Chapter 15: Lunch at the Bitch Cafe

Dog Heaven – Too Many James Bond Films – What Dogs Do on the Beach (other than that) – Tide Brutality – A Useful List of Cross-Breeds – What the N in RNLI Really Stands For – An Idea for Curing Arachnophobia (you’re welcome) – Two Guys & an Essex Port – Wall of Fame – Collies Getting Smaller – Food Order Getting Cold

paw print

We walk along the beach heading for a seaside cafe we’ve heard is dog-friendly. We keep Stanley on the lead, because there’s just too much going on, too much distraction. This whole resort seems to be some kind of dog heaven and we feel like we’re among our people. For some reason it makes me think of friends of ours who became obsessive triathletes. They bought a timeshare on an apartment in a training resort at Lanzarote. Which I have to say made me feel a little uneasy when they showed us pictures. Long lines of super-fit athletes, exercising in unison in the early morning sun. Scientists in white coats, smiling approvingly, taking measurements from a balcony, announcing the best times over the tannoy, calling people forward, travelling with them in electric buggies to the lab at the heart of the volcano. Guards up on gantries, a rocket, yadda yadda. You’ve seen the film. Anyway, plots to rule the world aside, timeshare can really tie you down.

There are dogs everywhere, leaping off the dunes, splashing through the shallows left by the retreating tide, careening round the windbreaks, surfing, kayaking and whatnot. Stan had a busy time running around out on the flats this morning, so he’s happy enough on the lead, and anyway, he seems to know we’re heading in the direction of food. We stride along the damp, compact sand of the strandline, along by heaps of broken shells and things, washed-up jellyfish drying out in the sun. A dead white crab waggling in the shallows, belly up. It’s like every time the tide goes out there’s a mass extinction event. But there’s such a stack of all these things I can only think there’s plenty more where that came from. The gulls and terns seem happy about the situation, piping and swooping exultingly overhead.

We hear the cafe before we see it. A great mass of noise, a Tower of Babel, except more like a Tower of Tables, with at least half a dozen hyperactive dogs per table.

Dogs, dogs, dogs. It’s the dress code at the Beach Cafe. You have to have one to eat. Don’t worry if you don’t, though. There’s a retired chihuahua behind the counter you can use, like an old tie in a fancy restaurant.

Dogs, dogs, dogs. Dogs of every variety. Sheep dogs, sausage dogs, GSPs, ESPs (bred to know where you’ve hidden the treats); surfer dogs; instadogs posing with an espresso and a French novel; border collies & collies from further inland; poodles, labradoodles, cockalabs, labacockercollies, cockatiels. There’s even a rare labarridor (a labrador born in the corridor). The cafe is right next door to the lifeboat station, which is a nice touch and makes it feel safer. I imagine when the klaxon sounds, six Newfoundlands throw down their forks and leap across the forecourt into an inflatable.

We approach the cafe with a thrill of anxiety. It may have been my imagination, but the great hubbub stops as we approach, thirty pairs of dark dog eyes snapping in our direction, thirty tongues doing an anticipatory smack of the muzzle as we head up the slope to see if there are any tables free. For a dog that sometimes has issues barking at other dogs, Stanley seems remarkably subdued. Maybe his usual responses have been overwhelmed. A bit like curing a fear of spiders by walking into a spider convention where everyone’s dressed as a spider and then shuffling into a little cinema draped in spiderweb to watch a film about spiders. Although having read that back to myself, I’m not so sure it’d work.

Amazingly there is a table free, way over to the left of the place, with a candy-striped awning and plenty of shade. The girls settle-in, Stanley slumps down under the table, and I go inside to place our order.

The queue takes an age to move. I can’t figure out if the two guys in front of me know each other or not. They’re dressed almost identically, in sandals, khaki shorts, polo shirts and baseball caps. The only difference is the colour of the shirts, and the fact whilst one guy is tall and drawn out, the other is a foot or so shorter and kind of squashed looking, with a belly so perfectly round you’d think he was carrying another guy in there, and so on, like a blokey matryoshka. The tall guy is talking at great length about Tilbury docks, the fabulous resources they have there, the tonnage, the history and so on. The short guy gives just enough in the way of Hmms and Okays and Reallys? to keep the whole thing going, but I can tell his heart’s not in it. He seems more interested in the cake display than a major international shipping facility just outside of London.

There’s a Wall of Fame just inside the cafe. You can email the cafe a picture of your dog and if it looks crazy enough they’ll pin it up (taking down the ones that are starting to look a bit dog-eared.) It’s an impressive collection – a hundred crazy hounds, blurry head shots of every dog that’s ever been slipped a corner of fried toast or the end of a sausage from the plate of the wonderful all-day breakfast.

Back outside, Kath is talking to the woman at the next table who has two little black and white dogs lying up against her legs like furry slippers.
‘They’re actually Bordoodles,’ the woman says. ‘Border Collies crossed with poodles. To make them smaller and more manageable.’
‘They’re gorgeous!’ says Kath.
‘And they know it!’ says the woman, leaning down to fuss them between the ears. ‘Don’t you? Hey? Don’t you?’
‘Number Thirty-Seven!’ shouts a guy holding two plates of food.

And I have to fight my way through a pack of wolves to get to it.

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