Ask any bear.
January is all about finding a place in which to hole up until the weather is warm enough to hang the toilet roll on a twig outside. It’s all about slipping into a near-vegetative state to allow your body to feast unsupervised on your booze-bloated BMI, to gorge on all the wobbly bits fashioned from ham scraps and Quality Street.
Now some of you might argue that January is also about resolution — the resolution to think about using the sportswear that you bought in the sale. What better place to think about self-improvement than a café? What better way to commence self-improvement than by beating your personal best for the number of marshmallows you can float on top of your hot chocolate?
NOT BAd can announce that we now have two favourite haunts in Berwick where we can contemplate hypothetical tendon injury versus doing nothing in comfort, and these are The Corner House and Thistle Do Nicely. Like non-identical twins, they’re… not the same.
The Corner House on Church Street, you see, meets our need to feel cultured. You know how we feel about intellectual snobbery here at NOT BAd HQ — we adore it. The Corner House has stripped wooden floors, an open fire, shelves groaning with old books, scrubbed pine tables, battered Chesterfields, and artwork on the walls. You feel your IQ going up ten points just by stepping over the threshold.
You let your eyes linger with love over a cold cabinet devoid of Coke, Fanta, IrnBru or Dr Pepper — those toxic brews of sugar and carcinogens proven to make kids fat, breathe through their mouths and amount to nothing in life. There is a fine selection of coffees and herbal tea — proper herbal tea, not the stuff tasting how you imagine Air Wick to taste — and soup, home-baking, and panini the size of your head. You don’t know whether to eat one or book a two-week cruise on it.
Jazz plays in the background, a piano teases from the corner, and you’re lulled into a blissful sense that anything is possible — that you could start your own art or literary set, the Berwick-upon-Tweed branch of the Bloomsbury Group, with you installed at the head as a smaller-nosed, less suicidal Virginia Woolf.
On Friday nights The Corner House plays host to local musicians and, if you’re lucky, the upstairs neighbour bangs on the floor to keep time for them, which is really rather sweet of him.
For charm and great ambience, The Corner House can’t be beaten, but sometimes… well, sometimes you don’t want atmosphere, do you? You don’t want to have to adopt a Wildean air just to order a cake with two-forks-please. You want simply to sit in the corner picking apart a fruit scone, avoiding eye contact with fellow patrons like an immigrant waiting to be deported.
Ladies and gentlemen, we gift you the experience of Thistle Do Nicely on Walkergate.
“Yes,” you’re crying. “But Thistle Do… well, it’s been there years!”
Indeed, but we plough a shallow furrow at NOT BAd. Did you honestly expect us to darken the door of an establishment with such a nonsensical pun as its name?
Thistle Do/this’ll do — that’s not word play, that’s word kidnap and torture. Pun abuse. If there were a helpline, we’d be on it in a flash, reporting the proprietor for indulging in deviant homophonic acts in public. It’s not even a proper pun, for heaven’s sake; it’s a half-pun — a sad, desperate, wounded thing begging to be put down.
So, no. NOT BAd has refrained from crossing said proprietor’s palm with £4.95 for a jacket potato as punishment. (Note the correct application of word play, working as it does on two levels, not going off half-arsed just because it sounds a bit like something else.)
Until now, that is. Until, specifically, we were in the company of a 74-year-old who likes her vinyl tablecloth with a splash of anaglypta, her waitress with a broad beam and a cheery manner.
And whatever the owner lacked in aptitude for idiomatic construction, they more than made up for by providing hot, tasty food at great value. Yes, the menu was simple, the décor bland, but the café was clean and the food fresh. When the basics are done well all is surely right with the world.
So there you go. Thistle Do Nicely actually did what it tried and so spectacularly failed to express via the medium of paronomasia — it did do very nicely indeed. Go along on the days when your Brecht is rusty, your hair is lank, and you have a spot the size of Ireland coming up on your chin. Sit down, order a hot chocolate and a Malteser slice, and just think about ways of self-improvement until spring arrives. There’s always that personal best, remember.