Just the other day I was standing like a sardine on a Central Line rush hour train with my cumbersome camera bag reflecting what a ridiculous time for me to be travelling when the unexpected happened: a young man got out of his seat and offered it to me. It took me by surprise, but not for the reasons you might think. I was, in fact, rather unsettled by my reaction. Instead of being just grateful, I was asking myself “Do I look pregnant? Am I starting to show my age?”. It took me a good 10 minutes of going through all the possibilities before realizing that the man was just being a gentleman. This was how it used to be and how it should still be and my reaction just confirms that we are now of an age where manners between strangers is just not commonplace. I was, however, beaming for the rest of the train journey.
This is just the predicament of Johnny Vercoutre, a modern-day dandy and owner of the 1940’s-transporting tearoom ‘Time for Tea’ on Shoreditch High Street. His choice of dressing and living in the 1940’s derives not from a vainglorious or superficial level but from the mental attitude of that era. He states that if people of that era set out to do something they would take the time to do it properly and the goals where not concerned with celebrity and money. It may seem charming to the likes of you and me but there is something very relevant in 1940’s values. You would make do and mend, grow your own vegetables, and socialising meant talking to each other and reconnecting rather than dancing to loud music and strobe lighting in order to lose yourself. The pace was slower and there was time for attention to detail and for manners. Johnny then reconfirms by saying how good it feels to help a lady with a pram on to a bus and that this is something that should come naturally.
What comes with the attitude also comes with his appearance and Johnny does certainly like to stand out. He loves the whole tweed and pinstripe get-ups, sports a first-rate soup-strainer and avidly collects period cars and motorbikes. Like any enthusiast he strongly believes that you should always stand up for what you believe in and not cower to conforming to the ideals of the masses. Teased for wearing black eyeliner at school and more recently called Hitler by the ignorant local Indian community he remains undeterred in his lifestyle.
Time For Tea came about just over a year ago, not only to compliment Johnny’s way of life but to reignite the flagging ritual of the afternoon tea. It has proved to be a roaring success and something of a cult favourite amongst the locals of Shoreditch. Quietly contemplating my surroundings over a cup of tea and brilliantly unpretentious slice of banana bread, baked by his mother Lulu, there appears to be a constant stream of like-minded dapper characters, popping in to touch base with Johnny and his sidekick and co-worker, Graham. It seems to have grown into quite a 1940’s revival scene of sorts.
On a lasting note, Johnny says he gets his biggest kick out of ambling down the road in his “Postman Pat”-style burgundy 1950’s van. It’s neither flashy or fast but sincere and sweet…and the amount of smiles it raises is priceless. Sums it all up really.
For a spot of Sunday tea and cake and a chance to marvel at some tip-top taches, venture no further than Time for Tea. You don’t have to dress up, but you’ll feel more at home if you do.
NEXT WEEK ON LONDON INSIGHT:
Taking in the street art and graffiti of Shoreditch