A couple of weeks ago I popped into my favourite local café in Crouch End and it was virtually empty. It was 10am and Crouch End was still waking up. The New Year had only just passed and it can take a couple of weeks for thriving society to emerge after the excesses of its festivities.
I ordered a large Assam tea, and a raspberry muffin from Armando the Spanish owner and took my book from my new leatherette man bag (an indulgent Christmas present to myself).
‘What you reading?’ came a voice from the corner.
I turned to see an older lady seated at one of the old wooden tables. She was the only other patron and was looking straight at me awaiting my response. She was wearing a woollen pinafore style patchwork dress over a white halter neck sweater. Her pure white curls poked through a silk headscarf. She had a polka dotted shopping trolley by her side with a walking stick jutting out. Her hand shook as she lifted her tea cup from its saucer and raised its steaming contents to her rosy red lips.
‘It’s by Tove Jansen called The Summer Book,’ I responded and smiled back.
‘Never heard of it. Is she English, the writer?’
‘No she’s Finnish.’
Armando appeared from the counter and delivered my tea served in a pot for one with a mismatched vintage cup and saucer, small stainless steel milk jug and spoon. The accompanying muffin also arrived on a 1950s flower-patterned china side plate.
‘Ah that’s why I haven’t heard of her then. Are you reading it in Finnish?’
‘No, it’s a translation. It’s a really good book about a girl, her grandmother and their interactions across a summer on a small Finnish Island.’
Armando stood with his arms folded between us watching this fledgling conversation develop.
The lady nodded and looked rather pensive as she put her cup back onto its saucer, picked up the teaspoon and gave it another stir.
‘The sugar hadn’t completely dissolved’ she said and I nodded my comprehension.
‘I’m Lil by the way.’
‘I’m Wayne,’ I replied with a smile.
‘So what do you do?’
I realised I wasn’t going to get much reading done, so I put my book down, stirred my pot and poured a cup of strong tea.
‘I’m a Sales Director and a part-time writer,’ I said and took a large bite of my freshly-baked muffin while I had the chance.
‘I used to write; children’s stories – just after the war. What do you write?’
‘I’m working on a number of short stories and a novella and I write a weekly blog. A blog is…’
‘I know what a blog is,’ Lil interjected. ‘I might be old but I’m neither senile nor computer illiterate. They taught us how to use the internet at the age group I go to. What’s the blog about?’
‘Well I’ve created this character that is an accentuation of me. It’s called Introspections of a Displaced Boulevardier and it’s about events I go to, and about living in Crouch End and London.’ I felt quite proud as I relayed the details.
‘What’s a Boulevardier?’
‘It’s a man about town, although remember I said displaced.’
Lil’s whole body gently shook with a stifled laugh as she looked me up and down.
‘Man about bloody town,’ she squawked with increased jollity looking both amazed and bemused. She grinned and lifted her teacup rattling the saucer as she did.
I smiled back and shrugged.
‘For instance I wrote about a weekend I spent on a Finnish Island with friends that I was reminded about when I started this book.’
‘You’ll have to give me the link thingie’ Lil said as Armando returned with her full English breakfast.
As Lil picked up her knife and fork and speared a locally grown organic tomato, and I took another bite of my muffin, Armando smiled and walked back towards the kitchen muttering while he fiddled with his apron strings.
‘What was that?’ Lil asked.
‘I said it seems as if you have both made a new friend today,’ Armando asserted.
Lil and I looked up a little unsure and then beamed simultaneously.
‘I think we have.’
‘Yes and he obviously needs some help with his bloody blog, ’ Lil said.
Had the Boulevardier inadvertently set up a new writers’ group? Would Armando let go of the apron strings? Time will tell…