Nice One Cyril

‘Armando I think you’re going to have to get a bigger table,’ Lil shouted towards the kitchen wall.

‘Morning Lil,’ I said and smiled at the gentleman sitting next to her. It wasn’t Marty McGuire, which was a relief, however, I hoped she hadn’t moved on to another potential beau. Was this trail of suitors a rebound reflex after Bill?

‘Ah Wayne, you’re here at last,’ said Lil. I looked at my watch which confirmed it was 9.55am. I was early for Breakfast Club.

‘This is Cyril, my neighbour,’ she clarified.

‘How do you do?’ said Cyril and stood as he offered me his hand to shake. He was shorter than me, bald and wearing horn-rimmed spectacles. He was wearing a white shirt with a powder-blue cardigan and grey herringbone trousers. He was not a new suitor.

‘Welcome to Breakfast Club Cyril. Lil’s mentioned you before,’ I said and smiled.

Cyril sat again, ‘Oh dear, has she? I dread to think what she’s been saying.’

‘That you’re one of my favourite neighbours,’ said Lil in a firm tone while giving me one of her looks. ‘Where’s the tea Armando?’ she directed at the kitchen wall.

‘Coming,’ came a flustered reply.

Lil shuffled in her seat and fiddled with the sleeve of her sweater. Armando appeared from the kitchen armed with our morning elixir.

‘Assam OK with you Cyril?’ asked Armando.

‘I prefer Earl Grey if it’s not too much trouble,’ said Cyril. Lil snorted as if she were about to release a burst of laughter but managed to contain herself. No doubt Earl Grey symbolised clarification for her. Armando signalled at a passing waitress who had heard and registered the request. A good waiter or waitress is able to listen to their customers and filter out their needs from the general hubbub of conversation, and anticipate their requirements.

‘Why are we going to need a bigger table?’ I asked.

‘Well Gisela won’t be here today, but with her, Cyril, Marty and Nelly, and the pair of you this ain’t suitable,’ said Lil.

‘I didn’t realise we’d extended membership,’ I said and winked at Cyril to confirm I wasn’t being rude to him.

‘I’d like my usual,’ Lil said to Judith who had arrived with Cyril’s pot of Earl Grey.

‘I’ll have a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage on the side please,’ I said.

‘Poached egg on toast please,’ said Cyril.

‘Espresso for me,’ said Armando.

‘Not eating Armando?’ I asked.

‘Not hungry,’ he responded.

‘Don’t be silly Wayne. This is a public space and not an exclusive club.’

I pondered what Lil’s response would be if I started bringing my friends.

She continued, ‘I’ve wanted Cyril to meet you two for some time, and after he cooked such a delicious lunch yesterday I thought the timing was perfect.’ Lil patted Cyril affectionately on the arm. She continued, ‘I only had a slice of Madeira cake for supper as I was still full.’

Cyril flushed and busied himself with pouring his tea. I’m not a fan of Earl Grey – it’s too weak. And Cyril’s pasty cup did nothing to enthuse me.

‘What did you cook?’ asked Armando.

‘Sole Veronique followed by Summer fruit pudding. It was a bit of a squash in my small flat but I think we jollied along, didn’t we Lil?’

‘Oh yes, and it was indeed quite a squeeze although Marty didn’t seem to mind that.’

Cyril flushed darker.

‘Sounds delicious. Who were the guests?’ I asked. I didn’t know what Veronique did to the sole but the name has a tasty flow.

‘Gisela, Marty, Nelly and that bloody Bellamy woman,’ said Lil.

‘I don’t think your cock a snook at Mavis helped,’ said Cyril.

‘Ha – she was asking for it trying to be all la-dee-da.’

‘Sometimes I think quiet disdain achieves the same outcome,’ said Cyril.

Breakfasts arrived. I was grateful for a swift arrival as I was particularly hungry. I doused salt and pepper across my platter and furnished my fork with tomato and a button mushroom. Armando didn’t look right with only a small shot of coffee in front of him. I took a subtle sideways glance and noticed how red his eyes were.

‘Burning the candle at both ends Armando?’ I asked.

He nodded and looked deep into his coffee cup.

‘Marty left before pudding,’ said Lil.

Cyril stood up, ‘excuse me please,’ and moved quickly towards the bathroom.

‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t have mentioned that,’ said Lil as Cyril disappeared.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Marty was being his usual jovial self yesterday and had us all in fits of laughter. He should have been a comedian you know, but at one point when Cyril was in the kitchen he joked that he thought Cyril fancied him,’ said Lil.

‘Is there anyone that man thinks doesn’t fancy him?’ I said and shook my head.

‘Hush Wayne,’ said Lil, ‘anyway Cyril came through the door a few seconds later and looked rather red in the face. We weren’t sure if it was the heat of the kitchen or that he’d heard, and that’s why I thought I’d better invite him today. If he did hear I didn’t want him to think we were all talking about him behind his back. So none of your silly games today Boulevardier, you hear.’

‘Marty probably made it worse by leaving,’ I said.

‘Yes, I told him off about that. Apparently it wasn’t only in jest either. He’s caught Cyril staring at him on a number of occasions.’

I rolled my eyes. Cyril re-joined us looking refreshed.

‘Apologies dear Breakfasters,’ said Cyril, ‘the waterworks get weaker with age.’

I hoped he meant his bladder and hadn’t been upset in the bathroom.

‘I understand you lived in Brighton previously Cyril. Is that where your family originated?’ I asked.

‘No I moved there almost twenty years ago after my mother died. I looked after her in her autumn years. We were in the Cotswolds.’

‘Oooo I’ve seen the photos, it looks bloody posh,’ said Lil.

‘That was Mummy’s cottage, which returned to the estate on her death. My older brother inherited the main house and grounds. Although he said I could have stayed in the cottage, I preferred to move somewhere with more people.’

‘Yes of course. What made you leave the seaside?’ asked Armando.

‘I wanted a few years in our great capital before I was too old to enjoy it, and completed a flat swap. I love Crouch End,’ said Cyril.

‘A toast to that,’ I said and raised my tea cup. The others followed suit.

‘Hello,’ said a voice I recognised.

‘Michael, meet Lil, Armando and Cyril,’ I said proudly. Michael had mentioned that he might call in on his way to the gym.

‘Michael,’ said Lil and got up to shake his hand, ‘it’s a pleasure. Not sure how you put up with old fussy pants over here.’ Lil cackled.

‘Yes I know,’ said Michael, ‘he can be quite like a beast at times.’

Lil laughed louder and was joined by Armando and Cyril.

‘Anyway, I thought I’d nip in and meet you all,’ said Michael and swiftly departed.

‘Seems like he’s got the measure of you Wayne, and what a nice handsome fellow,’ said Lil.

‘You think,’ I said and laughed myself.

The door swung open again. At this rate Armando would be better served by one of the revolving variety.

‘Morning sweetness,’ said a voice from the door.

I didn’t need to look around to know it was Marty.

‘Marty! I told you not before 11.30,’ said Lil.

I pursed my lips and glanced over to see that Armando and Cyril were not enamoured to see our new visitor either.

Marty looked a little uncomfortable.

‘I’m going to Budgens for some fruit. An apple a day keeps the doctor away but what does a pear do at night,’ performed Marty.

Lil demonstrated her appreciation with more crowing and said, ‘you bloody saucy rascal, now be gone with you.’

‘Laters,’ said Marty trying to sound hip.

‘Another Earl Grey Cyril? That one looks cold,’ I said.

‘Thank you – that would be delicious,’ said Cyril.


A Crouch End and Hampstead jolly jaunt

‘You look knackered.’ said Lil.

‘I am. I had a fantastic but full-on weekend, and the working week didn’t afford any recovery opportunities. How are you Lil?’

Lil was sitting at her usual table. I took off my Parka and joined her. Our friendship had grown to the point where we could share the same table for our weekly catch up.

‘Yes I’m fine. I’m thinking of redecorating my sitting room. It’s not been done for 15 years and styles change you know.’

I longed to see the space Lil inhabited. This wonderfully funny, older lady had experiences aplenty, mementos of which must flavour and spice her residence.

‘I’ve just been discussing with Armando whether I should re-paper or emulsion the walls.’

I glanced at Armando behind his wooden counter rearranging the display of healthy option muffins, if healthy and muffin don’t present too much of an oxymoron when in the same sentence.

‘Anyway why are you so tired?’ asked Lil.

I needed some sustenance and ordered an Assam and a vegetarian breakfast with one sausage. This made Lil and Armando both snigger. Lil thought it rather odd that I wanted the vegetarian option and then pollute it with meat. I pointed out that if eating meat caused pollution then her crime was greater than mine. I didn’t want masses of meat, just a taster.


I then swerved the conversation swiftly into the previous weekend to steer their attention away from ridiculing the Boulevardier. This should be a banned sport.

The previous weekend had been great. A really good, longstanding friend, Alison, was visiting. She resided in the Cotswolds and needed a slice of North London, having previously lived in Hampstead.


Alison arrived on Friday evening and we had a table booked at Banners, the local Caribbean-Fusion restaurant, a Crouch End essential. We had a refreshing Oloroso to whet our appetites before leaving the flat. After all it would be ill-mannered to leave home without a taste of Sherry. We were to be a party of four, however, one was held up at work. Alison, Michael and I took the short walk to Banners. We were all in light spring jackets and remarked that it was remarkable to be thus adorned in January. It is wonderful and comforting to talk about the weather. It’s a skill the British always manage with grace and decorum.

I knew what I wanted before I’d even opened the menu. I like to try new things but there are times when only the old favourites will do. Black Tiger Prawns to start, served in their shells with wasabi mayonnaise on the side. Michael and Alison had Calamari and salt fish cake respectively. For mains we enjoyed Ackee and salt fish, Jerk Chicken and Thai beef curry. The curry was rather hotter than Michael expected and we tried not to notice as his glow increased. We awaited the explosion but none came. This delicious feast was washed down with a mixture of gin, wine, beer and port. We rolled back home to have a few further settling ports before bed.

After leisurely drifting out of bed and a full breakfast on Saturday morning we ambled around the shops in Crouch End. Of Special Interest was top of my hit list. I can’t imagine tiring of the rows, cupboards, shelves and tables full of delicious accents for the home. I also have my eye on a chandelier which could aid flavouring my bedroom as a boudoir.  I quite like the idea of the Boulevardier’s boudoir.

At this point in my story Lil almost started an earthquake with loud cackles. ‘Boulevardier’s Boudoir. More like tart’s palace.’ Armando joined the laughter chorus. I carried on regardless.

We spent the late afternoon and evening in Hampstead. This was Alison’s old stomping ground and with her head high she led me through winding side streets into small boutique shops as she stocked up on depleted items. We settled in the King William IV for a pre-dinner Sherry (Alison had wine) and saw this rather interesting door signposting the ladies lavatory.


Lil didn’t find this so funny, pursed her lips and suggested I carry on.

We had booked a table at La Cage Imaginere and I’d hoped that as so many Londoners were taking part in a detox January that we would be able to book a last minute table for a respectable hour. More often than not in London if you’re not planning and booking upwards of a week in advance you are offered either dinner at the time when most are enjoying a late lunch or when it’s so late the waiting staff have their coats on and the chefs have left for the evening.


La Cage Imaginere transports diners back nostalgically to high class dinner parties in the 1970s.  The polished wooden floors compliment the red and pastel pink walls. Each table has its own white birdcage tea light holder. Upon arrival we were offered bruschetta – strong with garlic – by the Italian waiter with a faux French accent.


Alison consumed pan fried scallops, a fillet of beef with Dauphinoise Potatoes and Pistachio Crème Brulee. I had French Onion Soup, Coq au vin and Chocolate and Baileys Cheesecake. We lubricated our banquet with a fine Bordeaux, and then hailed a taxi to Crouch End to continue along our Bordeaux trail.

Catch up gossip and meaning of life conversation populated the weekend.

After waving Alison a safe journey home it was time to start getting excited about the Mari Wilson interprets Dusty Springfield evening at the Jazz Club Soho on Monday. Mari was well qualified for the event having played the lead in Dusty the Musical fourteen years previously. Mari drew us into many old favourites and a few lesser known tracks. A calypso version of Son of a Preacher Man was among the highlights. Mari interacts with the audience so well with an abundance of anecdotes to thrill and entertain as she goes.

‘I’ve seen her around Crouch End,’ Interjected Lil. I realised my story was turning into a monologue and was grateful for the jolt back into conversation.

‘And no bloody wonder you’re tired. Boulevardiers need rest too…

… It does sound like great fun though. I wish I was younger.’

‘You’re welcome to join in anytime Lil, and you Armando.’

‘For now I’ll settle with a regular Breakfast Club thank you’ said Lil.

Lil took her sturdy vintage purse from the handbag hidden inside her trusty trolley and removed a battered £10 note to complete the transaction. I was a little disappointed. I willed a crisp note from her well-kept shiny pouch.

I smiled at Lil and we exchanged farewells and I watched her steer the trolley onto the Boulevards of Crouch End.

The Tallet in Lesbos

As I am still recovering from my pulmonary emboli I get tired quite easily, so spent half of Friday resting, knowing that the latter part of the day would be college and then a drive to the Cotswolds to visit my friend Alison and her girlfriend Hannah.

Packing was difficult with the changeable weather and no firm plans. I did check with Alison whether they had hairdryers (which would free up space in my overnight bag).  Her text response ‘Of course!!!!!!! We might be lesbians but we still have hair =)) ha ha ha ha’ was amazing. I didn’t want to assume or embrace any clichés!

College is turning out to be pretty great, and it’s a massive positive step for me as I fight to get my life back on course, and then beyond its course.

Ways into Creative Writing – An Introduction is conducted at City Lit, which is between Holborn and Covent Garden. I drove in from Crouch End so as to be able to head straight out of town once the two hour lesson was complete.

At 8pm roads should be clear(er), but I had to fight to get out of Covent Garden, up to the Euston Road, and then battle along the A40. I was tired and wondered whether I should have set off early on Saturday morning rather than battle late, furious traffic . I had not driven for 2 hours this year and rationalised that if it exhausted me, I could relax at their home. We had no absolute commitments for the weekend.

As the M4 took me further away from London, it also took me further away from the heavy and urgent volume of vehicles, all with somewhere very important to be. Once I veered off the motorway heading passed Swindon and towards Cirencester the pace slowed even more.

I had arranged to meet Alison at her local pub, and we pulled into the carpark at the same time. It was lovely to see her, and we embraced a welcome before heading straight to the bar for a much needed glass of wine. I would have ordered sherry but didn’t think they would have it. Rather foolish conclusion on my part as the next day they confirmed they had several varieties, including my beloved Fino. The Malbec wetting my lips was a fair substitute.

Hannah came to meet us and got straight into gossip with some of the locals, before we drove the short journey to their Tallet hidden behind grand automatic wooden gates.

We chatted until the early hours over a bottle of Bordeaux and headed for slumber. I did notice a lack of dungarees and was offered cheese and celery rather than humus! Hmmm they were not embracing clichés of their lifestyle choices, and in doing so dispelling the need for my funny asides!

The next morning I was greeted by the most stunning views across the Cotswolds rolling countryside in the sun .


Breakfast was being debated in the kitchen. Alison wanted to cook a full hearty breakfast but needed more eggs and sausages. This was not Crouch End and the shops were a drive away. Hannah wanted to makes pancakes with blueberries and bacon (all ingredients available). Two women in the kitchen discussing matters of such magnitude, and both making fair points, so I switched my attention to my iPad. The conversation stopped and they looked at me and asked me which I preferred…

The ramifications are sufficiently severe if you get with choice wrong with one female but two! My knowledge dictated to not make the decision. I suggested that either sounded fine! But did smugly think to myself that they needed a man to make the decision!  I thought better than to say this out loud .

Pancakes won though, so Hannah was head chef, with Alison’s promise of local sausage to follow the next morning.  Stop the press I spotted stiletto shoes! (and they weren’t mine)

Delicious! Following, showers and debate as to what to wear on a country walk (my debate, not theirs! Walking boots selected over prada trainers, with leatherette trousers, and cool T) we set off in the glorious early afternoon sun across beautiful fields, with tales of watching lambs being born, and seeing sights and signposts in every season.

We paused on a grassy knoll and set out an afternoon picnic of quiche (made by Alison after breakfast), and salad followed by strawberries and cream moistened by a crisp, chilled white wine.

As I lay back in the afternoon sun, I mused that a Boulevardier could get used to this, and then a horn sounded. Hannah and Alison announced it was the hunt! After brief discussion of the merits or not of hunting the horn sounded again! As we were below a hill I was slightly concerned that the horses might head this way and crush us. I suggested that we keep an eager eye for the fox!

The horn again! Followed by laughter from Hannah, who had suddenly realised this was in fact text messages arriving on her phone! Her alert being that of a convincing horn!

Now Alison and I are tainted by the smoky city, and could easily make this ‘mistake’ but Hannah! And it was her own phone to boot! Oh how we laughed!

We efficiently rolled the picnic gear back into the rucksack and carried on the walk to the pub (more sustenance or rather booze needed!). We walked through meadows with blankets of buttercups, and it was a sumptuous visual feast! Image

Pub garden with a Tanqueray and slimline tonic and two pints of beer. Guess who had the gin!

We sat at the wooden pub bench, chatting, musing, and watching the world go by…

Hannah returned from the bar with more supplies, and announced that we had been invited to a BBQ. How hospitable the locals were. We decided to eat at the pub and turn up at the BBQ later for a drink!

We left the comfort of our corner table, and our vista of the lovely mixture of farmers, gamekeepers, butlers, and under game keepers, and headed a few roads away to the Cotswold stone cottage belonging to Zoe and Adam. They were hosting some other locals too who were all very friendly albeit rather quirky. I am not sure why I am surprised at the quirkiness in the country! I grew up with it after all!

Another glass of red as we sat on the picnic blanketed grass exchanging anecdotes with Zoe, whilst Adam built a fire in the brazier to keep the nip of the air at bay.

‘Did you get your lamp in Jordan?’ Alison asked Zoe.

‘Sorry?’ Zoe asked quizzically.

‘Your beautiful oil lamp. The last time I saw one like it was in Jordan, the country…’ Alison added.

‘No I got it in the charity shop.’ Zoe advised ‘And it says ‘Made in England’ on the bottom’!

So glad that despite several years in the wilderness of ‘outside London’, Alison still maintained her cultural reference.

The Tallet seemed to be requesting our company, from afar, and we answered its call, headed back, and proceeded to fall asleep on the comfortable leather sofas as Miles Davis tickled our ears.

Full beautiful breakfast or rather brunch the following day, and I boarded my hybrid Lexus back to London.

This Boulevardier is a city man through and through, but how wonderful to spend such magnificent weekends in the country with lovely friends, old and new. (Even if they dispel my beliefs that all lesbians own and display all clichés).