Pesky Kids or should that be Pesky Parents?

I’d woken unnaturally early which was irritating. There is nothing worse than waking up before your alarm on the days you’re not at work. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I’d readied myself for the day and walked early to the café.

Armando looked at his watch as I entered. The café was busier than usual but I supposed these were patrons filling up en route to work.

‘I know I’m early. Please don’t ask questions and bring me a pot of strong Assam.’

Armando nodded. I extracted a copy of Brideshead Revisited from my coat pocket and tried to start reading. My eyes were sore. I put it down again and waited for my tea which duly arrived. I let it brew for five minutes before pouring.

cover_bridesheadrevisited

A fair number of take-away transactions were in progress. These were people on their way to day jobs. Armando had never mentioned his mobile trade when bemoaning the lack of business. I wondered whether it was usual to have so many passing customers. I tried again with my book and was disturbed a couple of chapters later by a commotion outside the café.

‘Watch where you’re going you bloody brats or I’ll take my stick to you. You should already be at school. I’ll bloomin well report the lot of you.’

‘Good luck with that grandma,’ was the fading reply.

Armando had the door open in seconds and helped Lil into the café. He rushed outside to see if there was any remnant of trouble but the protagonists were specks in the distance.

Lil had a face like thunder and patted the edges of her cream woollen overcoat and steered her trusty trolley over to the table.

‘Are you OK?’ I asked.

‘Of course I’m bloody OK. Those pesky kids need to watch where they’re going on those skateboards. They’ve nearly knocked me over. Tea immediately please Armando.’

Armando scurried out to the kitchens to make sure the emergency recovery aid was not delayed. I moved my hands across the table and put them on Lil’s and looked at her affectionately and compassionately.

‘Don’t bloody fuss Boulevardier. Something’s happened. Don’t turn it all into a bloody drama.’

‘But Lil you must be careful. It’s only a few weeks since you fell over.’ I moved my hands back and Lil continued and ignored my concern.

‘It’s not even as if they’re ill-bred. Their accents are very middle classed. I’m not sure their parents would approve of their manners or lack thereof. So bloody inconsiderate.’

Armando arrived with two fresh pots of tea and three cups and saucers and sat down.

‘Lil, you are not injured? Bloody youths. No respect for the elderly.’ Armando asserted.

‘Yes, yes, yes – the pair of you stop fussing. And who you calling elderly?’

Armando looked at Lil and did not answer. ‘I’ll pour,’ he said.

‘But maybe it is the parents’ fault Lil. Some don’t set a good example, especially those who fall into the expectant Generation Y category.’ I said.

‘Boulevardier, listen here. I am in no mood for your twaddle. And please don’t go into one of your bleedin monologues about generation or whatever you said.’

‘Oh, but I will tell you what happened on the bus a few days ago when I was coming back from the hospital.’ I tried not to sound nonchalant about having my theory stopped in its tracks and reasoned that I hadn’t just been the victim of a near-miss assault.

‘The bus was packed and this woman got on with several children in tow. She sat down next to me and they disbursed to the four corners of the vehicle, aside from one who must have been about five years old, who was refusing to sit down.’

“Stop it James you’re pissing me right off” she announced in an irritated tone. Two minutes or so passed. “James sit down you’re getting right on my tits” she broadcast in a louder and more vexed manner. James settled for a matter of seconds and then joined two teenage girls in his travelling party and they started making quite a hullabaloo and the woman proclaimed “Will you kids shush. There are other people on this bus. Show some respect.”

‘Respect I thought. That is rich coming from her. However, I refrained from commenting or offering advice.’

Lil and Armando looked at each other and started giggling.

‘I should always come and listen to your Boulevardier when I need cheering up. You’re lucky you didn’t say that. From the sounds of it, she’d have slapped you across the face’ said Lil.

‘That didn’t seem to bother you when you were shouting after those kids Lil. I wish you’d be careful. They might have a knife, ‘ I said.

Lil laughed louder and didn’t stop. This had tickled her. We all three were cackling infectiously.

‘Knife! This is Crouch End not the ghetto, ‘ Lil said.

‘When I was young I had to be well behaved. My parents wouldn’t tolerate rude or unruly conduct,’ I said.

Lil and Armando nodded in agreement.

‘Oh no.’ I was shocked. ‘I sound like an old person talking about the youth of today.’ I was distressed.

‘Ha, you know nothing of old yet. Although you are greying and Armando is going a bit thin on top,’ Lil responded with mischief in her eyes.

Armando huffed, in a continental way, and got up ‘So you want breakfast today or no?’

With all this kerfuffle we hadn’t ordered breakfast. Now that is unacceptable behaviour.

We ordered quickly. Armando settled again.

‘Now, what I really wanted to talk about today was bingo,’ said Lil.

Lotto Balls

‘Bingo?’ questioned Armando.

‘Yes. Mavis Bellamy is organising charity bingo at the community centre and I’m allowed to bring a guest. Suffice to say I’m bringing two. You’ll look smart and bring decent bingo prizes and play every game.’

As ever this was an order and not a request. But I felt warm that Lil wanted to bring us to her charity event as chaperones.

I refreshed our cups.

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Pension Wars

After exchanging numbers last week I’d called Lil twice to check in with her. She was curt on the phone and I suspect didn’t appreciate being asked, or cared for. She was a proud, independent woman. What I didn’t realise was that Armando was calling too. I hope she felt looked after as well as fussed over, even when it wasn’t so welcome.

I arrived at the café just before 10am as usual on Thursday for Breakfast Club. As I looked through the glass door I could see a figure in the corner and knew that Lil was already there and back to normal. As I opened the door she called out rather urgently to me.

‘Wayne, please hurry up, close the door, and come straight over.’

I wondered what was happening now. Firstly Lil had never addressed me by my Christian name. She would say ‘Boulevardier’ or ‘Our Boulevardier’, and secondly I didn’t understand the rush.

As I sat down I asked ‘What’s up Lil? Why the hurry?’

‘Shhhh just sit down. Armando, a fresh pot of Assam for my friend and me please.’

Lil was behaving oddly again. I looked round and the café was moderately busy, and nothing seemed out of place. The polka-dotted trolley was back by Lil’s side and she was wearing a dark-coloured woollen sweater and a woolly hat. Her purple curls spread under the fur rim of the bonnet. The purple bruising on her face was still evident but faded from its violent appearance the previous week.

‘What’s wrong?’ I whispered.

‘It’s that bloody hoity-toity woman from the Age club sitting over there. She is well above her station. She wanted to join my table, but I heard enough of her bragging on Tuesday. I told her I had a meeting with a young author I was assisting and she couldn’t join us. I wasn’t having her interfere and grab you when you walked in.’

‘How would she know it was me?’ I teased.

‘Ahhh well that’s a point but there is no need to take unnecessary risk. Are you having a full veggie breakfast, with a sausage?’

Lil was acting jealous and possessive. I was seeing a different side to her today and I was glad our meetings meant something special to her too.

‘Armando, I assume you’ll be taking our Boulevardier’s order and joining us as usual.’ The ‘as usual’ was emphasised. Lil was protecting her territory and making no space for unwelcome intrusion.

I wanted to take advantage of a distracted Lil. She hadn’t shared much of her life and might be more open when preoccupied.

‘Were you ever married Lil?’

Armando had just arrived back with the tea and took a seat.

‘What?’ Lil did have this habit of asking ‘what’ to give her some thinking time.

‘Married?’ Armando impatiently asked.

‘Of course I was. Do I look like a bloody frigid spinster?’

‘Do you have any children?’ I pushed my luck.

‘No. Right let’s get this tea poured before it stews. And why the sudden questions? I don’t like being interrogated.’

Armando and I glanced at each other. Lil noticed.

‘He was a lot better behaved than Mavis Bellamy’s husband. From what I hear Mr B had much more than a roving eye.’ Lil spoke in a lower confidential voice.

‘Who’s Mavis Bellamy?’ Armando asked.

‘Shhh – She’s right over there in the corner. For goodness sake Armando don’t you listen!’

Our breakfasts arrived which signalled a halt in the conversation as we focused on our food. The toast was thick and of a mottled brown – perfect.

‘What was your husband’s name Lil?’ I asked as I spread butter across the first slice of toasted bread.

Lil didn’t answer. Her lips pursed. I wondered whether I’d pushed it too far.

‘Oh hello again Mavis,’ Lil said in a formal voice. I realised I hadn’t upset Lil but rather a defence against the incoming invasion.

‘I thought I’d pop over for a chat before I left. There’s lots to do today.’

‘Thank you. Well don’t let us hold you up‘

‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to your breakfast companions Lilian.’

‘I’d love to Mavis, but another time. We’re right in the middle of a detailed literary discussion and we mustn’t lose the thread or hold you up. See you next Tuesday. Good day.’ Lil smiled widely.

Mavis smiled slightly, nodded and backed away. She obviously understood the rhetorical nature of conversation with Lil.

‘Lil,’ I said. ‘Wasn’t that a little rude, she was just being friendly?’

‘Friendly? She couldn’t bear the thought of me being here with a writer and her not being part of it. You really need to see her at the Centre. I guarantee it. Raymond, he was called Raymond.’

‘Drama with the OAPs.’ I said.

Lil let out an enormous cackle just as Mavis Bellamy closed the café door. I wondered if she was spontaneously laughing at my amusing comment or for Mavis’ benefit. But better still we now knew that Lil had been married. She was mysterious, and not to generalise, but older people usually love talking about their lives, memories and experiences. Lil was an enigma and sometimes you could see sadness in her eyes when she let her guard down and didn’t realise you were looking.

I would get her story one day.