ICE-BREAKER: Coffee and conversation go hand in hand in the Clarence whether you like it or not.
ICE-BREAKER: Coffee and conversation go hand in hand in the Clarence whether you like it or not. jacoblund

Casual conversation way of life in the Clarence

IT'S now a few weeks into this column, (and by extension, your correspondent's new life in the Clarence Valley).

Things are starting to feel less foreign and more familiar.

When it comes to people, familiarity often grows with small variations on repeated conversations, where you slowly lose the formality and start to reveal a less guarded version of yourself.

The best example is the morning coffee stop on the run in to work.

In fairness to all the epic caffeine slingers in the Clarence Valley, I won't name the shop, the location, or the bloke I'm about to describe my burgeoning barista/customer friendship with.

To set the scene: this establishment is a little out of the way, but still has a bit of a morning-rush buzz about it. Old mate (we'll call him Max, not his real name) and wife refurbed the joint a few years back.

There's an air of quiet industry and a touch of weariness that's explained by the presence of a toddler. The joint ticks over, there's rarely a queue as such but a consistent procession of customers.

The first week or so of our relationship was a fairly awkward affair.

I'd stand stiffly aside the counter as Max went about his work with the gleaming coffee machine.

Apart from a polite howyagoing, exchanges were mostly centred around the contents of the display fridge.

As a newcomer, I found myself holding back from engaging: you don't want to be overly chummy with people you barely know, especially someone who has a hundred regular customers walk through the door every day.

Names were exchanged about three weeks in, a few common interests uncovered, and gradually the nature of the conversations (accompanied by the clunk and hiss of the coffee machine) became less guarded.

And any silence didn't feel like dead air needing to be filled with some inane observation about the weather.

It's a unique feature of Clarence Valley life. As opposed to other, more urban centres, there's actually space and time around these moments that allow connections to form naturally.

Anyway, on my way into work this morning I was a little out of sorts for no good reason, and commented to Max, as he handed my coffee over, that the caffeine would ease me out of my melancholy.

"Melancholy eh,” he mused as I made my way to the door, "I remember hearing that word for the first time as a kid - I thought melancholy was a vegetable.” And with that goofy, daggy, parting comment, another degree of separation fell away, and the need to be guarded evaporated into the air like steam from a coffee machine.

  • Get your copy of 52 Discoveries in Our Big Backyard. This fun little book is free and available at information centres, cafes, holiday parks and other places humans tend to gather. Call 66430800 and council can send one out to you.

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