City sunset 🌆over a lake with an hexagonalo/angular/polygon shaped building next to it that looks like the Star Wars sand crawler vehicle for the Houdinis

Canada Water Library Cafe

Once upon a time libraries were quiet places. Sadly those days are over. God knows how anyone can get any studying, or working done here, least of all read.

Over my lunch at Canada Water Library Cafe (1300-1500 15/10/2019) I had three things to contend with:

  1. The noise
  2. The temperature
  3. The smell of sewage that seemed to be coming from the Women’s toilets.

Luckily I had brought my noise cancelling headphones that day, because I’d been planning on working on my laptop in a fairly noisy pub. I hadn’t predicted I’d need them in a library.

But I did, given the jazz and old-time tunes playing on the stereo, the blender, the conversations on all the tables, and the modern carpet-free furnishings that echo and reverberate every sound. And the hand-dryers from the toilets that open out into the cafe, sharing a blast of raw sewage smell each time someone leaves.

And the occasional thunder of trolleys on the wooden floor.

But I found with a combination of noise cancelling big headphones, and in-ear bud headphones, it was just about possible to block out the noise of people shouting their orders at the cafe, or shouting their conversations the one foot across two-person tables.

Just enough to concentrate, and write this guidebook entry, if I also played some soft jazz music through the ear buds to muffle and disguise the ambient racket of the library cafe.

I chose jazz inspired by the cafe music I couldn’t hear.

During my time there, on a decibel meter app on my phone I recorded an average volume of 83.2 decibels. Which the app told me was somewhere between the equivalent noise of loud singing, an automobile, and a food blender.

(The cafe does smoothies.)

A screenshot from a mobile phone app. A dial says 83.2 dB. At the top it says Automobile. A jagged line graph crosses the screen.

It maxed out later at 96 decibels, I think when someone dropped something, but by that point I’d blocked out the noise, and only felt the vibrations of the bang through the floor and chair.

All of which is a lot louder than the quiet whisper I was used to in libraries growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s. And with no bossy, old, matron to scold chatters, I imaging the Canada Water library will stay this way.

The temperature in the cafe ranges from cold whenever someone passes through the revolving door, which works like a fan. It ranges from that, to alternatively, you can sit at the window seats where enormous windows work like a greenhouse magnifying glass, and you boil.

That leaves the tables in the middle where you get most of the the chatting in 360 degree surround sound. Obviously the tables nearest the ladies toilets are a no-go for previously mentioned reasons.

But, the saving grace is the wonderful view across a lake with swans and reeds and passing clouds. (The ‘Canada Water’ I suppose.) And if you take the one table nearest the cafe counter, pop on some jazz in your noise cancelling headphones and watch all walks of life drift in and out, from Mums with toddlers, to oldies pushed in wheelchairs, carers wheeling the cared-for on weird tricycles (it’s hard to begrudge those vibrations on the wooden floor) and generally everyone getting on with life. Well, this is what humanity is all about.

As I squinted my eyes and relaxed into the jazz, it reminded me of the musak playing in the hotel lobby of the Kananaskis National Park Hotel in Canada, the view across Canada Water not so dissimilar to the view across the lake in Canada, and I was drifted away.

Canada library building in front of a lake. The building is narrower at the bottom and wider at the top, like a rhombus (or a star wars sand crawler.) Behind the building are square buildings and  skyscrapers.
Canada Water library also looks like the Star Wars sand crawler

Free Wifi is available if you have a library card. Library cards are available from the desk that was manned some of the time.

Signs on the tables say the tables are for cafe customers only. But If you buy lunch, no-one seems to mind if you stay all afternoon.

Then my phone ran out of battery, the music stopped and I was transported abruptly back from Canada, to Canada Water, noisily.

Some mums came in for a mothers meeting, a baby cried, a bus load of Japanese tourists came in, god knows why, maybe for the attached theatre, and the cafe switched on the blender to do a smoothie.

Then I went over to the, now manned, library desk and got an application form for a library card so I could use the internet to upload this guide entry. The whole application process took only ten minutes, (you need ID with a local address,) most of which was spent waiting while the guy re-wrote the contents of the form I just filled out, into a computer.

A five star afternoon in Canada/Canada Water, I wouldn’t change a thing.

[advert] Get these noise cancelling headphones – Update 2023-08-03 they no longer come in green, closest I could find is teal

Update 27 Oct ’20:

Rooting through my noisy e-mail spam folder for a lost invoice I found a message. National Autistic Society member #69523 said:

Reading this warmed my heart 

#NAS69523 on National Autistic Society Community Chat Forum

Ahh, that’s nice ☺️

That morning I’d found someone else in my usual spot in my co-working shared office space in the cubby hole under the stairs by the printer.

“Don’t mind me, she said, I’m just working here because it’s quieter and people were having noisy telephone conversations out there.”

“I like it for the same reason, I said” and I popped on my black and green noise cancelling headphones.

I can report that they still work months later (but are shit for phone calls) and I’m using them all the time this week because I’ve laundered my ear ear phones again.

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