I’d been in the cafe for about ten minutes and was still waiting for Lil to sit down. She was standing at the front window, arms firmly on her hips ruffling the sides of her spring floral blouse and crinkling the daffodils emblazoned upon it.
‘Lil come and sit down for goodness sake. Standing at the window is not going to make him arrive any quicker,’ I suggested.
‘No, I want him to see my face as soon as he turns the corner. I told him Breakfast Club starts at 10am and it’s almost ten past. I don’t want his interruptions. He sure as hell won’t be getting any homemade soup for lunch today now.’
‘Shall I order at least?’ I asked.
‘No… ‘’I’m nipping to the Post Office’’ he said,’ Lil added.
Armando came over and whispered that he feared Lil was scaring away potential customers.
‘Ah, here he comes, the lost man of Crouch End,’ said Lil and pursed her lips in an explosive pout. Her truculence escalated.
Bill entered the cafe in a stressed manner with the tails of his grey raincoat billowing like a cape behind him. He went to kiss Lil on the cheek and she turned away.
“I’m sorry love. There was a queue in the Post Office. The wait does seem to be longer since they started the renovations but they promise it will be more efficient once the self-service counters are fitted,’ said Bill.
‘The queue must have been as far as the Clock Tower with the amount of time you’ve taken. Now hand over my stamps.’ Lil was not yielding to Bill.
‘No, the queue was outside the front door, but when I came out I bumped into Lucy and we had a quick catch up –’
‘Who the hell is Lucy?’ Lil asked. I wondered if any answer was likely to satisfy her need for blood.
‘Oh you know, Lucy Ridley-Smythe, my daughter’s friend who recently moved into one of the big houses on Weston Park. She had the twins with her. It would have been rude not to stop and catch up.’
‘Oh ‘er. One of the new, hoity-toity Crouch Enders. She gets on my nerves,’ said Lil.
Bill jiggled with a suppressed laugh and Lil tutted. Lil had an ability to tut and make the entire room shake – figuratively. Lil’s tuts are legendary. She could win awards for them.
I was also subduing a growing need to laugh out loud. It was pretty comical to watch; Lil was in the throes of taming her man. He would be a fool to resist for too long. It would be too painful.
‘Right well, I shall leave you to your Breakfast Club and come back later. Are we still meeting for lunch?’ asked Bill.
‘No, you’ve irritated me. I will call you later and we can make plans from there. You may go your own way.’ Lil sauntered towards me at our usual back table and sat down, straightening her skirt in a demure fashion, which I hoped would also calm her mood.
‘Let’s order boys. I’ve worked up quite the appetite today. I’ll have a full English with an extra sausage please.’ Lil let out an enormous cackle just as Bill had closed the door. He heard her verbal expression of enjoyment and that was exactly what she wanted.
‘In that case I’ll have a vegetarian breakfast with a sausage please,’ I said, adding to the joke.
‘Bloody customers should order items on the well-developed menu,’ said Armando. Lil and I looked at Armando with our mouths aghast. Surely we hadn’t upset him.
‘Very good,’ said Lil. You had me fooled and I’d already had my fill of drama from men today.’
We toasted our cups of tea together with a china chink and cemented our camaraderie as Breakfast Club members.
‘What’s happened to Crouch End? It used to be full of real Londoners, and a community. Now it’s got all the bloody la-di-da crowd who couldn’t afford Highgate,’ said Lil.
‘Come on, it’s not that bad Lil. It still has a great community spirit,’ I said.
‘I agree,’ said Armando, ‘lovely customers; some of them have been here years. Lots of groups for the community.’
‘Well neither of you were here twenty years ago. It wasn’t the new place to be. No one would touch it with a barge pole. That’s the spirit I miss. The real original Crouch Enders, when you went to Alexandra Palace for the horse racing, not bloody hoity-toity picnics with sun-dried tomatoes.’
‘Horse Racing at Ally Pally? Are you sure, where?’ I asked.
Lil casually buttered a thick slab of toast. Suspense hung in the air.
‘Of course I’m bloody sure. I ain’t losing me marbles yet, you cheeky sod. It was there until the early 1970s. It was called the Frying Pan, because of its shape. We used to love going up there. And where do you think Victoria Stakes got its name from?’ Lil gave us that all-knowing look. I wish she recounted some of her more personal memories with as much warmth and nostalgia. I hoped there were some.
‘Wow, never knew that,’ said Armando.
‘Neither did I. Lil you are a font of knowledge today,’ I said. Lil smiled and celebrated by smothering another piece of toast with butter.
‘But I have to disagree that all is lost. Where else can you get a fishmonger’s, bakers, grocers, florists and haberdashery in a single London suburb? People remember you, people talk to each other. I love it and am proud to be a Crouch Ender,’ I said with pride.
‘I’ll tell you where you can get ‘em; in-between the millions of coffee shops, no offence Armando, over-priced artisan delicatessens and bakers, and vintage shops selling people’s unwanted shit for extortionate prices. Us, ahem, older members of the community are being pushed out.’ Lil was passionate about her lost part of London.
‘Never Lil. No one would ever dare push you out or even around.’
‘Too bleedin’ right. Now someone get me a fresh pot of tea,’ she said.
Armando’s chair seemed to glide from his bottom and he was off and into the kitchen. No one stood between Lil and her tea.
‘And another thing, don’t think that I don’t know that Bill will be crawling around my front door later with flowers and so he should.
What a great and productive Breakfast Club with my boys.’
I couldn’t agree more. I loved our precious Thursday mornings.