Locked in the Loo

For five wonderful days I’d been basking in the Algarvian sun on a late summer break with some of my closest friends. The heavenly mix of sun, sangria, and laughter still lingered in all my senses. My marginally darkened tan would be on show at Breakfast Club this morning. The venue had changed to provide Lil with home comforts as she was feeling under the weather. Armando had text to confirm so earlier after a call from Cyril.

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I met Armando at the café door at 10am. We were due at Lil’s fifteen minutes later. Armando held a wicker basket which delivered a promising aroma.

‘Nice tan man,’ Armando said.

‘Thanks,’ I replied. I didn’t mention the layer of bronzer I’d added to my visage to heighten the impact.

‘How’s your week been?’

‘OK I guess. Café has been busy and I’ve been on a couple of dates,’ said Armando.

‘With the Brazilian?’

‘Yes, although I’m not sure how much further we can go. I can’t talk to him about anything of importance – matters of the heart are difficult on my phone translator app.’

I touched Armando on the arm as an outward demonstration of support.

‘So what did Cyril say? Is she OK?’

‘He said she’s got a splitting headache and feels sick, and doesn’t think she can leave the house today.’

‘Let’s hope it’s nothing serious.’

‘Indeed,’ said Armando as I pressed the door buzzer.

‘Good morning,’ came an Oscar Wilde-esque voice.

‘Morning Cyril, it’s Armando and Wayne.’

A vibration from the door informed us that our entry had been granted.

A lacklustre and pale Cyril opened the door, ‘she’s in the sitting room.’

‘You not feeling good either eh?’ asked Armando.

‘I’m rather delicate too. We overdid it at the funeral yesterday.’

Armando disappeared behind the kitchen door and I moved towards HRH Lil. She was propped up in her armchair with her slippered feet on a pouffe. Her housecoat hung limp protecting her modesty. A wet flannel was folded across her forehead.

‘Do sit,’ she said weakly.

‘Armando’s just preparing breakfast Lil. Are you sure you can manage it. What happened? Cyril said you overdid it yesterday,’

Lil opened one eye and glared at Cyril before saying, ‘I must try and eat something. I was sick when I got home yesterday and have a throbbing head. I think I’ve a bug or something.’

‘Perhaps it’s not wise to eat a rich breakfast in that case. Shall I just get you some dry toast?’ I asked.

‘No, no. I must try and it might make me feel better. I’ve taken some painkillers and they work better with food.’ Her motionless arms rested on the sides of her chair. She had a hot water bottle over her stomach.

‘Do you think you have the same bug?’ I asked Cyril.

‘Definitely,’ Cyril said with a smile on his face.

Armando appeared with a tray holding a pot and cups and placed it carefully on the coffee table. I set about the stirring process to hasten the brewing.

‘Lil, here is plate on tray. Can you sit up please,’ said Armando.

‘Thank you. I’ll try,’ she responded as the flannel fell. Lil readjusted her position and received the steaming tray onto her lap. Her eyes widened and she set about consumption. She was marginally more delicate than usual, however, it was clear that the sight of breakfast had enthused her appetite.

Armando was soon before us again with three side plates, each carrying a blueberry muffin. I was going to miss my solitary sausage this morning.

‘How was Portugal?’ asked Lil.

‘Fantastic thanks, the villa as always was lovely, the sun shone, and sangria consumed as if it were going out of fashion.’

‘You’ve been before?’ asked Cyril.

‘Yes, my friends have a six bedroom, seven bathroom villa which we visit periodically.’



‘A bit posh…’ said Lil.

‘Yeah we were, until we hit the karaoke in an English bar.’

‘That’s not very Boulevardier-like now is it? Are you a singer or a writer?’ said Lil. She let out a weak cackle. The grilled flat mushroom was assisting in her recovery as she popped another sliver into her mouth.

‘Both thank you Lil. We shared so many laughs. We were off to a great start when my friend Sammy Jo got stuck in the downstairs loo.’

‘Was she pissed?’ asked Lil. Cyril nearly choked on his muffin.

‘I don’t think so, although the alcohol consumption across the holiday was vast. In fact one day we went out for a late breakfast and didn’t get home until 11pm.’

‘What a bunch of bloody lushes,’ said Lil.

Cyril coughed nervously.

‘Something stuck in your throat Cyril?’ said Lil through pursed lips.

‘We played parlour games too,’ I said.

‘What? Between drinks?’ asked Armando. Lil laughed and then threw her hand to her forehead.

‘Yes, and I had a mishap.’ I said.

‘Now this I want to hear about,’ said Lil as she carved her sausage with gusto.

‘There is a neighbourhood dog who always comes to say hello. We call him Saucisson, due to his shape, who was scurrying through the villa. I smiled at him and his tinkering bell as he trotted passed me. I entered the downstairs cloakroom, closed and locked the door, despite my own personal bathroom only being the other side of the wall. After washing my hands I turned the key and it stuck. It would only turn 45 degrees. I tried half a dozen times.’

Lil let out a cackle, ‘please don’t tell me you were locked in the loo, I can’t cope, I might wet myself,’ said Lil. Cyril didn’t look too pleased at the thought of Lil having an accident.

‘Let me carry on,’ I said, ‘a modicum of panic set in. Was I stuck in a small windowless room with a single functional purpose?’

‘Here comes the drama,’ said Lil and winked at Cyril. Armando was shaking his head and grinning.

‘Fortunately in a villa of this magnitude the downstairs WC is still sizeable – I’ve seen box bedrooms smaller, however, they usually have views to the outside. Several beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I dabbed them away with the hand towel. I stopped dead and listened. I could hear my fellow sun-seekers chattering by the pool in the distance. We were separated by several thick stone walls. They would never hear my cries for help.’

‘It sounds terrifying,’ said Cyril.

I took the opportunity to pause and extract a deep sip from my tea before continuing, ‘I turned the key more frantically now, and it wouldn’t give any encouragement that my freedom was closer. I tried to lift the door to the left – nothing, to the right – nothing. I pushed it in, and pulled it towards me. My valiant efforts were futile. Perspiration had multiplied and my breathing became quicker. I was gasping for air. I was convinced I was in a sealed cell and my lot was up. The metal slats in the ceiling assured me otherwise. I rotated the faucet and splashed cold water on my visage and hatched a plan.’

I took another gulp of tea.

‘Come on,’ said Armando impatiently circling his hands to encourage perpetuation of my tale.

‘I sat on the convenience, lid down of course, and listened intently for sound recognisable as one of my potential saviours inside the villa.


I grasped the key, firmer, with renewed and forced positivity – no negotiation.

“Hello,” I called out. I wasn’t sure if the welcome footsteps had registered my greeting.

“Hello, can you help me please? I’m stuck in the lav,” I’d called more urgently and this time “What?” came an acknowledgement. I repeated my statement. “Oh, hold on for a couple of minutes,” came a cool and calming response. I’d hoped Dan had gone for tools. The ascending roars and cackles from the pool confirmed his primary mission one of information rather than rescue. I dabbed the moisture from my brow again, which was forming faster and in greater quantity.’

‘If you’d have spent less time dabbing and more time trying to work the lock-‘, started Lil. Cyril interrupted and said, ‘I feel claustrophobic just listening Wayne, which is making me feel even dizzier, please hurry up and tell us how you got out.’

I continued, ‘I heard a female voice “Babe, pull the key back and try again. It needs to be nearer you.’ It was Sammy Jo, an expert in cloakroom escapology. “I know it’s in the right place. I’ve tried every position,” I answered while attempting again.


“Are you sure it’s in the right spot?”

“Yes I can sense it turning about 45 degrees and then it sticks.”

“OK. Hold on.” And with that I was in my solitary space again. The footsteps were quick and the many voices varied. I couldn’t isolate a single one but knew Jane, Karen, Sorrel, Claire and Sammy Jo were there. Their laughter was loudest of all, and cackles that would match yours Lil.’

‘I doubt that,’ said Lil.

‘My friends – every single one of them – were seeing a funnier side than me. The next three quarters of an hour were filled with keys being levered under doors, shrieks, drills, and despairs before I finally saw the bolt release and facilitate my freedom. In the absence of Sherry to settle my shattered nerves a double white Port was a suitable substitute.’

I sat back. All of my breakfast companions were amused. Lil relaxed in her chair and put the flannel back on her head.

“Feeling bad again?’ asked Armando.

‘It was probably the mention of Sherry,’ said Cyril.

‘Please shut it Cyril,’ said Lil.

‘Perhaps you tried to eat too much,’ said Armando.

‘Or maybe she drank too much Sherry at the wake yesterday, as did I,’ said Cyril.

Mine and Armando’s mouths dropped open.

‘Lil, are you nursing a hangover?’ I asked firmly.

‘For a polite man, you have a flappy gob,’ said Lil glaring at Cyril from beneath her wash cloth.

‘I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let these lovely gentlemen continue to wait on you hand and foot when it’s self-inflicted and you are rather overdoing it,’ said Cyril. Hopefully Lil was too hung-over to blast him for exposing her duplicity.

‘Well, what else do you expect when I was caught up talking to the boring Gloria and Roger,’ said Lil.

‘Who are they?’ asked Armando.

‘We had been to the service at St Joseph’s on Highgate Hill, and to East Finchley crem before we went back to the home, and Cyril, Gisela and I were caught by the deceased’s niece and her husband. Gloria is a large woman with obviously dyed blonde hair and was wearing a black dress which wasn’t suitable for her size. We’d just visited the buffet, which incidentally wasn’t bad; fresh egg sandwiches and chicken and shrimp vol au vents. Anyway I said a polite hello, you know the one where you don’t expect conversation. She respected that for all of 30 bloody seconds before she started with “lovely buffet” which soon moved into their having driven from Dorset and that she had a bad back and couldn’t drive. Roger apparently was a slow driver. Poor Roger kept on going to speak but she’d cut him off. She’d been on a bus to visit an air show. The bus was inching forwards towards the stop, so she got up and started down the stairs when the driver decided to hit the brakes, and she bashed her back on the step behind her – twice. It went on and on. It was only the refills of Sherry which kept me going.’

‘They don’t sound like the best company, but I’m not sure that was excuse enough to get hammered,’ I said.

‘Perhaps Cyril’s a bad influence,’ said Lil.

‘Hardly,’ said Cyril.

‘Are you sure it wasn’t that Marty person,’ I said through gritted teeth.

‘Nah he was at band practice,’ said Lil.

I dare not even ask what type of band he was in.

‘Gisela unwell too?’ asked Armando.

‘No, she only had the one Sherry,’ said Cyril.

‘Perhaps you two should follow her example in future,’ I said.


The villa belongs to good friends and is a fabulous place for a holiday. Winter rates are pretty reasonable and Portugal is divine. If you want more information please take a look at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g776012-d2120092-Villa_Laranja-Luz_Faro_District_Algarve.html

Here’s a view from the balcony and all the photos in the post are from the villa


When a film triggers a memory

Last weekend I went to The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley with Michael to watch Philomena. The Phoenix is one of the UK’s oldest purpose-build, continuously operating cinemas according to its website. The vaulted ceiling dates back to the early 20th century. It’s an amazing venue, and quite the place the Boulevardier should frequent.


The film itself was wonderful and thought provoking, albeit rather harrowing. Towards the end (and I won’t give plot away) there is a scene with an aged and retired nun. She belligerently defends her actions fifty years previously which materially affected Philomena’s life. Philomena remained calm and said she forgave the nun for her actions.

As we left the theatre my thoughts turned to my school days and as we walked back to our cars I told Michael a story about my first few days at school. Some of the detail had faded with time, and as I was meeting my parents for lunch two days later, I decided to ask Mum what she remembered.

After a morning coffee in the Boulevardier’s lounge my parents and I walked the short distance to The Maynard where we were booked for Sunday lunch. After we had ordered our roast chicken, roast beef and a beef and Guinness pie, I asked Mum what she remembered. I was unable to take a long and dramatic sip of sherry or red wine as I was rather dehydrated following a brilliant Halloween party the previous evening, and had decided to abstain.

‘Of course’ said Mum, ‘as if it happened yesterday.’

When I was three years old and not a London Boulevardier but a country boy, I went to playschool. There was no playschool in the village in which we resided and I had to go to the one in the next village. The first morning passed without incident, but on the second Mum received a call as I was distraught. Playschool was held in a timber annexe known as The Scout Hall on the outskirts of the village and one of the older children came in wearing a scary mask! This had almost traumatised me and it will come as no surprise that I didn’t want to return.  I asked Mum why she didn’t make me go back.


‘There is no choice on whether or not you go to school but there is a choice with playschool’ Mum reasoned.

School soon came around and I was extremely excited and enthusiastic to go. It was six weeks before my fifth birthday. Mum thought she might have a problem leaving me there, but I was positive, took off my coat and ran to a table and sat down. Mum said I was proud as a peacock to be at school. Flamstead JMI was the only education centre in our small village and it felt massive. Its five classrooms and over one hundred pupils were all new to me and daunting enough on their own without the additional punishing circumstances.

The morning passed and Mum came to collect me for lunch. We lived close enough to the school to take luncheon at home. My mood had drastically changed and I did not want to go back to school for the afternoon. Confused, Mum asked me what had changed and I told her the teacher had smacked me. Mum didn’t believe a word of it as a teacher couldn’t smack a child – or could they? I didn’t settle at school as well in the afternoon as I had in the morning and Mum struggled to get me to stay. It was all rather upsetting.

When Mum returned to the school gates at the appointed afternoon time she encountered one of Dad’s sisters, Auntie Ann, and explained the rather odd events of the day. Auntie Ann said she would ask my cousin Lorraine who was also in my class what had happened.

Lorraine confirmed that Mrs S. had smacked me as I couldn’t hold my pencil properly and had tried to make me write with my right hand rather than my natural and favoured left. I hadn’t yet learned to hold my pencil between my thumb and second and third fingers, but rather held the pencil between all my fingers.

At this Mum went straight round to the classroom and demanded to speak with Mrs S.. She denied administering corporal punishment and held her position regarding changing the hand I wrote with. This was the mid-1970s, not the dark ages, in case anyone was wondering. Mum left the classroom and walked to the Headmaster’s office; he listened and confirmed he’d look into it.

Mum came home uneasy and hoped that all would be sorted. The next lunchtime she asked me which hand I had used to hold my pencil, and I indicated I had to use my right. I of course didn’t say right as I was too young to know the difference but rather showed Mum.

We walked back to school for the afternoon session and Mum went straight to the Headmaster who was apparently still looking into it. Mum wasn’t having any of it and told Mr Ashwood, the Headmaster that she was going to see the GP for a professional opinion.

Mum telephoned Dr Coombes that afternoon and he confirmed that there was no way the school should continue trying to change the hand with which I wrote. He suggested that Mum should notify the school of his opinion and if there were any more problems he would come to the school. Mum relayed the message to Mr Ashwood and I was suddenly allowed to use my left hand again.

Mrs S. was in Mum’s words ‘as sweet as apple pie’ thereafter with no further incidents. Years later when Mum would bump into her she would always ask after me. Mum would always give a curt ‘He’s fine’ response.   

I can remember being smacked across the left hand, which knocked the pencil from my hand, and being aggressively criticised for using the wrong hand, holding the pencil incorrectly and not being able to write my name. My memories are in flashes and evoke somewhat unsettling emotions of panic and despair.

I thought we went to school to learn?

I can also remember being told that I was far too naughty to go out to play in the afternoon with the rest of the children and being made to sit on a chair outside the staffroom as Mrs S. watched me. I was terrified and so upset. I can remember being really excited about growing up and being old enough to attend school, and things unravelling and going so wrong so quickly and it was all too much. I made a dash for it but S. caught me before I could get out of the building and make the short run home. She smacked me again and chastised me for being so disobedient

Years later when I was in my late teens this incident used to haunt me and I wanted to go and speak to the teacher, dominate her, and see how she felt. I decided not to and I am glad I didn’t.

We finished our lunch. Mum was too full for dessert, aside from a spoonful of my sticky toffee pudding. Dad had some bread and butter pudding. We chatted more about old memories and I connected on Facebook to one of Mum’s cousins whose new address she didn’t have. It was a lovely afternoon. I always enjoy my parent’s visits to Crouch End.

Did Mrs S. ever look back and realise she had acted so wrongly? I have no idea. However, at least there weren’t any long-lasting or adverse consequences, and I really enjoyed school. In fact, aside from the first few days, I would go back and do it all again at the drop of a hat.

The consequences on Philomena were substantially more severe and in fact incomparable. It’s really amazing sometimes how a really old and rarely thought of memory is triggered. As I reflected I am glad I didn’t confront my teacher, and like Philomena, maintained my dignity.