Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Cappuccino Kid

The Capuchin monks have to take the credit, if credit is indeed due. There is no real historical basis for saying that the order, or one of its members, first mixed a particular type of coffee. It wouldn't, in any event, have been possible for a monk to have done so, back in the seventeenth century. The espresso machine wasn't around then. The religious origins of cappuccino are probably an urban, suburban even myth.

In the sixties, sixties Britain that is, vogue cuisine and beverages, and their pretentious naffness, were no better summed up, scoffed and imbibed than by Black Forest gateau and Blue Nun. They were the de rigueur selections of an upwardly-mobile, former working-class, flirting with the new fad of a restaurant meal. A trip to the steak house above a barn of a car showroom was my introduction to the sophistication of dining out. It really was a case of prawn cocktail, steak and chips and gateau. The permission of a small glass of Blue Nun should have been enough to have put me off alcohol for life. Oddly enough, it didn't.

There was another beverage. Coffee. The cappuccino, though, didn't inveigle itself into the drinking consciousness of the nouveau-estate dwellers so much as it did into the mouths of the regulars at the coffee bars. Coffee, and cappuccino especially, was the added caffeine rush to the amphetamine-fuelled energy of the Mods. Cappuccino rode a Vespa, its engine noise the clack that put the clack into Clacton.

The Saturday afternoon coffee at the coffee bar in the Army & Navy store. The Campari Boy, who looked much older than his sixteen years and who had developed the taste of a bitters with soda, was also the cappuccino king (or, more appropriately, queen) and spooned froth from his cup as he quoted from "A Clockwork Orange". He, we, would sometimes head off to Woking for the early-evening, so-called 3-D cinematic experience and then to a dingy club that blew our minds by being the place that first introduced us to Stevie Wonder's "Superstition".

And in Woking, a few years later, there was a face who was to become the unknowing leader of a south-west Surrey scene which, finally more constructive than engaging in the mindless vandalism of dreary suburbia, now less inclined to squaddie-baiting in Camberley or, if you really didn't value your life, Aldershot across the border into Hampshire, spawned Graham Parker, The Members and The Jam.

Paul Weller. The Cappuccino Kid. Cappuccino didn't come from monks, it wasn't from the Alex-minded queerism of Campari Boy, one that finally burst out with unashamed androgyny once Bowie had stardusted his own version of "A Clockwork Orange"; it flowed from an estate in Woking, the home of the homilist for the Mods. Cappuccino rode a Vespa.

Somewhere along the way, cappuccino acquired a chic, one removed from the insouciant coolness of an ace face in a mohair suit. Weller himself delved into the pretensions of the cappuccino life. The first outing of the Cappuccino Kid with The Style Council was unintentionally reflective of a wine-bar Thatcherism and was swiftly eschewed in favour of Red Wedge and the acerbic anger that had characterised The Jam. The onward march of cappuccino-ism, however, led to the faux-sophistication of Starbucks and Costa. And has led to the Café Cappuccino.

Puerto Pollensa now boasts a Cappuccino. Four euros, fifty. That's all it costs for a cappuccino at Cappuccino. That's the price for chic nowadays. There are few more appropriate symbols of how Mallorca has changed. What was a coffee-bar phenomenon of a new consumerist age of the 60s and 70s, a time of the first tourists descending en masse in Mallorca in search of cheap beer and spirits rather than a coffee, has now become a motif for the island's coffee-table presentation and presumptions.

Just as the Mods adopted the espresso machine as an accessory to the suits and the Fred Perrys in cultivating an image, so cappuccino is now an accessory for the image-conscious tourist or resident; oh to be seen at a Cappuccino, even if it costs four, fifty for the privilege. And the image extends into its own musical symbolism. Cappuccino has its discs of "cool", a bossa nova style mixed with understated jazz. Stan Getz for the neo-Mods of Mallorca who have been shown the alternative to the greasy spoon and the Grease tribute shows of a rival, greaser fraternity.

I can't think of cappuccino without thinking of Campari Boy and the Cappuccino Kid. Of a bitters and soda and the bitter attacks on the drudgery of suburban life. It should now taste different somehow, a cappuccino drunk under a bright sky, the froth a smooth Mallorcan antidote to both British and coffee bitterness. The music should seem altogether more relaxing. But then Weller's words, when he was winding up The Jam, have the potential to well up and catch in the throat. "The bitterest pill is hard to swallow." Which is not to decry nor to criticise; cappuccino chic is the new vogue. Just to remember the days when cappuccino rode a Vespa.

* Café Cappuccino is at Sis Pins hotel in Puerto Pollensa.

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