Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

What do you get if you open a coffee shop in Nappy Valley? Customers who wear nappies, of course. Most of the new businesses opening up in the smarter bits of SW11 and SW18 seem to be baby-oriented these days: two new maternity-wear shops, two new childrenswear shops, a children's shoe shop - all catering for the affluent parents of the under-fives. Grab those profits while you can, I say, before Mr and Mrs Nappy-Valley start divorcing or paying school fees, at which point it's straight down to Primark or T K Maxx like the rest of us.

The pre-school denizens of Nappy Valley don't tend to impact on my household much. We've been there, done that, got the Petit Bateau T-shirt and emerged reasonably unscathed with two teenagers. But in one particular venue, a culture clash is developing between the new mummies and the not-so-new children. And that place is Starbucks.

Now, as an Independent reader, you may regard Starbucks as a prime example of globalised non-culturally specific marketing which sells rather expensive coffee. In which case, you'll be delighted to hear, the Northcote Road branch bucks the trend (though it still has the rather expensive coffee).

Most Starbucks I have ever been in, either in the UK or in the States, are places of quiet reflection, with a clientele of laptop users, newspaper readers and office workers grabbing an expresso on their way to work. There's usually some discreet jazz plinky-plonking away in the background, punctuated by the hiss of the coffee machine and perhaps a murmur of conversation as colleagues catch up on a bit of gossip.

The Northcote Road branch of Starbucks, however, seems to have become a no-go zone for anyone without a baby buggy. And for my children and their friends, who think the height of sophistication is to pay through the nose for a latte after school, this is becoming a source of irritation.

I don't go in our local Starbucks much. Because these are not normal mummies with normal pushchairs. These are rich, assertive mummies, who have big, expensive pushchairs and shriek into cellphones as they mobilise their mates. These are the Panzer divisions of the perambulator world. I'm amazed Ken Livingstone hasn't issued them with a congestion charge.

The typical tactic goes like this. You find (hurray) a table. You sit down with coffee and newspaper. You get five seconds of peace before Mrs Panzer-Reconnaissance arrives. She gazes imperiously around her, sizing up the possibilities, before pouncing on a table. She then pounces on the table next to it, if it's free, then starts rounding up the chairs. By this time Mrs Panzer-Two will be manoeuvring her enormous stroller into place with the same lack of consideration she showed to other road users while she was parking her Chelsea tractor round the corner. Before you know where you are, there are eight of the buggers screeching at each other while you have the handlebars of six buggies under your chin.

Fellow adults are completely ignored, so it's not surprising mere teenagers are treated with scorn. My daughter and her friend were waiting to be served the other day at the counter when a Panzer mummy appeared with a tank-size pushchair and told them to get out of the way because she was trying to join the queue.

Having been at home with a young baby myself, I know how nice it is to get out and meet friends. But secretly, my sympathies are with the kids. There are precious few places for teenagers to hang out these days And it is one of the adolescent rites of passage to spend your time sitting over a frothy coffee with your mates.

When I was at school, the coffee bar of choice was Giacomo's, where we'd sit for hours over one cup each, guzzling the sugar lumps to keep us going while we put off doing our homework and fantasised about the future. It must have been a beneficial way of spending our time - my friend Dave is now a professor, for heaven's sake. Dreams can be woven in the steam from a cappucino. But you can't dream if you're being hacked on the ankle by a Panzer pram.

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