Time is precious. We all know that, and yet, it’s incredibly easy to forget it when the daily grind takes over. I’m talking to you, the inveterate procrastinator, bum firmly on the sofa and tens of inactive browser tabs on your screen. You, who won’t stop looking at your work email even though you’re sitting at home next to a loved one. You, still putting off the creative challenge you’ve been wanting to tackle for years (writing a story, redesigning your blog, decorating the house – you name it). And me, too.
I’ve met people who seem to believe your time is only worthy of respect if you have the words “manager”, “director” or “head of” in your job title (and resented them for it). If I were a freelancer, I’d worry way too much about what my hourly rates say of my self-worth – and when it comes to my full time job, I have to concentrate very hard to remember that my monthly salary is, among other things, what my employer thinks my time is worth. Long story short: I’ve always struggled with the very idea of pricing up time, and really should know better than this. Heck, I’ve studied business – haven’t I read enough about opportunity cost? I sure have…but I also know that we all have the same number of hours in a day, and there are no exchanges, no refunds, no postage paid return envelopes for the minutes we waste. So to me, time is above all priceless. Name the highest amount you’d ever be willing to pay for an extra hour, and it’ll never be enough.
Ziferblat, London’s first pay-per-minute space, came up with its own view on what an hour’s worth: that’s 5p per minute, or £3 per hour if you prefer. It’s less than the price of a couple of drinks on the high street; pretty inexpensive for the pleasure of roaming freely in a large, homey room filled with all comforts. You have unlimited access to food, drinks, board games, books, wifi – and the company of others: this is a place for sharing, whether you come in with friends, or on your own and ready to make new ones. All adds up to Ziferblat’s remarkable concept: making time count, in a day and age when it’s all too easy to mindlessly waste hours away. Paying for your time becomes a powerful cue to reflect on what you do with it, in the same way as you’d savour a Michelin-starred restaurant meal more mindfully than a McDonald’s burger. Heck, if someone asked me to put three pounds in a jar every sixty minutes, I’d make damn sure I don’t spend (all) those hours looking at cat pictures online. No amount of money you spend at Ziferblat is wasted if you’re in the right mindset, and can lead yourself to use your time for something that’s worth much more to you than three quid an hour.
My hours had been paid for when I visited Ziferblat (courtesy of the Zomato team, who’d organised a potluck with a group of food bloggers), but that doesn’t change the tune. Here I am on the evening of our get-together, flustered from a big event at work, carrying a bundt cake I’ve struggled to hide from my colleagues all day. Ziferblat feels like nowhere I’ve been before. It looks like the hybrid of someone’s living room and an amateur artist hangout; shabby cool meets deliberately scruffy meets “I rent this place and inherited my landlord’s mismatched furniture”. There’s a small kitchen on the back; tea, instant coffee, biscuits and toast are up for grabs, but you’re welcome to bring your own food, and use their cooking appliances to make it. The decorations in the room are mostly handmade; joyous hymns to creativity, and that sense of connection, of warmth many people seem to have forever lost or never known at all. There’s a packed events calendar, a record player, and even (oh, bliss!) a bookcrossing shelf. Had I known it beforehand, I’d have brought some of my old books and left with new reads. Nevermind; I’m here to meet, greet and eat tonight. Food is unwrapped from tin foil and served out of Tupperware boxes. We start talking.
Sitting on my right is May. She enjoys cooking, but does it rarely, and feels self-conscious about making food for others. She has no reason to: everyone says her Vietnamese mango noodle salad tastes wonderful. I don’t try it, though; there’s cucumber in the dressing, one of my biggest food pet hates. I guess the downside of visiting a place where visitors make up the menu is you can’t guarantee you’ll leave with a full stomach.
Sitting on my left is Esme, who just happened to be visiting Ziferblat on that day. I hope I’m spelling her name right – Esmée being my other option – and secretly wonder if that’s short for Esmeralda (I don’t know why, I just do). We have a lot in common, the love of food above all, but it’s when we talk about our kitchen fails that we really click. She compares her reaction to mistakes and mishaps to a scene in the film Julie & Julia, where Amy Adams’ character bursts into a half-crying, half-screaming fit after getting a Julia Child roast chicken recipe horribly wrong. It’s the same scene I always quote to explain how I react to rock-hard biscuits and charred cakes. I’ve never met someone who’s seen the film and gets what I mean, until today.
Vivian and Annie are opposite me. Vivian lives in Poplar, and doesn’t seem to like the place much. She hosts Asian supper clubs at her house though, and everyone’s in awe of her Malaysian chicken curry pastry puffs. Sure enough, they’re my favourite snack of the evening too. Annie made White Russian cupcakes, and going by how perfect they look, you’d think she bakes for a living. But no, Annie’s a medical lab technician. I feel instant admiration for her, in much the same way as I’d admire an astronaut, a Nobel prize for peace, or anyone who does something that’s completely beyond my reach. I feel small, humbled and limited when I think people like Annie do the work that helps save lives, and that’s ok.
On the way back to the tube, I speak to Victoria, the only person I haven’t managed to talk to at the event. We were sitting too far from each other; such a shame, I think, as we chat before our trains bring us in opposite direction. Even by those few minutes, I can tell she’s lovely, approachable and sweet; the kind of person I’d love to meet for coffee and cake some time, and strike up friendship with.
I head home feeling fulfilled; even now, more than a month after the event I remember two hours that flew like minutes, and were spent doing some of the most meaningful, uplifting stuff I’ve done of late. You might not make much of Ziferblat at first sight, and you’d better think twice than to head there for food or coffee alone, as it’s much more than your average Shoreditch hipster cafe. Its strengths lie in the flexibility, the freedom of doing whatever you want and sharing your experience with others if you like. Since you pay for your time, it’s only fair that you make the most of what you buy.
388 Old Street
London, EC1V 9LT
(closest tube station: Old Street)
Open Monday – Friday 10am – 11pm; 12pm – 11pm Saturdays and Sundays
Note: Zomato invited me to Ziferblat as part of a blogger meetup. All opinions are my own.