Should Old Acquaintance

I’d had a lovely Christmas Day with some of my oldest friends in rural Hertfordshire and absolutely overindulged, before flying to Dublin for a wedding with Michael’s family, but that didn’t stop me ruminating about the turn of events at our Christmas Breakfast Club lunch. Armando had dashed back to Spain for a few days too so I didn’t have eyes and ears on the ground so to speak. We landed back in England early afternoon on 28th, and as soon as we were in the car I telephoned Lil to get an update.

‘Did you have a nice Christmas?’

‘Let’s just say eventful.’

‘Let’s not just say anything. Shall I nip round for a Sherry when I’m in Crouch End? Should be within the hour.’

‘You can of course visit, but I warn you; I’m detoxing.’ And with that the line went dead.  

Michael was going to pop to Waitrose and get ingredients for a healthy fish pie, that is to say without cheese and cream, which presented an excellent opportunity to call on my favourite senior neighbour. Michael didn’t appreciate my assistance in the kitchen – my cooking skills were basic.

‘Come in.’ A bloated Lil stood before me holding her stomach. There was an unusual aroma in the sitting room.

‘Mince pie?’ Lil held forth a plate of dry looking parcels. I didn’t like mincemeat at the best of times and especially not after several days of excess.

‘No thank you. There is an odd smell.’

Lil cackled, ‘Sorry about that. My tummy is a little sensitive after the third day of brussels.’ I would have to breathe in a shallow fashion. Lil sprayed an aerosol by her side. I’m not sure which was worse.

‘How are Bill and Marty?’

‘Marty is still in Cork. It was already planned that he would be with Nelly and his niece for the festivities, which is probably just as well in the circumstances.’ Lil shifted in her seat. I made us a pot of tea.

‘It’s been mostly Gisela, Bill and me for the last few days. Cyril went to see his family in the Cotswolds.’

‘Didn’t Bill go back to his family?’

‘No. He wanted to spend Christmas here with me. He’s not been in contact much lately, and didn’t know about Marty. It’s all been embarrassing.’

‘It was a massive surprise when he walked through the door. I know Armando had invited him, as a courtesy, but we hadn’t heard back and assumed he wasn’t coming. We wondered if we’d ever see him again.’

‘He’s looking good isn’t he? The waistcoat hung off his belly.’

‘Have you had chance to talk. I mean have a heart-to-heart about why he came back, and more importantly where you fit in?’

‘Not until today. Gisela has always been there with us, and that suited me fine. I had no idea he was coming back. I was getting things sorted with Marty after the recent drama. My head was in a right spin.’

‘What did Marty say?’

‘He was upset to be going away, with Bill returned. He asked me to not see Bill until he came back, which was unrealistic and he knew it. Who else was Bill going to spend Christmas with and I wasn’t sending him back to his family. I mean, he might have lost weight, but at Christmas you need to eat.’

I topped up our cups. I never drink much on a long journey as it’s not always easy to use the conveniences, and I was thirsty. Lil turned one of the festive pies in her fingers. She took a bite and returned it to the plate.

‘They’ve seen better days.’ I had to nod in agreement. Lil had crumbs down the front of her lilac dress.

‘And what about Bill? What did he say today?’

‘He wants us to give it another go. That’s why he’s back. Seeing his family together has left him longing for his own romantic love. He said that he’s thought of me every day. His daughter took some persuading apparently that he should leave the bosom of kin at Christmas. She eventually understood that he was pursuing his last chance of love. She did ask him if he was having a senior moment again.’ Lil crowed and clutched her stomach as it jumped with laughter.

‘Aren’t you the lucky girl with two beaux.’

‘I’m not sure I agree. Yes, yes, yes, there is the sheer romance of it all, but I don’t know what to bloody do or who to choose, and I’m not comfortable with having to make a choice between them anyway.’

‘Neither of them can rush you into making a decision. Remember that please.’

‘I’m not one for hanging about.’

‘What does Gisela think?’

‘She’s Bill all the way. You know she’s never taken to Marty.’

‘Cyril?’

‘Too much of a gent to give an opinion. He told me he wanted me to be happy.’

‘Where are you in your thinking?’

‘Confused. Maybe we should have that Sherry after all – sod the detox. They’ll be plenty of time for that in the New Year.’

‘Right, well I’ll get the glasses and then we can list their pros and cons.’

‘Use the posh ones from the sideboard please.’ I slid the frosted glass ribbed door to reveal a multitude of vintage glasses in all shapes and sizes. There was a delicate pair of red Sherry glasses at the front. ‘Not those, they only hold a sodding thimbleful.’ Behind them I found beautiful hourglass-shaped glasses with a gold rim. They looked a little too large to be Sherry receptacles but from the look on Lil’s face my second selection was successful. I was pleased to see Lil hadn’t slipped back into her cream ways and a three quarters full bottle of Oloroso was on the drinks tray. After we’d both drawn a lengthy portion and digested our thoughts I asked again.

‘Marty is funny, so funny, fun and he makes me feel young and worthwhile. He is good looking and sharply dressed. I haven’t felt that type of attraction in years.’ I wasn’t sure I agreed with all these attributes as I had seen crocodile skin shoes. I also didn’t want Lil to become more graphic with sensual magnetism.

‘And the cons?’

‘It’s tough to trust him. He has wandering eyes and he can’t say no. I mean, who would go out with Mavis in their right mind? He also hasn’t got two halfpennies to rub together.’

Lil paused to drain her measure of Sherry. I mirrored and refilled.

‘Bill? Where do I begin? I feel secure and loved with him. He doesn’t set the world on fire but that isn’t necessarily bad. He’s like your favourite warm and comfortable pair of slippers.’

‘I’m not sure he’d see that as a pro,’ I said, ‘however, I agree. Excitement can be great but with the high highs come the low lows.’

‘Yes anyway Boulevardier, this isn’t about you.’ Lil cleared her throat and took another glug before continuing. ‘Bill’s illness and state of mind is a worry, and his sense of style leaves a lot to be desired.’

‘Where does that leave you?’ I had my opinion but unless pushed I would not pass judgement at this sensitive moment.

‘No idea. What do you think?’

‘I’m not getting involved,’ I said wearing a compassionate expression.

‘I think I know anyway.’

‘Are you still coming to Breakfast Club the day after tomorrow? It’s our New Year celebration.’

‘Yes I am although Auld Lang Syne on 30th and in the morning doesn’t seem right.’

‘That’s our time and anyway it’s my friend Karen’s birthday on New Year’s Eve so I’ll be back out in Hertfordshire.’

Lil huffed but it would do no good. Our celebration was set. We finished our drinks and I ventured home to the smell of fish pie.

Armando had set the wheels in motion, and I walked into the café to an extended corner table set for eight with party poppers aplenty. We were to have our usual Breakfast Club with some added celebratory accents.

‘Need any help?’ I asked Armando, ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’

‘Morning Wayne, yes thanks. It was all too quick but good to see the family. I’m shattered actually as I only flew in last night. Is there any update?’

‘None of consequence but I guess we’ll see what happens today.’

‘I pray for no arguments in the café.’

‘Mavis?’

‘No. I didn’t invite her and hopefully after last week she won’t just show up. What about Marty and Bill?’

‘I can’t see them duelling, literally for her. Lil is the most likely to create a scene.’

As we chortled together the door opened and Gisela entered.

‘How were your festivities?’ I asked as I kissed our German friend on the cheek.

‘Good, although I felt like the gooseberry pie.’

‘Yes I heard you’ve been a faithful lady-in-waiting and chaperone.’

‘Indeed. And I’ve had lovely emails from my niece in Koln, or Cologne as you Brits say.’

‘I thought you were adopted Brit?’ asked Armando.

The door opened again and in breezed Lil and Cyril. Lil twirled in her new purple coat, which matched the colour of her hair. I steadied her before she fell over and hoped that she hadn’t been at the bottle already; it was barely 10am.

‘Looking glam,’ said Armando.

‘Thank you sir. I like to make an effort.’ Lil slid out of her coat and passed it to me revealing a pretty red dress with a flared skirt.’

‘Hmmm; should do after taking so long to get ready. I had to interrupt my own ablutions twice to dash across the hallway to provide advice.’

‘You loved it and the second time was more about the post from Holloway anyway.’

‘Holloway?’ Gisela asked.

‘The prison. I’ve had a card from the prat who broke into my place earlier this year.’

‘What did it say?’ Armando asked. He was fortunate to have Judith to attend to other customers today so as not to miss a moment of the never ending action.

‘He apologised for what he’d done. He said it was part of his rehab and he was reforming. I’ll believe it when I see it.’

‘Let’s not dwell on that today. At least it’s positive. How was the family Cyril?’

‘They are good, although I do like to get back to London. All the Cotswold’s opulence makes me giddy.’

‘Do you miss it?’ Gisela asked.

‘Goodness no. I left that behind a long time ago. I am happy in my little council flat in Crouch End.’

A bustling at the door drew our attention. Bill had arrived at the same time as Marty and Nelly and the men were jostling to cross the threshold first.

‘Let a lady first please,’ said Nelly as she tapped them both with her brolly. They had no choice but to stand aside and let her through before Marty slipped ahead of Bill.

After extended and jovial greetings we all took seats. Hunger pangs were increasing and I hoped we would be able to order quickly. Lil had managed to sit herself with a beau either side.

‘You could slice the tension with a knife. Is it too early for a stout?’ Nelly asked.

‘I’m not sure we have any in stock.’

‘I always come prepared,’ Nelly said as she produced a can from her shopping bag. A Coca-Cola wasn’t going to satisfy her today.

Judith appeared with a glass, and her pad. Most ordered a Full English, which according to Lil was much needed brain food. I ordered a vegetarian with a festive turkey sausage on the side and Gisela a pain au chocolat.

‘Have you missed London?’ I asked Bill.

‘Yes and especially this one here.’ He put his hand on Lil’s. Judith returned with two industrial sized pots of tea.

‘I’ll pour,’ Marty said as he decanted into Lil’s cup.

‘You might want to let it brew first mate,’ Bill said.

‘It’s as weak as gnat’s piss,’ Lil said.

‘What plans does everyone have for New Year’s Eve?’ Armando asked moving swiftly on from the battle of Lil.

‘I’ve invited all those here and a few other stragglers to mine for a few Sherries,’ Cyril said.

‘I’m off to Berkhamsted,’ I said.

‘No doubt some bloody hoity toity affair,’ Lil said.

‘I think my friend Karen would be pleased to be addressed in that manner,’ I said.

‘I don’t understand why we can’t all just go to Cyril’s,’ Lil said.

Breakfasts arrived which provided a needed break in the conversation.

‘What are you doing Armando?’ Gisela asked.

‘Quiet one.’

‘Ha, no doubt with his new fella,’ Lil said and cackled. She dipped a corner of toast into the baked bean’s tomato sauce before plunging it further into her egg yolk. They must both be blinded by love, I thought, as I couldn’t see this behaviour as particularly alluring.

‘How was your daughter Nelly?’

‘She’s grand. I miss home sometimes, although I don’t think I could trust this one on his own.’  She glugged from her stout and elbowed Marty in the ribs. Bill laughed louder than was necessary. Gisela for once was managing to eat her chocolate croissant without spillage.

‘I can’t eat any more,’ Bill said and looked at his half empty plate.

‘What’s happened to you in the country Bill? You used to polish that off and have a slice of cake too,’ Lil said.

‘I guess my stomach’s shrunk,’ Bill said and patted his flatter tummy proudly.

‘I bet that’s not the only thing that’s shrunk,’ Marty said. I nearly spat turkey sausage across the table but managed to maintain my decorum.

‘Marty,’ Nelly said with a hint of reprimand in her tone.

‘I for one can’t wait for Cyril’s soiree,’ Gisela said.

‘Ha, not sure how soiree it will be after we’ve all had a few drinks,’ Lil said.

‘Hmmm – I suppose that New Year is one of the few times it’s acceptable to be disorderly,’ Cyril said. Cyril’s expression didn’t support his comment. He was thinking of his Rococo mirror and other classic furnishings.

Judith started to clear the plates.

‘Delicious as ever,’ Gisela said.

‘Dare I ask if Mavis is back in town?’ I enquired.

‘Apparently not back for a few more days. She’s cleared out to friends in the country for cleaner air. Perhaps she should stay longer and clean some of that bile from her attitude,’ Lil said.

Judith held a tray with eight glasses of something fizzy.

‘I think we should all wish each other good health, wealth and happiness for 2015.’ Armando stood up. It wouldn’t have seemed right to declaring a happy new year.

We all joined Armando and clinked glasses and embraced wishing each other prosperity. Lil stood up slower than everyone else and had a suitor either side looking at her longingly, waiting to be the chosen one. I kept one eye on Lil as I embraced Mrs McAleen. Lil looked from one to the other, the moment seemed to play out in slow motion. She put her glass down on the table before turning to Bill and embracing him. He planted a smacker right on her lips. She reciprocated. Lil then turned to Marty and half-heartedly embraced him with an apologetic hug. His arms hung by his side.

‘Should old acquaintance be forgot…’ Gisela started to sing.

 

Happy-New-Year

 

 

Advertisements

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlewomen

This week we were to have our inaugural Breakfast Club Christmas luncheon. It might be a few days early, but we would be scattering to the four winds by December 25th. As usual, for our little group however, there were events worthy of report during the week, before we even got to our midday repast.

A little after 6pm on Tuesday evening I received an urgent phone call from Lil to see if I could pop round for a chat. Lil’s calls were always timed so. She lived in a bygone era when calls were cheaper after six. I remember not being allowed to use the telephone before that time as a child. My parents wondered why I needed to speak to my school friends so urgently having only just left them. The days before mobile phones and social media certainly had their challenges. Lil should have been at the Age Group’s Christmas party and sounded a little the worse for wear.

‘Come in, I’ve poured you a Sherry,’ she said as she staggered back down the hallway. Her curls were festively bright pink, but less coiffured than usual.

‘Thank you. Do you think that you’ve already had enough Sherry?’ I asked tentatively.

‘I’m having one for the road, and after I tell you about today you’ll want more too.’

‘Cyril OK?’

‘Yeah, he went to his own flat. He needed to ice his cake – apparently.’

We clinked glasses and I waited for Lil to begin. She held her thumb and forefinger together and was tapping at her mouth. She didn’t look upset or traumatised. However, her alcohol consumption could have provided a sedated veneer. She selected a Strawberry Cream from a small bowl of Quality Street and offered them out to me.

‘Take one of the toffees will you. They play havoc with my teeth. I’m not keen on the coconut either so you could have one of those if you prefer. ’ My favourites were also the creams but in the circumstances I settled for a golden-wrapped round toffee. I wasn’t fond of coconut either. After Lil had chewed her sweet and taken another sip of liquor she was ready to talk.

‘It’s all kicked off with Mavis again today. That woman has always been such a bloody nightmare.’

‘Didn’t your Christmas spirit consume your ill feeling?’

‘No, and I’m not one for pretending that all’s good just because of the season. It’s fake. I’ve never been fake and I don’t intend to start now. Anyway, so off I went today with Cyril. We arrived early to make sure we got a good table. I’d arranged to meet Marty and Nelly. Gisela is still in Germany.’

Lil paused to take another mouthful. She hadn’t categorically told me that she and Marty were back on, but I had suspicions.

‘You and Marty together again?’

‘We’re working at it. He does make me laugh. The tables were set out for six and you’ll never guess who tried to take the last spot.’

‘Mavis.’

‘Yeah, and Doris. How did you know that?’ I shrugged and raised the glass to my lips. At least Lil was drinking Oloroso and not the odious sweet cream from the West Country.

‘The audacity of that woman. I blocked her with my stick. She tried to rattle the chair out from under the table but I had it jammed. “Excuse me Lilian” she said in that bloody hoity toity voice. After I told her she could find another seat, she asked Marty if she could sit, and I swear I saw red and was about to whack her with my stick when Nelly spoke up. Nelly I tell you.’ Lil sat forward and picked up her empty glass.

‘What did she say? Top up?’ I asked.

‘Yes please, the bottle’s on the tray there on the sideboard. Well Nelly told her to stop messing her family around. Doris scurried off followed closely by Mavis. She didn’t even stop to argue.’

‘Good for Nelly. Didn’t Marty speak?’

‘Not directly, although he made a point of sitting next to me. Lunch was nice but had a bitter taste from the other side of the room. Nelly needed a stout.’

‘I’ve never understood you and Mavis?’

‘And neither will you today. It’s such a long story going right back to when we were growing up, and I am too exhausted to talk about it. She can’t just let it be. She’s never been any different.’

Lil exhaled and I noticed the small, fake, sparkling tree next to the mantle and the various Christmas themed ornaments. ‘Nice decorations.’

‘Thanks, I told Cyril he should be the fairy on the top and he said the spot is for an angel not a fairy.’ Lil let out a booming cackle. I could tell she was tiring, finished my drink and made sure to put the bottle back, in the hope it unconsciously stopped her from drinking more. I kissed her affectionately and left her warm and tipsy in her sitting room.

There was another call on Wednesday, which was fortunately just to inform that Gisela had arrived back suddenly and to check there was room for her at our lunch. I had agonised whether to invite Mavis but decided against it. Armando and I were throwing a special lunch for our Breakfast Club and friends of Breakfast Club and the situation was too raw to include her.

I was up early, in my Christmas sweater and tinsel necklace, and over to the café to help with preparations. I wasn’t particularly adept in the kitchen; ask Michael, or my closest girlfriends who’ve suffered at the hands of my homemade garlic bread and other such delicacies. Armando was already in full flow, with turkey in the oven and various sauces in progress.

‘I thought sauces came from Waitrose packets,’ I said as I patted him on the shoulder. He cast me an unkind look, thrust a peeling implement into my hand and ushered me to a perching stool in the corner, where a mound of dirty vegetables sat. I hadn’t seen Armando in chef mode before – it was frightening.

‘Yes captain,’ I said with a stamp of foot and a salute. Armando didn’t even crack a smile and turned back to his jus fashioning.

Easy_Scalloped_Potatoes_2

I set about scraping potatoes, parsnips, carrots and sprouts; not that I would eat the latter. I wasn’t a fan of Brussels. The radio sang out songs of sleigh bells and winter wonderlands as the orders from the café came thick and fast. Full English breakfasts were being prepared amid our seasonal feast. Oddly, I didn’t hear an order for a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage on the side – in this I was unique.

I could sense Armando over my shoulder checking on progress.

‘These are not peeled,’ he said pointing to my proud pile of spuds.

‘Yes they are.’

‘No, see here lots of missed bits,’ he said holding one of my potatoes and digging the minute remnants of skin which were in the dimples and difficult to reach. I didn’t argue and re-peeled all of my already peeled vegetables. They were rapidly shrinking in mass.

The pile of peel was growing and my hands getting sore when I was pleased to see the Armando I knew at my side with a glass of Sherry in his hand. ‘You’re doing well, here is a sniff to keep you going.’ I stifled a laugh.

‘Snifter.’

‘Yes that’s what I said.’

‘I think I’m getting a blister.’

‘You’d not make a good kitchen boy.’

‘Good.’

Three tables were pushed together in the back room covered in red crepe, tinsel, crackers and cutlery. Judith had been busy too between customers.

I scrubbed my hands free of dirt and applied moisturiser to protect their usually unblemished condition. I was not one for manual labour.

At midday Gisela and Cyril arrived. He was wearing a smart dark suit with a tie covered in Christmas Puddings and Gisela a floral dress beneath her overcoat.

‘Nice tie,’ I said as I shook Cyril’s hand.

‘Lil insisted,’ he said with a chuckle.

‘Welcome back,’ said Armando as he hugged Gisela.

‘What a journey,’ said Gisela with a tear in her eye as she handed Armando a Weihnachtsstollen. ‘I’m afraid it’s shop bought but at least it’s authentic.’

We shuffled into our own private dining room where glasses of Oloroso stood on a silver tray.

‘Are you glad to be home?’ I asked.

‘Yes, such memories and too much change. I didn’t recognise my home town. My Germany has gone.’

‘I for one am happy to have you back,’ Cyril said.

‘Yes, I’ve missed you all dreadfully, and what a homecoming surprise. I hoped I hadn’t missed all the group festivities.’

‘You’ll be pleased you missed yesterday,’ Cyril said.

‘I don’t even want to know,’ Gisela said.

An attention seeking cough made us turn around to see Lil standing in the doorway, with Marty on her arm. Her hair was curled to perfection – still pink. ‘Merry Christmas,’ she said. She wore a pretty cream blouse, under a delicate woollen sweater and an eye catching crushed velvet raspberry skirt.

‘Fancy a kiss?’ asked Marty as he held aloft a branch of mistletoe.

‘Saucy,’ said Lil as she planted a smacker on his cheek. She left a rouge tattoo on his face, like a livestock branding. Marty wore a sports jacket and pointed crocodile shoes. I wondered if they were what he thought were fashionable.

Armando disappeared to the kitchens as we chatted. The fortified wine soon evaporated and was replaced by snowballs.

‘I’ll have a Coca-Cola,’ Nelly said, ‘after my stout this morning and the Sherry, I’ll take a break. No falling over at Christmas.’

‘That’s the best time to fall over,’ Marty said.

‘Time to take our seats,’ Armando said.

‘I’ll have a kiss from Gisela first.’ Marty waggled his mistletoe threateningly in her direction.

‘If you’re giving them away so freely, don’t forget Cyril,’ Lil said.

‘Come on then.’ Marty held his arms open in Cyril’s vicinity.

‘No thank you,’ Cyril said and swiftly took his seat.

‘I’ll have mine then,’ I said as Marty’s alcohol drenched lips connected with my cheek.

Egg mayonnaise was served on pretty side plates. I lit the candles in the centre of the table.

‘Frohe Weihnachten,’ Gisela said and raised her wine glass. We all mimicked – Lil’s German accent needed some work.

‘The markets in Bonn are special. At least we still have those. The smells, the spices, and the celebrations.’

‘I’d love to go,’ Armando said.

‘Perhaps we’ll all go together next year,’ Cyril said.

‘Not bloody likely,’ Lil said and let out an enormous cackle. ‘Who brought the Christmas cake?’

‘It’s Weinachtsstollen, or Christmas stollen,’ Gisela said.

Marzipanstollen

‘What’s in it?’

‘Fruit cake with marzipan and covered in sugar.’

‘Sounds like a Christmas cake to me,’ Lil said.

‘Where’s the milk?’ Marty asked.

‘Ooo yes a glass of milk would be grand,’ Nelly said.

‘Milk? With Christmas lunch?’ I asked.

‘Always, back home with a big meal,’ Marty said as if it was most natural.

‘Skimmed or semi?’ Cyril asked.

‘Whole,’ Nelly and Marty said in unison.

Armando had already disappeared and soon returned with the requested milk.

‘Coke and milk?’ Cyril asked Nelly looking at the glasses in front of her.

‘It’ll make way for the wine,’ Nelly said.

This day would hold such great memories for me. I didn’t know this group last year. I knew Armando a little but none of the others. I looked round the table at my Breakfast Club chattering and felt sentimental. The turkey arrived and not too soon as I wiped a tear from my eye. Fortunately Lil hadn’t observed my emotional moment, which would no doubt be the source of great ridicule, especially after a few refreshments.

Marty stood, ‘I’d like to raise a glass to our kind host Armando and say thank you.’

‘What about me?’ I asked as the others stood to toast our hardworking chef. ‘This blister is from getting your veggies ready.’

‘And to the Boulevardier, who’s just done his first real day’s work,’ Lil said. Everyone erupted into clinking glasses and laughter. Jollity was the order of our day.

‘How lovely,’ came a voice from the archway.

I turned to see Mavis, arms on her hips.

‘Do we have to do this today?’ Armando said.

‘Yes we do,’ Lil said pushing on the table to get to her feet.

‘I’m not so sure,’ I said and tried to halt Lil’s forward movements.

‘No Wayne,’ Lil said.

‘Best do as you’re told – like the rest,’ Mavis said.

‘Right Bellamy, I’m not getting into this today with you. You’re not ruining another Christmas lunch.’

‘My invite lost in the post?’ Mavis called passed Lil to Armando.

‘This is a private lunch – sorry,’ Armando said.

‘Piss off and find your own cronies,’ Lil said.

‘How long do you think it’ll be before he’s on to the next woman Lillian?’

‘We’re fine at the moment, without your interference,’ Lil said.

‘Who’s fine?’ asked another voice, behind Mavis. It was a familiar voice, but I couldn’t place it. A man moved passed Mavis and held his wilting mistletoe aloft.

‘Bill,’ Lil said.

‘Room for a small one?’ asked Bill.

‘Any chance of a sliver of Stilton and port?’ Cyril asked.

Cyril’s Inner Sanctum

Unfortunately I had been away with work most of the week, and busy into the evenings, which meant that I couldn’t check in with Lil as often as I’d have liked. Armando, as ever, stepped up to the plate and corroborated her mental and emotional condition and Cyril had become Lil’s garde-malade as he lived across the hallway. Lil hadn’t left the flat, aside from a Remembrance Day service, for fear of bumping into the interlopers. By all accounts she had barely responded to Gisela. I suspect the latter for her previously cited views on Marty.

Breakfast Club had been supplanted by a late lunch at Cyril’s. I collected Armando from the café at 1.45, who was, for once, empty handed. Cyril had everything under control.

‘How are you?’ I asked Armando as we made the short walk to Lil and Cyril’s block.

‘Doing fine I think. I have focused on increasing events at the café.’

‘That’s excellent. Who knows you might even meet someone at one of the events.’

‘Maybe, but not the purpose. It seems that Lil and I are in, and out, of relationships in sync.’

I pressed the familiar buzzer but knew that once granted permission to enter we would take a different direction at the top of the first staircase.

‘She’s flopped out in the sitting room,’ whispered Cyril as he opened his front door. The floor plan was a mirror image of Lil’s flat, but with a different ambience.  A wonderful aroma emanated from the kitchen. It was indeed a late lunch and my appetite needed no whetting. The hallway was lined with gilt-framed photos. The pictures were mostly black and white, and the faces perhaps people from Cyril’s past. Today wasn’t the day but I hoped I would have the opportunity to seek an explanation for each. I didn’t spot Lil when we first entered the sitting room as she was lost amid the rich tapestry of fur (I assume fake) throws by which the sofa was swathed. She looked small and fragile. Lil had shattered my illusions regarding the elderly. She lived with extreme emotions, high highs and low lows as an everyday part of her life. It wasn’t all lavender and Countdown. However, there was an aroma of lavender which I assumed came from one of the oil burners situated on the sideboard. Next to Lil was a small occasional table with a slim glass containing a dark liquid, and a lamp with a red velvet tasselled shade that wouldn’t look out of place in a bordello. After greeting Lil with an affectionate peck I sat in one of the two upright arms chairs filled with brocade cushions. Sherry wafted from her breath. Cyril appeared carrying a tasteful gold-coloured tray with two additional small Sherry glasses.

‘Oloroso Wayne, I hope you approve,’ said Cyril as he bowed to offer his wares. It was incredibly sweet of him to remember my preferred tipple.

‘I’ll have a top up please,’ said Lil.

‘Just the one Sherry before luncheon,’ answered Cyril.

‘Stop gawping Wayne,’ said Lil.

‘I wasn’t dear, I’m lost for words. It’s like I’m in the middle of a Greek tragedy with Medea at the centre.’

Lil snorted in appreciation of an attempt at a lighter comment.

‘There is nothing as dead as a dead love affair,’ said Lil informatively.

‘Honestly Lil, you don’t seem to be doing too badly, lying there, wrapped in fur, eating bon bons and drinking Sherry – rather sybaritic if you ask me,’ I said.

‘Has he still been pestering you?’ asked Armando moving the conversation along.

‘I have to keep taking my phone off the hook, and thank goodness we have the security downstairs otherwise he’d be knocking down my door. He has got into the building a couple of times, and pleaded at my door. I can’t face him yet.’

‘It’s shameful, Irish barbarity,’ said Cyril and then disappeared to put the finishing touches to lunch.

‘It’s Nelly I feel sorry for. He’s got her to call a few times too,’ said Lil.

‘It’s probably not the first time,’ I said before biting my lip to stop any further vitriol escaping. Armando glared at me to stunt additional inflammatory comments.

‘I didn’t see Nelly there last week Lil. Was she?’ I asked.

‘No, she came later, and was mortified according to Gisela,’ said Lil.

‘Is Gisela joining us today?’ Armando asked.

‘No, she had a meeting which would run into the start of lunch.’

‘I’m sure Cyril wouldn’t mind her coming late. It’s only lunch,’ I said as I polished off the remainder of my Oloroso.

‘You haven’t been to Cyril’s before. It’s more formal than you’d expect and it wouldn’t be appropriate to arrive mid-way through an event. You’ll see,’ said Lil.

‘Please come into the dining room, lunch is ready,’ said Cyril.

‘Can’t we eat here?’ implored Lil.

‘No,’ said Cyril but lamented and added, ‘but you can bring a fur if it would make you happy.’ Lil wrapped a mink-coloured throw around her shoulders and led the charge to the dining room. A formal table was laid, without cloth, but with stunning, shining silverware and an ornate candelabra at the centre. A Rococo glass mirror hung on the wall, beneath which was a delicious arrangement of pussy willow and gladioli in a vase atop a dark wooden bookcase. I spotted novels by Willa Carther and Nancy Mitford before turning my attention to the table where devilled eggs were set out; name place cards guided us to our appointed position.

‘Would you pour the wine please?’ Cyril asked Armando.

‘Yes please,’ said Lil before she was asked, although as the only lady present she would have been served first in any event.

‘You have a lovely home,’ I said.

‘Thank you. I try to keep it decent and comfortable. The mirror there came from my family home.’ It was like being in an aristocratic council flat. Decadence oozed from every pore but with frayed and faded edges.

‘The fish is in the oven, so please eat up,’ said Cyril.

‘Anything from Mavis?’ I ventured to enquire.

‘Nothing,’ answered Lil with such finality in her voice I dared not pursue it further.

‘Look, I know this has hit me hard and it has and I feel bloody humiliated, but I’ve been worse. I knew that Marty had wandering eyes, but that was part of his charm.’

Armando and I eyed each other in a way which agreed that we would have to meet with Marty, establish his true intentions and aid this affair to reach its conclusion one way or another.

‘Shall I tell you something of the outside?’ I asked.

‘Yes please,’ said Cyril welcoming new life into the discussion.

‘Last Sunday I went for a power walk with my friend Marina to Alexandra Palace –’

‘Power walk?’ interrupted Lil with a cackle.

I glanced at her in an overtly dramatic manner and continued, ‘an unusual, well unusual for Ally Pally, smell hit our nostrils, and Marina said she could smell cheese. I recognised the smell from childhood and it wasn’t cheese. Let’s call it a farmyard smell. I took a deep breath and declared that it was muck. I further tried to isolate the aroma, and pronounced it was most likely pig. Well Marina almost fell on the floor laughing. ‘Trust you, she’d said to be able to know whose backside it came from. It was a perfect country boy meets city girl moment.’

‘Silly sod,’ said Lil looking slightly cheered.

‘Country gents don’t have to analyse muck,’ said Cyril, ‘especially during a civilised luncheon.’

‘You’re a sillier sod than he is,’ said Lil waving her fork at Cyril.

Cyril took this as a cue to remove the plates and attend to the stuffed and roasting haddock in the oven.

‘I know whose face I’d like to push into that muck,’ said Lil.

‘Now,’ said Armando as he topped up the wine glasses. We used to drink Assam tea, and were devolving (or evolving I can’t make my mind up) into lunchtime drinkers.

‘When do you think you’ll return to society?’ I asked Lil.

‘I don’t have to leave the block and I have Cyril here, and Gisela is visiting regularly, but I know that moment will come. I feel ashamed,’ said Lil with water forming in the corner of her eye.

‘You have nothing to be ashamed of,’ said Armando and rested a comforting hand on Lil’s thin arm.

‘Exactly,’ I echoed, ‘Marty and Mavis should be mortified.’

Cyril reappeared carrying antique gilt-edged white plates loaded with roast fish, sautéed potatoes and spinach. As we started to tuck in the door buzzer rang – urgently.

‘Ignore it,’ said Cyril. He feared it was Marty.

The buzzer rang again and it did sound pressing.

‘Excuse me,’ said Cyril as he stood with irritation and slapped his napkin on the back of his chair. We listened intently and heard Cyril grant the caller entry. Lil looked suddenly ashen. We heard a recognisable voice, and an out of breath Gisela joined us in the dining room.

‘Sorry to disturb but I had to come and tell you immediately,’ said Gisela and welcomed the wine glugging into a glass in front of her. After taking a sip she continued, ‘I was walking home from the community centre and I bumped into Mavis with three or four children, presumably relations. She greeted me sheepishly and I returned the greeting with a polite but formal attitude and carried on my way. However, hiding and poking his head from the very next corner was Marty. It was no coincidence in my opinion. He is not sorry for behaviour.’

‘I never trust a woman draped in children,’ said Lil with pursed lips.

Whatever she said, Lil didn’t blame Marty anywhere near as much as she did Mavis. History and past hurt leaned heavy on her views but she was dangerously close to allowing that to cloud her contemplations. I glanced from Gisela to Armando and Cyril and knew we were united in purpose. Armando and I would meet with this Irish Don Juan.

 

Revolving Relationships

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a Halloween party – last year I was dressed as a gothic vampire with slicked-back hair drinking blood-coloured cocktails, with Michael dressed as a ghost. However, the persistent popping of bangers outside in the streets and the relentless flow of premature Trick-or-treaters is wearisome. My living space is at the back of the apartment and I can therefore appear not at home, which is a saving grace. Goodness only knows what it’s like for our senior residents, but as it was Thursday I’m sure I was about to hear.

I dressed very anti-Halloween in a Madonna T shirt, and after adding a light jacket, I made my way to the café.

Lil was already sitting at our table with Gisela. Their teacups were already three-quarters empty and I therefore surmised they’d been in residence for a while.

‘Trick or treat?’ I asked as I greeted them. Lil backed away from my affection.

‘Don’t you fu-…’

‘I mean don’t start all that bloody nonsense Wayne. I’ve had enough of it already,’ said Lil after making us blush at her first stunted repost, containing additional colourful language I hadn’t heard from her before.

‘The noise of the banging, and into the night. Don’t the parents make the children come into the home at a reasonable hour?’ asked Gisela.

I poured myself a cup of stewed tea, and nodded to Armando behind the counter.

IMG_4575

‘Standards have slipped. In my day you’ve have got a clip around the ear for such behaviour, and not just from your family. Most of the community had licence to do so. And respect for your elders reigned,’ said Lil.

Gisela tutted and added, ‘same in Deutschland.’

‘Marty says that at our age we’re lucky to get any banging,’ said Lil and started cackling.

‘Excuse me,’ said Gisela as she got up and moved towards the ladies.

Lil tutted.

‘Everything OK with Gisela?’ asked Armando as he joined us armed with a fresh pot of Assam.

‘She’s not happy that Marty has stayed over. She said it’s not very ladylike.’ Lil pursed her lips. I was shocked.

‘I had no idea your relationship had progressed,’ I said trying to keep a judgemental tone from my words.

‘Don’t you start too Wayne,’ said Lil.

‘What about Bill?’ I asked. Armando put his hand firmly on my arm which I took as an indicator that I was overstepping boundaries.

‘He’s not here and life goes on,’ said Lil starting to look a little teary.

‘We don’t want you to get hurt,’ said Armando just as Gisela returned from the bathroom closely followed by our waitress.

‘Full English please,’ said Lil.

‘I’ve a strange request and wondered whether henceforth you’d consider having scrambled eggs Lil,’ I asked.

‘Errr why? I like a nice runny fried egg,’ said Lil.

‘It’s my mum – ’

‘What’s it got to do with her?’

‘She reads my blog and hearing about runny yolks makes her feel queasy.’

‘I’ve nothing against your mother, I’ve never met the woman, but no. Why don’t you stop writing about it?’

‘A key part of Breakfast Club is breakfast.’

‘In that case, I’ll have an extra runny egg please Judith.’ Lil let out an explosive laugh as she delivered this last line. I’m afraid Mum is going to have to stiffen her upper lip and endure trickling yellow centres.

I ordered porridge with blueberries, Gisela a pain au chocolat and Armando an orange muffin.

‘Think of all the non-meat eaters you offend Boulevardier with your vegetarian breakfast and a pork sausage on the side eh,’ said Lil. Everyone giggled. Lil was on point with her sharp banter today. I suspect it was to keep the discussion away from her and Marty. She must realise he wasn’t as rosy as she painted him. I couldn’t see the appeal.

‘Have you seen Mavis this week?’ I asked.

‘Goodness please don’t mention her,’ said Gisela firmly.

‘Yes I saw that quarrelsome cow on Tuesday at Age Club,’ said Lil ignoring Gisela’s protestations.

‘Oh no, not more arguments,’ said Armando.

Lil pursed her lips and demurely picked up her teacup.

‘She can not help herself Armando. She is snide and I will not be walked over.’

‘Dare I ask what happened?’ I enquired.

‘Yes you may. She was standing with her gaggle of followers when I arrived. I smiled vaguely and walked towards Gisela and the tea urn. As I passed I heard Mavis say that it was unfortunate that some people take Marty too seriously and try to tame him. And what’s more, apparently he’s interested in anything in a skirt. I honestly did think twice Wayne whether to ignore her and carry on but I couldn’t. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned and said to her that he wasn’t interested in her and her polyester trousers and added that if I had her legs I’d wear long pants too. Her followers didn’t know where to look. She added something but I had spun on my heels and reassumed my victory step to Gisela. She hurled something further but I only heard the ‘Lillian’ at the end. There was no tittering from her posse. They know better than to get involved.’

‘What is it with you two?’ asked Armando.

‘History, dear boy.’ And before we could press further, breakfasts arrived. One day I was determined to find out their history. They sparred at the slightest crossing of words, but when the chips were down, had each other’s backs. It was as if there was a blood bond. Were they related? I didn’t ask.

‘Judith,’ Lil called after the waitress, ‘I asked for a runny egg and this is solid.’

‘Oh gawd,’ said Armando under his breath.

‘Sorry I thought you said not runny, let me change it,’ said Judith and started to remove the plate.

‘No, no I’m too hungry to wait,’ said Lil holding onto her plate for dear life.

I sat back and watched Lil tug-o-war, and report battles, as I stirred the blueberries into my steaming porridge.

‘Sorry Lil, you sure you don’t want me to change?’ asked Armando.

‘No it’s fine. At least it will keep Wayne’s mum happy for today. Every cloud and all that,’ said Lil as she sliced a segment of white and pushed it against a mushroom, lifted her fork and masticated.

‘How’s your Brazilian?’ asked Gisela.

‘Gone,’ said Armando. Our cutlery clanked simultaneously on the table and all eyes fell on Armando.

‘It’s fine. It wasn’t working. Dating is too much effort at the moment. I’m going to focus on the café and see what comes along.’

‘Good plan,’ said Lil and returned her knife and fork to her respective hands.

‘Quatsch,’ exclaimed Gisela as a blob of chocolate escaped from her pastry onto her lap.

‘I don’t know why you eat those things Gisela, you always get in a mess,’ said Lil.

‘I don’t, thank you. They are delicious but dangerous.’

Lil huffed as she thrust a corner of toast into her mouth.

We all jumped, as a banger exploded right outside the café followed by a stampede of youth.

‘Bloody hell – Why oh why is half-term the same time as banger season,’ said Lil.

‘Don’t worry, it’ll be bonfire night next week,’ I said.

‘Don’t just don’t,’ said Lil waggling her finger in my direction. She rested her napkin on the table after daubing the corners of her mouth. ‘Perhaps we should have a little Sherry to settle our nerves,’ she added.

‘Didn’t you have enough of that at the funeral?’ asked Armando.

‘You can never have enough Sherry,’ said Lil as she extracted a new bottle of Bristol Cream from her trolley. ‘Got any glasses Armando?’

I have to say I agree with her last pronouncement and felt quite decadent sipping Sherry at 11am. The only improvement I would suggest would be to have Oloroso. I prefer its dark chocolate taste.

no_halloween

Sick Lil

I tend not to make plans on a Wednesday evening. My routine is usually to finish work at dusk and breathe a deep sigh of relief. It was no different this week.

I slumped on my leather corner sofa and flicked on the television. I needed some escape viewing and selected The Real Housewives of New Jersey from my Sky Plus planner. I know it’s not characteristic of a Boulevardier to watch such programmes but I like to think of it as an anthropological documentary – that’s how I justify it to myself anyway. I think there should be a new franchise – The Real Boulevardiers of London. I’d happily play my part.

Something was missing – I hauled myself from my comfortable den to the kitchen and poured a double Oloroso. I wilting back into the sofa as the housewives engaged in their latest drama. My viewing pleasure was interrupted by a telephone call. The screen identified my caller.

‘Hi Lil, how are you?’

‘Good evening Wayne. I’m not feeling great. My head’s full of cold and I feel constantly tired. I’m not sure I’m going to make Breakfast Club. You know I hate to miss it.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. Do you need anything? Shall I nip round? Do you have food‘

‘I knew you’d bloody start fussing. I’m fine. I just have a cold and don’t feel well enough to go out tomorrow.’

‘We’ll come to you,’ I suggested.

‘Armando has a business to run and I don’t want either of you fretting about an old woman.’

‘Well I’ll come then. Shall I arrive later, say 11.30 to give you chance to get up?’

‘Fine.’ Lil was too weak to put up much of a fight.

‘Seriously though do you need anything? I can pop to the shops en route. It wouldn’t be any trouble.’

‘No, I’m fine.’ I could hear Lil’s lips pursing.

‘OK see you tomorrow. Hope you sleep well. Bye.’

‘Bye.’

I sent Armando a message on Facebook who of course was happy to join me and said he’d bring cake.

d344ceb8-ebd9-4e49-9ae8-0fc53930dc53

It was a cold but bright morning as we walked to Lil’s low-rise block. I knew roughly where she lived but hadn’t paid much attention to the 1950s block before now. There was a pleasant grassy front and a concrete path leading to the communal green front door.

The hallway was drab but clean and gifted us an aroma of bleach. We ascended the stairs to the first floor and knocked. I felt quite excited at the thought of getting to see inside.

A loud clatter was followed by an exclamation of ‘Sod it.’

Lil opened the door looking pale, with half-styled hair and a brightly coloured housecoat and fluffy pink slippers.

‘Hello. You’d better come in, but I’m not ready,’ said Lil.

We paused to take in the sight before us and made a ceremonial crossing of Lil’s threshold.

‘QUICK! Before the nosey cow from across the hallway comes out to poke her oar in.’ Lil was not wearing tolerance today.

We scampered into a hallway. Lil pushed passed and slammed the door. There was an open door immediately to my left which looked like the kitchen, with a tray, milk jug and sugar all over the floor. Lil barged passed and shut the kitchen door and suggested we move ahead into the sitting room.

‘Do you want me to clear up spillage?’ Armando offered.

‘No. Go in and sit down and give me a few minutes to finish my hair and get the tea things ready,’ said Lil.

‘I brought a Victoria Sponge Lil to have with tea,’ said Armando.

‘Oooh  I love a slice of Vicky. Pop her on the table and I’ll sort it out in a minute. Thank you.’ Lil ushered us into the room ahead of us and disappeared along the corridor.

The sitting room was square and had a dark green, two-seater couch and two matching armchairs. One of the armchairs looked more worn and had a foot stool in front of it and a small table to the side. This was Lil’s chair. I glanced at the reading material on the table and eyed a copy of Women’s Weekly and The Lady next to a reading lamp and a coaster. All items in her suite were protected by white crocheted antimacassars. There was a central glass table with several matching floral coasters and a vase of daffodils. The mantelpiece was full of brass ornaments which reflected in the mirror above. There was a piece of ripped wallpaper next to the mirror which had been the cause of Lil’s recent fall. The room was full of trinkets; the teak sideboard was covered in photo frames.

‘Want tea?’  Lil called from the kitchen.

Armando had sat down and I looked at some of the pictures and a particular early colour shot caught my eye. Lil had red hair piled high on her head, wore a floral dress with a puffed skirt, and was standing next to a rather severe looking older lady.

‘Who’s this in the picture with you Lil? Your mum?’ I asked.

‘I’m in the bloody kitchen. I can’t see through walls. Wait,’ Lil answered.

Lil appeared with tray, tea pot, tea cosy, three cups, saucers and tea spoons – rescued from the floor. Her hair was now styled and still rather purple and her lips rosy red. It didn’t disguise her pale complexion or tired eyes.

‘Can you sort out the cake Armando? I’ve put out the side plates and napkins.’

‘That’s my Auntie Violet, or Vi as we called her,’ Lil added.

We all sat, Lil in her chair and Armando and me on the couch. There was a formal air that I wasn’t used to when we were together. I wondered if it was the new location and the fact that we’d invaded Lil’s private residence.

‘You mentioned her before. She helped you when you weren’t feeling good right?’ I said.

‘Yes, and so much…’ Lil looked over at the photo and it was as if we’d lost her for a few moments. She climbed into the photo and into her memories.

‘I was ten years old when my mum died of stomach cancer,’ Lil continued, ‘she’d been in hospital for a good year to 18 months before she passed. Children were not allowed in the wards in those days so Auntie Vi sat by Mum’s bed alone.

Mum’s ward was on the ground floor and her bed next to a window so I used to go round and talk to Mum through the window. Sometimes I’d take a packet of Payne’s Poppets for her. Looking back she was probably far too ill to eat them.

20122-11703-4

Then I’d go and sit on the kitchen steps where a lady from our road worked and she’d look after me.’

It was heart-breaking to hear. I felt grateful that my own parents were still fit and well and that I’d enjoyed so much life with them.

‘I remember the day I was playing in the garden with a girl from our road, Ronnie – her name was Veronica but we called her Ronnie.  Auntie Vi came out and told us to go and play at Ronnie’s. That evening I slept at Ronnie’s, and her mum told me the next morning that my mum had died. I was so angry, I was a right cow. I was angry at Auntie Violet and Dad for letting Mum die. I was too young to understand.

On the day of the funeral, another auntie, Ivy, came to get me and we went on the bus to the shops and into a toy shop. I chose a game of Jacks. We went to the park and had a picnic. It was a lovely summer’s day. In those days children didn’t go to funerals. I remember it so vividly as if it were yesterday.

‘Dad couldn’t cope. He was never the same, and didn’t look after me. He started drinking. Auntie Vi told me that his heart was broken and that I’d better come and live with her until it was mended…’

Lil had shared, in these few moments, more detail than we’d heard from her since we’d met. It all sounded so harrowing but maybe it was normal back then. Cancer wasn’t as treatable as it was today, and they were surrounded by the ravages of war. I looked at Armando who had tears streaming down his face, as did I. My movement jolted Lil back into the present and she saw our emotion, which made her uncomfortable. This was more than she was used to.

‘… Shall I pour? She asked.

‘That would be lovely Lil. How much cake would you like? I baked it fresh this morning,’ said Armando.

‘Thank you Armando. I’ll have a small slice now. This cold has suppressed my appetite.‘ She paused to take a breath or two and then continued,

‘It’s Assam Mr Boulevardier.  There you go. Now I’ll pop my cosy over the pot. Do you like it? I knitted it myself.’

‘It’s gorgeous and so, ahem, multi-coloured,’ I said.

‘Hahaha – I knew you’d say that Boulevardier. If you’re not careful I’ll knit you one from leftover wool too.’

‘This cake is delicious Armando’ said Lil as she covered her lips in cream.

The conversation dulled momentarily as we all focused on the fresh cake, trying not to drop any crumbs onto the Chinese style rug beneath our feet.

‘When did you catch your cold Lil? Why do you think you caught it?’ I asked.

‘Last Saturday Wayne. It’s left me feeling rather weak.’

‘Do you think talking about the car accident made you ill?’

‘Don’t be so dramatic – Of course not. How do we think I got through the last 50 years? You have more bloody drama than an episode of Corrie. I didn’t wrap up warm enough last Saturday. I could feel a chill in my bones by the evening.’

‘Lil, don’t deflect every attempt at understanding you. Do you know that you can be quite contrary sometimes?’ I said firmly.

‘Shut it, I’m poorly. I don’t have to tell you nothing.’ I resisted the urge to point out the double negative.

‘More cake?’ Armando knew that we needed to feed our emotions.

‘Yes please,’ we both answered in unison.

Lil’s husband, her Auntie Violet and all her other years would have to stay shrouded in secrecy.

For now anyway. I would get to know this crotchety old woman if it killed me.

Fortified Refreshment

‘Here he comes. Crack open the Sherry Armando. He breathes as much of that as he does air’ was the welcome from Lil this week.

She was sitting, as always, at the table in the corner facing the front of the cafe. Armando was clearing one of the tables near the door. He looked up and greeted me with his wide white-toothed grin. Armando has this annoying mop of dark hair; annoying in the sense that he seems to do nothing with it and always manages to look stylish. Residents from the Mediterranean seem to possess abilities of this nature which I covet.

IMG_2705

As I sat down, Lil reached over and grabbed my hand. We hadn’t yet become sufficiently familiar to greet with more affection. Multiple air kisses were in our future.

‘I love Sherry’ I confessed.

‘And don’t we bloody know it. You seem to reach for Sherry as others do for water. Is that what a Boulevardier does?’

Armando and I cracked a laugh. Lil was very funny indeed. She looked well and confident with the trusted shopping trolley at her side. She was wearing a woollen checked skirt, thick tights and a bright yellow jumper. A pot of tea was ready to pour. I had converted her to Assam. Two empty cups sat waiting to be filled. Lil preferred to be the one in control.

‘So what is this fascination with Sherry?’ Lil’s questions were often rhetorical.

‘We used to drink Sherry years ago and mostly at Christmas. And it was always Harveys or Croft. I’ve no knowledge of the brands you talk about.’

Marks-and-Spencer-Dry-Old-Amontillado-37.5cl

‘They’re not brands, they’re varieties.’

‘OK fancy pants why don’t you tell us about it all.’

‘I’d rather talk about the lack of variety available in London pubs and bars.’

Armando delivered Lil’s full English and my muffin. I saw an opportunity for a captive audience. As Lil picked up her cutlery I took my chance to share my opinion.

I started to explain that last year when I became ill, I still wanted to enjoy a tipple but had to be careful on the volume. I switched from my beloved red wine to Sherry and Port as fortified and strong wines without needing the volume to achieve a relaxed state. Two of my closest friends, Jane and Karen, who I went to school with, had been preaching the joys of Sherry for a good couple of years (although they still prefer the sweeter variety).

The problem is the lack of choice or even lack of Sherry. In the past week I’d been into two drinking houses and been disappointed with their lack of Sherry selection. Can you imagine walking into a pub and seeing only one type of beer or wine?  It’s shocking.

Lil nodded an affirmation as a corner of toast was genteelly thrust between her red lips.

I appreciate that Sherry is currently reviving after years of sitting next to our grandmothers’ lavender, but urgent catch up is required.

‘I do take your point Boulevardier,’ nodded Lil with a mouthful of toast and egg.

On one recent occasion I was in Hampstead and in need of a Sherry after an afternoon of shopping. My friend Alison and I went into a pub and I asked if they had Sherry and if so which varieties. The barman confirmed.

‘Yes we have a medium and a dry.’

‘Thank you, but what variety are they?’ I sought further information. The barman scurried off to look.

‘A VC and an Elegante.’

‘But what variety are they? Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado?’

hidalgo_oloroso_viejo-701502

He looked at me desperately and blankly.

‘Could I see the bottles please?’

As he showed me, one was unrecognisable and the other Fino.

‘I’ll have a double Fino please.’

Two patrons seated at the bar said that they knew exactly what I meant. Alison had gone to find a seat and had left me to my Sherry shenanigans.

‘Pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs need to catch up and stay ahead of my trend.’ I surmised.

‘So is the Boulevardier the head of cool?’ asked Lil.

‘I’m very pleased that Sherry is popular in the UK again,’ said Armando as he cleared away Lil’s plate. He looked proud of his nation’s produce.

‘Sounds like the problems of the middle classes to me.’ Added Lil.

Lil certainly had a good appetite for breakfast and had cleared her plate as she did every week. She reached over for the pot and topped up our cups with long-brewed tea.

‘You two must come in more often, perhaps for afternoon cake,’ suggested Armando.

‘Good idea,’ asserted Lil as she slid a Club biscuit across the table.

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.

f0742086-b792-4bf5-a73d-c0463ddd48ba

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.

63ccc225-6cc7-4ac8-88e0-0f5651705e16

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.

4bba5312-5d84-4761-9a65-9ffe6002c212

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.

21184370

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.

73c5e54b-bac8-4a8f-a259-98d36ec3e872

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.