Cyril’s Inner Sanctum

Unfortunately I had been away with work most of the week, and busy into the evenings, which meant that I couldn’t check in with Lil as often as I’d have liked. Armando, as ever, stepped up to the plate and corroborated her mental and emotional condition and Cyril had become Lil’s garde-malade as he lived across the hallway. Lil hadn’t left the flat, aside from a Remembrance Day service, for fear of bumping into the interlopers. By all accounts she had barely responded to Gisela. I suspect the latter for her previously cited views on Marty.

Breakfast Club had been supplanted by a late lunch at Cyril’s. I collected Armando from the café at 1.45, who was, for once, empty handed. Cyril had everything under control.

‘How are you?’ I asked Armando as we made the short walk to Lil and Cyril’s block.

‘Doing fine I think. I have focused on increasing events at the café.’

‘That’s excellent. Who knows you might even meet someone at one of the events.’

‘Maybe, but not the purpose. It seems that Lil and I are in, and out, of relationships in sync.’

I pressed the familiar buzzer but knew that once granted permission to enter we would take a different direction at the top of the first staircase.

‘She’s flopped out in the sitting room,’ whispered Cyril as he opened his front door. The floor plan was a mirror image of Lil’s flat, but with a different ambience.  A wonderful aroma emanated from the kitchen. It was indeed a late lunch and my appetite needed no whetting. The hallway was lined with gilt-framed photos. The pictures were mostly black and white, and the faces perhaps people from Cyril’s past. Today wasn’t the day but I hoped I would have the opportunity to seek an explanation for each. I didn’t spot Lil when we first entered the sitting room as she was lost amid the rich tapestry of fur (I assume fake) throws by which the sofa was swathed. She looked small and fragile. Lil had shattered my illusions regarding the elderly. She lived with extreme emotions, high highs and low lows as an everyday part of her life. It wasn’t all lavender and Countdown. However, there was an aroma of lavender which I assumed came from one of the oil burners situated on the sideboard. Next to Lil was a small occasional table with a slim glass containing a dark liquid, and a lamp with a red velvet tasselled shade that wouldn’t look out of place in a bordello. After greeting Lil with an affectionate peck I sat in one of the two upright arms chairs filled with brocade cushions. Sherry wafted from her breath. Cyril appeared carrying a tasteful gold-coloured tray with two additional small Sherry glasses.

‘Oloroso Wayne, I hope you approve,’ said Cyril as he bowed to offer his wares. It was incredibly sweet of him to remember my preferred tipple.

‘I’ll have a top up please,’ said Lil.

‘Just the one Sherry before luncheon,’ answered Cyril.

‘Stop gawping Wayne,’ said Lil.

‘I wasn’t dear, I’m lost for words. It’s like I’m in the middle of a Greek tragedy with Medea at the centre.’

Lil snorted in appreciation of an attempt at a lighter comment.

‘There is nothing as dead as a dead love affair,’ said Lil informatively.

‘Honestly Lil, you don’t seem to be doing too badly, lying there, wrapped in fur, eating bon bons and drinking Sherry – rather sybaritic if you ask me,’ I said.

‘Has he still been pestering you?’ asked Armando moving the conversation along.

‘I have to keep taking my phone off the hook, and thank goodness we have the security downstairs otherwise he’d be knocking down my door. He has got into the building a couple of times, and pleaded at my door. I can’t face him yet.’

‘It’s shameful, Irish barbarity,’ said Cyril and then disappeared to put the finishing touches to lunch.

‘It’s Nelly I feel sorry for. He’s got her to call a few times too,’ said Lil.

‘It’s probably not the first time,’ I said before biting my lip to stop any further vitriol escaping. Armando glared at me to stunt additional inflammatory comments.

‘I didn’t see Nelly there last week Lil. Was she?’ I asked.

‘No, she came later, and was mortified according to Gisela,’ said Lil.

‘Is Gisela joining us today?’ Armando asked.

‘No, she had a meeting which would run into the start of lunch.’

‘I’m sure Cyril wouldn’t mind her coming late. It’s only lunch,’ I said as I polished off the remainder of my Oloroso.

‘You haven’t been to Cyril’s before. It’s more formal than you’d expect and it wouldn’t be appropriate to arrive mid-way through an event. You’ll see,’ said Lil.

‘Please come into the dining room, lunch is ready,’ said Cyril.

‘Can’t we eat here?’ implored Lil.

‘No,’ said Cyril but lamented and added, ‘but you can bring a fur if it would make you happy.’ Lil wrapped a mink-coloured throw around her shoulders and led the charge to the dining room. A formal table was laid, without cloth, but with stunning, shining silverware and an ornate candelabra at the centre. A Rococo glass mirror hung on the wall, beneath which was a delicious arrangement of pussy willow and gladioli in a vase atop a dark wooden bookcase. I spotted novels by Willa Carther and Nancy Mitford before turning my attention to the table where devilled eggs were set out; name place cards guided us to our appointed position.

‘Would you pour the wine please?’ Cyril asked Armando.

‘Yes please,’ said Lil before she was asked, although as the only lady present she would have been served first in any event.

‘You have a lovely home,’ I said.

‘Thank you. I try to keep it decent and comfortable. The mirror there came from my family home.’ It was like being in an aristocratic council flat. Decadence oozed from every pore but with frayed and faded edges.

‘The fish is in the oven, so please eat up,’ said Cyril.

‘Anything from Mavis?’ I ventured to enquire.

‘Nothing,’ answered Lil with such finality in her voice I dared not pursue it further.

‘Look, I know this has hit me hard and it has and I feel bloody humiliated, but I’ve been worse. I knew that Marty had wandering eyes, but that was part of his charm.’

Armando and I eyed each other in a way which agreed that we would have to meet with Marty, establish his true intentions and aid this affair to reach its conclusion one way or another.

‘Shall I tell you something of the outside?’ I asked.

‘Yes please,’ said Cyril welcoming new life into the discussion.

‘Last Sunday I went for a power walk with my friend Marina to Alexandra Palace –’

‘Power walk?’ interrupted Lil with a cackle.

I glanced at her in an overtly dramatic manner and continued, ‘an unusual, well unusual for Ally Pally, smell hit our nostrils, and Marina said she could smell cheese. I recognised the smell from childhood and it wasn’t cheese. Let’s call it a farmyard smell. I took a deep breath and declared that it was muck. I further tried to isolate the aroma, and pronounced it was most likely pig. Well Marina almost fell on the floor laughing. ‘Trust you, she’d said to be able to know whose backside it came from. It was a perfect country boy meets city girl moment.’

‘Silly sod,’ said Lil looking slightly cheered.

‘Country gents don’t have to analyse muck,’ said Cyril, ‘especially during a civilised luncheon.’

‘You’re a sillier sod than he is,’ said Lil waving her fork at Cyril.

Cyril took this as a cue to remove the plates and attend to the stuffed and roasting haddock in the oven.

‘I know whose face I’d like to push into that muck,’ said Lil.

‘Now,’ said Armando as he topped up the wine glasses. We used to drink Assam tea, and were devolving (or evolving I can’t make my mind up) into lunchtime drinkers.

‘When do you think you’ll return to society?’ I asked Lil.

‘I don’t have to leave the block and I have Cyril here, and Gisela is visiting regularly, but I know that moment will come. I feel ashamed,’ said Lil with water forming in the corner of her eye.

‘You have nothing to be ashamed of,’ said Armando and rested a comforting hand on Lil’s thin arm.

‘Exactly,’ I echoed, ‘Marty and Mavis should be mortified.’

Cyril reappeared carrying antique gilt-edged white plates loaded with roast fish, sautéed potatoes and spinach. As we started to tuck in the door buzzer rang – urgently.

‘Ignore it,’ said Cyril. He feared it was Marty.

The buzzer rang again and it did sound pressing.

‘Excuse me,’ said Cyril as he stood with irritation and slapped his napkin on the back of his chair. We listened intently and heard Cyril grant the caller entry. Lil looked suddenly ashen. We heard a recognisable voice, and an out of breath Gisela joined us in the dining room.

‘Sorry to disturb but I had to come and tell you immediately,’ said Gisela and welcomed the wine glugging into a glass in front of her. After taking a sip she continued, ‘I was walking home from the community centre and I bumped into Mavis with three or four children, presumably relations. She greeted me sheepishly and I returned the greeting with a polite but formal attitude and carried on my way. However, hiding and poking his head from the very next corner was Marty. It was no coincidence in my opinion. He is not sorry for behaviour.’

‘I never trust a woman draped in children,’ said Lil with pursed lips.

Whatever she said, Lil didn’t blame Marty anywhere near as much as she did Mavis. History and past hurt leaned heavy on her views but she was dangerously close to allowing that to cloud her contemplations. I glanced from Gisela to Armando and Cyril and knew we were united in purpose. Armando and I would meet with this Irish Don Juan.


Hoity-Toity Crouch End

I’d been in the cafe for about ten minutes and was still waiting for Lil to sit down. She was standing at the front window, arms firmly on her hips ruffling the sides of her spring floral blouse and crinkling the daffodils emblazoned upon it.

She tutted.

‘Lil come and sit down for goodness sake. Standing at the window is not going to make him arrive any quicker,’ I suggested.

‘No, I want him to see my face as soon as he turns the corner. I told him Breakfast Club starts at 10am and it’s almost ten past. I don’t want his interruptions. He sure as hell won’t be getting any homemade soup for lunch today now.’

‘Shall I order at least?’ I asked.

‘No… ‘’I’m nipping to the Post Office’’ he said,’ Lil added.

Armando came over and whispered that he feared Lil was scaring away potential customers.

‘Ah, here he comes, the lost man of Crouch End,’ said Lil and pursed her lips in an explosive pout. Her truculence escalated.

Bill entered the cafe in a stressed manner with the tails of his grey raincoat billowing like a cape behind him. He went to kiss Lil on the cheek and she turned away.

“I’m sorry love. There was a queue in the Post Office. The wait does seem to be longer since they started the renovations but they promise it will be more efficient once the self-service counters are fitted,’ said Bill.

‘The queue must have been as far as the Clock Tower with the amount of time you’ve taken. Now hand over my stamps.’ Lil was not yielding to Bill.

‘No, the queue was outside the front door, but when I came out I bumped into Lucy and we had a quick catch up –’

‘Who the hell is Lucy?’ Lil asked. I wondered if any answer was likely to satisfy her need for blood.

‘Oh you know, Lucy Ridley-Smythe, my daughter’s friend who recently moved into one of the big houses on Weston Park. She had the twins with her. It would have been rude not to stop and catch up.’

‘Oh ‘er. One of the new, hoity-toity Crouch Enders. She gets on my nerves,’ said Lil.

Bill jiggled with a suppressed laugh and Lil tutted. Lil had an ability to tut and make the entire room shake – figuratively. Lil’s tuts are legendary. She could win awards for them.

I was also subduing a growing need to laugh out loud. It was pretty comical to watch; Lil was in the throes of taming her man. He would be a fool to resist for too long. It would be too painful.

‘Right well, I shall leave you to your Breakfast Club and come back later. Are we still meeting for lunch?’ asked Bill.

‘No, you’ve irritated me. I will call you later and we can make plans from there. You may go your own way.’ Lil sauntered towards me at our usual back table and sat down, straightening her skirt in a demure fashion, which I hoped would also calm her mood.

‘Let’s order boys. I’ve worked up quite the appetite today. I’ll have a full English with an extra sausage please.’ Lil let out an enormous cackle just as Bill had closed the door. He heard her verbal expression of enjoyment and that was exactly what she wanted.

‘In that case I’ll have a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage please,’ I said, adding to the joke.

‘Bloody customers should order items on the well-developed menu,’ said Armando. Lil and I looked at Armando with our mouths aghast. Surely we hadn’t upset him.

Armando grinned.

‘Very good,’ said Lil. You had me fooled and I’d already had my fill of drama from men today.’

We toasted our cups of tea together with a china chink and cemented our camaraderie as Breakfast Club members.

‘What’s happened to Crouch End? It used to be full of real Londoners, and a community. Now it’s got all the bloody la-di-da crowd who couldn’t afford Highgate,’ said Lil.

‘Come on, it’s not that bad Lil. It still has a great community spirit,’ I said.

‘I agree,’ said Armando, ‘lovely customers; some of them have been here years. Lots of groups for the community.’

‘Well neither of you were here twenty years ago. It wasn’t the new place to be. No one would touch it with a barge pole. That’s the spirit I miss. The real original Crouch Enders, when you went to Alexandra Palace for the horse racing, not bloody hoity-toity picnics with sun-dried tomatoes.’


‘Horse Racing at Ally Pally? Are you sure, where?’ I asked.

Lil casually buttered a thick slab of toast. Suspense hung in the air.

‘Of course I’m bloody sure. I ain’t losing me marbles yet, you cheeky sod. It was there until the early 1970s. It was called the Frying Pan, because of its shape. We used to love going up there. And where do you think Victoria Stakes got its name from?’ Lil gave us that all-knowing look. I wish she recounted some of her more personal memories with as much warmth and nostalgia. I hoped there were some.

‘Wow, never knew that,’ said Armando.

‘Neither did I. Lil you are a font of knowledge today,’ I said. Lil smiled and celebrated by smothering another piece of toast with butter.

‘But I have to disagree that all is lost. Where else can you get a fishmonger’s, bakers, grocers, florists and haberdashery in a single London suburb? People remember you, people talk to each other. I love it and am proud to be a Crouch Ender,’ I said with pride.

‘I’ll tell you where you can get ‘em; in-between the millions of coffee shops, no offence Armando, over-priced artisan delicatessens and bakers, and vintage shops selling people’s unwanted shit for extortionate prices. Us, ahem, older members of the community are being pushed out.’ Lil was passionate about her lost part of London.

‘Never Lil. No one would ever dare push you out or even around.’

‘Too bleedin’ right. Now someone get me a fresh pot of tea,’ she said.

Armando’s chair seemed to glide from his bottom and he was off and into the kitchen. No one stood between Lil and her tea.

‘And another thing, don’t think that I don’t know that Bill will be crawling around my front door later with flowers and so he should.

What a great and productive Breakfast Club with my boys.’

I couldn’t agree more. I loved our precious Thursday mornings.


A turn around Ally Pally

Following my second bout of pulmonary emboli two months ago it’s been a challenge to pick up and hold my Boulevardier head high.

Exercise is so important to me from a health, fitness and mental health point of view. However, I knew it would be a couple of months before I could enjoy being an Active Virgin again.

Between work and Boulevarider duties I’ve struggled to fit in any exercise, and haven’t had the energy either. However, with working days further reduced, and this time on a permanent basis, I decided to propel some energy into a power walk to Alexandra Park and Palace.

I woke with a headache, which seemed to be a theme that week. Assam tea would revive me, it always does.

So after two large mugs of Assam and a bowl of porridge with peach slices I attired in jogging pants, t shirt, hoodie and trainers and set off.

I walked along Park Road and started to get out of breath quite quickly, which is expected. I smiled at the healthier looking joggers coming toward me. I am not sure I completely understand the code of recognition between runners. Last year when I upped my running, or rather progressed from walking as I lost weight, the nods from passing runners increased. I am back to walking and the runners no longer nod at me. I keep smiling however.

There are black railings at the entrance to the park and they also seem to act as a traffic noise barrier. Park Road and the junction with Muswell Hill are so busy and one must endure the constant whoosh of cars along with the associated exhaust fumes. Once beyond the railings the concrete avenue opens up with large swaying trees either side without the vehicular sounds.

One man jogged passed with his spaniel in tow. I smiled but did not get acknowledged.

Ally Pally 2

I walked along the base of the hill and was following the route I would take when running. The trees disappear from one side to reveal the expanse of open fields, and the trees break also on the other side revealing a path directly up to the Palace. The path is steep and I took the turn. The effects of the incline are instant, and walking becomes laboured. I looked up and could see the empty arches of Alexandra Palace in the distance as a red double decker passed the front. It reminded me of an early evening run last November. It was a typical foggy London evening and as I rounded the same corner the yellow of the street lamps thickened the appearance of the fog. In the distance I could see the empty arches and two double deckers passed from different directions. With the dark and the fog vision was restricted and the lights within the buses shining through the window gave a skeletal appearance. Two moving skeletons passed across Alexandra Palace in the dark fog. I wished I had taken a photo.

I made it to the top of the hill and up the two flights of steps and rested, completely out of breath. There were a few tourists taking photos. It doesn’t matter the time of year, there are always people taking photos towards the city.

I moved on, and didn’t pause to skip where I would usually throw the rope under my feet and jump fifty times. I carried on and around the boating pond. Some silly people were feeding the pigeons, geese, ducks and moorhens. Please see one of my previous blogs to understand my feelings for our feathered enemies.

The path then sweeps down toward a wooded area where they are paddocks containing deer. I walked down the slighter slope, turned at the ‘Welcome to Alexandra Park’ sign and walked back up the hill and rounded to the front of the Palace. There was a solitary man conducting or practicing something like Tae Kwando. I am not familiar enough with the gentler martial arts come dance move practices to be certain and name it correctly.

Ally Pally 1

There are four sets of steps and usually I would run up and down three of them a fair quantity of times. This day I decided to climb two sets ten times and another twenty. On the third set there was an older lady who had paused for breath or to take in the view and we smiled at each other.

‘I should try something like that. It looks like fun!’ she said.

‘It is.’ I responded trying to smile, sound friendly and not out of breath while trying not to fall on the step. I am not the best multi-tasker.

Earlier in the year when running the same route with my friend Marina we encountered a small film crew at the first set of steps who suggested we move along quickly as they were filming. It was delivered with an air of self-importance. Marina started to move on and I gently pulled her back and announced.

‘We’re fine thank you. We only have twenty sets to do and then we’ll be out of your way.’

Marina and I smiled at each other knowingly. They were being unreasonable and we would only be a few minutes. We completed our sets nodded politely at the three strong crew and moved along. Indeed we would have made a fine addition to their film.

I walked back down the steep part of the hill and along the avenue before joining the throngs of Park Road.

I was pleased with my effort and so glad to have such a London landmark and heavenly vista within a short walk of home.

I walked into Crouch End and purchased swede, carrots, onions and beef for a winter stew which would heat in the slow cooker.