Rendezvous Cafe, Whitley Bay
I have a lot of pictures waiting on my phone. Tables, chairs, eggs, chips. Photos of where bits of laminate meet, shop fronts, condiment baskets. Lots of future dispatches lined up to be written up and sent out, and I keep telling myself NO MORE CAFES until I have released a few of them(no pudding until you’ve finished your main course!), but I can never help myself, and just a little one from yesterday is skipping the queue as it felt more special than I had expected and I am keen to not lose my thoughts.
The Rendezvous Café is an deco building that sits on a promenade overlooking the sea in Whitley Bay, the town I grew up in. The building was initially opened in 1930s, as The Garden Restaurant, and became the Rendezvous as we know it in 1957. It’s a beautiful building with large arched panoramic windows overlooking the sea and hand-painted lettering on the exterior; particularly known for its big vertical “ICES” down the sides of the building in thick black and red capital letters. The café is majestic, an important part of Whitley Bay’s heritage, and on a more personal level, the site of My First Job. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when my friend Claire told me there were some shifts going where she worked at The Rendezvous Café, I think it was during sixth form, someone was away and I was to cover their shifts in the meantime. My time there was short, and as such I can’t remember many of the finer details, but my job was to clear, spray and wipe the Formica tables, load the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, and repeat. There is a lot of tables at the Rendezvous Café, and it is a very popular place to go, for good reason(!) so the job itself was fairly repetitive. The café is family owned, and I particularly enjoyed the presence of the elderly members of the family, I want to say grandparents but I can’t accurately remember their names, which is shameful as I remember them being truly lovely, but my time there was short and this was over 10 years ago. At some point during the shift, the older woman relative would bring us lunch on a cafeteria tray, of a sandwich, and I think some forms of snacks and drinks, and we would get to sit and eat them. I wish I could remember this in crisper detail, I can remember there being tuna, I maybe remember bananas? and I can remember feeling looked after. the rest is incredibly blurry. I can remember the smell of the dishwasher, and I can remember having really bad period pains one day. The older gentleman sat at the same seat (in the row closest to the counter, next to the wall) and read his paper during the day, I enjoyed their presence. My time there was short but I feel proud and grateful to have worked in such an iconic place.
In my life I’ve been feeling a difficulty recently in prising apart the stickiness between moments of labour and moments of rest. I feel this especially as someone as an interest-based practice which often means a slanted life-work balance with the presence of a significant weight of guilt if neglected. I needed a day where I could just have a day to potter about, walk a lot, stick my face out in the sun, look in charity shops; so I got a metro ticket and went to Whitley Bay. I’ve also been feeling a little bit restless, as I often do, and disconnected from what it is to be from somewhere, as my parents no longer live in Whitley Bay and I barely visit anymore. I wasn’t born in Whitley Bay, I was born in North Shields, and sometimes I feel the connectedness I have with it as a place is fading as it changes sometimes unrecognisably. The Whitley Bay that exists now is one of regeneration, as opposed to the Whitley Bay I grew up in, in the 2000s and early 2010s, Credit Crunch Whitley Bay, a place of many closed shops. Someone once told me that they hired a clown in the Town Centre of Whitley Bay during the recession to raise morale as there were so many closed-down shops, but I think that may have just been a really good rumour. There’s a street full of nice shops now which also is home to an estate agents-that-is-also-a-wine bar, which I think is a terrible thing. There is now also an independent book shop, a record shop and a cinema, these are great things. I don’t feel as if I would ever be able to afford to move back to Whitley Bay, and perhaps that is where the slight sense of alienation comes from for me, but it’s nice to see the buildings being used. The Spanish City dome is now renovated and full of restaurants, as opposed to sitting empty and rotting as it did for the majority of my childhood. (Though I definitely would have turned the dome into a cinema or museum space, or a free to use community space, but I enjoy going in for a posh wee.)
I feel this is coming out as a lot of kvetching, and I’m not often one to kvetch too much, I wonder if that is an affectionate part of the parcel of talking about where you come from, and the complicated and alienating feelings that can arise from it.
I walked with a lot less purpose and a stronger sense of leisure than I would usually, with this day being rigidly defined as a leisurely day off. I looked around all of the charity shops, not finding much, apart from in one charity shop there was what I can only assume was someone’s collection of miniature ceramic houses, the best of which were 50p each, the rest were about two pounds and a lot less clumsy and handmade looking. I left triumphantly carrying five heavy little clay houses in my hand, only putting them in my bag much later because I couldn’t bear to stop looking at them. I stopped at a florist to buy some Mimosa flowers, as I’ve wanted some for ages. They smell a lot like cat wee, is this what following every aspirational whim smells like?
After the charity shops, I walked along to the Rendezvous, up by the grassy part near the street, The Links, as opposed to on the beach because I wanted to go and look at Beacon House, a beautiful 1959 modernist tower block by Ryder and Yates just across the road from the bit of the promenade where The Rendezvous is. Beacon house is a fairly short tower block, one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. I’ve seen it loads through it just being there, but similarly have never purposefully gone to look at it. The tiles looked so clean and shiny in the sun. It looked so majestic that I could have been sick. With this and the Rendezvous Café in such close quarters I felt close to understanding why I love the things I do so much.
When I got to the Rendezvous it was about 4pm and it felt quiet and calm. I asked at the counter if it was too late for a banana split, they said “of course not!” So I ordered a banana split and a little coffee and then chose the best seat for the optimum proportions of café watching and sea view. I sat for a bit and looked around, the elderly members of the Rendezvous family were no longer there, with various customers sat in the seat where the elderly man would sit. The amazing plastic icecream sundae signs are still there, with sundae names such as Peach Melba, Parfait Fruit Special, Gelato Fantasia, each a band name waiting to happen. My banana split and little coffee arrived on a cafeteria tray, which sat on the formica tables, which are a sort of marbled top with a red trim. I ate the banana split very quickly, there aren’t any other places in The North East that do a banana split these days, and I knew that they sell them here and I had been saving it. This was quite an austere rendition of a banana split, with no cherries or sprinkles or frivolous cocktail ephemera. The two halves of the banana lay flat side down a bit like someone pretending to drown in a swimming pool. There were two big rectangular wafers in the middle and two swirls of mr-whippy style icecream on either side of the wafers and this all sat in a space-age metal banana split dish, with monkey’s blood of a deep sophisticated pink (as opposed to the neon pink monkeys blood I have encountered on gaudier sundaes elsewhere) swirled on top. This came with a comically long spoon to eat it with. I stirred two sugars into my little coffee and It was all really really good. I always take my headphones out whilst sat in cafes, as I never want to miss any sound that might happen around me. I felt a restored sense of connection to my hometown, on my own terms, through my own interests, in a way that made total sense. I took the cat-piss flowers home and thought about the banana split for the entire metro journey back.