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Friday, 16 September 2011

What's the Secret?

One of the criticisms I hear about living in a big city is that you don’t have that sense of community. You don’t get to know your neighbours and people don’t care about each other. In some ways this is true. When you live in close proximity to lots of other people you learn ways of keeping private. If you are living the aussie dream on the quarter acre block with a nicely placed house in the middle, you have a fair amount of privacy and are probably more willing to get to know your neighbours. When you live in a narrow house which potentially shares walls with two other houses, or in a unit block with many others you tend to keep to yourself a bit more.

When Arran and I lived in a unit in Cook St we definitely didn’t know the people living in the units directly beside us. We did meet a few of the long term residents which was nice, but this was because of an arranged block BBQ, not because we went out of our way to know the neighbours. When we lived in Glebe St, the Terrace house on one side had a continual rotation of uni students share renting. We wished we hadn’t met the couple living in the warehouse on the other side!

We have lived in our current house on Bridge Rd for 1.5 years and have not even sighted the neighbours! Sad? Maybe. But I don’t think we are unusual in the inner city. I walk around Glebe a lot. For exercise and for mental stability! I get to see a lot of Glebe residences. It’s typical for the houses in Glebe to try and keep very private. It’s rare to get a glimpse through a window or a peak into a backyard. Windows are obscured by frosted glass, curtains or blinds. Fences are high and solid. My take is that when you get home, and it’s generally a small home, whatever space that is yours, you want to keep sacred and private, particularly when right outside the door is noise, traffic and the chaos of living so close to the city. The front door of our Glebe St house was 1 metre from the cars parked on the street.  The front door was always shut and the blinds were always closed.

This is really why this blog is called “Secret Homes of Glebe”. Houses in Glebe are very private and secret. I want to write about the people who live behind the doors and walls of these houses and share a piece of their life with you.

So how do you get that sense of community when you are shutting out the world when you get home? How do you prevent feeling isolated in the big city? One of the things that Arran and I do a lot is go out for breakfast or a coffee at Glebe’s local café’s. Arran’s regular “check-in”s on Facebook probably makes our friend’s wonder if we ever eat at home!
Aiden and his mate Rob Shaw hanging out in a cafe in Manly!
This fits well with research from Dr Tony Grant, who is one of Australia’s Coaching Psychology and Positive Psychology's gurus. He was recently involved  with a show on ABC1 called Making Australia Happy which took a group of people in Marrickville, another suburb in Sydney's inner west and used positive psychology tools to try and improve their happiness. One tool in preventing feeling socially isolated and improve general happiness is communal eating. Our favourite cafes know who we are and create a welcoming and warm feeling whenever we arrive. They also provide a place for us to interact with other people. Its not unusual to strike up a conversation with people at the next table from us. Aiden looks so striking that most people can’t help but comment and want to talk to us about him!

There are lots of great cafes in Glebe; Badde Manors, Sonoma, Well Connected, Sapphos….
Cappuccino at Well Connected, Glebe Pt Rd
Our two favourites are Clipper and Astor Espresso, both on Glebe Point Rd.  We would go to each at least once a week. Clipper has big communal tables and they always know our coffee order and that Aiden needs toast with jam. Stat. Sometimes I will stop at Clipper on the way to work for a take-a-way coffee and on the occasions that I forget I have no money in my wallet (they are a cash only business), they just tell me to pay next time. When I attempt to pay next time they don’t let me! It’s not a big deal for them I guess. What would be the cost of a coffee? And what does it gain them in my loyalty and feeling a sense of community and belonging with this business?

Compare this to our recent trip to Deus Ex Machina at Camperdown. This is primarily a motorbike shop. They would have to have the sexiest, drop jaw drool worthy motorbikes around. Works of art really. They also have clothing, t-shirts and such featuring great design. And there is also a café with big timber communal tables. The whole business is housed in an industrial space and I just love sitting in there soaking up the art, bikes, bikes and art. The food is also great. It’s a shame however that they have missed the communal point of a café. You have to line up to place your order (hate that) and you get the obligatory number to take to your table (hate that) which somehow makes the wait staff want to take the number back off you as soon as possible. It’s a bit like restaurants that are desperate to establish whether you are having wine with dinner as soon as you sit down, and then whisk the wine glasses away if you waiver on your wine commitment. What’s that about? But that’s another blog post……

On our most recent trip there, it was taking ages for Arran’s coffee to arrive. He has a need for a second coffee at any establishment so things are not going well when the first one doesn’t turn up. Mine arrived, breakfast arrived but no coffee for Arran. We hailed one of the busy attendants and enquired about it. Took a while but eventually she came back, with a receipt of our order to prove that it was not originally ordered.  Who cares? Bring. The. Coffee. She then asked if Arran still wanted the coffee (YES) and was he prepared to pay for it (SPARE ME). When she brought it back she asked for the $4. I don’t begrudge a business needing to make money. Of course they need to make money. They made their money that Sunday. In encouraging people to be welcome, share their space and help create a community for people who live in the inner city in small private places, I think it was a big fail. They got their $4 but probably not our return business.

Its not all about cafes though. My hairdresser (and Arran's) Stevie English Hair always make us feel welcomed and valued. Apart from doing great hair, they have a groovy salon vibe, free wireless and iPad's to play with, a big espresso machine where they will make you any coffee you want, or if you aren't pregnant there is always wine and beer on offer. Stevie has created a culture in the salon which is friendly and fun. I think that most clients, including me, enjoy just being there. The salon also gives back to the community by having strict environment credentials and inviting their customers to bring their special "Stevie English Hair" keep cup and grab a coffee anytime. 


  1. Glebe has got to be one of the best places to live...such diversity.... we have lived here for 15 yrs and in spite of colourful goings on in and around the neighbourhood lol other than maybe Paris,just dreaming ! wouldnt mant to be anywhere else. Thanks for your lovely blogging...most enjoyable.!! Katerina.

  2. Thanks Katerina! Its great to hear from another Glebe resident. I'm always looking for people to tell their Glebe stories so let me know if you would be interested.