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.
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.