing snatch of dialogue focusing on coffee orders, along with a couple of lines of history on each of the places where trains stop.
This is a really enjoyable read, opening up the lives of commuters who at first glance could seem one-dimensional. But it also touches on so many aspects of everyone’s life journey, told through the perceptive Murray’s perceptive eyes.
One hanging question of course, in these pandemic times, is how the coffee shop has been faring over the past year — maybe that is why she had the time to write the book in the first place.
Published by Firle Press, £8.99.
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