Adventures in Shopping

After the events of the last couple of weeks I was looking forward to a Christmas shopping trip to Brent Cross with Armando, Lil and Cyril – Gisela was still in Germany. I wanted us to have a jolly day full of early Christmas cheer even if we had to address the Mavis and Marty issue. After a quick and uneventful Assam we walked the short distance to my car.

‘It’s a bit small isn’t it?’ Lil said of my Lexus.

‘It’s a hybrid,’ I said proudly.

Armando had assumed passenger position, and Cyril and Lil were to be in the back. However, Lil was fussing, and tapped her umbrella against the window.

‘It’s electric, I can’t open it yet,’ Armando said.

‘What? Open the window, I can’t hear you.’ Lil tapped harder with the brolly, and rather than have the glass smashed I got out again to see what was wrong.

‘I can’t sit in the back. It makes me feel sick.’ I did understand as I too suffer from motion sickness but wished she’d said before everyone was in. After a shuffling around we were off.

‘Stop,’ Lil screamed before we were even halfway up Shepherds Hill.

‘What’s wrong?’ I said swerving to the side of the road and slamming on the brakes.

‘You were too close to the car approaching from the opposite direction, and going far too fast, and now you’ve nearly knocked that poor woman over on the pavement.’ Lil  clutched her scarf in a dramatic fashion.

‘Errrr I wasn’t and that woman is fifty feet away.’

‘Can we get on please,’ Cyril said.

‘I can’t stop every two seconds for a passenger seat driver,’ I said.

‘Fine – switch up the wireless and I’ll close my eyes,’ Lil said and with that folded her arms, and gripped her patented handbag, complete with gold clasp, tightly.

‘What shops do you need?’ Armando asked, changing the subject.

‘I need a number of items from John Lewis, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to afford them all,’ Cyril said.

‘Come to Boots with me,’ Lil said.

‘I don’t think they have the kind of gifts I’m looking for’, he said

‘Come on, they do Old Spice box sets.’ Lil released a splintering cackle. Her second attempt this morning to shatter the glass in my car windows and we were barely even out of Crouch End. ‘At least we’re no longer suffering from Black Friday, which I haven’t got the foggiest idea about by the way.’

‘It’s one of those dreadful Americanisms that we can do without. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and I don’t see why we have to have their Black Friday,’ Cyril said.

‘I’m afraid with the growth of multinational companies and online shopping it was always going to come,’ I said.

‘I don’t give a shit about that. I just want to get to Brent Cross safely – watch out for those traffic lights,’ Lil said.

Fortunately Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came on the radio and we all sang along together, which improved the cheer in the atmosphere. Lil sang loudest, of course.

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‘Can’t we park any closer?’ Lil asked after I’d spent several minutes trying to be as proximate to the centre as possible.

‘No,’ I said curtly and pulled up the handbrake.

We shuffled inside and were infected by the piped Christmas jingle from the centre’s speakers.

‘Now that’s a lovely tree,’ Lil said.

‘Have you got your decorations up?’ Armando asked.

‘A fake tree, some tinsel and a few ornaments, but that’s good enough for me,’ Lil said.

‘I try,’ Cyril said as he gazed up at the massive tree, ‘but nothing matches the decorations we had at home when I was young, and a lot of them home-made.’

We parted and agreed to meet in an hour at the John Lewis café for coffee and cake. I didn’t have that much specific Christmas shopping to do. I find it such a stressful chore to seek out and procure items which you hope the recipients will love and value. I much prefer to buy presents when someone has expressed a need. And to add to my woes most of those I buy for already have ‘everything’ or have the financial stability to buy what they need or want when they need or want it. I pushed gift purchasing from my mind and nipped along to Zara to peruse their winter sweater range. This was unsuccessful as my overindulgence in Sherry and Battenberg has rendered Zara clothing unbefitting – literally; and I was in no mood for hats, hankies and socks. I meandered back towards John Lewis and was drawn into All Saints; their sizing being more forgiving.

‘What you going in there for?’ came a familiar voice. I turned to see Lil laden with Boots’ bags and a new tinsel scarf.

‘I’m having a quick look at sweaters and t shirts. You want to join me?’

‘I suppose. I am trying to be more with it,’ Lil said with essence of sarcasm.

‘You’re well on your way with a tinselled neckerchief.’

We were approaching the heart of the store where I’d spotted a gun metal grey sweater with leather patches, which I liked. My inspection was interrupted.

‘It’s too bloody dark in here to see anything,’ Lil said. One of the size zero male assistants sauntered passed with an acerbic grimace.

‘It’s for the ambience,’ I said in a discreet tone.

‘You’ll have to speak up – I can’t hear you over this bloody music. What’s the point of shopping if you can’t see or hear each other?’

Lil’s nerves were fraying and I ceased my sweater inspection, took Lil’s arm and guided her to the sanctity of the sanitised John Lewis café. We were 15 minutes early and first there. We selected a vacant table and awaited the other members of our party.

‘Have you seen Marty?’ I asked.

‘Yes we had tea.’

‘And?’

‘And what?’

‘It was tea Boulevardier.’

‘How do you feel about that?’

‘I don’t know. I enjoy his company. He makes me laugh, but I’m still not comfortable with him and Mavis.’

‘Are they still spending time together?’

‘I don’t think so, but who knows without Gisela and her eagle eyes.’

‘Armando and I met with Marty.’

‘I know,’ Lil said and pursed her lips. Her face folded into a cross frown, ‘and I don’t understand why it’s taken you two weeks to tell me.’

‘Sorry Lil but I wasn’t sure what to say or do. He isn’t exactly as I expected but I’m not sure he is capable of being what you want him to be either.’

‘You know a lot for someone so young,’ Lil said.

‘He did say that Mavis approached him.’

‘I’m not surprised in the slightest. That one has never been satisfied. She’s always coveted what I have.’

Armando arrived at the table with the necessary refreshments.

‘I saw you two, thick as thieves and got coffee and cake.’

‘Good. I think we’ve finished this conversation. Yummy chocolate cake,’ Lil said.

I shrugged my shoulders. Armando looked confused. Cyril joined us taxed with John Lewis bags.

‘Beautiful ornaments and decorations,’ Cyril said.

‘They don’t make Yardley gift sets like they used to’ Lil said as she extracted a box from one of her carrier bags. She proceeded to remove several other pre-packed gift sets, a bottle of eau de toilette for Gisela, and finally a super-sized can of Elnett.

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‘Who’s getting the hairspray?’ I asked.

‘Ha, it’s for me you silly sod.’

Lil and Cyril were on a mission and departed together in the direction of Marks and Spencer leaving Armando and me holding their purchased spoils. This was fortunate as it provided a good opportunity to pursue an update from Armando.

‘I think I’ve met someone decent, early days, but in my age group, he works normal hours and speaks English,’ he informed me grinning from ear to ear.

‘I’m pleased. What does he do?’

‘Media and marketing in the West End.’

It looked as if Christmas was all around us and the good spirits were soaring. Now, if we could only have some resolution in Lil’s life, we could hit the festivities head on.

‘Come on Armando, let’s get after the kids before they run amok.’

Armando patted me on the shoulder before we picked up the many festively decorated plastic bags and moved to locate our wards.

 

 

An (Un)civilised Craft Fair

Today there was to be no Breakfast Club. I would be catching up with Armando for coffee only. My week was supposed to be filled with days off, fireworks, writing and other artsy activities. However, I had inadvertently become embroiled in the latest pension war.

Lil had telephoned on Tuesday evening and she wasn’t happy.

‘I can’t believe him Wayne. He’s a bloody law unto himself,’ she’d said as I answered the call.

‘Who? What’s happened Lil?’

‘Marty – who else and don’t pretend you like him,’ said Lil.

‘What’s he done now?’ I said adding irritation to my tone.

‘He told me to update my look.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Apparently a few “with it” items of clothing wouldn’t go amiss. He said my dresses are more suited to old ladies. I told him I was an old lady and he was an old man.’

‘Good for you Lil. He is too much – really.’

‘He didn’t take kindly to that and added that if I wanted to go with him to the craft fair at the community centre tomorrow I’d better get with the programme. I told him to sod off. That was this morning, and I’ve waited in for either him to call or visit with an apology – and he hasn’t.’

‘Oh Lil, you should have called earlier.’

‘I didn’t want to busy the line. I’ve barely even been to the loo.’

Now probably wasn’t the best time to sell the merits of call-waiting. ‘Do you want to go to the craft fair?’ I asked.

‘Aren’t you listening? I said he won’t go with me.’

‘When have you ever done what you’re told? Why don’t I take you?’

The line went silent. I could hear the brain cogs whirling.

‘Don’t you work on a Wednesday?’

‘No, I’ve some time off this week to write.’

‘OK, yes, let’s go, you can pick me up at 1.45.’

Our plan was in place. I hoped that I was going to be there when Lil informed Marty she’d managed to make it solo, the world didn’t revolve around him, and his denial of the ageing process.

I’d collected Lil as directed and complimented her on her M&S inspired outfit of tailored black trousers and a cream wool sweater. She added a head scarf around her neck secured by a diamanté ring. Her hair had a vibrant blue hue – she’d been at the rinse again.

‘Are you looking for anything today?’ I asked.

‘Not really, it’s mostly overpriced doilies but they always have good cake. I might look for a new tea cosy but it depends on the cost. I remember when you could pick one up at a jumble sale for 5p.’

‘But this isn’t a jumble sale,’ I said.

‘Same difference,’ said Lil closing the conversation.

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The community centre wasn’t busy when we arrived. Tables had been set out around the side, behind which sat expectant ware sellers. The crafts available were not the overpriced variety one finds at contemporary fairs, but what some might consider more down to earth. It reminded me of similar affairs I’d attended in the village where I’d grown up; tombolas and raffles aplenty. I usually ended up winning a soap-on-a-rope or items of that ilk. At the time I’d felt sophisticated and longed to don the soap around my neck. We paraded along the left hand side of the hall and Lil introduced me with pride to each of the stallholders she knew, as she fingered their merchandise. Her lips pursed at some of the prices. I could see the tea and cake stand getting ever closer, and my appetite rose. I shouldn’t have been hungry after a delicious mushroom omelette for luncheon, but cake passion tends to create hunger pains.

‘Shall we stop for tea?’ I asked Lil.

‘Yes, it’s starting to pack out, and I don’t want to miss out. I’ll have a cuppa, I doubt they have Assam; and a slice of walnut and date madeira please.’

I sat Lil at a vacant bistro style table and attended the serving hatch. The Battenberg called to me from its display plate.

‘You going to buy anything?’ Lil asked as I delivered our tray.

I shrugged my uncertainty as I set the table.

‘You should support the community,’ said Lil.

‘I don’t see you buying much.’

‘I am the community.’

‘And who do you think exchanged coins for your current repast?’

We laughed affectionately.

‘Actually prices are much higher than last year, but I must buy something to flaunt in front of that man,’ said Lil.

‘I’m not sure one-upmanship is a worthy occupation, although on the other hand it is Marty.’

Lil grabbed my arm and I feared I’d gone too far. She pushed the chair back and stood up. I followed her eye line and saw that Marty and Mavis had entered the hall, arm in arm, like royalty.

‘Sit down Lil,’ I implored. She sat and took my hand. She was shaking and I didn’t know whether through anger or shock. She followed her prey as they move along a couple of stalls.

‘I’ve had enough of this. I won’t be made a fool of,’ said Lil as she rose again and moved with purpose across the hall. I popped the last bite into my cake hole and followed.

‘Hey princess,’ said Marty as we approached, unfazed as ever.

‘What do you think you’re doing,’ said Lil looking directly at Mavis as she held her palm up to Marty.

‘Why, I’m attending the fair,’ said Mavis as she released Marty’s arm and put her hands on her hips.

‘Don’t mess with me – harridan,’ exclaimed Lil.

‘Attending a local event with an old friend is hardly cause for an accusation of that magnitude,’ said Mavis calmly. Her facetiousness was in full working order.

‘Don’t give me that twaddle. I never saw you anywhere near Marty until we started courting –’

‘Princess,’ interrupted Marty intending to pacify.

‘Don’t you princess me – I’ll deal with you later.’

‘And don’t call her princess when we’re together,’ said Mavis her pitch elevating.

‘Ha, so you do think you’re with him – floosy,’ said Lil in a louder tone.                              Attentions had been diverted from the tables full of produce, to the central floor show. Marty took his cue and snaked backwards and out of the firing line.

‘Lillian stop being so immature. You’re always so common, shouting and screaming in the streets, and I have no interest in your name-calling,’ said Mavis.

‘We’re not in the streets. You always have to go after my men. Let’s face it, you could never hang on to your own,’ said Lil sneeringly.

Mavis gasped before regaining composure and saying, ‘you’ve normally so many on the go Lillian it’s difficult to tell who your actual man is.’

Lil raised her arm as if she was going to strike Mavis but thought better of it. I was standing close enough to assist or restrain, dependent upon the need, but I didn’t think it was correct, or safe to get in the middle.

‘Listen Bellamy,’ said Lil in a lower but vicious tone, ‘hasn’t anyone told you that less is more with lip-rouge. You tend to trowel it on. Once a tart always a tart.’ And with that blow Lil flounced and spun on her heels. I thought she was going to topple over and I took her arm and led her away. Mavis gathered herself and marched off in the opposite direction. Marty was also in the wrong, but he seemed to have got away scot free. I couldn’t believe the argument ended with maquillage insults.

‘What is it with you two?’ I asked Lil as we rapidly left the building.

‘Hmm – one day I might tell you, but not yet. She is, as you know, a piece of work.’

‘You do seem to go from being as thick as thieves to screaming at each other in public. It’s odd.’

Lil didn’t answer and we walked on in silence. She wore a pensive expression.

‘And what about Marty?’ I asked.

‘What about him?’ asked Lil rhetorically.

‘Do you want to get a drink?’ I asked. I craved a Sherry – large.

‘No thank you Wayne. I’m tired and going straight home.’

Lil said she was unlikely to be at Breakfast Club when I’d dropped her at her door, and added that she’d rather have no surprise visitors this week.

I called into the café to update Armando on the latest spat. We were midway through when in walked Cyril. He joined us and we all three commiserated with dense hot chocolate.

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‘You’ll be glad to have missed it,’ I said to Cyril.

‘Goodness yes. I’ve been at a church meeting and stayed for a slice of gooseberry pie.’

‘Sounds like you’d all have been better eating cake here,’ said Armando. I have to say that I admired his marketing spirit, never missing an opportunity to advertise.

‘Marty is unfortunately an insecure piece of work,’ said Cyril.

We picked up our mugs of congealing, sweet, goo and agreed. Marty and his playboyesque behaviour had to leave our little group alone, or minimally fade into the background.

 

Masterclass

I’d missed Breakfast Club last week as I had booked a masterclass with VG Lee. I had the first public reading of my work at Polari Literary Salon approaching. I wanted, and needed, to immerse in Val’s advice and expertise.

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There had been one snag, and manoeuvring around it was not going to be pain-free. I’d forgotten to validate my non-attendance with Lil and had to call her to excuse myself, and as it transpired, beg forgiveness.

‘What do you mean, you forgot to mention it?’ asked a belligerent, which I interpreted as disappointed, Lil.

‘I got my weeks mixed up Lil,’ I added as much humility as I could muster.

‘I don’t understand why you need to go to hers on a Thursday. It’s very inconvenient. I’m an incredibly busy woman myself, but manage to make time for Breakfast Club.’

The line went quiet for a few moments. I was lost for words to assist in smoothing these choppy waters.

Lil was in no humour to wait for my response and continued, ‘I guess we’ll have to get along without you, but could you please make sure this doesn’t happen again Wayne.’

Having the last word, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, seemed to restore Lil’s inner peace and harmony.

I’d sent a text to Armando who’d asked no questions and replied in a civilised way. We usually shared a couple of texts every week, but I have to confess I hadn’t been as proactive in starting conversations since Lil’s crush theory. I’m sure she was mistaken, but equally I didn’t want to deliver false hope.

The café door was propped open as we were in the middle of a heat wave. The two small tables outside were occupied by patrons looking as if they wished it were cooler. I’m not going to moan about the heat, as I love it, however, we are not equipped to deal with it in the UK – there is no escape. I’m not suggesting for one moment that we should invest in environmentally unfriendly air-conditioning units at home for the few unbearably hot days and nights we have each year. It’s similar to those who bemoan the country grinding to a halt in the snow and make comparisons with Canada (who spend most of the winter feet-deep in the white stuff). We have a few days of extreme weather each season and should grin and bear with our upper lips stiff and intact.

Lil was at our table with Gisela – Armando was nowhere to be seen. I walked across the café, which was mostly empty. I greeted them both with a gentle kiss on the cheek.

‘Armando.’ Lil shouted at the kitchen wall, ‘he’s turned up this week. Breakfast Club is in session.’

‘I’m sorry I missed last week. How have you been? And nice to see Gisela too,’ I said.

‘Guten Morgan,’ said Gisela in a firm tone. I couldn’t work out if this was irritation or a formal Germanic timbre.

‘Yes, fine thank you Wayne. The world does continue to spin in your absence,’ said Lil and roared with laughter. Gisela tittered too. Armando arrived with a beautiful 1950s large family teapot decorated with a dandelion design and four cups on a simple wooden tray.

Judith followed Armando to take our order. Lil’s appetite hadn’t been suppressed by her irritation as she ordered a full English, Gisela pain au chocolat and I followed suit. Armando settled for a blueberry muffin.

‘Gone all continental have we Boulevardier?’ said Lil.

‘I ordered the same as Gisela,’ I said.

‘I thought it might be because you’re spending all that extra time closer to France – in Hastings,’ said Lil. Gisela and Armando sniggered. Lil was on fire and I hoped that we were bantering and joking. I decided to play along.

‘Val sends her regards Lil,’ I said.

‘Who?’ said Lil. She knew exactly who I meant.

‘Val, VG Lee,’ I answered and smiled directly at her.

‘Does she indeed. How very jolly of her…’ Lil compressed her lips in disapproval. I wasn’t done with her yet.

‘How are you getting on with her novel, you know, the one she signed for you.’

‘I’ve only read a couple of chapters and it’s annoyingly good,’ said Lil and cackled appropriately.

‘Is this conversation only for two people?’ asked Gisela.

‘Usually,’ said Armando.

I waved my white flag symbolically and lifted the enormous yet delicate teapot and filled the expectant cups with refreshing and pacifying fluid.

‘I guess I should be well-mannered and ask if you had a productive day with her?’ said Lil.

‘It was great thanks. Hard work as always but I’ve shortlisted the pieces I’m going to read at Polari Literary Salon at the Southbank next month.’

‘It’s not all mini-Battenbergs then?’ asked Lil with a little more banter in her tone.

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‘No, we did however have a cake break, and the best part of a couple of bottles of wine with dinner,’ I said and started to laugh. Armando started to laugh too but we were both stopped mid-titter.

‘Are you telling me that you went to Hastings to “work” and ended up getting drunk?  What a pair of bloody lushes,’ said Lil. I suspected friendly conversation had expired, which was confirmed when an enormous and earthquake-creating tut followed. Gisela’s tut echoed.

‘I’m disappointed Wayne. I wrote a couple of children’s books and you don’t ask me for advice,’ added Lil. Gisela and Armando were silent.

Breakfasts arrived which provided a welcome break in the conversation.

‘Come on Lil, that was in the 50s and Val is my friend too.’ Goodness Lil was ridiculously possessive sometimes and she’d sulked so much, and to the point of making me cross. I picked up my croissant and deliberately tore a corner dramatically and thrust it in my mouth and only then looked across the table.

Lil hadn’t picked up her knife and fork and looked a little watery around the eyes. I didn’t know why I’d let her rile me and mirrored in response. I assume it’s because I care and don’t like to upset her. However, I had to remember that she was an elderly lady who’d recently gone through some traumatic events.

‘Don’t let it get cold Lil. You’ll need your strength for next week’s celebrations,’ I said and reached over and put my hand across hers.

‘You remembered,’ Lil said and picked up her cutlery and started urgently slicing through a chunky pink rasher.

‘Yes, and don’t forget it’s a birthday picnic in the park,’ said Armando, ‘Gisela has promised some authentic kuchen.’

Gisela nodded and MMmm’ed through the chocolate centre of her pastry.

‘Is Filippe coming Armando?’ asked Lil.

‘Who’s Filippe?’ I asked.

‘Armando has a new fella Wayne. You shouldn’t miss Breakfast Club and you might not be out of date,’ sparred Lil.

She had a point.

‘No he can’t make it, he’s a-working,’ said Armando.

‘What does he do?’ I asked casually trying to subtlety bring myself up to speed.

‘He’s a window cleaner,’ answered Armando.

I nodded my support that Armando was moving on from Jason.

Gisela’s remaining piece of pastry was causing her some difficulty and ‘scheisse’ was declared as the chocolate shot out from the side of her mouth and into Lil’s cup.

This was to be a long Breakfast Club.