Sitting here in my usual place in Starbucks, I can indulge in my favourite pastime of people watching and eavesdropping. Nobody takes any notice of me, except the odd small child or pet dog, but nobody bothers about them and their gawping, either, so I’m left in peace here in my little corner.
You see all sorts in here, and I pick up all kinds of gossip. Sadly, there isn’t anyone left for me to pass it on to, but I still enjoy a good juicy scandal even if I’m obliged to stay mum. Oh, those were the days, when I could gather tales from what I overheard and invent what I didn’t, and what a success I had with them! Into the lion’s mouth they went, page after page, for Mr Addison. He loved all my tittle-tattle. Still, that’s my eternal punishment: the frustration of daily scoops and no publisher.
I sit here most days, all eyes and ears. The place has changed, of course, over the years,. It isn’t even the same building any more, but luckily they rebuilt it with my corner still intact. It used to be all oak wainscoting with long benches and settles, and the stuff people scattered over the tables beggared belief! Pamphlets, letters, poems, drawings, lampoons, newspapers! It smelt different, of course, too. What men smoked at that time was powerfully aromatic, and the coffee wasn’t this wishy-washy milky stuff they serve nowadays. it was good pungent Turkish sludge that inspired men to eloquence and rhetoric. You don’t get that rich human fragrance of honest sweat any more in here, either.
Not that it was all honest, I must confess. That’s one reason I’m here. I didn’t realise he was a highwayman, the fellow I overheard and told on. My last good story, that was. But he came rushing in when he discovered he was betrayed, crying, “Your ears may go on flapping but I’ll stop your tongue from clapping!” and shoved his sword down my throat. Pinned me to my chair, and that was the final curse that has kept me here ever since. Damned to hear everything, and unable to pass on anything.
They cleaned the mess up, of course, but I stayed on in this corner. I keep it chilly just here so it isn’t a popular seat. A few times, someone has tried to sit on me, but the sword makes it uncomfortable so they soon move. Oh, it was all very different, very different, and so much more exciting then. As I said, this is a new building and not at all the same sort of clientele today. You wouldn’t have found women here in the old days, though some of the nocturnal sisterhood tried to sneak in occasionally.
Miserable lot, though, many of them nowadays. They sit here in their squashy sofas and armchairs with their earplugs, tablets, laptops and so forth, tweeting, texting and twittering, and you never hear a proper discussion or debate. No intelligent conversation going on at all.
Mind you, I welcome wifi. You probably know we aren’t supposed to intervene in the material world, though I soon got the hang of lowering the temperature around me, and causing draughts to blow papers around or make candles go out. I can vary the electricity supply, too, if I concentrate.
But wifi is a real boon: Oh, I have great fun playing with their gadgets! I can change their messages without their noticing, and they think it’s that predictive text thing. Or switch recipients for their e-mails – that can cause havoc! Phone hacking – that’s my invention, actually, and look what a pickle that has got people into! They never suspect me, even though I’ve taken selfies on their phones sometimes. I don’t come out very clear, unfortunately, so when they see my full wig they tend to think I’m some hippy they’ve snapped by mistake.
I can tell from your face you think I shouldn’t do that, you disapprove of my little bit of mischief making. There’s much worse I could be doing, I assure you. It gets rather dull, sitting here century after century, and you begrudge me my few moments of playfulness?
Anyway, what am I doing, talking to you? You aren’t supposed to see me. I’m invisible. Inaudible. It’s unnerving, the way you keep responding to me, unnatural. You really can see and hear me, can’t you?
What’s that, you have a ghost-buster app? Is nothing sacred? Three hundred years I’ve been sitting here, since this was Buttons Coffee House! Playing by the rules of my curse! And never been rumbled! Egad, this is my corner, Mr Jinx’s Corner, that’s what it’s always been called. They may have guessed I was here, indeed, but now you come along and spoil my sport!
Ah, but wait – no! No, I take that back.
Did I get that right, you can actually hear and understand everything I say?
And you are a gutter-press journalist?
Oh, what a delight! Your servant, sir, electronics be praised!
Have I got some stories for you!
When the idea for this tale first struck me, I was unaware that a Starbucks had actually been established on the site of Buttons, one of London’s famous coffee houses: so it came as a surprise to read this article confirming that my fancy was fact. However, whether Mr Jinx is fact or fancy, I have no way of verifying.