I’d missed Breakfast Club last week as I had booked a masterclass with VG Lee. I had the first public reading of my work at Polari Literary Salon approaching. I wanted, and needed, to immerse in Val’s advice and expertise.
There had been one snag, and manoeuvring around it was not going to be pain-free. I’d forgotten to validate my non-attendance with Lil and had to call her to excuse myself, and as it transpired, beg forgiveness.
‘What do you mean, you forgot to mention it?’ asked a belligerent, which I interpreted as disappointed, Lil.
‘I got my weeks mixed up Lil,’ I added as much humility as I could muster.
‘I don’t understand why you need to go to hers on a Thursday. It’s very inconvenient. I’m an incredibly busy woman myself, but manage to make time for Breakfast Club.’
The line went quiet for a few moments. I was lost for words to assist in smoothing these choppy waters.
Lil was in no humour to wait for my response and continued, ‘I guess we’ll have to get along without you, but could you please make sure this doesn’t happen again Wayne.’
Having the last word, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, seemed to restore Lil’s inner peace and harmony.
I’d sent a text to Armando who’d asked no questions and replied in a civilised way. We usually shared a couple of texts every week, but I have to confess I hadn’t been as proactive in starting conversations since Lil’s crush theory. I’m sure she was mistaken, but equally I didn’t want to deliver false hope.
The café door was propped open as we were in the middle of a heat wave. The two small tables outside were occupied by patrons looking as if they wished it were cooler. I’m not going to moan about the heat, as I love it, however, we are not equipped to deal with it in the UK – there is no escape. I’m not suggesting for one moment that we should invest in environmentally unfriendly air-conditioning units at home for the few unbearably hot days and nights we have each year. It’s similar to those who bemoan the country grinding to a halt in the snow and make comparisons with Canada (who spend most of the winter feet-deep in the white stuff). We have a few days of extreme weather each season and should grin and bear with our upper lips stiff and intact.
Lil was at our table with Gisela – Armando was nowhere to be seen. I walked across the café, which was mostly empty. I greeted them both with a gentle kiss on the cheek.
‘Armando.’ Lil shouted at the kitchen wall, ‘he’s turned up this week. Breakfast Club is in session.’
‘I’m sorry I missed last week. How have you been? And nice to see Gisela too,’ I said.
‘Guten Morgan,’ said Gisela in a firm tone. I couldn’t work out if this was irritation or a formal Germanic timbre.
‘Yes, fine thank you Wayne. The world does continue to spin in your absence,’ said Lil and roared with laughter. Gisela tittered too. Armando arrived with a beautiful 1950s large family teapot decorated with a dandelion design and four cups on a simple wooden tray.
Judith followed Armando to take our order. Lil’s appetite hadn’t been suppressed by her irritation as she ordered a full English, Gisela pain au chocolat and I followed suit. Armando settled for a blueberry muffin.
‘Gone all continental have we Boulevardier?’ said Lil.
‘I ordered the same as Gisela,’ I said.
‘I thought it might be because you’re spending all that extra time closer to France – in Hastings,’ said Lil. Gisela and Armando sniggered. Lil was on fire and I hoped that we were bantering and joking. I decided to play along.
‘Val sends her regards Lil,’ I said.
‘Who?’ said Lil. She knew exactly who I meant.
‘Val, VG Lee,’ I answered and smiled directly at her.
‘Does she indeed. How very jolly of her…’ Lil compressed her lips in disapproval. I wasn’t done with her yet.
‘How are you getting on with her novel, you know, the one she signed for you.’
‘I’ve only read a couple of chapters and it’s annoyingly good,’ said Lil and cackled appropriately.
‘Is this conversation only for two people?’ asked Gisela.
‘Usually,’ said Armando.
I waved my white flag symbolically and lifted the enormous yet delicate teapot and filled the expectant cups with refreshing and pacifying fluid.
‘I guess I should be well-mannered and ask if you had a productive day with her?’ said Lil.
‘It was great thanks. Hard work as always but I’ve shortlisted the pieces I’m going to read at Polari Literary Salon at the Southbank next month.’
‘It’s not all mini-Battenbergs then?’ asked Lil with a little more banter in her tone.
‘No, we did however have a cake break, and the best part of a couple of bottles of wine with dinner,’ I said and started to laugh. Armando started to laugh too but we were both stopped mid-titter.
‘Are you telling me that you went to Hastings to “work” and ended up getting drunk? What a pair of bloody lushes,’ said Lil. I suspected friendly conversation had expired, which was confirmed when an enormous and earthquake-creating tut followed. Gisela’s tut echoed.
‘I’m disappointed Wayne. I wrote a couple of children’s books and you don’t ask me for advice,’ added Lil. Gisela and Armando were silent.
Breakfasts arrived which provided a welcome break in the conversation.
‘Come on Lil, that was in the 50s and Val is my friend too.’ Goodness Lil was ridiculously possessive sometimes and she’d sulked so much, and to the point of making me cross. I picked up my croissant and deliberately tore a corner dramatically and thrust it in my mouth and only then looked across the table.
Lil hadn’t picked up her knife and fork and looked a little watery around the eyes. I didn’t know why I’d let her rile me and mirrored in response. I assume it’s because I care and don’t like to upset her. However, I had to remember that she was an elderly lady who’d recently gone through some traumatic events.
‘Don’t let it get cold Lil. You’ll need your strength for next week’s celebrations,’ I said and reached over and put my hand across hers.
‘You remembered,’ Lil said and picked up her cutlery and started urgently slicing through a chunky pink rasher.
‘Yes, and don’t forget it’s a birthday picnic in the park,’ said Armando, ‘Gisela has promised some authentic kuchen.’
Gisela nodded and MMmm’ed through the chocolate centre of her pastry.
‘Is Filippe coming Armando?’ asked Lil.
‘Who’s Filippe?’ I asked.
‘Armando has a new fella Wayne. You shouldn’t miss Breakfast Club and you might not be out of date,’ sparred Lil.
She had a point.
‘No he can’t make it, he’s a-working,’ said Armando.
‘What does he do?’ I asked casually trying to subtlety bring myself up to speed.
‘He’s a window cleaner,’ answered Armando.
I nodded my support that Armando was moving on from Jason.
Gisela’s remaining piece of pastry was causing her some difficulty and ‘scheisse’ was declared as the chocolate shot out from the side of her mouth and into Lil’s cup.
This was to be a long Breakfast Club.