A Fine Romance

I pondered the future of Breakfast Club. What started as a nice, sedate catch-up had evolved into a rather dramatic event in the last few weeks.

There was only one thing for it, a Madonna T shirt. Madonna ate drama and controversy for breakfast and so would I.

The café was sparsely populated when I arrived. Armando was behind his trusty counter.

‘Hi Armando. How are you? No sign of Lil yet?’

‘No sign of anyone yet. Is Crouch End gone away?’ Armando asked.

‘No idea. We must continue our conversation about you. We rarely get a chance to catch up… How are things? Are you managing to get out and meet new people?’

Our discourse was interrupted as the doors flung open and there stood Lil, arm in arm with Bill. They looked like the King and Queen of Crouch End preparing to greet their subjects. Lil was wearing a lighter overcoat, her hair rinsed bright pink with matching pink lipstick. She had a small bunch of dandelions in her hand. Bill stood proudly at her side and wore a looser waistcoat – thank goodness.

yellow dandelions

‘Morning Lil, morning Bill,’ I said trying not to allow my smile to dissolve into laughter.

‘Good morning Mr Boulevardier.’ Lil almost sang her response.

They approached the table and Lil waited for Bill to pull the seat out for her. I wanted to ask where her shopping trolley was, or why she was clutching dandelions as if they were pearls but thought better of it.

‘I’m just nipping to the gents to shake hands with the colonel,’ said Bill and disappeared to the back of the café.

I went to speak and as I drew breath Lil put a finger up to silence me and said ‘I don’t want any more of your powder room talk Wayne. We had enough of that several weeks ago.’

‘I wasn’t going to mention that or Bill’s reference to his proposed toilet activity actually,’ I said with a wink and continued ‘I wondered what’s going on? Last week you could barely contain your disdain for Bill hanging around and now you seem to be courting it, and in fact courting him.’ I took a long slow sip of tea and waited for a response.

‘Wait,’ said Armando ‘I not miss a word of this.’

‘Boys, what can I say?’ Lil pouted. She was playing with us.

‘Please go on, before he’s back,’ said Armando using an efficient and directive tone.

‘He’ll be a while. He always is. It’s odd. I was so irritated with Bill and his unwanted attentions and then I saw last week how much it irked Mavis. I went to Age Club with Bill and if I’m honest it felt nice walking in with someone. Of course Mavis and ‘her girls’ were whispering in the corner, but they always are. But this time I didn’t care. Actually I never care but it felt nice to have someone by my side.’

‘That is lovely Lil, I’m glad you’re having a nice time with Bill. I hope his intentions are honourable,’ I said.

‘I bloody hope they’re not,’ Lil cackled, ‘we can’t afford to waste time when you get to our age. In fact he has been rather attentive. In the last week he’s brought me tea twice, chocolates once, and flowers today – if you can call dandelions flowers as a gift. But as I always say it’s the thought that counts.’

Bill re-joined us just as the breakfasts were arriving.

‘You do a bloody good spread here Armando old chap,’ said Bill as his pupils dilated at the oil running across his fried egg.

‘Thank you yes, but please remember pensioner day is Monday. This must be secret for Thursday.’

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ fussed Lil.

I’d ordered buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and they were delicious. I wish I could eat them every day but then Madonna wouldn’t be happy as she’d stretch further across my chest and stomach.

‘What do you think of Bill’s new waistcoat?’ asked Lil.

‘Very smart,’ I responded.

‘Yes, the other was rather tight and I thought it might pop open and injure someone at any given moment,’ said Lil.

I’d had the same thought but didn’t verbalise our synchronicity.

‘I’m thinking that Bill might need a diet as he can’t go on expanding – for health reasons,’ added Lil.

Bill looked alarmed and started shovelling the bacon into his mouth quicker and chewed in an anxious manner.

‘Lil my dear, I’m not going to diet when I’m 76. I’d rather eat what I want in my senior years,’ said Bill.

Lil tutted.

‘Toyboy,’ I said.

Lil tutted. Bill sniggered and sprayed some sausage across his plate.

‘Anyway, when are we going to meet your partner Boulevardier?’ asked Lil.

‘Not sure, he works on a Thursday. Would you like to meet him?’ I said.

‘Of course, I think it’s lovely that you have him. What does he do?’

Bill started coughing. He seemed to have compressed too much toast in his mouth at one time. He was bright red and sweating. ‘Will you slow down Bill. Your breakfast ain’t going anywhere,’ said Lil.

‘Well this chatter is rather loud.’ Bill shuffled in his seat uncomfortably and I realised that he wasn’t at ease with my talking openly about my boyfriend. This wasn’t a good time to upset the equilibrium as we were having a pleasant Breakfast Club and I didn’t answer Lil’s question. I wasn’t going to not talk about Michael, but just not right now.

‘Armando, how about you? You got a boyfriend at the moment then?’ asked Lil either missing or ignoring Bill’s discomfort. I suspect the latter.

Armando got up from the table and brushed down his apron. ‘I must be getting on as I’m having a busy day and short of staff.’

‘Is there anyone straight in this café apart from me?’ asked Bill.

‘Who cares Bill, and please wipe that egg yolk from the side of your mouth. You’re looking and behaving most uncouth,’ said Lil.

I decided it was time for a fresh pot of tea and signalled to Anabel, the waitress.

So Lil was courting – interesting. I hoped this wouldn’t mean an end to our lovely weekly group meetings.

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Chaperone Shenanigans

I hadn’t spoken to Lil this week. I knew she was feisty but her performance last week was perturbing. Was it justified or was she a little too antagonised? I meant to read up online to see if sudden outbursts were a sign of ‘losing your marbles’, clinically speaking. Since I’d known her she’d had a few falls, been ill, and revealed an angry streak.

I walked to the café tired from a busy week in the day job and hoped for a pleasant and serene Breakfast Club. I pushed the door open and could see two figures at our table. One was Lil. She waved me over – lips pursed.

‘Morning Wayne, do you remember Bill?’

Bill… the name was familiar but I couldn’t recollect so I walked to Lil’s side of the table to get a facial view. He was a portly older gentleman, rather red in the face, and then I saw the overfull chequered waistcoat and it all became clear.

‘Yes of course. The Bingo Caller. How are you Bill?’ I reached across to shake his hand.

Lil tutted.

‘Good morning. You’re the journal writer? I remember you from the bingo too,’ Bill said.

I nodded and looked round for Armando who gave a quick shake of his head. After last week he wasn’t joining us in case there was further drama. He had to stay neutral and couldn’t afford to be seen to take sides. He couldn’t discriminate against customers. I was going to have to navigate these dangerous waters with intrepid resolve.

A fresh pot of tea arrived and I ordered porridge with blueberries.

‘So what brings you to the café this morning Bill?’ I asked.

Lil tutted.

‘I was worried –‘

‘What he means is that interfering dragon has been spreading rumours that I’m going bonkers, and have developed a form of Tourette’s. He’s been following me around since Age Club.  It’s bloody annoying. I’m quite capable,’ said Lil.

‘Mrs Bellamy was worried and said you had a turn my dear, and I’ve never been one to refuse the chance to help a damsel in distress,’ answered Bill. He sounded earnest.

Breakfasts arrived and whatever was happening hadn’t stemmed Lil’s appetite. A Full English sat before her and she was momentarily distracted. Bill had the same, although I wasn’t sure there was any room in his waistcoat. The buttons strained as he anticipated the taste of sausage. I wanted to shout out ‘No stop, you’ll shoot us all when those buttons explode!’ as Bill dipped a mushroom into his egg and raised the fork to his expectant mouth.

Bill chomped and feeling revived from a mouthful of delicious breakfast turned to me and said as an aside ‘I’ve always wanted to look after this one, and a bird in the hand is worth two… you know what I mean.’ Bill winked at me and chuckled.

Lil tutted.

I looked down and stirred the blueberries into the porridge. I do love it when they meld with the oats and create a fruity breakfast – one of my five a day to boot.

‘Top up Lil?’ I asked.

‘Yes please Wayne. I don’t know why Armando hasn’t sat down with us. Armando, Armando, could you please get a fresh pot and come and join us. Bill can move over.’

‘And out,’ She added under her breath.

‘So what happens next?’ asked Bill with a mouthful of bacon, pieces of which projected in Lil’s direction.

‘Bill, you really don’t have to follow me around. I’m fine. Mavis is causing trouble as per normal. We had a small disagreement and she’s blown it out of all proportion.’

I decided not to contradict Lil outwardly as the argument had not been trivial and was quite the detonation. However, on the other hand I didn’t see that Lil needed a constant chaperone, even with his amorous intentions as a bonus.

‘I enjoy it Lil,’ Bill answered firmly and looked passionately at Lil.

‘I don’t and I don’t want you to do it,’ said Lil without a hint of amour in her demeanour.

‘Stop playing hard to get. We haven’t got that much time at our age.’

‘I’m not.’ Lil tutted.

Armando arrived with a fresh pot of tea and took a seat tentatively.

Round-Two

The front door of the café opened and we heard a familiar voice in a flurry.

‘Morning Lilian, morning Bill – fancy seeing you here too. This is becoming quite the gathering place of a Thursday morning. Good morning Wayne and Armando I hope you’re all well. Are you feeling better Lilian?’

Lil had a mouthful which was fortunate as Mavis was trying to elicit a reaction again, and Lil hadn’t managed to swallow. Her napkin slipped from her lap as she wriggled uncomfortably in her seat.

Mavis continued, ‘Anyway I haven’t got time for idle chit-chat today. I’m here for a coffee in a paper cup that I can drink on the run. The committees just don’t run without my input.’ And with that she headed to the counter.

‘Did you get your coffee situation sorted Armando?’ I asked hoping to steer Lil from any possible response.

‘Yeah, new supplier. We’ll see how goes. Lil is that new hat?’

Lil switched from a pout to a broad smile.

‘Yes it is Armando, how kind of you to notice. I’ve still got it.’ Lil answered loud enough for Mavis Bellamy to hear.

Bill was on his feet and walked around the table and bent, or lowered as far as his protruding belly would allow, and picked up Lil’s paper napkin from the floor beside her polka-dotted shopping trolley and offered it to Lil. A coy smile crept across her face and she accepted the fallen lap-protector gracefully from her new fully-grown defender.

Mavis’ eyes were on this development and she didn’t look happy at all. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Mavis hadn’t have been trying to make Lil sound off her rocker at their age club. She obviously hadn’t accounted for a grey knight in his shining armour to come to her rescue.

Mavis scurried from the café, coffee in hand wearing her second defeat in as many weeks. She’d added to Lil’s harem with the lovelorn Bill.

Lil raised her teacup from its mismatched saucer ‘Now that deserves a toast. Cheers everyone, good health!’

Lil was still smiling at Bill. Was she softening to his charms? I wanted to ask her what had happened to her constant tutting but didn’t want to spoil the moment.

‘I suppose if you’re going to follow me around, you’d better start making yourself useful. I need to get round the charity shops for a new oven cloth. Mine is threadbare and I keep on burning my fingers. You can guard the trolley while I’m inside,’ said Lil.

‘Your desire is my vocation princess,’ answered Bill.

Armando and I had somehow become involved in a soap opera of the pensioners of Crouch End. I loved it.

Purple Rinse at Dawn

Lil had called last Friday to catch up on Breakfast Club and we’d been missing each other’s calls. To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to telling her about Mavis’ guest attendance.

We eventually caught up on Monday and as expected she hadn’t taken the news lightly. She was quieter than I thought she would be. I didn’t know whether this was a good or bad sign.

Thursday morning came and I was looking forward to seeing Lil. I’d missed her the previous week. I also wondered whether I’d get the chance to finish the conversation with Armando, which Mavis had interrupted.

Lil was there as I opened the café door. Armando saw me come in and signalled for me to come to the back of the café.

I greeted Lil with a gentle kiss and excused myself due to an urgent call of nature.

‘What? You only live two minutes away. Why do you need the loo already?’ Lil enquired.

‘Sorry Lil I should have gone before I came out. You want to pour me an Assam. I’ll be back in a flash.’

‘This pot is stewed. I’ll get fresh,’ Lil said.

Armando met me in the corridor.

‘She already been here 45 minutes and asks lots of questions about how much times Mavis has been in this week. You think she going looping the loop?’ Armando asked.

‘No, I don’t think so.’ I tried not to laugh at Armando’s interpretation of what is, let’s face it, a rather odd sounding expression. ‘I think she’s put out and a little jealous. I think Mavis pulled a bit of a fast one, and was out of line, but we need to stay out of it.’

Lil was decanting fresh cups of tea when I returned. I looked at her and noticed that she did seem to have an overly made-up face for Breakfast Club. I wondered whether this was war paint, and hoped it wasn’t.

‘Are you having a full English today Lil?’

‘Yes. Have you seen that bloody Mavis this week Wayne?’

‘Of course not –’ Lil hushed me mid-sentence and got up. She moved to the side and stood between the tables with her hands on her hips and a murderous look on her face.

‘Morning Lilian.’

I turned to see Mavis Bellamy a few feet away. What was she doing here?

‘Don’t morning me you manipulative, interfering old biddy,’ answered Lil.

‘Sit down Lil. Please don’t upset yourself,’ I said.

‘This is between me and her.’ Lil didn’t turn to me as she spoke and kept her glare forwards, maintaining eye contact with Mavis.

‘What are you so upset about dear?’ asked Mavis. I could hear smug oozing from her tone and moved side on so I could better observe the proceedings. They were standing six feet apart, scowling flagrantly and wearing ‘don’t mess with me’ expressions. It was like a duel at dawn; pistols were drawn.

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‘Oh nothing Mavis, you sad, pathetic, interfering old cow,’ said Lil in a rather childlike tone.

‘Well really Lilian. Have you lost all your senses or just your manners?’

‘Neither. Why did you change the date and time of the charity meeting?’

‘What’s that got to do with you? I had to attend another appointment and needed some of the members of your sub-committee at that too.’ Mavis accentuated the word ‘sub’.

‘You re-arranged my meeting for the same time as Breakfast Club.’

Mavis went to speak but Lil immediately spoke over her. ‘And then you came to my Breakfast Club. Don’t you have your own friends?’

‘Are you paranoid Lilian? Do you think I have the time or energy to engage in such juvenile behaviour?’

‘Did you or did you not turn up and force yourself upon Wayne and Armando last Thursday morning?’

‘No I didn’t force myself –’

‘that’s not what I heard,’ said Lil

‘Don’t interrupt me,’ Mavis was starting to get flustered, ‘and I happened upon the café for a mid-morning tea and was pleased to find these lovely two gentlemen enjoying each other’s company. I honestly don’t understand why you’re getting your bloomers in such a twist.’

Mavis was good at being passive aggressive – I had to give her that – but I was rooting for Lil.

Lil preferred the direct approach. ‘My knickers are fine. It’s you who doesn’t seem to be able to keep her drawers from drooping.’

Lil’s stare was relentless. Mavis’ face imitated faux shock.

Lil continued, ‘although that’s not surprising in the circumstances. Perhaps I should actually feel sorry for you.’

‘You seem to have lost all sense of decorum Lilian. How dare you insinuate that I have loose morals.’ Mavis grabbed a chair to steady herself.

‘Don’t act as if you’re shocked Mrs Bellamy.’ Lil’s tone was more settled and firm. Her enemy was on the ropes. Mavis’ performance might be BAFTA worthy but didn’t deter Lil.

‘From all accounts Mr Bellamy struggled to keep his trousers on when in the presence of other women. Have you taken a leaf out of his book?’

Mavis grabbed the chair for real this time. She raised her finger and pointed at Lil ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?  Don’t you dare speak ill of the dead and certainly not of my late husband.’

Lil had her now. Mavis was rattled and had let her guard down completely. Lil smiled knowing she’d won this battle and turned and sat down. I did feel a little sorry for Mavis but she had been trying to goad Lil about our Breakfast Club for weeks. Her smugness had evaporated and her raw language was exposed.

Mavis stood static. She looked a little shaky and I wondered if I should go over and guide her to a seat on another table.

‘Let’s not fall out now Mavis. Why don’t you join us for a cup of Assam. I hear it’s your favourite.’ Lil delivered her killer blow.

Mavis stood up and brushed down her jacket. Her composure was regained but she knew this mêlée was over and that she’d lost. ‘I’d love to but I have a busy morning. I can’t stand here quarrelling with you all morning Lilian.’

They both let out a simultaneous, false laugh.

‘I’ll see you next week at Age Club.’ Mavis delivered this last line with a threatening tone.

Armando appeared from the kitchens. I hadn’t noticed him slide away.

‘Our coffee supplier is no more. What am I going to do? It’s best importer from Brazil in London.’

The drama shifted. This was not to be a normal Breakfast Club.

Mavis took her opportunity and scurried from the café.

‘Sit down Armando. Let’s see if we can sort this out too.’ Lil sounded confident.

The Interloper makes her move

I’d received another call from Lil on Wednesday evening. Fortunately she was feeling much better but wasn’t going to be able to make Breakfast Club once again.

‘Lil are you sure you wouldn’t rather switch to Mondays with the other OAPs?’ I joked.

‘I don’t think so Boulevardier. I can’t believe the charity meeting has changed to a Thursday morning. It’s only once a month and it’s more than my life’s worth to miss it. I can’t bear all those moaning old biddies.’

‘In that case, we’ll miss you, and I’ll call you later to fill you in,’ I said.

‘Oh, so you’ll still go ahead then?’ Lil sounded disappointed that Breakfast Club wasn’t cancelled without her presence.

‘Yes of course we will, but it won’t be the same without you.’ I tried to sound disappointed at her absence.

I was actually looking forward to some time with Armando. I’d been spending more time with him lately, vicariously through Breakfast Club but we were both so focused on Lil we rarely talking to, and about, each other.

I arrived at 10am to keep the traditions of the Breakfast Club upheld. Armando was behind the counter and as the café was almost empty he put down his tea-towel and came straight over. He was wearing his trademark cotton shirt, with several buttons undone, exposing a hairy chest, and long cargo shorts with white trainers. His hair was annoyingly messy and perfectly on style. I raised my hand to my own hair to check that the quiff was on point.

‘Lil won’t be joining us Armando.’

‘I know, she called,’ he responded.

A pot of Assam arrived with two cups and saucers and the waitress stood poised to take our food order.

‘I’ll have smoked salmon and scrambled egg please,’ I said.

‘Same,’ said Armando raising one eyebrow at the variation in my usual order. This was indeed a new day.

‘Café is a bit empty,’ Armando said.

‘Is it still going well? Do you still get a lot of passing trade?’

‘Some but could do with more, but is fine.’

‘Is life good Armando?’

‘S’ok I suppose…’ Armando didn’t sound convinced.

I poured a second cup of tea using the time to think how I could ask more.

‘What do you like to do outside work, aside from looking out for older ladies?’ I asked.

‘I used to spend time at home with my partner.’

Two plates arrived with steaming, yellow scrambled egg piled on wholemeal toast and peppered with pink.

‘Used to?’

‘Yes, he split with me six weeks ago. ‘Too much time at work’ he said.’ Armando sounded quite upset.

I realised that this has befallen him during our acquaintance and yet Armando hadn’t mentioned it. In fact we hadn’t noticed any change in his demeanour either. This was not typical of the continental type at all. I would have to tread softly.

‘I’m sorry to hear that Armando. I hope you’ve got lots of people around you to provide support, but if you ever need…‘

We were interrupted by a loud cooing from the door.

‘Armando, Wayne, how lovely to find you both here.’

It was Mavis Bellamy beaming at us as she made her way across the café and sat down next to Armando without being invited.

As she pulled off her black leather gloves and started unbuttoning her coat she asked ‘How are you both? Do you have a spare teacup? I’m gasping for a cuppa.’

‘Tea is stewed,’ Armando said as he signalled to the waitress for a fresh pot and clean cup. He might not be happy about the invasion but she was still a customer. He had to remain neutral.

‘Yes, fine Mavis. Are you not at the charity committee meeting?’ I asked.

‘Oh of course, that is on right now. I forgot. I sit on more senior committees.’ I’m not certain but I’m sure Mavis had an evil grin as she delivered this line.

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I nodded and took after mouthful of buttery scrambled egg. This was awkward.

‘Ah, and of course Lilian is there. What a shame. I hadn’t thought of that. She’d normally be here with you.’ I could feel Mavis’ sinister grin spreading.

Armando scowled.

‘How fortunate that I was passing. What did I miss?’ Mavis was almost bouncing excitedly like a child at this point.

I poured a cup of fresh tea for Mavis. ‘Nothing, we were just catching up on our week and enjoying breakfast.’

My mind flashed to Lil. Goodness, what would she make of Mavis’ appearance, and not only that, an appearance at our table. This was not good.

Mavis raised the cup to her lips and I thought she was going to offer a toast. As she swallowed the liquid her smile disappeared and she pulled quite the grimace. She put her cup down and it clattered irritatingly on the saucer.

‘What is this? I thought it was tea,’ Mavis asked.

‘It is tea, Assam tea,’ said Armando.

‘It’s got a nasty taste to it.’ Mavis’ tone was staccato.

Yes indeed Mavis, this morning indeed had developed a horrid taste.