Irish Eyes are Smiling

I became aware of my surroundings as the synapses in my brain started to fire. The sun wasn’t pouring through the curtains which was an unwelcome change from the previous few weeks. The sunshine yellow of my dandelion retro duvet cover would have to do. I hoped it wasn’t raining as after Breakfast Club I needed to get my hair cut.

I was always grateful to wake naturally as I do find being jolted awake by the alarm clock rather barbarous.

When I rose and had a cup of tea in my hands, I braved the sitting room to see swirling grey clouds, threatening a summer storm, from the sanctuary of the closed French doors.

It was still warm however, and I wore my new flower-patterned jersey shorts and an older black t shirt. I wanted to wear a David Bowie T shirt and channel my Thin White Duke, in spite of my ever-increasing waist line. However, despite all the modern technological wonders we still have some way to go to cease trimmed hair sticking to the inside of clothing and creating itchy garments – even after washing. An older ‘haircut’ T shirt is still the least incommodious option.

‘After you,’ I said to Lil as we simultaneously arrived at the café door.

‘Why thank you kind sir,’ answered Lil with a familiar cackle. She was wearing a lemon-coloured sun dress and white sandals. I observed the lack of trolley or walking stick but decided against commenting.

Armando joined us at our table.

‘Is it too warm for a cooked breakfast this morning Lil?’ asked Armando.

‘Never – it’s my weekly treat,’ said Lil.

‘I’d like the Greek yoghurt with honey and fruit please,’ I said.

‘Bloody typical Boulevardier. You do get above your station sometimes – what a hoity-toity breakfast,’ said Lil. Armando sniggered.

‘I’m surprised you don’t want a sausage on the side,’ added Lil which caused her and Armando to exchange loud laughs. I tried to maintain a straight demeanour but failed. She was funny after all.

A large family-sized 1970s teapot arrived. I lifted the lid and as expected the brewing process was in progress.

‘Everything all right with you and your new fella?’ asked Lil looking squarely at Armando.

‘Yes, it’s good. Language barrier is a problem though. His English is limited to a few words and we have to use a translator constantly. He knows some Italian but no Spanish.’

‘The language of love needs no translation,’ said Lil. It was my turn to add stereo to her loud crowing.

Armando lifted the lid and started to stir the pot. I have often wondered at the pre-occupation with teapots as a concealer for discomposure.

I do, if you hadn’t previously realised, have a tea addiction – Assam in particular. I felt a familiar rush as Armando streamed the golden elixir into my expectant and chipped cup.

‘Speaking of love Lil, who was that Mr McGuire? He was very attentive last week’ I said.

‘Who?’ said Lil. She as ever knew precisely who and what I meant.

‘The man at your feet in the park,’ I continued.

‘Delicious – just what I needed,’ said Lil as our morning meals arrived. Lil clutched her cutlery and prepared to gormandize a rasher of back bacon.

I stirred the honey, fruit and nuts into my yoghurt and was momentarily transported back to Santorini when my taste buds had savoured the exquisite combination.

‘When’s your next date?’ Lil asked Armando with quite the mouthful. The food was disappearing swiftly from her plate  .

‘Hopefully Saturday evening,’ said Armando, ‘we need to confirm the detail.’

‘Mmmmmm,’ said Lil as she shovelled another fork load of egg and sausage into her mouth.

‘Hello there,’ said a random voice from the café door. Armando and Lil smiled and I looked round to see Marty McGuire and Nelly McAleen heading in our direction.

After pleasantries Mrs McAleen took the seat next to me and Marty pulled up another from a free table.

‘It’s a great day for the Coca-Cola,’ said Mrs McAleen. It was strange, she’d said the same to me at the picnic. I wondered whether she had been a marketeer for Coke, although the sweet smell from her breath didn’t represent the same brand. It smelt like some kind of beer but it couldn’t be, it was only 10.20am.

I decided that the next time she said it I was going to ask her why but for today said ‘Yes, indeed,’ as I loaded a combination of honey, yoghurt and blueberry onto my spoon and added ‘Shall we get a fresh pot of tea?’

‘We’re fine thanks,’ said Marty, ‘in fact we’ll need to get going shortly if we’re going to make it to Muswell before the lunch rush. You nearly ready treasure?’

He was directing this at Lil. I was about to intervene and hint that we were in the middle of breakfast when Lil spoke.

‘Yes – just let me go powder my nose,’ she said as she dabbed her napkin at the corners of her mouth. There was food left on her plate. This had not happened before – especially as she was shovelling only seconds earlier.

‘Lil, you haven’t finished your breakfast?’ I said. I actually wanted to reprimand her if she thought she was leaving Breakfast Club early. I’d certainly been told off for missing sessions in the past.’

‘I’m full thank you Wayne. Please don’t fuss. Mr McGuire and Nelly have kindly invited me to accompany them to the summer sales, and I’ve had my eye on several new pieces.’

‘I thought Nelly wanted a Coke.’ I said rather facetiously.

Lil stood and glared at me. ‘Don’t be petulant please.’ She switched the scowl to content and turned to our Irish pair and said, ‘now if you two would give me a minute.’

Armando scurried to the kitchen. He was such a coward.

Marty McGuire looked at me and said, ‘I can tell that you’re square by the clothes that you wear, so why not get with it, and pay me a visit.’

Well really. ‘I’m fine the way I am, thank you,’ I said.

‘It used to be the advertisement for our local tailor in Cork. Good eh,’ said Marty.

It seemed as if we had the elderly advertising duo of Crouch End. I smiled politely.

‘What a picture – stop right there – I want to capture this moment,’ said Marty looking at Lil. He framed his fingers and looked between them.

Lil giggled – and yes, I mean giggled. I wanted to send out an SOS to Bill. I wasn’t taking to this Irish charmer at all. I picked up my cup and drank through pursed lips.

Mrs McAleen was quiet but at least she’d stopped talking about Coca-Cola.

‘See you next week Armando,’ Lil called towards the kitchen. Armando appeared at his counter and waved. Lil kissed me on my cheek and whispered that I should behave, and with that they were gone. I could see outside that Marty had linked arms with Lil and his sister as they paraded off to the W7 bus stop.

I was cross.

Armando sat – now the coast was clear.

‘You think that Lil has a new boyfriend?’ he asked.

‘I sincerely hope not,’ I answered and folded my arms.

‘It’s not easy being on your own and being lonely,’ said Armando.

I softened and put my arms on the table. I had Michael and I’d forgotten that it can be desolate on your own. I wasn’t sure that Marty was right for Lil or this Brazilian right for Armando but as long as they were contented or at least positive.

‘It’s difficult to keep friends with an anti-social job,’ said Armando.

Armando was surrounded by people all day but of course they are mostly customers rather than friends. It made me think of the lyrics in Super Trouper ‘facing 20,000 of my friends, how could anyone feel so lonely?’

Perhaps I was being a little judgemental and decided to extend the hand of friendship again.

‘You’re right Armando, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Are you busy later? Shall we meet for a drink and supper? Michael has a late meeting anyway.’

‘Fantastic. Can we go out of Crouch End though? I need a change of scene.’

Steady on Armando, I thought, but again redressed myself. ‘Yes, let’s go to Hampstead.’

Despite Lil’s previous gossip about Armando’s crush I didn’t share her concerns. I had Michael and he knew it, and he had his Brazilian.

And before that I had to get my haircut. Always a tricky time in fear of them slicing too much from the length of my quiff. I re-filled my cup to temper my nerves.