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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ode to a Grecian Beach

It had been two weeks since Breakfast Club as I’d been in Santorini with Michael.

Santorini, Santorini, Santorini – I wished I was right back there but after a few days at work it was fast becoming a distant memory.

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I was looking forward to seeing Lil and Armando today and I hoped there had been no drama while I’d been away and that Lil was continuing to regain her confidence after the horror of her home invasion.

The weather had been mixed in Santorini, with the last days better than the first few, and I had a little colour. I wanted to show this off but not at the expense of being cold. At least my face, which was also the brownest part, would be visible – it not being balaclava season.

It was great to see a bloom of purple-rinsed curls before me as I opened the café door.

‘Now there’s a sight for sore eyes,’ I said as I greeted Lil with a kiss on her cheek.

‘I thought you’d been on holiday Boulevardier? Where’s the tan?’ Lil asked and let out an ear bursting cackle.

Armando joined the party with a lovely big pot of tea, and it felt as if everything was returning to normal. I had been very British and packed some teabags into my luggage – Assam of course. Let’s keep that to ourselves as I wouldn’t want to risk losing my Boulevardier title. After all, nowhere in the world understands our affiliation with a good cup of tea.

There was no sign of Bill but I wasn’t going to ask any questions, yet.

‘Good trip?’ asked Armando.

‘It was lovely thank you. Santorini is a special place. I’d go back tomorrow,’

‘Yeah and I might come with you,’ said Lil.

‘I’m not sure you’d get that up and down the myriad of steps,’ I said pointing at Lil’s sidekick – her polka-dotted shopping trolley.

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‘Why’ve they got so many steps then?’ asked Lil.

‘A lot of the town and villages are built right into the cliff face. Our hotel, which was beautiful by the way, had about 60 steep steps between our room and the pool,’ I said.

‘That is no good for oldies and people with disabilities,’ said Lil firmly.

‘Neither is Everest but it doesn’t stop people climbing it,’ said Armando.

We looked at Armando and laughed. And before we could continue our banter breakfasts arrived; plates steaming with promise.

‘Goodie,’ said Lil, ‘I’m so hungry this morning.’ She tore open the top of her egg with the fork prongs and adeptly folded back the film to stop the exposed runny yolk from spilling over her plate.

‘What was good with the hotel?’ asked Armando.

‘Oh Armando it was glorious. Each room seemed to have its own level. We were at the top and had a terrace looking out to the sea and across to the most northern peninsula of Santorini. The way the various living quarters wound down the cliff made it feel like quite the labyrinth.

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At the heart, or in other words about halfway down, was the reception area with a comfortable dining section. Further down was the pool and pool bar with sun loungers. It made me think of the multi-levelled apartments on Barbary Lane – ’

‘What’s Barbary Lane?’ asked Lil as she dabbed the sides of her mouth with her napkin.

‘It’s the complex around which life revolves in Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin,’ I answered. Armando nodded as if in acknowledgment of a new fact. Surely he had heard of Barbary Lane.

‘Who is Armi- whoever you said?’ asked Lil.

‘He’s a writer. Look don’t worry now, just imagine lots of separate rooms on different levels oozing mystery, but with terracotta steps rather than white wooden ones,’ I said.

Lil picked up her cutlery again and moved a piece of bacon next to a sliced mushroom which was my signal to continue.

‘We met such an assortment of guests too, it was great. Dave and Cindy were on the level below ours and on a month long vacation from Western Canada. They’d flown in to Frankfurt two weeks previous and didn’t seem to have any fixed plan other than their return date. We never saw them without a glass of wine in their hands; Dave red and Cindy white.

After they left another set of Canadians arrived who were a young couple on their second honeymoon as the first, six months previous, was cut short. They had a six week trip planned to minute detail. They proudly told us ‘’we’ve booked in two hours by the pool this afternoon’’. That is not what I call a holiday, however, I smiled rather than question it.

Peter and Jane arrived midway through our stay. They were a middle aged couple; he was retired and she was a Headteacher. Peter was one of the “been there, seen it, done it” types. We were informed that they usually holidayed in the same destinations as Robert De Niro and Adele apparently. He also said that they live next door to Ann Robinson. Jane looked embarrassed as Peter name-dropped.

I thought Michael might keel over when Peter asked him to guess how much the insurance cost for his sports car.

And I haven’t even got to all the lovely locals.’

‘Ha, sounds like a bunch of bores and nuts to me,’ said Lil as she allowed another of her hoots to tickle our ears.

‘Lil you would have loved it. On the first night when we went to dinner in the most gorgeous local restaurant Michael ordered Kalimera rather than calamari!’ I said.

Armando sniggered and Lil cast him a look. ‘What are you talking about now Boulevardier? Sometimes I do wonder if you speak English at all,’ said Lil.

‘Calamari is fried squid in batter and Kalimera means ‘Good Morning’,’ I said. ‘So Michael ordered good mornings.’

‘I think you’d better get another pot Armando, as I think his tan will fade faster than these little Greek anecdotes… At least we won’t have to look at the holiday photos,’ Lil cackled and I noticed that the waitress and a couple of unknown patrons also smirked.

I don’t think I was going on too much or into too much detail but I guess you had to be there to enjoy my stories and see the romance of Santorini in my every word.

At least Lil seemed back to her old self. I wanted to know if she’d seen Bill or had been going out much but decided status quo was healthier for today.

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Relight the Fire

I’d bumped into Bill outside the dentist near my home during the week. It was presented as a coincidence, on his part, but I wasn’t convinced.

‘I’ve still not heard from her. She won’t return my calls. Do you think it’s all over?’ Bill rattled off his questions in quick succession without giving me chance to answer. This reminded me of my mum. She was also adept at that skill.

‘This has hit her hard Bill and I don’t know what’s in the future for you but we have to get her up, out and fighting again. I’d rather see her screaming at Mavis than this.’

‘Mavis has been trying to coordinate different members of our group to call on Lil to try and get a response. She suspects it’s time Lil went into a home. Mavis thinks she’s past it.’

‘Does she indeed,’ I said.

This was typical Mavis-esque behaviour. However this behaviour gave birth to the semblance of an idea. The strategy was highrisk but if anything was going to spark Lil’s fire it would involve Mavis. Lil had to be jumpstarted. Love, support and concern hadn’t worked. I think Lil’s fending for herself too often in life left her unable to rely on and accept the support of others. She blamed this event on her guard being down, and partly due to letting others into her life.

‘Perhaps we should meet up on Thursday Bill? Do you think Mavis would be up to brainstorming ideas?’

‘Yes of course she would,’ answered Bill sounding a bit more enthusiastic.

‘Good then why not come to Breakfast Club on Thursday. How does 10.30 sound?’

‘I thought you met at 10?’

‘Errrr, we do but it’ll give Armando and me a chance to catch up first.’ I spoke firmly and decisively and hoped for no more challenges.

‘OK – great in fact. I hope we can get my princess back to her good ole self. I’ve been so worried; I’ve not been eating… But you know what I’m going to get cake now and a proper dinner to build up my strength,’ said Bill.

I smiled and glanced down and noticed the buttons on Bill’s waistcoat as ready to explode as ever. I’m not sure his concern had dulled his appetite as much as alleged.

I went to the cafe and grabbed a quick word with Armando. The cafe was busy and we couldn’t catch up properly. I managed to ascertain that he didn’t want more trouble in his establishment. He was also looking forward to a date Thursday evening and wanted karma in all quarters.

I called Lil and as usual had to leave several messages, the last of which mentioned an impromptu visit.

‘Wayne I’ll get back to you when I’m up to it. You’re too pushy,’ said Lil as soon as I answered her return call.

‘OK, I wasn’t sure if you were worse –’

‘What did you want so urgently anyway. Sorry if I sound cross. I’m finding life very difficult at the moment,’ interrupted Lil.

‘I hope you’ll be attending Breakfast Club this week.’

‘I’ll have to see.’ The strength was gone from her voice.

‘I’m off to Santorini on Saturday and was hoping to see you before I leave, and even more importantly Armando has a date Thursday evening and I’m sure you’d want to wish him well.’ I nearly added ‘your honour’ as I felt I was pleading a case in court.

‘I’m sure Armando is capable of getting ready for a date without my interference,’ she said.

‘Come on Lil, give me a break,’ I said. I was running out of persuasive arguments and I wanted to see her in public again, at least once before I went away.

‘How will I get there?’ Lil’s voice was incredibly meek. Her will wanted her to attend but fear was disabling her.

‘I’ll come and get you en route, say about 9.45?’ I said hopefully.

‘All right. Don’t be early or late as I’m not answering the door at any time other than 9.45,’ Lil affirmed.

‘Then perhaps we should sync watches.’ I started to snigger as I finished my sentence.

‘Don’t be facetious Wayne.’ And with that the conversation was over.

Thursday morning soon arrived and Lil let me into her flat without incident. It was precisely 9.45 BST.

Lil was wearing a nice light dress with a floral pattern. I hadn’t seen this before but then again I’d only known her since the winter. Her hair was white and there was no sign of a recent funky-coloured rinse.

‘Is the trolley coming?’ I asked.

‘Why would I need that? I’m coming straight home,’ Lil responded.

We shuffled along and admired the beautiful blooms in the Crouch End gardens. It seemed that the front garden fleur du jour was Forsythia. We were surrounded by delicate yellow flowers.

The cafe was quiet and sedate and we shuffled to our usual table. There was a small vase bursting with daffodils.

‘For you Lil,’ said Armando as he greeted Lil with a tender kiss on the cheek.

We sat automatically and Armando stirred the pot.

‘I might just go straight home again boys,’ said Lil.

Armando put his hand across the table on top of Lil’s and looked right into her eyes and implored her to stay. Lil yielded and seemed to settle.

Everything was gentle and I wondered whether this was all Lil needed and not the shock therapy I had planned.

We chatted generally covering the weather, the spring flowers, and adjusting to our spring wardrobes. Lil ordered a Full English on the proviso that Armando wouldn’t be offended if she couldn’t clean her plate.

Full English Breakfast (4)

Time was ticking by and I knew that immanently the door would open and Mavis and Bill would enter. What had I done? I wondered whether I should just up and leave. I reasoned that I shouldn’t leave Armando in the lurch.

Lil was eating slowly and had only lightly scraped butter onto her toast rather than the usual decadent lashings.

‘Have you been to your age group?’ I asked Lil.

‘No,’ she answered and looked forward. Her eyes widened and I knew from the sound of the door that my ill-formed plan was about to kick in.

‘Princess,’ Bill exclaimed with ecstasy as he surged forward forgetting to hold the door for Mavis.

‘Hello Bill,’ said Lil ‘moved on have we?’ She was looking behind Bill. Her voice was still quieter than it should have been and wore a defeated tone.

‘Morning Lillian,’ said Mavis before Bill had an opportunity to respond to Lil’s question, ‘how are you feeling dear?’

‘Not great Mavis to be honest. Thanks for the card,’ responded Lil.

Armando jumped up to allow Bill and Mavis to sit. The table seated four and another chair could have been added but he was making his escape in advance of any untoward behaviour. ‘Coward’ I uttered under my breath.

‘I’ll bring a fresh pot of tea,’ Armando said to give a smooth fluidity and reason for his sudden movement. He may have also heard my comment.

Lil placed her cutlery on her plate and looked across at Bill. She looked as if she would start sobbing.

‘You look so pretty,’ said Bill meeting Lil’s eyes.

Mavis shuffled in her seat and patted down her cardigan. Her body language suggested her resolve to help Lil was waning.

‘Do I? I don’t feel it. And I’m getting tired. I don’t think I can cope with too much company today.’ Lil looked away from Bill, and at me with longing. Her eyes yearned to be back at home, safely behind a locked door.

Goodness, I didn’t know whether to press on or assist her freedom plan.

‘I’m so happy to see you. Let’s just sit here for a while and rest,’ added Bill.

Mavis put her glasses case on the table in a rather heavy handed way. I wasn’t sure whether this was accidental, or a growing annoyance at Bill’s puppydog behaviour.

‘Well at least you’re out. You mustn’t let those ne’er-do-wells win,’ said Mavis.

‘Precisely,’ said Bill ‘and I’m not letting you go into a home.’

‘Why would you say that?’ ask Lil. Her sorrow had turned to bewilderment.

‘Mavis was concerned –’

‘I’ve seen so many fall victim of crime and end up in homes and was worried,’ interrupted Mavis.

‘Oh I see,’ said Lil accepting Mavis’ explanation.

‘No, you said she should go into The Arbours in Highgate last week Mavis. Remember at age club? Dotty and Hilda were there,’ added Bill helpfully.

‘Did you indeed,’ said Lil. The truculence in her tone was increasing. Was that fire I saw in her eyes?

‘I may have suggested it.’ Mavis picked up the milk jug and moved it to the side of the table. She put it down heavily. This time I knew it wasn’t accidental. ‘You have had a few funny incidents lately Lillian and perhaps you’re not capable of looking after yourself, and others, anymore.’

Lil looked at Mavis and had tear droplets starting to form in the corner of her eyes. I might have to intervene. Had the fight really evaporated entirely from Lil after a few lines of banter with Mavis?

Mavis continued ‘And poor Bill it’s not fair on him.’

‘I’m fine – ‘ Bill started to respond and was interrupted by Lil.

‘You are a beast Bellamy.’ Lil picked up her fork and pointed it at Mavis.

‘I’ve had a dreadful time and maybe you meant to help or maybe you didn’t, but to try and manipulate Bill is disgusting,’ said Lil. There was definitely fervour in her eyes now.

‘Here we go again,’ said Mavis, you’re a liability Lillian –’

‘Hang on Mavis.’ It was Bill interrupting this time ‘you told me that we’d have to replace Lil on the committee and you’ve offered to cook me dinner three times this week. You said something about the grass being greener and every cloud. I had no idea you meant Lil!’

‘You said what? Evil –’ Lil started to say.

‘I’m not having another public row Lillian,’ said Mavis firmly. Armando looked relieved from his station behind the counter. ‘All I do is try to help and it’s not my fault if people don’t know what’s best for them.’

Lil slammed down her fork and went to speak but Mavis held up her hand and continued ‘I’m leaving now, and you Bill need to learn to keep private conversations confidential.’

Mavis picked up her glasses’ case and pushed it into her handbag and was up and off before anyone could get another word in.

Lil picked up her cutlery and started tucking into the half-eaten breakfast which must have been cold.

‘Everything seems to be going to pot. I take a couple of weeks to get over a traumatic experience and anarchy sets in,’ said Lil. She sliced her sausage as if a woodsman chain-sawing a tree trunk.

Bill smiled, ‘that’s my girl,’

‘I’m not your girl especially as it seems you have been cavorting and two-timing me with her.’ Lil was starting to sound more Lil-like and was tucking into her cold breakfast as if it was the first meal she’d tasted in weeks.

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‘Wayne we’ll catch up on your Greece trip when you’re back. What is that round your neck?’ asked Lil as a mushroom plunged into the depths of her mouth.

‘It’s my spring scarf,’ I answered.

There was a semi-cackle followed by ‘spring scarf! I wouldn’t take it to Greece. I’m not sure they’d understand your London ways.’ Lil looked towards the counter and called to Armando ‘So where are you going on this date tonight? I hope it’s somewhere appropriate.’ Armando looked at Lil warmly and nodded.

Lil put down her cutlery. She hadn’t managed to clear the plate but there was definitely an improvement.

‘Wayne, could you walk me home please?’ Lil asked. She was looking tired.

‘I’ll do it,’ said Bill enthusiastically.

‘Not today thank you Bill, I’m with Wayne. I’ll consider calling you at the weekend.’

As we walked home we didn’t exchange a word. Lil gripped my arm tightly and kissed me tenderly as we parted. She suspected my part in this chance cafe showdown but would never be able to openly thank me for involving Mavis.