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Back Buzz - July 20, 2005

pumping heart FOB, 18-20 Church Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Recently, as we were walking down West Street to another coffee shop closer to the Sheffield Cathedral, my partner and I passed by FOB and decided to give it a try. Located on the site of the former Coffee Revolution, FOB looks like your typical roomy hi-tech minimalist espresso cafe. My first impression was that there was nothing to define FOB, nothing to distinguish it from any other hi-tech minimalist espresso cafe.

But impressions started forming as soon as we were served our double macchiatos in marbled brown cups which resembled swirled coffee. Topping our drinks were very sharp, distinctive rosettas in the form of richly dark brown rings circling virginally white spheres of milk foam. They were stunningly attractive, and I was immediately impressed by the barista's appreciation of and dedication to the art of the espresso rosetta. Perhaps this is what distinguishes FOB. And the fact that biscuits were served with our drinks, along with packets of Fair Trade sugar, demonstrated an appreciation of style.

In the interest of further investigation we decided to risk mussing up our rosettas and proceeded to drink our macchiatos. The coffee is quite smooth but deep, bringing to mind a young man with a clean shave and clean stylish looks which conceal his wisdom. What a surprise! And the ring rosetta, which tasted nicely dark and rich like Java, lasted to the bottom of the cup as well.

As I sipped I noticed the cups match the chairs and the wood floor and contrast well with the orange and tan walls. There is a living-room setting in the centre of the cafe, with big sofas nestled around a round coffee table. There is a newspaper rack on a central pillar, and behind the counter on the wall is a shelf of liquors and liqueurs, presumably for after-dinner and before-nightlife spiked coffees. Decorating the walls are large modern canvases with big squares of colour which remind me of my childhood visits to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, when I would scamper amidst all the massive Pop art paintings on the 5th floor.

As we took in our surroundings we pondered the name FOB. We instantly decided it didn't refer to a pocket watch chain, or a vest pocket, or a tab on a key ring, and it definitely wouldn't refer to giving something inferior to somebody. It also doesn't make sense that it could be an abbreviation for "Free On Board" because, after all, nothing is free in life, especially espresso in a city centre cafe -- further evidenced by the somewhat dear sandwiches on sale. So what does FOB stand for? The name definitely suggests an acronym. "Full of Beans"? Our server told us that was a popular rumour; but the manager claimed that the South African owners named the cafe after a South African boys' school. Unfortunately as I researched the Internet I couldn't find any clues as to this boy's school, so I just have to accept for now that the cafe is called FOB and that's that. Whether you call it "Fob" or "Eff-Oh-Bee" is completely up to you. You can even leave out the "o" if you want to practice your labial phones; after all, a voiced bilabial plosive followed immediately by a voiceless labiodental fricative is excellent exercise for the lips. You can even sing the name, if you like, in F Major or B Minor.. Or just whistle a tune if you prefer.

But whatever you decide to do, do try FOB for a coffee.

Speaking of whistling and other musical exercises reminds me of an e-mail exchange from a year ago with my Bay Area friend:

I just read that Esquire Magazine has published a guide to manners for the modern man. In the section on using a public restroom, it is said that whistling is acceptable at the urinal and at the washbasin but not in the cubicle.

I can see standing, whizzing, and whistling. But have you ever whistled while you shat? Have you ever been inclined to, even in the privacy of your own home? Don't think I can say I ever have.

I might just give it a try, though, to see what it's like...

I never even wondered about the etiquette of whistling in the loo. I've been more concerned about whether it is acceptable to fart in a public restroom. Obviously, noisy gaseous emissions have to be permitted in the cubicle. And I've often heard men fart while standing at a urinal, so I assumed that was generally accepted. I also assumed that people in the stall generally did not try to communicate with other people in the bathroom. But the last time I was at a choral concert at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley both of these assumptions were challenged. Before the performance I was peeing in the small downstairs restroom (only one urinal and one stall), alone, I thought. To relieve the intestinal pressures that had built up I let loose with a long string of loud ones. From inside the stall the voice of my unknown restroom-mate (a man probably about my age) immediately blurted out, "Okay, okay, I surrender!" I thought it was hilarious -- and rather brave on his part to attempt humorous conversation with someone about whom he knew nothing other than the sound of breaking wind.

That's hysterical! Well, at least he didn't burst into "...trombones in the orchestra..." as I do every time a friend of mine rolls off one of those loud trumpeting glissandos..