We’d said goodbye to Gisela on Saturday morning not knowing how soon we would see her again. At least we could draw comfort from the fact that she would be back, even if only for a short time, to settle her affairs. This was of course dependent upon the Germany move being a positively splendid experience. Life went on and it was Thursday morning and Breakfast Club was imminent. This week was to be a special club although I wasn’t sure if anyone else realised so. It was the anniversary of our first, and at that point unofficial, Breakfast Club; only Lil or Armando would potentially be aware, and neither had mentioned anything. I’d dressed in a special black t shirt with CELEBRATION written across it in glittering silver. I got to the café deliberately early with a cake. A local baker’s had made and decorated the cake for me with a ‘Full English’ iced on the top. Armando was surprised when I appeared with a cake, and as suspected hadn’t realised the importance of the occasion. He stored our sweet and commemorative treat carefully in the kitchen until the others arrived.
As I sat at our table I bathed in the feeling of comfort and a second home from home. It was still a good 15 minutes before the others would arrive, even if early, and it gave me time to people watch. I hoped my clique wouldn’t keep me waiting as the first set of diners I tuned into were nothing to write home about. I shuddered as I listened intently to their ordering.
‘Pear, apple or orange juice? all freshly squeezed’ Armando asked.
‘You don’t by any chance have any squash?’ the female diner asked.
‘Errrm, I’ll see what I can do,’ Armando said. A dash to the corner shop a few doors down might be required. ‘Would you like that with sparkling water?’
‘Errrrgh no. I don’t do sparkling. I’ll have it neat,’ she said.
‘I’ll have a tea and a Full English,’ her male companion said, ‘but I don’t want beans.’
‘Extra mushrooms or tomato instead?’ Armando asked maintaining a friendly demeanour.
‘I don’t want mushrooms,’ the squash girl said. Armando smiled.
‘It doesn’t say chips,’ the male said.
‘No chips,’ said the girl fiddling nervously with her phone, her face turning from orange to white.
‘The breakfast is substantial,’ Armando said still smiling although his teeth were gritting.
The girl’s expression turned from horror to fury. ‘I’m sure there’s room for some chips on the side.’
I smiled at Armando. He didn’t smile back. I tried to erase the chips and squash brigade from my mind and turned my attention to an older woman I didn’t recognise. She had just sat down on the table next to ours. She removed her balding fur coat and placed it carefully on the back of her chair. She heaved an enormous, vintage, black leather handbag onto the table and pushed open the clasp. I have often wondered how older woman cope with this particular style. The clasp requires strength and dexterity to open and close and presumably gets more difficult as arthritis worsens. She pulled out a bright pink, plastic spectacles case and switched those already on her visage with another pair – presumably reading. I was feeling nostalgic and poetic as I was on a table next to an unknown old woman as I had been a year ago. I should have brought my copy of A Summer Book by Tove Jansen and reread it to complete the image. I wanted to engage her in conversation but that felt unfaithful to Lil, especially on such an auspicious occasion. The old woman removed the clear plastic rain hat and straightened her hair. A pot of tea arrived which she inspected and stirred. She called Judith back and informed her there were not enough tea leaves in the pot. I was sure I heard gnats piss being spoken of but I couldn’t be certain. I was glad Armando didn’t overhear. He wouldn’t be impressed. Judith disappeared to follow the woman’s instructions and add more leaves.
I didn’t get a chance to see if the new pot was sufficiently strong as Lil and Cyril burst through the door.
‘That bloody machine will be worn out before we even get to bingo,’ Lil said as she thrust her overcoat on the back of the chair revealing a brightly flowered house coat.
‘Morning Lil. What’s happened?’
‘Bill. He’s off at the community centre every morning to practice with the new machine.’
‘It is sweet,’ Cyril said.
‘Whose side are you on?’ Lil asked.
I looked closely at Cyril. He looked a lot better than when I’d seen him earlier in the week. We’d spoken after Gisela’s announcement and he’d called round. His eyes had been red and watery but he didn’t cry in front of me. He’d said that all his life he’d seen people come and go and sometimes it hit harder than others. He had developed a close relationship with Gisela and they had often joined forces in matters of Lil. And as she was so busy with Bill he was feeling on his own. I had thought, at the time, that perhaps Armando and I should engage our matchmaking skills again but decided it wouldn’t help mentioning it then.
‘Morning Cyril. How are you?’
‘Good morning. Fine thanks and finding activities to fill my time. The church has asked me to lead the Easter committee,’ Cyril said with a smile on his face. Lil rolled her eyes. He was feeling better and my plan to become his dating emissary would have to be put on hold.
‘Armando, are you joining us?’ Lil called as Judith arrived with tea.
‘Shortly, yes,’ Armando said.
‘Oooo what’s up with him?’ Lil asked. Armando could hear but chose to ignore and continued busying himself behind the counter. I wondered whether it was birthday matters which kept him from us.
‘I’ve bought a new writing bureau,’ I said.
‘Fancy pants. What’s that for?’
‘Writing.’ I said.
‘I know that you silly sod. I meant why did you need a new one?’
‘I was using an old rickety table in the spare room and we decided to get a new, well new to us, vintage writing bureau. It might be even older than you Lil.’ Lil erupted into a cackle.
‘Where did you get that from?’
‘ebay or rather South London.’
‘I’ve heard of that eBay. Is that like a shop online?’
‘Yes indeed. It’s an online auction site. We bid and won the item and had to go to a rather less than salubrious part of South London to collect it last Sunday morning. I was anxious as the block of flats was dilapidated to say the least. The lady though was lovely, even if she had just cooked sausages and the bureau stank of greasy pork. It was nothing a good wiping and a can of lavender polish couldn’t fix.’
‘Why did you want an old one?’
‘More of an inspiring set up.’
‘Classic all the way. I don’t blame you Wayne. Some of the modern furniture is so gauche,’ Cyril said.
Conversation fell away as the café door opened and in walked Mavis. She looked well, in the circumstances, even if her eyes appeared sunken. She was flanked by two of her cronies and walked straight to the counter. She smiled across at our table and I thought I saw a sly wink in Lil’s direction. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Lil wink back. Mavis moved with less energetic purpose than previously but it was good to see her out and about. She left without incident holding aloft a takeaway paper cup. She had no doubt thrust herself back into committee work for age club.
‘I’m hungry, I wish Armando would hurry up,’ Lil said to us, but loud enough for Armando to overhear. He was talking to a man at the counter dressed in a smart black suit. They were laughing and joking. The suited man turned and looked at us. Armando dashed from behind the counter and steering the suit towards us.
‘I would like you all to meet Owen.’ Lil’s mouth fell open as she looked the handsome, smooth man standing in front of her, up and down – as did Cyril.
‘Hello,’ I said standing up.
‘I’ve heard a lot about you all. You must be Lil,’ he said offering his hand.
‘Oh hello,’ Lil said with rather a forced posh accent.
‘I’m dashing now. I just dropped off Armando’s shopping list he left at mine this morning.’ And with that he was gone. Armando beamed.
‘About bloody time we met him,’ Lil said and dropped her faux diction. ‘Can we get on and order please, I’m about to drop. I’m as weak as a kitten.’ Judith appeared as if by magic and took our usual order. I was desperate for a vegetarian with a sausage but having lost three and a half pounds this week I needed to stick to my plan. My sausage craving would have to be suppressed. With the order placed we waited. The aroma of other patrons’ fulfilled orders becomes more desirable and intense when you are waiting for your own. I could smell sausages and eggs. It was all too much.
‘What’s it like here?’ asked the lady on the next table.
‘The best breakfasts in Crouch End,’ Cyril said.
‘And lunch and cake,’ Armando added.
‘I’ve not seen you before. Hello I’m Cyril.’ He had twisted in his seat and held out the hand of friendship.
‘I’ve just done a flat swap from Bermondsey. My daughter lives this way. And I’m Gertie.’ She shook Cyril’s hand. From the look on his face it was firmer than he expected.
‘Dirty Gertie from number 30.’ Lil erupted into an earth shaking cackle.
‘Lil.’ I said. This was outspoken even for her.
‘It’s all right – I like a laugh.’ Gertie echoed Lil’s cackle. I don’t think Lil was accustomed to competing for cackle volume.
‘Don’t we all,’ Lil said. Her face grimaced and her voice had essences of her snooty aloofness again.
‘I haven’t heard that for years. My old fella used to say it all the time. Where did it come from, the saying I mean?’ I knew the phrase and equally hadn’t heard it for years. Armando looked foxed too.
‘Bloody Basil Brush,’ Lil said and added, ‘Boom Boom.’ Lil and Gertie erupted again. Armando looked confused.
‘It’s nice to meet you. Everyone else I’ve spoken to seems a bit stuck up around here,’ Gertie said.
‘You haven’t even met Mavis yet,’ Lil said.
‘Don’t ask,’ I said.
Judith delivered our breakfasts as Nelly McAleen walked through the door.
‘Just a Coca-Cola for me please Judith,’ Nelly said as she pulled up a chair from an adjacent and vacant table.
‘What a lovely surprise. How are things? I asked.
‘Grand, just grand. I’m thinking of heading off to Ireland again to see my daughter. I’m missing so much of my own family, and had great fun with them over Christmas.’
‘Fantastic. When are you planning on going over?’ asked Cyril. I looked at him for signs of losing another friend upset.
‘Not sure yet. I’d like to go for a spell but I’m not sure I could trust Marty to look after himself and not get in any bother.’ Fortunately Lil’s mouth was too busy chewing a fork load of bacon and mushroom to comment.
‘What’s in the envelope Armando?’ I asked of the blank white object sitting on the table.
‘My shopping list Owen dropped off.’
‘A bit mad to put it in a sealed envelope isn’t it? Unless of course chef has secret ingredients,’ Lil said.
‘Yes it is.’ Armando put down the crust of his sausage sandwich and tore the paper apart. A colourful printed page dropped on the table.
‘A weekend away – in the spring,’ Armando said. We all cheered.
‘It looks as if Judith will get her first weekend as manager in a couple of months,’ I said.
‘I can always help out,’ Lil added.
‘I’d better get on my way,’ Nelly said.
‘Not yet. I need you to stay for a few minutes.’ I disappeared to the kitchen with Armando in hot pursuit.
‘Can you believe it’s the first anniversary of our Breakfast Club,’ I said as I returned with the cake.
‘Are you telling me we’re celebrating and I’m in a house coat,’ Lil said.
‘Don’t worry about that. Do you want the slice with the iced fried egg?’ Cyril asked.
Bill walked in. He could smell cake being sliced from miles away – apparently. According to Lil it was one of his many talents.
‘What’s the cake for?’ Gertie asked.
‘Breakfast Club,’ Lil said.
‘Sounds like fun. Is it members only?’
‘Why don’t you join us,’ I said and we budged across to make room for another.
‘You’ll have to watch out for too many Full Englishes – they might spoil your figure,’ Lil counselled Gertie.
And so Breakfast Club continued and I hoped it would be a regular part of my life far into the future. My life had been enriched with the highs and lows of my friends. I can’t call them new friends anymore as I’ve known them for over a year and we had become close – an urban family. We had lived through many a drama and many a laugh in the last 12 months. People had come and gone, but I was glad to have the core members. If someone had suggested a year ago that one of my favourite regular activities would be to sit down with some senior citizens and eat a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage on the side, I may have dismissed them as loopy. Life in Crouch End is close enough to the bright lights of central London, but equally sufficiently far away to create a village atmosphere where people actually interact and speak with each other. If I hadn’t taken the time to answer an insistent old lady in a café a year ago I might never have met Lil. Who knows what the future holds, but right now I intend to sit back, drink Assam tea, eat cake, and celebrate…
If you missed any of the Breakfast Club series then the following link will take you to where it all began…
I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and share their comments and feedback for the last two years. I started writing it when recovering from a serious condition in January 2013. I set myself the goal of writing a post every week and I am proud that two years later I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I’ve met some great people along the way and made some fantastic new friends who are now a regular part of my life. Writing is something I have enjoyed ever since school and I will continue to use my spare time to better my craft. I am going to take a break from the weekly blogging and focus on a novel I’m halfway through writing and finish off a number of short stories. There is plenty more of the Breakfast Club and I’m sure I will add further tales of Lil and the gang in the future. If anyone has any comments or thoughts on whether I can use my Breakfast Club posts for publication then please shout out.
Again massive thanks for all the support, encouragement and for just reading what I’ve put out there…