The Youthful Leprechauns

I’d woken in an elegiac mood. A gust of cool air swept across my legs as the duvet fell. Autumn had us completely in its grip. There was still some sun, but it shone lower in the sky and radiated a warm essence rather than heat.

It was Thursday and this as always meant no day job and in its stead Breakfast Club. I was usually leaping out of bed but this week less so. I felt lightly apprehensive. I’d bumped into Lil in Budgens earlier in the week. She was with Marty McGuire. The lack of Mrs McAleen was ominous and I’d wondered whether the courtship was in full swing and the chaperon redundant.

‘Wayne, fancy seeing you here,’ Lil had said as she greeted me with a peck on the cheek.

‘Hi Lil, and ahem, Marty. I’m usually more of a Waitrose or Marks and Spencer shopper but I fancied some tinned cods’ roe, and neither of them stock it.’

‘Hey fella, first world problems eh,’ Marty had said. Lil had laughed much louder than was necessary.

‘Indeed,’ I’d said without cracking a smile.

‘Are you two an item now?’ I’d asked after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

‘Really Wayne, must we have this conversation surrounded by baked beans, mushy peas and tinned fish,’ Lil had said followed by a loud tut.

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I longed for Nelly McAleen to be there, pronouncing her latest spin on Coca-Cola, but alas she was nowhere in sight. Instead I’d apologised, conversed a few unworthy, banal sentences, made my excuses to leave, and scurried home; and without my cods’ roe to boot. Lil hadn’t been in touch since. I was going to have to deal with the Marty situation in a more subtle way. I’d seen the expressions on Armando and Cyril’s faces last week. They were not fans of this geriatric philanderer either.

I emptied my mind of our exchange and busied myself with preparations for the day ahead. After dressing and dealing with a number of renegade hairs I was fit to open the front door and face the outside. A cold gust hit me and I was glad to be shrouded

I was soon seated pret for Breakfast Club. I arrived early and deliberately so; the group was growing and I refused to surrender my position irrespective of the age of the invaders. Armando joined me with slumped shoulders.

‘Where is everyone?’

‘I’m early Armando. I’m sure Lil will be here soon.’

‘No I mean customers. We’ve barely had a trickle this morning.’

‘Perhaps they’re staying in bed, mourning the loss of summer,’ I said with a forced smile.

Armando shrugged and stirred the pot he’d brought with him.

I admired my vintage red-flowered delicate cup set on its blue, swirl-patterned saucer. The stainless steel milk jug anxiously awaited the hot liquid delivery; knowing as ever it was in second place.

‘Seen your Brazilian boyfriend this week?’ I asked Armando.

‘Yes, once. No conversation of course,’ said Armando with a grin.

The door opened and I was spared Armando’s detailed bedchamber acrobatics.

Gisela, Nelly McAleen and Lil cackled into the café followed by a jigging Marty.

‘Morning, morning my boys,’ said Lil as she gave both Armando and me a kiss and took her usual seat. Gisela took the remaining vacant chair and Armando pulled up two extra for the Irish contingent.

‘I’m nipping to the little boys’ room,’ announced Marty.

‘No Cyril today?’ I asked.

‘No, he didn’t want to embarrass Marty,’ said Lil. There was conflict in her tone and I hoped she realised that Marty’s behaviour around Cyril was ridiculous and needed addressing.

‘That’s a shame. Cyril is so articulate and a great addition to our little group,’ I said with more than just a subtle swipe at Marty.

Mrs McAleen picked it up and shuffled uncomfortably in her seat before saying, ‘It’s a bit cold for the Coca-Cola today.’

This was my chance and I opened my mouth to ask her the relevance of constant reference to Coke when Gisela spoke foiling my opportunity.

‘Can we order please, I’m hungrig.’

‘Yes indeed, I’m ravenous too,’ said Lil.

Marty returned flicking his few remaining hairs over the top of his head.

‘You boys like music?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ said Armando.

‘You have to come and see the band,’ said Marty.

‘What band?’ I barely even dare ask.

‘My band, The Youthful Leprechauns.’

‘I see.’ I said.

‘You’d love it. I play the piano accordion, and two other fellas I used to work on the drains with sing and play the fiddle.’

‘It’s fantastic and a great evening out,’ said Lil.

‘Oooo thinking of the dancing makes me want a Coca-Cola,’ said Nelly.

‘Where do you play? At the Age Club?’ asked Armando.

‘Not on your Nelly, oh sorry sis,’ said Marty. The ladies crowed in unison. I pursed my lips and noticed that Armando wasn’t amused either.

‘We play at the Working Men’s club. I don’t want to play to a bunch of old codgers,’ said Marty. The ladies laughed again.

The average age of patrons of a working man’s club hardly represents youth, I thought but didn’t say.

‘You like my ring Wayne?’ asked Marty. He was determined to engage me in conversation.

‘Errr it’s unique,’ I said looking at the tasteless, gold-coloured and garish item on his right index finger.

‘I found it, can you believe it? The stone is missing right so, but I think it could be worth a few bob.’

‘Ooooo you could be rich Marty,’ said Lil as her eyes widened.

‘I’m already rich with you beauties on my arm,’ said Marty.

Further giggling ensued as the café door opened. I’d never been more pleased to see Mavis Bellamy. She was efficiently buttoned up in a mac with a blue silk headscarf covering her locks. She was carrying a large black patent handbag.

‘Morning all. I thought this was an exclusive meeting?’ said Mavis clutching the purse to her side.

‘It is,’ said Lil and grinned at Mavis like a cat who’d just finished a saucer full of cream.

‘Looks more like an extension of Marty McGuire’s harem,’ said Mavis.

‘What do you mean extension?’ said Lil. Gisela pursed her lips.

‘He seems to take quite an interest in all ladies,’ said Mavis. Marty suddenly looked elsewhere in thought.

‘I don’t see you at the table,’ said Lil.

‘Lilian, dear, I’m not here for a row, just a word with Armando. Don’t get your bloomers all twisted.’

Marty laughed.

Lil looked cross but didn’t speak.

Armando stood and steered Mavis to the counter to avoid further ruffling of feathers.

‘I’ll see you when I’m looking at ya,’ Marty called after Mavis. Lil’s cross look multiplied with pursed lips, and a tut with sufficient power to register the Richter scale.

This was definitely a victory to Mavis, and I was surprised I felt pleased. I usually defended Lil, right or wrong. I felt quite cheered up.

I poured another cup of Assam for everyone. This would stave off the autumnal depression from settling for now.

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Locked in the Loo

For five wonderful days I’d been basking in the Algarvian sun on a late summer break with some of my closest friends. The heavenly mix of sun, sangria, and laughter still lingered in all my senses. My marginally darkened tan would be on show at Breakfast Club this morning. The venue had changed to provide Lil with home comforts as she was feeling under the weather. Armando had text to confirm so earlier after a call from Cyril.

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I met Armando at the café door at 10am. We were due at Lil’s fifteen minutes later. Armando held a wicker basket which delivered a promising aroma.

‘Nice tan man,’ Armando said.

‘Thanks,’ I replied. I didn’t mention the layer of bronzer I’d added to my visage to heighten the impact.

‘How’s your week been?’

‘OK I guess. Café has been busy and I’ve been on a couple of dates,’ said Armando.

‘With the Brazilian?’

‘Yes, although I’m not sure how much further we can go. I can’t talk to him about anything of importance – matters of the heart are difficult on my phone translator app.’

I touched Armando on the arm as an outward demonstration of support.

‘So what did Cyril say? Is she OK?’

‘He said she’s got a splitting headache and feels sick, and doesn’t think she can leave the house today.’

‘Let’s hope it’s nothing serious.’

‘Indeed,’ said Armando as I pressed the door buzzer.

‘Good morning,’ came an Oscar Wilde-esque voice.

‘Morning Cyril, it’s Armando and Wayne.’

A vibration from the door informed us that our entry had been granted.

A lacklustre and pale Cyril opened the door, ‘she’s in the sitting room.’

‘You not feeling good either eh?’ asked Armando.

‘I’m rather delicate too. We overdid it at the funeral yesterday.’

Armando disappeared behind the kitchen door and I moved towards HRH Lil. She was propped up in her armchair with her slippered feet on a pouffe. Her housecoat hung limp protecting her modesty. A wet flannel was folded across her forehead.

‘Do sit,’ she said weakly.

‘Armando’s just preparing breakfast Lil. Are you sure you can manage it. What happened? Cyril said you overdid it yesterday,’

Lil opened one eye and glared at Cyril before saying, ‘I must try and eat something. I was sick when I got home yesterday and have a throbbing head. I think I’ve a bug or something.’

‘Perhaps it’s not wise to eat a rich breakfast in that case. Shall I just get you some dry toast?’ I asked.

‘No, no. I must try and it might make me feel better. I’ve taken some painkillers and they work better with food.’ Her motionless arms rested on the sides of her chair. She had a hot water bottle over her stomach.

‘Do you think you have the same bug?’ I asked Cyril.

‘Definitely,’ Cyril said with a smile on his face.

Armando appeared with a tray holding a pot and cups and placed it carefully on the coffee table. I set about the stirring process to hasten the brewing.

‘Lil, here is plate on tray. Can you sit up please,’ said Armando.

‘Thank you. I’ll try,’ she responded as the flannel fell. Lil readjusted her position and received the steaming tray onto her lap. Her eyes widened and she set about consumption. She was marginally more delicate than usual, however, it was clear that the sight of breakfast had enthused her appetite.

Armando was soon before us again with three side plates, each carrying a blueberry muffin. I was going to miss my solitary sausage this morning.

‘How was Portugal?’ asked Lil.

‘Fantastic thanks, the villa as always was lovely, the sun shone, and sangria consumed as if it were going out of fashion.’

‘You’ve been before?’ asked Cyril.

‘Yes, my friends have a six bedroom, seven bathroom villa which we visit periodically.’

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‘A bit posh…’ said Lil.

‘Yeah we were, until we hit the karaoke in an English bar.’

‘That’s not very Boulevardier-like now is it? Are you a singer or a writer?’ said Lil. She let out a weak cackle. The grilled flat mushroom was assisting in her recovery as she popped another sliver into her mouth.

‘Both thank you Lil. We shared so many laughs. We were off to a great start when my friend Sammy Jo got stuck in the downstairs loo.’

‘Was she pissed?’ asked Lil. Cyril nearly choked on his muffin.

‘I don’t think so, although the alcohol consumption across the holiday was vast. In fact one day we went out for a late breakfast and didn’t get home until 11pm.’

‘What a bunch of bloody lushes,’ said Lil.

Cyril coughed nervously.

‘Something stuck in your throat Cyril?’ said Lil through pursed lips.

‘We played parlour games too,’ I said.

‘What? Between drinks?’ asked Armando. Lil laughed and then threw her hand to her forehead.

‘Yes, and I had a mishap.’ I said.

‘Now this I want to hear about,’ said Lil as she carved her sausage with gusto.

‘There is a neighbourhood dog who always comes to say hello. We call him Saucisson, due to his shape, who was scurrying through the villa. I smiled at him and his tinkering bell as he trotted passed me. I entered the downstairs cloakroom, closed and locked the door, despite my own personal bathroom only being the other side of the wall. After washing my hands I turned the key and it stuck. It would only turn 45 degrees. I tried half a dozen times.’

Lil let out a cackle, ‘please don’t tell me you were locked in the loo, I can’t cope, I might wet myself,’ said Lil. Cyril didn’t look too pleased at the thought of Lil having an accident.

‘Let me carry on,’ I said, ‘a modicum of panic set in. Was I stuck in a small windowless room with a single functional purpose?’

‘Here comes the drama,’ said Lil and winked at Cyril. Armando was shaking his head and grinning.

‘Fortunately in a villa of this magnitude the downstairs WC is still sizeable – I’ve seen box bedrooms smaller, however, they usually have views to the outside. Several beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I dabbed them away with the hand towel. I stopped dead and listened. I could hear my fellow sun-seekers chattering by the pool in the distance. We were separated by several thick stone walls. They would never hear my cries for help.’

‘It sounds terrifying,’ said Cyril.

I took the opportunity to pause and extract a deep sip from my tea before continuing, ‘I turned the key more frantically now, and it wouldn’t give any encouragement that my freedom was closer. I tried to lift the door to the left – nothing, to the right – nothing. I pushed it in, and pulled it towards me. My valiant efforts were futile. Perspiration had multiplied and my breathing became quicker. I was gasping for air. I was convinced I was in a sealed cell and my lot was up. The metal slats in the ceiling assured me otherwise. I rotated the faucet and splashed cold water on my visage and hatched a plan.’

I took another gulp of tea.

‘Come on,’ said Armando impatiently circling his hands to encourage perpetuation of my tale.

‘I sat on the convenience, lid down of course, and listened intently for sound recognisable as one of my potential saviours inside the villa.

Nothing.

I grasped the key, firmer, with renewed and forced positivity – no negotiation.

“Hello,” I called out. I wasn’t sure if the welcome footsteps had registered my greeting.

“Hello, can you help me please? I’m stuck in the lav,” I’d called more urgently and this time “What?” came an acknowledgement. I repeated my statement. “Oh, hold on for a couple of minutes,” came a cool and calming response. I’d hoped Dan had gone for tools. The ascending roars and cackles from the pool confirmed his primary mission one of information rather than rescue. I dabbed the moisture from my brow again, which was forming faster and in greater quantity.’

‘If you’d have spent less time dabbing and more time trying to work the lock-‘, started Lil. Cyril interrupted and said, ‘I feel claustrophobic just listening Wayne, which is making me feel even dizzier, please hurry up and tell us how you got out.’

I continued, ‘I heard a female voice “Babe, pull the key back and try again. It needs to be nearer you.’ It was Sammy Jo, an expert in cloakroom escapology. “I know it’s in the right place. I’ve tried every position,” I answered while attempting again.

Quiet.

“Are you sure it’s in the right spot?”

“Yes I can sense it turning about 45 degrees and then it sticks.”

“OK. Hold on.” And with that I was in my solitary space again. The footsteps were quick and the many voices varied. I couldn’t isolate a single one but knew Jane, Karen, Sorrel, Claire and Sammy Jo were there. Their laughter was loudest of all, and cackles that would match yours Lil.’

‘I doubt that,’ said Lil.

‘My friends – every single one of them – were seeing a funnier side than me. The next three quarters of an hour were filled with keys being levered under doors, shrieks, drills, and despairs before I finally saw the bolt release and facilitate my freedom. In the absence of Sherry to settle my shattered nerves a double white Port was a suitable substitute.’

I sat back. All of my breakfast companions were amused. Lil relaxed in her chair and put the flannel back on her head.

“Feeling bad again?’ asked Armando.

‘It was probably the mention of Sherry,’ said Cyril.

‘Please shut it Cyril,’ said Lil.

‘Perhaps you tried to eat too much,’ said Armando.

‘Or maybe she drank too much Sherry at the wake yesterday, as did I,’ said Cyril.

Mine and Armando’s mouths dropped open.

‘Lil, are you nursing a hangover?’ I asked firmly.

‘For a polite man, you have a flappy gob,’ said Lil glaring at Cyril from beneath her wash cloth.

‘I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let these lovely gentlemen continue to wait on you hand and foot when it’s self-inflicted and you are rather overdoing it,’ said Cyril. Hopefully Lil was too hung-over to blast him for exposing her duplicity.

‘Well, what else do you expect when I was caught up talking to the boring Gloria and Roger,’ said Lil.

‘Who are they?’ asked Armando.

‘We had been to the service at St Joseph’s on Highgate Hill, and to East Finchley crem before we went back to the home, and Cyril, Gisela and I were caught by the deceased’s niece and her husband. Gloria is a large woman with obviously dyed blonde hair and was wearing a black dress which wasn’t suitable for her size. We’d just visited the buffet, which incidentally wasn’t bad; fresh egg sandwiches and chicken and shrimp vol au vents. Anyway I said a polite hello, you know the one where you don’t expect conversation. She respected that for all of 30 bloody seconds before she started with “lovely buffet” which soon moved into their having driven from Dorset and that she had a bad back and couldn’t drive. Roger apparently was a slow driver. Poor Roger kept on going to speak but she’d cut him off. She’d been on a bus to visit an air show. The bus was inching forwards towards the stop, so she got up and started down the stairs when the driver decided to hit the brakes, and she bashed her back on the step behind her – twice. It went on and on. It was only the refills of Sherry which kept me going.’

‘They don’t sound like the best company, but I’m not sure that was excuse enough to get hammered,’ I said.

‘Perhaps Cyril’s a bad influence,’ said Lil.

‘Hardly,’ said Cyril.

‘Are you sure it wasn’t that Marty person,’ I said through gritted teeth.

‘Nah he was at band practice,’ said Lil.

I dare not even ask what type of band he was in.

‘Gisela unwell too?’ asked Armando.

‘No, she only had the one Sherry,’ said Cyril.

‘Perhaps you two should follow her example in future,’ I said.

 

The villa belongs to good friends and is a fabulous place for a holiday. Winter rates are pretty reasonable and Portugal is divine. If you want more information please take a look at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g776012-d2120092-Villa_Laranja-Luz_Faro_District_Algarve.html

Here’s a view from the balcony and all the photos in the post are from the villa

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Indian Summer at Breakfast Club

The large chrome electric fan in my bedroom was fast becoming redundant and balmy heat was giving way to a chill in the air. The last vestiges of summer were clinging on but would soon lose their grip to the melancholy of autumn facilitating the onset of winter.

The only positive I could find was that it was Thursday and that meant Breakfast Club. I pulled the duvet up to cover my cold shoulders and wondered whether Armando had re-organised the café to accommodate a larger table to facilitate Lil’s growing popularity. Attendance was becoming a lottery and I didn’t know who would have a lucky number today. Were Gisela and Cyril regulars or passers-by? Was Mavis going to make another battle appearance? Had anyone heard from Bill? The only one I willed not to see was Marty, and I hoped he was already on his way out.

As I knotted my delicate neckerchief I deliberated as to how the promise of a spring scarf had given way to the cold of its autumn counterpart. Depression was setting in. I could feel its dark veil snuffing out my light.

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Our table, which had not altered in size or capacity, was empty. Armando was behind the counter and I nodded and half-smiled in his direction. He reciprocated.

There were three solo customers, each at their own table, clutching their cups and mugs as if searching for the feeling of warmth. No one looked happy.

A gust of pensioner entered the café as Gisela, who was closely followed by Lil, arrived. They both looked flustered.

‘Morning ladies,’ I said with as much positivity as I could muster and rose to kiss them.

‘Morgan Wayne, sorry we are late,’ said Gisela who led the charge.

‘We’re not late, and morning Wayne and to you too Armando,’ said Lil with irritation in her voice.

I glanced at my phone to validate the time as 9.57. No one was late. I decided not to share my findings.

‘We have cut too fine,’ said Gisela and added, ‘I prefer to allow extra time to ensure promptness and we agreed you would arrive at the corner for 9.45 precisely.’

‘I told you I had a last minute adjustment to make and we don’t need fifteen minutes for a four minute walk. Goodness Gisela, you do get dramatic at times,’ said Lil.

‘I’ll order tea,’ I said trying to divert attention. I did understand them both. I would rather be early than late. However, they were neither – they were perfectly on time.

Armando joined us, ‘tea is on its way and café is empty.’

Oh dear the change in season was affecting everyone’s mood.

Judith appeared with a large grey pot which she settled in the centre of the table, and stood, notepad poised to take our order.

‘Full English please,’ said Lil.

‘Me too,’ said Gisela. Lil raised her eyebrows. I surmised that Gisela was attempting a white flag through food.

‘Vegetarian with a sausage please,’ I said.

‘Ha,’ said Lil and cackled, ‘that never gets old Boulevardier.’ Gisela laughed too. It was in fact a small cackle that I hadn’t heard from her Germanic timbre before. Lil was catching and I hoped Gisela was infected by Lil rather than becoming her Single White Female.

‘Blueberry muffin for me please,’ said Armando.

‘No Marty today?’ I asked Lil.

‘No, he’s off to the races. He asked me to go with him but I told him I wouldn’t miss a Breakfast Club,’ answered Lil. She looked upwards and into the distance.

Gisela tutted. She was indeed becoming Lil’s mini-me.

‘How’s the love life Armando?’ I asked.

‘Yes good. He is a nice man. The only problem is his English. He doesn’t really speak any. We have to use a translator application on his phone. It makes for slow conversation.’

‘Time to talk, have you?’ cackled Lil.

Armando tutted.

Lil removed the cream silk scarf which had been covering her head and patted her very set curls. I took my cue.

‘Fancy-pants hair Lil.’

‘Yes, thank you. I splashed out and went to the hairdressers yesterday. Sometimes I need more than just a rinse at home.’

‘I must pay a visit myself,’ said Gisela as she tried to pouf her own deflated locks, ‘looks wunderbar.’

Lil gave her side swirls another pat.

‘I do love an appointment at the hairdressers; someone gently washing your hair and massaging your head. And then a good session under the dryer with a pile of mags at your side. Ooooo I could go every day if I could afford it,’ said Lil.

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‘Why is it at the hairdressers that we don’t get to read anything serious? Does the dye, shampoo and hair-cutting shrivel our brains?’ I asked.

Gisela looked puzzled. ‘I always take my crochet.’

‘Silly sod,’ said Lil, ‘as if you’d read anything deep,’ she added as she pointed at me. She was now fully animated and continued, ‘Look at all that shit you watch? Keeping Up with the Real Housewives of bloody America.’ The magnitude of the squawk filled the café with sunshine.

‘I guess you just want to read something light between the gossip eh?’ I bantered back.

‘Too right sunshine,’ said Lil. She was indeed bringing some sunshine into this grey day.

Our plates arrived leaving a trail of fragrant smoke behind them. I tucked straight in and carelessly pulled my egg apart and watched the yolk blend with the mushrooms and halloumi.

‘Heard anything from Bill?’ asked Armando.

‘Yes, I had a call from him in the week. It was great to hear his voice and he sounded well. His daughter is apparently a bit controlling and has restricted his food intake, but let’s face it, losing a few pounds wouldn’t go amiss,’ said Lil as she frantically added salt to her bacon.

‘You think he’ll come back?’ asked Armando.

The atmosphere started to dip. Lil looked pensive as she chewed on a combination of egg white and tomato. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve not thought anything of it.’

‘He must miss his home. I do, and it’s been a long time since I were in Bonn,’ said Gisela.

Our momentary joy was waning.

‘Autumn always makes me miss my aunt,’ said Lil and dabbed her eye with her pink paper napkin.

I reached over to put my hand on hers, but she moved it too quickly to pick up her cutlery again.

‘But autumn also reminds me of betrayal and that awful Bellamy woman, which makes me very cross,’ said Lil as she tore into an uncompromising rasher of bacon which was proving difficult to slice demurely.

‘I don’t know the history, but she is certainly a multiple faced woman,’ said Gisela as she firmly placed her own cutlery on her plate. She hadn’t managed to finish her voluminous platter but looked sated at her efforts.

Lil was alluding to more than the latest spat with Mavis, but I wasn’t sure now was the best time to pursue her on the subject. The gloom of faded summer had us all in its icy grasp.

‘Yes, well I’m not going to dwell on her and her duplicity, especially as poor Betty isn’t even in the ground yet,’ said Lil.

‘Oh so sorry,’ said Armando and mouthed, ‘who’s Betty?’ to me. Lil saw.

‘Don’t worry boys. Betty came to our Age Club for a while before she got put in care in Highgate. I didn’t know her that well, but the poor sod had no life at the end, according to Mavis. It’s her funeral next Wednesday.’

‘Are you going Lil? Gisela?’

‘Yes, although I didn’t know her. Lil has said it’s OK and that we all go to all the funerals,’ said Gisela.

‘Well they’re the main get-togethers at our age, and I never say no to a free vol au vent,’ said Lil.

There was an air of imminent darkness as seasons were changing but at least we’d shared a few laughs among the tea and sausages at our warming Breakfast Club.

Nice One Cyril

‘Armando I think you’re going to have to get a bigger table,’ Lil shouted towards the kitchen wall.

‘Morning Lil,’ I said and smiled at the gentleman sitting next to her. It wasn’t Marty McGuire, which was a relief, however, I hoped she hadn’t moved on to another potential beau. Was this trail of suitors a rebound reflex after Bill?

‘Ah Wayne, you’re here at last,’ said Lil. I looked at my watch which confirmed it was 9.55am. I was early for Breakfast Club.

‘This is Cyril, my neighbour,’ she clarified.

‘How do you do?’ said Cyril and stood as he offered me his hand to shake. He was shorter than me, bald and wearing horn-rimmed spectacles. He was wearing a white shirt with a powder-blue cardigan and grey herringbone trousers. He was not a new suitor.

‘Welcome to Breakfast Club Cyril. Lil’s mentioned you before,’ I said and smiled.

Cyril sat again, ‘Oh dear, has she? I dread to think what she’s been saying.’

‘That you’re one of my favourite neighbours,’ said Lil in a firm tone while giving me one of her looks. ‘Where’s the tea Armando?’ she directed at the kitchen wall.

‘Coming,’ came a flustered reply.

Lil shuffled in her seat and fiddled with the sleeve of her sweater. Armando appeared from the kitchen armed with our morning elixir.

‘Assam OK with you Cyril?’ asked Armando.

‘I prefer Earl Grey if it’s not too much trouble,’ said Cyril. Lil snorted as if she were about to release a burst of laughter but managed to contain herself. No doubt Earl Grey symbolised clarification for her. Armando signalled at a passing waitress who had heard and registered the request. A good waiter or waitress is able to listen to their customers and filter out their needs from the general hubbub of conversation, and anticipate their requirements.

‘Why are we going to need a bigger table?’ I asked.

‘Well Gisela won’t be here today, but with her, Cyril, Marty and Nelly, and the pair of you this ain’t suitable,’ said Lil.

‘I didn’t realise we’d extended membership,’ I said and winked at Cyril to confirm I wasn’t being rude to him.

‘I’d like my usual,’ Lil said to Judith who had arrived with Cyril’s pot of Earl Grey.

‘I’ll have a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage on the side please,’ I said.

‘Poached egg on toast please,’ said Cyril.

‘Espresso for me,’ said Armando.

‘Not eating Armando?’ I asked.

‘Not hungry,’ he responded.

‘Don’t be silly Wayne. This is a public space and not an exclusive club.’

I pondered what Lil’s response would be if I started bringing my friends.

She continued, ‘I’ve wanted Cyril to meet you two for some time, and after he cooked such a delicious lunch yesterday I thought the timing was perfect.’ Lil patted Cyril affectionately on the arm. She continued, ‘I only had a slice of Madeira cake for supper as I was still full.’

Cyril flushed and busied himself with pouring his tea. I’m not a fan of Earl Grey – it’s too weak. And Cyril’s pasty cup did nothing to enthuse me.

‘What did you cook?’ asked Armando.

‘Sole Veronique followed by Summer fruit pudding. It was a bit of a squash in my small flat but I think we jollied along, didn’t we Lil?’

‘Oh yes, and it was indeed quite a squeeze although Marty didn’t seem to mind that.’

Cyril flushed darker.

‘Sounds delicious. Who were the guests?’ I asked. I didn’t know what Veronique did to the sole but the name has a tasty flow.

‘Gisela, Marty, Nelly and that bloody Bellamy woman,’ said Lil.

‘I don’t think your cock a snook at Mavis helped,’ said Cyril.

‘Ha – she was asking for it trying to be all la-dee-da.’

‘Sometimes I think quiet disdain achieves the same outcome,’ said Cyril.

Breakfasts arrived. I was grateful for a swift arrival as I was particularly hungry. I doused salt and pepper across my platter and furnished my fork with tomato and a button mushroom. Armando didn’t look right with only a small shot of coffee in front of him. I took a subtle sideways glance and noticed how red his eyes were.

‘Burning the candle at both ends Armando?’ I asked.

He nodded and looked deep into his coffee cup.

‘Marty left before pudding,’ said Lil.

Cyril stood up, ‘excuse me please,’ and moved quickly towards the bathroom.

‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t have mentioned that,’ said Lil as Cyril disappeared.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Marty was being his usual jovial self yesterday and had us all in fits of laughter. He should have been a comedian you know, but at one point when Cyril was in the kitchen he joked that he thought Cyril fancied him,’ said Lil.

‘Is there anyone that man thinks doesn’t fancy him?’ I said and shook my head.

‘Hush Wayne,’ said Lil, ‘anyway Cyril came through the door a few seconds later and looked rather red in the face. We weren’t sure if it was the heat of the kitchen or that he’d heard, and that’s why I thought I’d better invite him today. If he did hear I didn’t want him to think we were all talking about him behind his back. So none of your silly games today Boulevardier, you hear.’

‘Marty probably made it worse by leaving,’ I said.

‘Yes, I told him off about that. Apparently it wasn’t only in jest either. He’s caught Cyril staring at him on a number of occasions.’

I rolled my eyes. Cyril re-joined us looking refreshed.

‘Apologies dear Breakfasters,’ said Cyril, ‘the waterworks get weaker with age.’

I hoped he meant his bladder and hadn’t been upset in the bathroom.

‘I understand you lived in Brighton previously Cyril. Is that where your family originated?’ I asked.

‘No I moved there almost twenty years ago after my mother died. I looked after her in her autumn years. We were in the Cotswolds.’

‘Oooo I’ve seen the photos, it looks bloody posh,’ said Lil.

‘That was Mummy’s cottage, which returned to the estate on her death. My older brother inherited the main house and grounds. Although he said I could have stayed in the cottage, I preferred to move somewhere with more people.’

‘Yes of course. What made you leave the seaside?’ asked Armando.

‘I wanted a few years in our great capital before I was too old to enjoy it, and completed a flat swap. I love Crouch End,’ said Cyril.

‘A toast to that,’ I said and raised my tea cup. The others followed suit.

‘Hello,’ said a voice I recognised.

‘Michael, meet Lil, Armando and Cyril,’ I said proudly. Michael had mentioned that he might call in on his way to the gym.

‘Michael,’ said Lil and got up to shake his hand, ‘it’s a pleasure. Not sure how you put up with old fussy pants over here.’ Lil cackled.

‘Yes I know,’ said Michael, ‘he can be quite like a beast at times.’

Lil laughed louder and was joined by Armando and Cyril.

‘Anyway, I thought I’d nip in and meet you all,’ said Michael and swiftly departed.

‘Seems like he’s got the measure of you Wayne, and what a nice handsome fellow,’ said Lil.

‘You think,’ I said and laughed myself.

The door swung open again. At this rate Armando would be better served by one of the revolving variety.

‘Morning sweetness,’ said a voice from the door.

I didn’t need to look around to know it was Marty.

‘Marty! I told you not before 11.30,’ said Lil.

I pursed my lips and glanced over to see that Armando and Cyril were not enamoured to see our new visitor either.

Marty looked a little uncomfortable.

‘I’m going to Budgens for some fruit. An apple a day keeps the doctor away but what does a pear do at night,’ performed Marty.

Lil demonstrated her appreciation with more crowing and said, ‘you bloody saucy rascal, now be gone with you.’

‘Laters,’ said Marty trying to sound hip.

‘Another Earl Grey Cyril? That one looks cold,’ I said.

‘Thank you – that would be delicious,’ said Cyril.