Looking at people; their behaviour, has always satisfied me to some or other extent. A rad meeting point for the ever popular human interest angle blended with my favourite past time of pseudo intellectual posturing.
The idea that people gather because of some profound shared sentiment isn’t true, well the thought that it has to be significant at least, we tend to give ourselves too much credit. Getting shafted and buzzed has always been good enough, and besides, looking for evidence of meaningful cohesion in a pub sounds a little deluded.
There is however something special about the Armchair, I’ve been here a while now. It isn’t in the actual experiences; the beer, the comedy, the music, this happens everywhere- I became curious about what it is that makes Obiouzly Armchair special. That tired bohemian tag, worn out through years of drug induced psychosis, seems to still have some potency here. To better orientate myself with the place I hassled two of the regulars, Mark Beaumont and Mike Stent.
First off let’s talk about the giant elephant shaped peyote in the room, when it comes to Observatory the assumption is incense asphyxiation, rudderless work a day flakes in receipt of liberalism’s scratchings and too much dagga. Nothing could be further from the truth, or the strange, for that matter. There’s a substance, an upper case tentative certainty– weird yes, but undeniably concrete. I had a sit down with these two men to get a better understanding of what it is that makes this place peculiar.
Mark Beaumont, who’s been frequenting the chair since it reopened some two and a half years ago, nailed it in one sentence. “There’s a decided lack of bullshit artistry here”, he smiled wryly as he peered at me over his glasses. I looked around and saw the abense of face paint and pointy shoes and realized what he meant. It wasn’t what he meant.
Beaumont went on to unpack the reasoning behind his point, he spoke about Mike and Faith Webber-Harris, the owners, and the potency of their hands-on approach to the chair. They’re there every day, they drink with and serve their customers and they’re intentional about creating and sustaining their specific vision for the place. He spoke about how their constant touch effected in a covert texture that many places miss out, intimate ownership.
Armchair has a legacy too profound and long, especially for a piece concerned about the present. Plus there are far more adequate pens for that discussion; my historiography would be second hand, a pointless hindrance for a generation that was actually there.
What is Armchair today? What makes it what it is? What draws the people who frequent it? There is no opinion which would hold more sway than Mike Stent’s. A retired newspaper man, who’s also been coming here since it reopened. Stent started his career at the Rand Daily Mail with one of my heroes; Allister Sparks, in 1976. He’s been working in newspapers since; The Observer, The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, Drum magazine and he also spent a week at the Sun. If anyone would give me some perspective on the place it would be him.
He was sitting at the bar, leaning into a novel. A journal, a pack of cigarettes, a folded newspaper and a glass of red wine lay nestled around him. I spend a moment looking at him, chaos unfolding around this near motionless epicentre, well an epicentre that leans slightly to the left.
He graciously accepted my interruption and tuaght me a valuable lesson in appearance versus reality. The clothes does not maketh the man, (read a bit scruffy) we bounce from idea to idea and I’m instantly transported into a potent sea of opinions. From socialism to the progression of the newspaper industry. We spoke about his upcoming column, which is still to be named but has him traveling the width and length of South Africa for 28 weeks. “It won’t be a travel fluff piece”, he snorts, “I’ll be exploring the ideas that I encounter in these places”. He’s going to create a mosaic of columns, that when completed, will be compiled and published as a memoir of sorts. They will appear in the Cape Times.
A beauteous thing to encounter, this restless adventurous spirit in a man that has earned the right to park off. He’s not gun ho about it either, when probed he admitted to being “scared shitless”. I don’t believe him though, he doesn’t come across as someone who scares too easily.
As we’re shooting the breeze I realize I still haven’t asked him much about why he comes to the Armchair or what he thinks makes it a unique place. I realize the question has become irrelevant, because I was talking to the answer.
People like Stent are what makes the Armchair an amazing place. This retired newspaper man who’s leaving for a 28 week writing adventure across our amazing country. It struck me squarely between the eyes; it made sense, the spirit of Obviouzly Armchair.
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