Breakfast Club Forever

We’d said goodbye to Gisela on Saturday morning not knowing how soon we would see her again. At least we could draw comfort from the fact that she would be back, even if only for a short time, to settle her affairs. This was of course dependent upon the Germany move being a positively splendid experience. Life went on and it was Thursday morning and Breakfast Club was imminent. This week was to be a special club although I wasn’t sure if anyone else realised so. It was the anniversary of our first, and at that point unofficial, Breakfast Club; only Lil or Armando would potentially be aware, and neither had mentioned anything. I’d dressed in a special black t shirt with CELEBRATION written across it in glittering silver. I got to the café deliberately early with a cake. A local baker’s had made and decorated the cake for me with a ‘Full English’ iced on the top. Armando was surprised when I appeared with a cake, and as suspected hadn’t realised the importance of the occasion. He stored our sweet and commemorative treat carefully in the kitchen until the others arrived.

As I sat at our table I bathed in the feeling of comfort and a second home from home. It was still a good 15 minutes before the others would arrive, even if early, and it gave me time to people watch. I hoped my clique wouldn’t keep me waiting as the first set of diners I tuned into were nothing to write home about. I shuddered as I listened intently to their ordering.

‘Pear, apple or orange juice? all freshly squeezed’ Armando asked.

‘You don’t by any chance have any squash?’ the female diner asked.

‘Errrm, I’ll see what I can do,’ Armando said. A dash to the corner shop a few doors down might be required. ‘Would you like that with sparkling water?’

‘Errrrgh no. I don’t do sparkling. I’ll have it neat,’ she said.

‘I’ll have a tea and a Full English,’ her male companion said, ‘but I don’t want beans.’

‘Extra mushrooms or tomato instead?’ Armando asked maintaining a friendly demeanour.

‘Mushrooms please.’

‘I don’t want mushrooms,’ the squash girl said. Armando smiled.

‘It doesn’t say chips,’ the male said.

‘No chips,’ said the girl fiddling nervously with her phone, her face turning from orange to white.

‘The breakfast is substantial,’ Armando said still smiling although his teeth were gritting.

The girl’s expression turned from horror to fury. ‘I’m sure there’s room for some chips on the side.’

I smiled at Armando. He didn’t smile back. I tried to erase the chips and squash brigade from my mind and turned my attention to an older woman I didn’t recognise. She had just sat down on the table next to ours. She removed her balding fur coat and placed it carefully on the back of her chair. She heaved an enormous, vintage, black leather handbag onto the table and pushed open the clasp. I have often wondered how older woman cope with this particular style. The clasp requires strength and dexterity to open and close and presumably gets more difficult as arthritis worsens. She pulled out a bright pink, plastic spectacles case and switched those already on her visage with another pair – presumably reading. I was feeling nostalgic and poetic as I was on a table next to an unknown old woman as I had been a year ago. I should have brought my copy of A Summer Book by Tove Jansen and reread it to complete the image. I wanted to engage her in conversation but that felt unfaithful to Lil, especially on such an auspicious occasion. The old woman removed the clear plastic rain hat and straightened her hair. A pot of tea arrived which she inspected and stirred. She called Judith back and informed her there were not enough tea leaves in the pot. I was sure I heard gnats piss being spoken of but I couldn’t be certain. I was glad Armando didn’t overhear. He wouldn’t be impressed. Judith disappeared to follow the woman’s instructions and add more leaves.

I didn’t get a chance to see if the new pot was sufficiently strong as Lil and Cyril burst through the door.

‘That bloody machine will be worn out before we even get to bingo,’ Lil said as she thrust her overcoat on the back of the chair revealing a brightly flowered house coat.

‘Morning Lil. What’s happened?’

‘Bill. He’s off at the community centre every morning to practice with the new machine.’

‘It is sweet,’ Cyril said.

‘Whose side are you on?’ Lil asked.

I looked closely at Cyril. He looked a lot better than when I’d seen him earlier in the week. We’d spoken after Gisela’s announcement and he’d called round. His eyes had been red and watery but he didn’t cry in front of me. He’d said that all his life he’d seen people come and go and sometimes it hit harder than others. He had developed a close relationship with Gisela and they had often joined forces in matters of Lil. And as she was so busy with Bill he was feeling on his own. I had thought, at the time, that perhaps Armando and I should engage our matchmaking skills again but decided it wouldn’t help mentioning it then.

‘Morning Cyril. How are you?’

‘Good morning. Fine thanks and finding activities to fill my time. The church has asked me to lead the Easter committee,’ Cyril said with a smile on his face. Lil rolled her eyes. He was feeling better and my plan to become his dating emissary would have to be put on hold.

‘Armando, are you joining us?’ Lil called as Judith arrived with tea.

‘Shortly, yes,’ Armando said.

‘Oooo what’s up with him?’ Lil asked. Armando could hear but chose to ignore and continued busying himself behind the counter. I wondered whether it was birthday matters which kept him from us.

‘I’ve bought a new writing bureau,’ I said.

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‘Fancy pants. What’s that for?’

‘Writing.’ I said.

‘I know that you silly sod. I meant why did you need a new one?’

‘I was using an old rickety table in the spare room and we decided to get a new, well new to us, vintage writing bureau. It might be even older than you Lil.’ Lil erupted into a cackle.

‘Where did you get that from?’

‘ebay or rather South London.’

‘I’ve heard of that eBay. Is that like a shop online?’

‘Yes indeed. It’s an online auction site. We bid and won the item and had to go to a rather less than salubrious part of South London to collect it last Sunday morning. I was anxious as the block of flats was dilapidated to say the least. The lady though was lovely, even if she had just cooked sausages and the bureau stank of greasy pork. It was nothing a good wiping and a can of lavender polish couldn’t fix.’

‘Why did you want an old one?’

‘More of an inspiring set up.’

‘Classic all the way. I don’t blame you Wayne. Some of the modern furniture is so gauche,’ Cyril said.

Conversation fell away as the café door opened and in walked Mavis. She looked well, in the circumstances, even if her eyes appeared sunken. She was flanked by two of her cronies and walked straight to the counter. She smiled across at our table and I thought I saw a sly wink in Lil’s direction. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Lil wink back. Mavis moved with less energetic purpose than previously but it was good to see her out and about. She left without incident holding aloft a takeaway paper cup. She had no doubt thrust herself back into committee work for age club.

‘I’m hungry, I wish Armando would hurry up,’ Lil said to us, but loud enough for Armando to overhear. He was talking to a man at the counter dressed in a smart black suit. They were laughing and joking. The suited man turned and looked at us. Armando dashed from behind the counter and steering the suit towards us.

‘I would like you all to meet Owen.’ Lil’s mouth fell open as she looked the handsome, smooth man standing in front of her, up and down – as did Cyril.

‘Hello,’ I said standing up.

‘I’ve heard a lot about you all. You must be Lil,’ he said offering his hand.

‘Oh hello,’ Lil said with rather a forced posh accent.

‘I’m dashing now. I just dropped off Armando’s shopping list he left at mine this morning.’ And with that he was gone. Armando beamed.

‘About bloody time we met him,’ Lil said and dropped her faux diction. ‘Can we get on and order please, I’m about to drop. I’m as weak as a kitten.’ Judith appeared as if by magic and took our usual order. I was desperate for a vegetarian with a sausage but having lost three and a half pounds this week I needed to stick to my plan. My sausage craving would have to be suppressed. With the order placed we waited. The aroma of other patrons’ fulfilled orders becomes more desirable and intense when you are waiting for your own. I could smell sausages and eggs. It was all too much.

‘What’s it like here?’ asked the lady on the next table.

‘The best breakfasts in Crouch End,’ Cyril said.

‘And lunch and cake,’ Armando added.

‘I’ve not seen you before. Hello I’m Cyril.’ He had twisted in his seat and held out the hand of friendship.

‘I’ve just done a flat swap from Bermondsey. My daughter lives this way. And I’m Gertie.’ She shook Cyril’s hand. From the look on his face it was firmer than he expected.

‘Dirty Gertie from number 30.’ Lil erupted into an earth shaking cackle.

‘Lil.’ I said. This was outspoken even for her.

‘It’s all right – I like a laugh.’ Gertie echoed Lil’s cackle. I don’t think Lil was accustomed to competing for cackle volume.

‘Don’t we all,’ Lil said. Her face grimaced and her voice had essences of her snooty aloofness again.

‘I haven’t heard that for years. My old fella used to say it all the time. Where did it come from, the saying I mean?’ I knew the phrase and equally hadn’t heard it for years. Armando looked foxed too.

‘Bloody Basil Brush,’ Lil said and added, ‘Boom Boom.’ Lil and Gertie erupted again. Armando looked confused.

basil_brush

‘It’s nice to meet you. Everyone else I’ve spoken to seems a bit stuck up around here,’ Gertie said.

‘You haven’t even met Mavis yet,’ Lil said.

‘Who?’

‘Don’t ask,’ I said.

Judith delivered our breakfasts as Nelly McAleen walked through the door.

‘Just a Coca-Cola for me please Judith,’ Nelly said as she pulled up a chair from an adjacent and vacant table.

‘What a lovely surprise. How are things? I asked.

‘Grand, just grand. I’m thinking of heading off to Ireland again to see my daughter. I’m missing so much of my own family, and had great fun with them over Christmas.’

‘Fantastic. When are you planning on going over?’ asked Cyril. I looked at him for signs of losing another friend upset.

‘Not sure yet. I’d like to go for a spell but I’m not sure I could trust Marty to look after himself and not get in any bother.’ Fortunately Lil’s mouth was too busy chewing a fork load of bacon and mushroom to comment.

‘What’s in the envelope Armando?’ I asked of the blank white object sitting on the table.

‘My shopping list Owen dropped off.’

‘A bit mad to put it in a sealed envelope isn’t it? Unless of course chef has secret ingredients,’ Lil said.

‘Yes it is.’ Armando put down the crust of his sausage sandwich and tore the paper apart. A colourful printed page dropped on the table.

‘A weekend away – in the spring,’ Armando said. We all cheered.

‘It looks as if Judith will get her first weekend as manager in a couple of months,’ I said.

‘I can always help out,’ Lil added.

‘I’d better get on my way,’ Nelly said.

‘Not yet. I need you to stay for a few minutes.’ I disappeared to the kitchen with Armando in hot pursuit.

‘Can you believe it’s the first anniversary of our Breakfast Club,’ I said as I returned with the cake.

‘Are you telling me we’re celebrating and I’m in a house coat,’ Lil said.

‘Don’t worry about that. Do you want the slice with the iced fried egg?’ Cyril asked.

Bill walked in. He could smell cake being sliced from miles away – apparently. According to Lil it was one of his many talents.

‘What’s the cake for?’ Gertie asked.

‘Breakfast Club,’ Lil said.

‘Sounds like fun. Is it members only?’

‘Why don’t you join us,’ I said and we budged across to make room for another.

‘You’ll have to watch out for too many Full Englishes – they might spoil your figure,’ Lil counselled Gertie.

And so Breakfast Club continued and I hoped it would be a regular part of my life far into the future. My life had been enriched with the highs and lows of my friends. I can’t call them new friends anymore as I’ve known them for over a year and we had become close – an urban family. We had lived through many a drama and many a laugh in the last 12 months. People had come and gone, but I was glad to have the core members. If someone had suggested a year ago that one of my favourite regular activities would be to sit down with some senior citizens and eat a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage on the side, I may have dismissed them as loopy. Life in Crouch End is close enough to the bright lights of central London, but equally sufficiently far away to create a village atmosphere where people actually interact and speak with each other. If I hadn’t taken the time to answer an insistent old lady in a café a year ago I might never have met Lil. Who knows what the future holds, but right now I intend to sit back, drink Assam tea, eat cake, and celebrate…

If you missed any of the Breakfast Club series then the following link will take you to where it all began…

https://berkeley34.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/lil-and-armando/

 

 

I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and share their comments and feedback for the last two years. I started writing it when recovering from a serious condition in January 2013. I set myself the goal of writing a post every week and I am proud that two years later I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I’ve met some great people along the way and made some fantastic new friends who are now a regular part of my life. Writing is something I have enjoyed ever since school and I will continue to use my spare time to better my craft. I am going to take a break from the weekly blogging and focus on a novel I’m halfway through writing and finish off a number of short stories. There is plenty more of the Breakfast Club and I’m sure I will add further tales of Lil and the gang in the future.  If anyone has any comments or thoughts on whether I can use my Breakfast Club posts for publication then please shout out.

Again massive thanks for all the support, encouragement and for just reading what I’ve put out there…

Wayne XX

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Homeward Bound

We were halfway through January and I was willing the nights to start drawing out. I longed to see signs of Spring thrusting itself upon us. I was perhaps a little unrealistic and premature in my expectations, but it made me feel a lot better. I’d spoken to Lil several times during the week, in-between her visits to the hospital. Mavis was doing well, in the circumstances, and was already starting to offer inpatient improvement advice to the hospital staff. The background information I now possessed regarding the complicated history between the two urban sisters hadn’t affected my views of either; if anything my resolve to protect Lil had increased. Armando didn’t know their full backstory yet and I didn’t feel right brining him up to speed. If he was to know Lil would have to retell her story or ask me to do so.

My early waking thoughts focussed on the impossible choice of temperature-appropriate attire. The weather was yo-yoing between freezing or damp and mild. My Teasmade hadn’t whooshed yet so I didn’t need to be overly concerned until I’d at least had the first Assam of the day. I poked my toes out from the protection of the duvet and they didn’t recoil which was promising.

I arrived at the café, having decided that layers was the only way, to find Lil and Gisela already in situ.

‘Blimey, are the sides of your hair short enough?’ Lil said.

‘Morning to you both, and yes thanks. I want it to be disconnected from the top.’ I kissed both of the seniors. Gisela looked a little uncomfortable, and I hoped it wasn’t my show of physical affection. She hadn’t reacted thus previously.

‘The top’s a bit long. It looks like a wig.’ Lil cackled.

‘I can assure you it’s all mine. Do you want to give it a tug?’

‘Get away with ya.’ It was nice to see Lil back to her bantering best.

Armando joined us. His apron looked grubby and frayed around the edges.

‘Is it scruff day?’ Lil asked.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You look less pristine than usual,’ Gisela said.

‘It’s yesterday’s. Is it that obvious? I forgot to bring in the clean ones today.’

‘Don’t worry about it. Everything all right?’

‘Yeah I guess.’ We all sat forward waiting for the update. However, at that moment Judith arrived with the pot. I’d never before wished a teapot of Assam was a few minutes late.

‘Is Bill joining us?’ I asked.

‘Later, let’s order, I’m hungry.’

Lil ordered her usual, Armando a coffee, Gisela a pain au chocolat and porridge with blueberries for me. It wasn’t easy to stick to a reduced calorie intake, but the bloating seemed to be slowly dissipating and I was wearing jeans I hadn’t managed to for over a year. I would have to stick at it, if I was to lose two stone before the summer.

‘Well?’ Lil asked. We all looked at Armando.

‘My relationship – ’

‘Oh no, not more drama. I don’t think I can take it,’ Lil said. I rolled my eyes, internally, as most of the drama in our little group was Lil-centric.

‘- is fine,’ continued Armando, ‘however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficulties.’ Armando paused as Judith arrived with his double espresso. He stirred slowly and didn’t look up. We waited expectantly for him to continue. I was glad Lil didn’t prompt impatiently for details. I poured the tea. Lil stirred her cup noisily and for longer than necessary. Eventually Armando looked up and continued.

‘I don’t think I mentioned before that he was married previously, to a woman.’ Lil dropped her teaspoon.

‘He is of course divorced and was so when I met him.’

‘Is he bisexual?’ Lil asked.

‘No he is gay.’

‘Doesn’t make any sense,’ Lil said. The table fiddled uncomfortably and I think Lil realised she had overstepped the mark.

‘He has two children which makes it even trickier,’ Armando added. I willed Lil not to speak.

‘Does he still see them?’ Gisela asked.

‘Yes, he is a good father and spends time with them every week.’

There was another break in the conversation as Judith was beside us with our food. Lil didn’t waste any time and declared ‘yummy’ as she sliced a tomato. It was like watching surgery; next the toast was buttered and the egg skin folded back to reveal the soft yellow innards.

‘I’m not sure where I fit in, and it was on my mind all night and this morning,’ Armando said.

‘He probably feels the same way,’ Lil said.

‘All relationships are difficult,’ Gisela said and sighed.

‘Sorry?’ Armando asked looking at Lil.

‘Don’t look all hurt, I mean that you’re married to this place. He might be concerned that you’re not putting him first either.’

‘I hadn’t thought of that perspective.’ Armando drained the last dregs from his miniature cup and signalled to Judith for another.

‘I’m not just a senile old bat.’ Lil let out an excruciatingly loud, guttural laugh before anyone had a chance to agree or disagree. I hadn’t missed Gisela’s comment either, which weighed heavy with meaning. She wasn’t herself today.

‘You don’t meet people without baggage when you get to our age, we included,’ I said.

‘I don’t know about that,’ Lil said, ‘hello love.’ She stood to plant a smacker on Bill’s expectant and pouted lips. We scooted across to make room for Lil’s beau.

‘What have I missed?’

‘Oooooo your new shoes look lovely,’ Lil said looking adoringly at Bill’s feet. Bill shuffled in a dance-type movement and followed with an attempt at jazz hands. Lil giggled. They were still enveloped in young or rather fresh love which was sweet, however, I didn’t need to see the saccharine up so close and personal.

‘His other pair were starting to let the wet in,’ Lil said. Bill shrugged in a ‘looking for sympathy’ way. Armando smiled. The joy of love was contagious.

‘We went to Muswell Hill yesterday and I got these in Clarks. In the sales, I’ll have you know.’

Bill started to shuffle again. ‘Sit down now darling,’ Lil said. ‘I also got a lovely new frock in one of the charity shops. Some of the rich old biddies must have had a clear out. It didn’t even look worn. I’m saving it for a special occasion.’ Lil winked and inserted the last crumb of toast into her mouth in a seductive manner. We all blinked in shock.

‘Special occasion?’ I asked and nervously passed my empty bowl to Judith.

‘Another pot?’ Judith asked rhetorically.

‘It’s great news, isn’t it Bill. Do you want to tell them or should I?’

‘I think you’re making a big deal out of it,’ Bill said.

‘Stop being so bloody modest.’

‘Will someone tell us what is happening?’ Armando asked.

‘Do I need a hat?’ Gisela asked.

‘You can wear a hat if you want Gi…’ Lil started to tap her hands on the table, in imitation of a drum roll. ‘Bill is making his comeback as our bingo caller in two weeks’ time. I’m so proud.’ Bill coughed.

‘I’ve got to learn how to use the new machine.’

‘What happened to the last?’ Armando asked. I kicked him under the table.

‘You might recall it fell over.’ Lil glared at Armando.

‘Is it easy to use?’ I asked.

‘It is but it’s all arse about face’

‘Huh?’ Armando asked.

‘Everything is the opposite way round. I’ve had a practice and will have another few sessions to get to grips with the beast before the main event.’

‘Fantastic news Bill. Are we all invited?’ I asked.

‘Of course you are. It’s a special occasion. Everyone has to be there,’ Lil said.

Judith appeared as ever in a timely fashion with a china receptacle full with brewing golden, elixir.

‘I’m glad you’re happy and settled,’ Gisela said. She started to fidget in her seat.

‘Thank you my lovely friend.’ Lil took Bill’s hand. I stirred the pot.

‘It’s especially timely as I have some news.’

Bilder Alfter

Lil released Bill’s hand and gaped at Gisela. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Let’s pour the tea first,’ I said. I could see that Gisela was uncomfortable and needed a few moments to collect her thoughts.

‘Well?’ Lil said as soon as I’d replaced the pot on the table.

‘I’ve been talking to my cousin’s daughter in Alfter.’ Gisela paused to take a sip – all eyes on her. ‘They’ve invited me to go and stay with them for an extended period, and if it all works out, they’ve asked me to live with them permanently.’

Lil slammed her cup on the table. ‘You can’t?’

‘You’re happy with Bill.’

‘You’re my best friend.’

‘We can still write.’

‘It won’t be the same.’

‘We can talk on the phone.’

‘It won’t be the same.’

‘I miss Germany.’

‘I thought you were happy in England. You’ve not mentioned a longing for Germany before.’

‘I didn’t realise how much until I visited.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me how you were feeling and what you were planning to do?’

‘It was only finalised yesterday.’

‘Finalised – exactly. You didn’t even tell me what was on your mind. I thought friends, especially close friends spoke to each other.’

‘I didn’t want to upset you.’

‘A bit late for that now isn’t it.’

‘Let’s calm down,’ I said and placed my hand affectionately on Lil’s arm.

‘I’d forgotten how comfortable it feels to speak German every day. I speak and think in English of course, I’ve been here so long, but it was like putting on an old glove.’

‘That makes sense. When I was in Spain at Christmas it’s easier to speak your mother tongue.’

‘Yes, and I didn’t realise that I cared about family, and seeing family so much until I met them again. And you know I miss German sausage.’ I tried not to snigger like a schoolboy.

‘Gisela, it isn’t fair. Everything is so good at the moment.’

‘Lil you have Bill, Cyril, Nelly, and not to mention Wayne and Armando. I’m sure you’re not going to miss me that much.’

‘I will.’ Lil pouted her lips and produced one of her legendary tuts.

Gisela looked alarmed but pressed on. ‘My cousin, Sabine, has a granny annex, which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s on the same plot as her daughter’s, Sybille. The plan is that I would take the second bedroom.’

‘And what’s your cousin to say about that?’ Lil asked.

‘She is keen too.’

Lil huffed and folded her arms.

‘We were close as girls, and goodness only knows how we will get on together now but I’m hoping it will be good and fun.’

‘She’s probably changed,’ Lil said.

‘But relationships formed in childhood can last a lifetime,’ I said with purpose in my voice. This was a little harsh, and Lil picked up on my Mavis reference. However, she needed to back off with her attack. Lil turned her cup on its saucer in a truculent manner.

‘I think if you have a chance for happiness you should grab it,’ Bill said. We all looked at him a little shocked that he would dare overrule Lil. ‘I did, and I’m sure glad I came back to London, otherwise I might not be in the best relationship of my life right now.’ Lil stayed quiet, and fingered her cup in a less fractious manner, which was quite astonishing. Bill’s influence provided a sedative effect.

‘I’m sorry,’ Gisela said and started to cry.

‘Don’t cry now. I’m sorry too for getting so cross. I’m going to miss you that’s all. Shall we have another tea?’

‘Tea, yes,’ Armando said.

‘You’re going to miss my bingo debut, well return rather than debut.’

‘That is a disappointment. Perhaps someone could take photos and send them to me.’

‘I will,’ I said.

‘There are a couple of spare bedrooms in the big house too. Perhaps you and Bill would come and visit.’

‘Me, in Germany. Are you joking?’ Lil was cackling again which was a good sign. ‘I don’t understand a bloody word. What’s the German word for Assam?’

‘Assam,’ I said.

‘We’ll see about the visit,’ Bill said, winked at Gisela, and took Lil’s hand again.

‘Excellent. Cyril is going to holiday with us too.’

‘Cyril knows?’ Lil asked.

‘Yes.’

I wasn’t sure if this was going to set Lil off again. ‘What about Armando and me?’

‘I would love for everyone to visit. Even Marty Maguire. I’m sure there are plenty of lonely elderly ladies in Germany longing for his charm.’

After we’d finished chortling at Gisela’s witticism we finished our tea and went on our way. Breakfast Club was to change again. Gisela may not be one of the core or founding members, but she’s played a great part in our weekly meetings and had been a phenomenal support for Lil particularly when battling some of the other women in their age club. I suspected the person who would miss her most was Cyril, particularly as Lil and Bill were now so committed to each other. I resolved to check in with him later in the day. He and Gisela were Lil’s wing people and spent a lot of time together.

 

 

 

 

O For the Memories

Crouch End has always been a wonderful place to live. It’s a suburb of our capital city but has a unique village feel which compliments a vibrant London arts’ vibe. I’ve always felt safe and secure and barely witnessed a cross word.

That is until I entered the world of our senior residents. In talking to friends, this is not a phenomenon unique to N8 and seems to penetrate our senior community globally. I wonder if the swearing nan in Catherine Tate’s show inspired our genteel senior community to be more verbally expressive…

After an afternoon of community bingo deteriorated in such a fashion last week I wanted to know what happened thereafter, but also didn’t want to know. I hadn’t heard from Lil or Armando since the episode with Bill, which I hoped was a positive sign.

The sun was pouring through my bedroom curtains and I had no time to dawdle or procrastinate further and was up and ready to go – shorts and an Amy Winehouse T shirt prepared me for Breakfast Club.

Lil wasn’t yet in situ and I took the opportunity to extract an update from Armando.

‘I found him two streets away sitting on someone’s wall. He looked a-confused. He couldn’t explain what happened.’

Armando paused his explanation as our first pot of tea arrived. I could feel the warmth radiating from its welcoming centre. It didn’t matter how high the outside temperatures climbed; I had to start Breakfast Club, or in fact any day, with tea.

‘I took him home, and let me tell you, he hadn’t been looking after himself properly for quite a while judging by the state of his flat. I telephoned his daughter and she asked me to stay with him until she arrived, which I did. I haven’t heard anything else.’ Armando finished his story and started to pour our tea. I always appreciate a china cup, irrespective of a mismatched saucer. Is it in my mind or does tea taste better when consumed from china crockery?

‘Pour the third cup please Armando,’ said Lil as she sat down to join us.

We greeted with our routine, tender kisses. Lil was not decked out in finery this week, and had a simple white blouse with a beige cardigan. Her hair, however, was electric blue. She’d been at the rinse bottle again.

‘Nice hair Lil,’ I said. She nodded her gratitude at my comment. ‘Tory blue is it?’ I added.

Armando jumped in before Lil had chance to answer. ‘Any news of Bill? I didn’t want to trouble his daughter.’

The waitress was back to take our order. Armando and I requested granola with yoghurt and berries. Lil ordered a full English. I wasn’t surprised; not only because it was habitual but the hair would require feeding too.

‘It’s been a dreadful week for Bill and his family. I spoke to Penny, his daughter. She went to his GP’s the morning after she arrived, which would have been Friday, and demanded an emergency appointment. He was on a waiting list to get memory tests completed as you know, and they brought the session forward to Monday.’

Lil stopped speaking and looked towards the door. I wondered if she were hoping Bill would walk through and save her from continuing. From our previous discussions we knew the percentage chance of Bill developing dementia was high at his age, and that the memory tests were a key component of diagnosis.

Lil was distracted as she greeted another elderly patron of the café. Apparently this one was called Mrs McAleen. She spoke with a strong Irish accent and was waiting for her brother Marty who was joining her for morning coffee, although she would be having a Coca-Cola, or so she informed us. Her spectacles wouldn’t have looked out of place on Dame Edna Everidge. Mrs McAleen moved away to await her company as our breakfasts arrived. I managed to drain another cup of tea for myself from the depleted pot and sent for another. I was particularly thirsty today. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the bottle of Oloroso which evaporated in my presence the previous evening.

‘I took a chance and paid an impromptu visit on Tuesday morning to find his sister packing up some of his stuff. She explained that the tests had proven inconclusive, or at least confirmed that he wasn’t suffering from dementia but they were concerned he was confused to such a degree and not taking care of himself. Anyway, Penny told me that they had decided to take Dad, as she called him, back to theirs for an extended visit to keep an eye on him. Bill and I went out for a morning tea, at her suggestion, while she continued loading items into battered suitcases.’

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the departure of Bill. He was jolly and fun, and for a time had made Lil happy. I wasn’t confident their journey together should as yet be snuffed out.

Lil was carving a fat, skin encased sausage. She dipped a piece in the semi-congealed yolk of her egg before inserting the fork into her mouth.

‘Armando, I think this sausage is off. It tastes weird,’ Lil exclaimed as she extracted the contents of her mouth into the handkerchief which was conveniently tucked into the sleeve of her cardigan.

Armando didn’t appreciate the sudden change of conversation or the criticism of his produce, and put his hands on his hips and said ‘Nothing wrong with sausage. They are fresh,’ and glared at Lil.

‘Maybe it’s the new flavoured sausages,’ said a passing waitress.

‘What? What’s wrong with the bangers you usually serve up?’ asked Lil.

‘Lil, please stop it. We are using local wild boar and apple sausages, and we never used what you call bangers.’ Armando was being firm despite Lil’s latest woe. The café was his business and he was proud of its achievements.

Lil realised she had overstepped the mark and had already, adeptly, slipped the squelching full hankie into her handbag.

‘Sorry. Maybe I overreacted. I’ll try again. I thought it was off, not apple.’ Lil cut a thinner sliver of sausage and coated it in ketchup, added a button mushroom and popped the new combination into her mouth. I didn’t want sausagegate to stunt the story and decided to encourage its continuation.

‘What happened next Lil? Did you go out with Bill?’

‘Yes Wayne.’ Lil looked relieved to be back to her traumatic tale and away from potential disagreement with Armando.

She continued, ‘We went to small café near Bill’s flat.’

Armando huffed gently. I hoped we weren’t now going to get knocked off course again to discuss the choice of café.

‘We wanted somewhere quiet to talk. I’d have preferred to come to Armando’s, but it’s too bustling.’ Good Lil, very smooth I thought.

‘“I don’t know what is wrong with me Lil, and I’m scared” Bill said as soon as we sat down with a pot and two slices of walnut cake. I didn’t know what to say to that,’ said Lil.

She hesitated and added additional salt to her setting yolk. I refrained from pointing out that she’d already salted it once.

‘“They said it isn’t dementia…yet. So does that mean it’s on its way?” he’d asked next. There was a real fear in his eyes.  Goodness I still didn’t have any answers and instead took a bite of my cake.

It then got worse.

He took me hand and said “I’d wanted you and me to enjoy a few good years together, before we had to deal with anything like this.” I went to speak and reassure him but he wasn’t finished.’

Lil paused again. Armando and I were finishing our bowls and trying not to scrape our spoons against the sides as we extracted the final remnants of yoghurt covered granola.

‘Oh Wayne, he carried on,“I don’t know what to do next, but I know if this is a sign of what’s coming then I don’t want you to be part of it. It’s not fair and I’m decided. I’m going to Penny’s for a while.”’ Lil put down her cutlery at this point and put her hand over her face. I hoped she wasn’t going to cry. She was obviously upset, but we’d had enough of that lately.

Lil picked up her paper napkin and dabbed the corners of her mouth before taking a long, slow, sip of tea which revived her to continue.

‘We just looked at each other for what seemed like ages. Neither of us knew what to say or how we should feel about it. In the end we just continued with our tea and cake. It was all we were able to do.’

‘That is too sad,’ said Armando as he placed his spoon into the empty bowl before him and picked up his cup.

‘He was right, and I don’t mean to sound unkind. It put the fear of God into me. We’ve seen so many friends and other members of the community start suffering from these dreadful symptom and it robs life and enjoyment and replaces it with confusion and panic.’ Lil delivered the latter part with remarkable stoicism but she made a good point. People are living longer and the chances of dementia increase with age. We worry about cancer, HIV and it’s no different for the elderly to worry about a devastating affliction which affects them. Lil hadn’t declared a finality to their relationship and I wasn’t going to ask but it sounded over to me.

Fortunately it hadn’t suppressed her appetite and she looked up and wiped the last slice of toast across her plate.

‘How’s your love life Armando? Still with Jason the ticket inspector?’ asked Lil.

She was bloody good at this. She avoided getting to the nub, the painful part, of the conversation and moved on. This must have been how it was with Bill. They’d reached a part of their conversation which was too excruciating and instead of dealing with it, they returned to their cake. We didn’t know how she felt deep inside and it was clear she didn’t want us to ask.

‘Yes, and he works in the ticket office, not a ticket inspector. Although we don’t get much time to see each other. He has such silly shifts, and I’m always at the café.’

Another pot of tea arrived. This was a serious Breakfast Club and we hadn’t even established whether Lil had seen Mavis in the week.

I sat back and watched Lil and Armando chatter about Jason. Dating can be traumatic and whether it’s kiss-chase in the junior school playground, clubbing in Soho, or a companion for your later years, it’s fraught with drama, or it can be. My thoughts turned to my Michael and I was grateful he was in my life. We had a relatively drama-free romance.

‘What you thinking about?’ said Lil nudging me in the ribs and interrupting my thoughts.

‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘so who did your hair this time?’

Lil pursed her lips before she allowed them to part and released one of her famous, eardrum-shattering cackles.

 

Viscount Boulevardier

The sun streamed through my ecru cord curtains. I never open them, for security reasons, and it was therefore important to have a somewhat transparent material to interpret the weather before leaving the sanctity of my duvet.

Michael wasn’t impressed with my never-opened window covers, or lack of nets for that matter. I’d object to his flinging open the drapes and revealing my inner sanctum to pedestrians. Our dis-harmony with the bedroom screens wasn’t relevant today as I drifted alone, in and out of the blissful state of neither sleep nor wakefulness.

The Teasmade, incidentally my favourite purchase of the year, started to whirr, the water was boiling. I waited for the whoosh as the liquid transferred to the expectant teapot. With my eyes still closed I knew it was just before 9am and extended my legs the length of my divan and tightened the muscles to stretch.

It would be blissful if every morning contained this level of luxuriating.

wrotham-park-wedding

I imagined myself a resident of a large stately home – Gosford Park would suffice. The chamber maids would have already attended to either light a fire or open the windows, dependent upon the season. I’d have ordered a tray rather than descend for breakfast and feasted on boiled eggs with toast, rather than soldiers, and homemade marmalade before my valet arrived to help me wash, select appropriate day attire, dress and coiffeur…

My semi-conscious dream was invaded by an electronic sound – the phone. Who would call before a morning tea?

Lil.

‘Morning Boulevardier, are you up yet?’

‘Yes of course,’ I lied.

‘No you’re not,’ said Lil and cackled. Once she’d regained her composure she added, ‘having a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage are you?’

‘I’m seeing you this afternoon Lil. What’s up?’ I asked.

‘Keep your hair on Wayne…. I wanted to check that we’re meeting outside the café at 1.30pm?’

‘Yes, see you then,’ I replied.

It was to be a bingo afternoon rather than a Breakfast Club morning, and my waking dream of life evolving into that of Viscount Boulevardier had been breached. I rose, sat on the terrace and enjoyed a cup of tea. My imaginary valet had vanished.

Bingo is a regular feature in our senior community and if I’m honest, I’d had so much fun last time, I was happy for it to become a regular feature of mine too. Just don’t tell anyone. I’m not sure the rush of bingo should form an integral part of a Boulevardier’s adventures, however displaced he is.

It was a hot early summer day and three-quarter length cotton trousers and a T shirt would have to do.

Armando and Lil were already standing outside the café as I approached. Armando was wearing his staple linen-shirt-and-shorts combination and Lil a 1950s style dress patterned with polka-dots. A butterfly embossed handheld paper fan was rotating in her wrist to maintain her cool demeanour.

‘Wow! Gorgeous dress,’ I said.

‘Thank you Wayne,’ Lil responded and flicked her fan, open and closed, akin to a peacock displaying his tail-feathers.

il_340x270.604104093_9pyu

‘Is it bingo at the community centre, or a Friday night jive at the Palais?’ I asked.

Lil crowed and adeptly diverted attention to Armando.

‘How’s the new boyfriend?’ she asked.

‘It’s good. Lunch was nice but too short. His shift started at 4pm,’ said Armando.

‘Shame you didn’t manage to turn it into an early night,’ squawked Lil and added, ‘as we used to say back in the day “if you’re not in bed by 10, go home.”’

‘Lil, please, I’m a gentleman,’ said Armando.

Lil stifled a laugh and flicked her fan dramatically several times. We promenaded three abreast in the afternoon sun.

Mavis was in the hall, holding court with a number of enthusiastic subjects as we crossed the threshold and entered the fray of the community centre. They leant in closer as she lowered her voice, no doubt imparting some busy-bodying gossip. Lil gave her a loud flick of the fan. It was like being in an elderly version of Dangerous Liaisons.

Gisela sat patiently waiting for us at a carefully selected table, her hands neatly folded in her lap.

‘Thank you Gisela,’ said Lil as we sat, ‘I knew I could rely on you to secure the perfectly positioned table.’

‘I like to settle early,’ answered Gisela.

Armando slid away to procure liquid refreshments – old habits die hard.

Bill was at the front fussing with the bingo cage and his multi-coloured numbered balls. His waistcoat, the original rather than the Lil-purchased one, had made a return. The buttons had been mismatched with their respective holes and it looked contorted as well as far too tight.

Lil followed my eyes and tutted. After rooting in her handbag she said ‘Take this and get some cards please Boulevardier,’ holding forth a £10 note.

We were soon settled with tea, lemon-iced Madeira cake and poised for the games to commence. We first had to endure Mavis’ welcome speech. Lil took this opportunity to swoosh and flick her fan like a mad woman.

‘Lil, you’re making a spectacle,’ I said.

‘I’m hot,’ Lil said, apparently sotto voce. Her whispering tone, however, was louder than her speaking voice.

Bill was on his feet and we eagerly waited for the contraption to spin and longed for the odds to fall favourably in our direction. I’m not sure I should feel so competitive among a roomful of hard-up pensioners but the bingo bug consumed me.

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Technical difficulties were delaying the first ball.

Bill was fiddling with his machine frantically.

The room which had been silent and expectant started to shuffle.

The bingo cage crashed to the floor under the weight of Bill’s frustrations as he exited stage left.

Lil was on her feet, ‘Bill,’ she exclaimed.

Mavis, who was seated at an adjacent table, stood too. ‘Leave him alone Lillian. You’ve disturbed Bill with your louche dress and Geisha fan.’

I wasn’t sure that Lil would know the meaning of louche, but I didn’t think this was the best time to clarify the point.

Gisela was up, ‘Bitte seien Sie still,’ she said in an emphatic fashion. My school-boy German told me, I think, that she’d just asked Mavis to be quiet, in a polite way of course.

‘Schwein,’ Lil added and flicked her fan.

Armando and I stood and steered our ladies out before another verbal war ensued.

‘We must focus on Bill,’ said Armando as he left me with Lil and Gisela seated on a bench in the small garden to the side of the community centre and departed to locate the distressed Bill.

My thoughts revisited my morning dreams as a rebellious aristocrat. If Downton, Gosford Park or even Made in Chelsea are anything to go by then drama freely flows through the upper echelons of society too. I gently put my hand on Lil’s shoulder and drifted back into my imagined parallel life as Lil morphed into Maggie Smith.

‘Bill,’ Lil whimpered. Her fan lay dormant in her lap.

Lavatories and Cheese Sandwiches

‘Bingo!’ I announced dramatically as I opened the café door.

‘For goodness sake, bloody come and sit down. Bingo was last week.’

‘How are you Lil?’

‘Well apparently Mavis Bellamy has been telling everyone that I was rude to her at the bingo.’

‘which you were rather…’

‘Armando please remove the Boulevardier from the café if he’s going to side with that la-di-da interfering nosey cow.’

Armando darted over from the counter to settle this subtle disturbance. I shouldn’t have interrupted and said something so inflammatory but I’d woken in rather a bad mood with a headache.

‘Sorry Lil and of course this was after she accused you of cheating. I’m tired after a long week of working in Swindon,’ I said.

‘Hmmmmm,’ replied Lil.

‘I’ll get the Assam,’ said Armando ‘as peace offering.’

I nipped to the loo and as usual found the lavatory seat down but the lid open which is one of my pet hates.

‘I do hate it when the loo seat lid isn’t lowered after use,’ I said as I returned to the table.

Lil was pouring the tea ‘And I hate it when men leave the seat up.’

‘Come on Lil, that’s the argument always asserted by women but I find it a bit hypocritical as they rarely put the loo seat lid down.’

‘Why should they?’ Lil argued firmly.

‘Well due to large quantities of bacteria and viruses in toilets after use, it’s polite to close the lid while flushing in my mind. I believe the effect of the flush can cause germs to spread across a bathroom for hours.’

‘Is that true?’ said Lil.

Armando arrived with Lil’s full breakfast and my porridge with blueberries. The café was rather busy and he didn’t stop to sit with us.

‘Yes, and just imagine if the germs reach your toothbrush,’ I added.

‘I’ve bloody had enough of this. You’re not acting much like a Boulevardier. More like a grumpy sod, and I’m certainly not having toilet talk over breakfast,’ said Lil.

Lil and I looked at each other and smiled in a friendly manner. We were both a little tetchy. No wonder Armando was busying himself in the café.

‘The spread was good last Thursday Lil.’

‘Yes us oldies know how to put on a buffet.’ I resisted the urge to ask Lil what part she had played in the preparation.

stecca cheese sandwich

‘When I ate the cheese sandwich and drank the coffee it triggered a wonderful old memory. I’ve been thinking about it all week,’ I said.

‘What’s that then?’

Armando joined us with an Americano and muffin.

‘When I was young we always used to go on holiday to the same chalet in a small village called Winterton in Norfolk. Well, until we upgraded to the Isle of Wight but that wasn’t until I was 13.’

Lil sliced a mushroom and dipped it in her egg.

‘Anyway, we had to set off early and I always looked forward to the stop in Thetford Forest. I could taste the combination of cheese roll and coffee as soon as the journey started. I reminded Mum of this in the week and she said we didn’t regularly stop at Thetford, but I’m sure we did. Anyway, Mum used to bring a thermos of milky coffee which I would drink. I wasn’t always allowed coffee but on holiday I was. I would drink the coffee with a Clingfilm wrapped cheese roll. It was like a ceremony as Mum opened the glove compartment in our Austin Cambridge and placed paper cups on the purposed indentations and poured.’

Austin A60 Cambridge

Lil put down her cutlery and looked up.

‘We didn’t have much luck with our Cambridge.’

‘You had one too?’ I asked.

‘What is this Cambridge?’ Armando interjected.

‘What would now be called a classic car, and yes we had one. It was Ray’s pride and joy. He loved his cars. We hadn’t had it for long and went out for a spin on a Sunday afternoon when this idiot crashed into the passenger side of the car,’ Lil said.

images

‘Oh no. Were you injured?’ I asked.

‘The impact was on my side and the door crushed right into me, and thank goodness the Cambridge was sturdy otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here.’

‘Lil, please don’t say that,’ said Armando.

‘It’s true. The unborn life in my tummy didn’t fare so well…’ Lil paused and took a deep breath.

Armando moved his hands across the table and put them on Lil’s. She had water in her eyes.

‘The only answer anyone had in those days was to get pregnant again, but I didn’t or couldn’t or who knows. I wanted to grieve the loss of my child… And that reminds me of my auntie Vi. She was my rock. I wish she were still alive.’

I didn’t know what to say.

‘Raymond never forgave himself. He had suggested the drive but wasn’t responsible for that fool who lost control of his vehicle.’

Memories evoke memories and all from a cheese sandwich and a cup of instant coffee at a charity bingo event.

Lil looked sad.

Armando called for a fresh pot of Assam.

Bonkers Bingo

I drew the bed covers up and raised my second Assam of the morning to my lips. I loved our Breakfast Club but equally enjoyed the decadence of a long lie in, particularly when the air has a glacial bite to it. I had opened one of my sliding wardrobe doors and was looking intently in from the warmth of bed. I had no idea what to wear.

I knew how to dress for an evening with Eve Ferret at Crazy Coqs, or a night at Polari Literary Salon at the Royal Festival Hall, but what would I wear to a charity bingo afternoon at the community centre? I wanted to make sure that Lil was impressed. It would take several more cups of tea before I was able to make a good decision.

It was ten to two. How time flies when you want it to stay still, and I was having a final check in the mirror; the hair was quiffed, and the combination of purple chinos, Amy Winehouse T shirt, blue/silver Prada trainers and a dark blue cord jacket said I’d made an effort but not overdone it.

Lil and Armando were waiting, arm in arm, outside the Café as I approached. Armando had seemingly combed his hair and applied some pomade, and wore a plain shirt beneath his coat, and blue jeans. Lil looked a picture; his lips were rosy, her cheeks rouged, the hair purpler (she’d been at the rinse again), and she wore a tightly buttoned woollen coat with oversized buttons – an animal print silk scarf warmed her neck. Her fancy court shoes matched her patented handbag. She’d pushed the boat out and I was glad I was wearing some glad(ish) rags too.

‘I hope you haven’t forgotten to take off your house coat today Lil,’ I joked.

‘Shut it Boulevardier. You could have made an effort,’ Lil retorted with shooting speed.

I took Lil’s other arm and we escorted her the short walk to our afternoon entertainment.

As we entered Lil spoke to the door staff; apparently called Tom and Ted. We didn’t get an introduction but paid our fees, handed over our prizes of wine and vouchers, and received our bingo cards.

‘I’m just nipping to powder my nose gentlemen,’ Lil said, and with that she was off. She reminded me of a peacock and we were her plume.

Upon Lil’s return her cheeks were re-rouged and her lips coated in an extra layer of liner. We re-linked arms like the front line of battle and shuffled through the double doors into the hall. Our entrance wasn’t as smooth as expected as Armando caught his sleeve on the door. Lil pursed her lips briefly and then switched as we entered the hall and let out an enchanting cackle as if one of us had said something funny. She was performing. We would have to oblige.

Lil guided us between a number of elderly patrons to an empty table near the front. She asked Armando to get us a Sherry each from the bar. This was out of habit. She was used to Armando serving us. While he completed his mission Lil steered me to the front where a portly elderly gent was bursting out of his chequered waistcoat.

‘I’d like to introduce you to my good friend who is a writer, Bill. This is Wayne and Wayne this is Bill.’

‘How do you do,’ I said trying to sound as much like a writer as I could.

‘Likewise. What do you write?’

‘A blog.’ Bill looked nonplussed. An online journal and some short stories.’

‘Good afternoon Lilian. Please move away from the bingo cage. We don’t want to be accused of fiddling with the balls now do we,’ came a familiar voice.

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‘Hello Mavis,’ Lil said through gritted teeth, ‘you seem to have forgotten to take off your pinny.’

‘It’s a pinafore dress Lilian as well you know.’

‘Are you sure? You look as if you should be in the kitchens.’

Mavis smiled politely but was not prepared to engage Lil further and moved to another table where we could hear her loudly exclaiming to other attendees. I coaxed Lil back to our table where Armando was waiting with the Sherries.

‘Lil, honestly, you and Mavis are like a pair of schoolgirls,’ I said.

‘She accused me of trying to cheat,’ Lil said in a low but firm defence, ‘and I’m not having it.’

We were interrupted by Mavis, booming through a microphone to thank everyone for attending. We were invited to help ourselves to a selection of sandwiches and cakes and a hot drinks as the bingo would be starting in fifteen minutes.

I left Lil with Armando and ventured forth to get a sharing platter. The sandwiches were varied and on large aluminium plates with doilies for decoration. I’d finished my Sherry and fancied a coffee and approached the two ladies who were standing on either side of two large stainless steel urns and made my request.

Back at the table I enjoyed the simple cheese sandwiches. Why do we go for fancy sundried tomato and Prosciutto when simple and traditional tastes just as good?  I’d also secured three slices of Battenberg. Our afternoon tea was cut short as Mavis announced the commencement of the bingo.

‘I’d like to pronounce this Bingo event open.’

‘She’s not naming a bloody ship,’ said Lil loud enough for Mavis to hear.

Bill stood. I hoped the buttons on his waistcoat stayed put as they were being stretched and could cause quite a nasty injury should they ping forth. Bill turned the handle on the metal bingo cage full of coloured balls before lifting the latch and pulling forth ‘number 23’ which he then placed in its designated circular hole on the large wooden board.

None of us had ‘23’ on our cards and regrettably this was to be a harbinger as we didn’t win anything. I came close once where I only needed one number but was beaten by a rather downtrodden looking lady at another table. I reasoned that perhaps she deserved to triumph more than me.

Mavis announced the end of the proceedings, thanked everyone for their time and contributions which totalled several hundred pounds for charity.

‘At least Mavis didn’t win anything either,’ said Lil.

I turned and looked at her and she appeared defeated and tired. Did she want or rather need to win a prize?  Lil looked vulnerable.

Mavis was still full of spirits and laughing loudly with some of the attendees. Lil looked upset and I felt protective. We needed to get her out of there and home as soon as possible. A nod from Armando meant that our thoughts were in sync.

We exited the venue quickly and without further incident. Mavis was still busy talking to some of the winners on the other side of the hall and Bill was focussed on putting his balls away. As we walked back to the café Lil relied more on the arm support.

‘Are you tired Lil?’ I said.

‘A little, but let’s get a nice tea together in Armando’s café before we separate.’

Our usual table was taken but Lil seemed too weary to mind and we sat next to the front window.

‘Thank you for coming with me, my lovely boys. You don’t know how much I appreciate it.’

Armando and I looked at each other. We knew.

 

Pesky Kids or should that be Pesky Parents?

I’d woken unnaturally early which was irritating. There is nothing worse than waking up before your alarm on the days you’re not at work. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I’d readied myself for the day and walked early to the café.

Armando looked at his watch as I entered. The café was busier than usual but I supposed these were patrons filling up en route to work.

‘I know I’m early. Please don’t ask questions and bring me a pot of strong Assam.’

Armando nodded. I extracted a copy of Brideshead Revisited from my coat pocket and tried to start reading. My eyes were sore. I put it down again and waited for my tea which duly arrived. I let it brew for five minutes before pouring.

cover_bridesheadrevisited

A fair number of take-away transactions were in progress. These were people on their way to day jobs. Armando had never mentioned his mobile trade when bemoaning the lack of business. I wondered whether it was usual to have so many passing customers. I tried again with my book and was disturbed a couple of chapters later by a commotion outside the café.

‘Watch where you’re going you bloody brats or I’ll take my stick to you. You should already be at school. I’ll bloomin well report the lot of you.’

‘Good luck with that grandma,’ was the fading reply.

Armando had the door open in seconds and helped Lil into the café. He rushed outside to see if there was any remnant of trouble but the protagonists were specks in the distance.

Lil had a face like thunder and patted the edges of her cream woollen overcoat and steered her trusty trolley over to the table.

‘Are you OK?’ I asked.

‘Of course I’m bloody OK. Those pesky kids need to watch where they’re going on those skateboards. They’ve nearly knocked me over. Tea immediately please Armando.’

Armando scurried out to the kitchens to make sure the emergency recovery aid was not delayed. I moved my hands across the table and put them on Lil’s and looked at her affectionately and compassionately.

‘Don’t bloody fuss Boulevardier. Something’s happened. Don’t turn it all into a bloody drama.’

‘But Lil you must be careful. It’s only a few weeks since you fell over.’ I moved my hands back and Lil continued and ignored my concern.

‘It’s not even as if they’re ill-bred. Their accents are very middle classed. I’m not sure their parents would approve of their manners or lack thereof. So bloody inconsiderate.’

Armando arrived with two fresh pots of tea and three cups and saucers and sat down.

‘Lil, you are not injured? Bloody youths. No respect for the elderly.’ Armando asserted.

‘Yes, yes, yes – the pair of you stop fussing. And who you calling elderly?’

Armando looked at Lil and did not answer. ‘I’ll pour,’ he said.

‘But maybe it is the parents’ fault Lil. Some don’t set a good example, especially those who fall into the expectant Generation Y category.’ I said.

‘Boulevardier, listen here. I am in no mood for your twaddle. And please don’t go into one of your bleedin monologues about generation or whatever you said.’

‘Oh, but I will tell you what happened on the bus a few days ago when I was coming back from the hospital.’ I tried not to sound nonchalant about having my theory stopped in its tracks and reasoned that I hadn’t just been the victim of a near-miss assault.

‘The bus was packed and this woman got on with several children in tow. She sat down next to me and they disbursed to the four corners of the vehicle, aside from one who must have been about five years old, who was refusing to sit down.’

“Stop it James you’re pissing me right off” she announced in an irritated tone. Two minutes or so passed. “James sit down you’re getting right on my tits” she broadcast in a louder and more vexed manner. James settled for a matter of seconds and then joined two teenage girls in his travelling party and they started making quite a hullabaloo and the woman proclaimed “Will you kids shush. There are other people on this bus. Show some respect.”

‘Respect I thought. That is rich coming from her. However, I refrained from commenting or offering advice.’

Lil and Armando looked at each other and started giggling.

‘I should always come and listen to your Boulevardier when I need cheering up. You’re lucky you didn’t say that. From the sounds of it, she’d have slapped you across the face’ said Lil.

‘That didn’t seem to bother you when you were shouting after those kids Lil. I wish you’d be careful. They might have a knife, ‘ I said.

Lil laughed louder and didn’t stop. This had tickled her. We all three were cackling infectiously.

‘Knife! This is Crouch End not the ghetto, ‘ Lil said.

‘When I was young I had to be well behaved. My parents wouldn’t tolerate rude or unruly conduct,’ I said.

Lil and Armando nodded in agreement.

‘Oh no.’ I was shocked. ‘I sound like an old person talking about the youth of today.’ I was distressed.

‘Ha, you know nothing of old yet. Although you are greying and Armando is going a bit thin on top,’ Lil responded with mischief in her eyes.

Armando huffed, in a continental way, and got up ‘So you want breakfast today or no?’

With all this kerfuffle we hadn’t ordered breakfast. Now that is unacceptable behaviour.

We ordered quickly. Armando settled again.

‘Now, what I really wanted to talk about today was bingo,’ said Lil.

Lotto Balls

‘Bingo?’ questioned Armando.

‘Yes. Mavis Bellamy is organising charity bingo at the community centre and I’m allowed to bring a guest. Suffice to say I’m bringing two. You’ll look smart and bring decent bingo prizes and play every game.’

As ever this was an order and not a request. But I felt warm that Lil wanted to bring us to her charity event as chaperones.

I refreshed our cups.