This week, I had one of the most relaxing and therapeutic lunch hours of my life, returning to work so chilled out my colleagues were actually unnerved and cautiously asked if I was ok. So what had I been doing? Getting a massage? Smoking a joint? No – I’d spent my lunch at the Weather Cafe, a pop-up cafe/art installation on the Headrow.
Information about the Weather Cafe has been infuriatingly sparse until now, with press releases and the website putting out intriguing soundbites like ‘immersive experience’ and ’emotional climate of the city’ without really giving away any details. The cloak and dagger approach completely worked on me – I couldn’t wait to go along and see what it was all about.
When I entered the cafe I was immediately struck by the quiet tranquil atmosphere; the noise of the traffic faded away as the door swung shut and was replaced by the soothing sounds of quietly running water and birdsong. I was greeted by a member of staff, who invited me to take a seat at one of the wooden tables. The ground was completely carpeted in turf, and facing me against one wall was a rack of metal shelving on which were sat rows of vintage tvs, flickering with indiscernible images.
Aside from the sound effects, the ceiling had been kitted out with huge clusters of lights that brightened and dimmed in time with the noises to reflect changes in weather. On the table next to me were an assortment of pots into which water dripped periodically, and on one occasion mist poured out from somewhere near the bar to create a fog across the far end of the cafe.
The waiter returned with a pair of headphones, a paper leaflet and a tea menu, telling me to put the headphones on and select a tea which I felt “reflected my current mood and feelings”. I put on my headphones as I browsed the tea menu, and heard a thick Leeds accent ruminating on the business of the city, the way everyone is always rushing to get somewhere. It was only a short recording, after which a new voice took its place talking about the incredible loneliness of being homeless, followed by another voice, and another, and so the stories continued.
I sipped my tea and let the voices of the people of Leeds wash over me, listening as they talked about their lives, their loved ones, their fears and their insecurities. Some were incredibly candid and at ease, while others were more guarded and hesitant, but the artist David Shearing (who I soon realised was sat in the corner) had weaved them together to create a cohesive sense of community, a spectrum of individuals of all ages, cultures and walks of life who suddenly seemed to have so much in common. Turns out, feeling alone or overwhelmed or disconnected from the world isn’t that rare.
I only had time to stay for about 40 minutes, but even after such a short time it felt difficult to leave. Just sitting quietly and listening to the disembodied voices of Leeds telling their stories had left me feeling inexplicably tranquil; emerging into the street left like a rude awakening from a dream. I can’t recommend this enough – the Weather Cafe is on the Headrow until 20th March, and you shouldn’t miss it.