This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

‘Once upon a time,’ said Philip. ‘There was a wonderful cafe. It opened very early in the morning.

No. It stayed open twenty-four hours. It never closed. They never turned off the machine. That’s why the coffee was perfect.’

It was easy. He slid into it.

‘At night, because of the noise of people laughing, they turned up the treble on the jukebox. But in the early mornings, in the peaceful shift when customers on their way to work were reading the papers, you could clearly hear the trip and run of the bass lines. Some people came alone, with a library book, dressed in clean clothes of sober cut and colour. Others brought their children and taught them, with smiles and soft words, how to behave in a public place. The clever children read aloud to their parents from the Situations Vacant, the Houses to Let. The big windows of the cafe faced east. People sat with their backs to the sun, and the iron bars of night softened in their shoulders. On the other side of the road, which sparkled with passing cars, a deep garden overflowed its iron fence.’

He glanced at her to see if he was getting too fanciful. She was looking at the ceiling. ‘Don’t drone,’ she said. ‘You’re starting to drone.’

It was a place that waited,’ said Philip. ‘It was a place of reason and courtesy. On the jukebox they had Elvis Presley. They had Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. They had Les Paul and Mary Ford singing “How High the Moon’’.

Explain: Philip is telling a story to his daughter.

Are the sentences "It was a place that waited" and "It was a place of reason and courtesy" used metaphorically?

Does it mean:

  1. "It was the place that was waiting for customers" and "It was a place that people inside it behaved reasonably and politely"?

  2. "It was the place that people in it was waiting and behaved reasonably and politely"?

Does "wait" here mean "serve as a waiter"?

  • It means people were polite there, and not rushing others rudely. Jul 22, 2021 at 12:42

2 Answers 2


Keep in mind that this is an imaginary place, and that he is making it as nice (in his opinion) as possible. He's contrasting it with the reality of many places we all have to be every day.

Take this line:

Others brought their children and taught them, with smiles and soft words, how to behave in a public place.

Have you ever seen a child misbehave in public? Yell and run around in a restaurant or a store, point, stare, grab at things? When that happens, what do the parents normally do? Some ignore the misbehaviour. Others yell just the child's name, or bark orders "get down offa there!" or "get back here right now!". I don't know if I've ever seen children taught "with smiles and soft words" -- because you don't notice that, that's just quiet background stuff you can ignore. But that's the image he's conjuring up, and "reason and courtesy" are part of that. Everyone is nice to everyone else, they're patient, they do reasonable things and they give reasonable explanations when they can't. They're polite and courteous.

As for "a place that waited" -- in most places, we have to wait. We wait our turn, we wait for the doctor even though we had an appointment 30 minutes ago and arrived a little early for it, we wait while people do things for us at a pace we often don't feel is fast enough, we wait for replies and responses of all kinds. How lovely it would be to feel that a cafe was always open, always making perfect coffee, always playing perfect music, always somehow waiting for you to arrive. It would be ready for you, having waited for you, it wouldn't ask you to wait for your food to be cooked or someone else's song to finish or for anything else.

This place wouldn't ask you to put up with all the things you put up with elsewhere. The story teller in your excerpt clearly puts up with lots of things elsewhere. He's an adult, a parent, he's lived. His listener, while old enough to speak quite disrespectfully to him without rebuke, probably doesn't value these differences -- between the real world and his imaginary cafe -- enough to get engrossed in his story, ask him for more details, want to imagine that place with him. He would like her to, though.


Philip is telling a story to his daughter. Things in stories do not always have to make perfect sense.

In this instance it is likely that in describing this fantasy café as a 'place that waited', Philip is possibly investing it with a degree of sentience or purpose, the café itself is waiting for something or for someone. Without ready access to the text it is not possible for me to know whether any later part of the story bears this possible interpretation out.

It might also mean that the café is just staying, in some way, fixed in time; such that people don't feel that the years are racing away from them while they are there. This possibility is supported by the fact that the Jukebox selection is confined to music of the 50's and perhaps the 60's. Some people see the 50's as a lost golden age of civility before the unruly 60's swept away a more old fashioned style of courtesy.

'Reason' in this context likely means 'rational thought'. The café is a place where rational thought and the behaviour appropriate to rational thinkers is a characteristic of the place, its staff and customers.

The café is a calm and orderly place where everything runs as it should and there is nothing to jar the senses. So, your answer at 1. is literally correct, but does not capture the story telling, slightly dreamlike quality which Philip's storytelling conveys.

  • @Bobble Yeah, if I'd been writing on my phone the accented letter would be easy, they are a pain on the neck on a laptop.
    – Spagirl
    Aug 24, 2021 at 15:59
  • AltGr+e = é for me; but I think American keyboards don't have an AltGr key. Sometimes you can fake it with Ctrl+Alt, so Ctrl+Alt+e might give you é.
    – TRiG
    May 2, 2023 at 16:33

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