Should Old Acquaintance

I’d had a lovely Christmas Day with some of my oldest friends in rural Hertfordshire and absolutely overindulged, before flying to Dublin for a wedding with Michael’s family, but that didn’t stop me ruminating about the turn of events at our Christmas Breakfast Club lunch. Armando had dashed back to Spain for a few days too so I didn’t have eyes and ears on the ground so to speak. We landed back in England early afternoon on 28th, and as soon as we were in the car I telephoned Lil to get an update.

‘Did you have a nice Christmas?’

‘Let’s just say eventful.’

‘Let’s not just say anything. Shall I nip round for a Sherry when I’m in Crouch End? Should be within the hour.’

‘You can of course visit, but I warn you; I’m detoxing.’ And with that the line went dead.  

Michael was going to pop to Waitrose and get ingredients for a healthy fish pie, that is to say without cheese and cream, which presented an excellent opportunity to call on my favourite senior neighbour. Michael didn’t appreciate my assistance in the kitchen – my cooking skills were basic.

‘Come in.’ A bloated Lil stood before me holding her stomach. There was an unusual aroma in the sitting room.

‘Mince pie?’ Lil held forth a plate of dry looking parcels. I didn’t like mincemeat at the best of times and especially not after several days of excess.

‘No thank you. There is an odd smell.’

Lil cackled, ‘Sorry about that. My tummy is a little sensitive after the third day of brussels.’ I would have to breathe in a shallow fashion. Lil sprayed an aerosol by her side. I’m not sure which was worse.

‘How are Bill and Marty?’

‘Marty is still in Cork. It was already planned that he would be with Nelly and his niece for the festivities, which is probably just as well in the circumstances.’ Lil shifted in her seat. I made us a pot of tea.

‘It’s been mostly Gisela, Bill and me for the last few days. Cyril went to see his family in the Cotswolds.’

‘Didn’t Bill go back to his family?’

‘No. He wanted to spend Christmas here with me. He’s not been in contact much lately, and didn’t know about Marty. It’s all been embarrassing.’

‘It was a massive surprise when he walked through the door. I know Armando had invited him, as a courtesy, but we hadn’t heard back and assumed he wasn’t coming. We wondered if we’d ever see him again.’

‘He’s looking good isn’t he? The waistcoat hung off his belly.’

‘Have you had chance to talk. I mean have a heart-to-heart about why he came back, and more importantly where you fit in?’

‘Not until today. Gisela has always been there with us, and that suited me fine. I had no idea he was coming back. I was getting things sorted with Marty after the recent drama. My head was in a right spin.’

‘What did Marty say?’

‘He was upset to be going away, with Bill returned. He asked me to not see Bill until he came back, which was unrealistic and he knew it. Who else was Bill going to spend Christmas with and I wasn’t sending him back to his family. I mean, he might have lost weight, but at Christmas you need to eat.’

I topped up our cups. I never drink much on a long journey as it’s not always easy to use the conveniences, and I was thirsty. Lil turned one of the festive pies in her fingers. She took a bite and returned it to the plate.

‘They’ve seen better days.’ I had to nod in agreement. Lil had crumbs down the front of her lilac dress.

‘And what about Bill? What did he say today?’

‘He wants us to give it another go. That’s why he’s back. Seeing his family together has left him longing for his own romantic love. He said that he’s thought of me every day. His daughter took some persuading apparently that he should leave the bosom of kin at Christmas. She eventually understood that he was pursuing his last chance of love. She did ask him if he was having a senior moment again.’ Lil crowed and clutched her stomach as it jumped with laughter.

‘Aren’t you the lucky girl with two beaux.’

‘I’m not sure I agree. Yes, yes, yes, there is the sheer romance of it all, but I don’t know what to bloody do or who to choose, and I’m not comfortable with having to make a choice between them anyway.’

‘Neither of them can rush you into making a decision. Remember that please.’

‘I’m not one for hanging about.’

‘What does Gisela think?’

‘She’s Bill all the way. You know she’s never taken to Marty.’

‘Cyril?’

‘Too much of a gent to give an opinion. He told me he wanted me to be happy.’

‘Where are you in your thinking?’

‘Confused. Maybe we should have that Sherry after all – sod the detox. They’ll be plenty of time for that in the New Year.’

‘Right, well I’ll get the glasses and then we can list their pros and cons.’

‘Use the posh ones from the sideboard please.’ I slid the frosted glass ribbed door to reveal a multitude of vintage glasses in all shapes and sizes. There was a delicate pair of red Sherry glasses at the front. ‘Not those, they only hold a sodding thimbleful.’ Behind them I found beautiful hourglass-shaped glasses with a gold rim. They looked a little too large to be Sherry receptacles but from the look on Lil’s face my second selection was successful. I was pleased to see Lil hadn’t slipped back into her cream ways and a three quarters full bottle of Oloroso was on the drinks tray. After we’d both drawn a lengthy portion and digested our thoughts I asked again.

‘Marty is funny, so funny, fun and he makes me feel young and worthwhile. He is good looking and sharply dressed. I haven’t felt that type of attraction in years.’ I wasn’t sure I agreed with all these attributes as I had seen crocodile skin shoes. I also didn’t want Lil to become more graphic with sensual magnetism.

‘And the cons?’

‘It’s tough to trust him. He has wandering eyes and he can’t say no. I mean, who would go out with Mavis in their right mind? He also hasn’t got two halfpennies to rub together.’

Lil paused to drain her measure of Sherry. I mirrored and refilled.

‘Bill? Where do I begin? I feel secure and loved with him. He doesn’t set the world on fire but that isn’t necessarily bad. He’s like your favourite warm and comfortable pair of slippers.’

‘I’m not sure he’d see that as a pro,’ I said, ‘however, I agree. Excitement can be great but with the high highs come the low lows.’

‘Yes anyway Boulevardier, this isn’t about you.’ Lil cleared her throat and took another glug before continuing. ‘Bill’s illness and state of mind is a worry, and his sense of style leaves a lot to be desired.’

‘Where does that leave you?’ I had my opinion but unless pushed I would not pass judgement at this sensitive moment.

‘No idea. What do you think?’

‘I’m not getting involved,’ I said wearing a compassionate expression.

‘I think I know anyway.’

‘Are you still coming to Breakfast Club the day after tomorrow? It’s our New Year celebration.’

‘Yes I am although Auld Lang Syne on 30th and in the morning doesn’t seem right.’

‘That’s our time and anyway it’s my friend Karen’s birthday on New Year’s Eve so I’ll be back out in Hertfordshire.’

Lil huffed but it would do no good. Our celebration was set. We finished our drinks and I ventured home to the smell of fish pie.

Armando had set the wheels in motion, and I walked into the café to an extended corner table set for eight with party poppers aplenty. We were to have our usual Breakfast Club with some added celebratory accents.

‘Need any help?’ I asked Armando, ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’

‘Morning Wayne, yes thanks. It was all too quick but good to see the family. I’m shattered actually as I only flew in last night. Is there any update?’

‘None of consequence but I guess we’ll see what happens today.’

‘I pray for no arguments in the café.’

‘Mavis?’

‘No. I didn’t invite her and hopefully after last week she won’t just show up. What about Marty and Bill?’

‘I can’t see them duelling, literally for her. Lil is the most likely to create a scene.’

As we chortled together the door opened and Gisela entered.

‘How were your festivities?’ I asked as I kissed our German friend on the cheek.

‘Good, although I felt like the gooseberry pie.’

‘Yes I heard you’ve been a faithful lady-in-waiting and chaperone.’

‘Indeed. And I’ve had lovely emails from my niece in Koln, or Cologne as you Brits say.’

‘I thought you were adopted Brit?’ asked Armando.

The door opened again and in breezed Lil and Cyril. Lil twirled in her new purple coat, which matched the colour of her hair. I steadied her before she fell over and hoped that she hadn’t been at the bottle already; it was barely 10am.

‘Looking glam,’ said Armando.

‘Thank you sir. I like to make an effort.’ Lil slid out of her coat and passed it to me revealing a pretty red dress with a flared skirt.’

‘Hmmm; should do after taking so long to get ready. I had to interrupt my own ablutions twice to dash across the hallway to provide advice.’

‘You loved it and the second time was more about the post from Holloway anyway.’

‘Holloway?’ Gisela asked.

‘The prison. I’ve had a card from the prat who broke into my place earlier this year.’

‘What did it say?’ Armando asked. He was fortunate to have Judith to attend to other customers today so as not to miss a moment of the never ending action.

‘He apologised for what he’d done. He said it was part of his rehab and he was reforming. I’ll believe it when I see it.’

‘Let’s not dwell on that today. At least it’s positive. How was the family Cyril?’

‘They are good, although I do like to get back to London. All the Cotswold’s opulence makes me giddy.’

‘Do you miss it?’ Gisela asked.

‘Goodness no. I left that behind a long time ago. I am happy in my little council flat in Crouch End.’

A bustling at the door drew our attention. Bill had arrived at the same time as Marty and Nelly and the men were jostling to cross the threshold first.

‘Let a lady first please,’ said Nelly as she tapped them both with her brolly. They had no choice but to stand aside and let her through before Marty slipped ahead of Bill.

After extended and jovial greetings we all took seats. Hunger pangs were increasing and I hoped we would be able to order quickly. Lil had managed to sit herself with a beau either side.

‘You could slice the tension with a knife. Is it too early for a stout?’ Nelly asked.

‘I’m not sure we have any in stock.’

‘I always come prepared,’ Nelly said as she produced a can from her shopping bag. A Coca-Cola wasn’t going to satisfy her today.

Judith appeared with a glass, and her pad. Most ordered a Full English, which according to Lil was much needed brain food. I ordered a vegetarian with a festive turkey sausage on the side and Gisela a pain au chocolat.

‘Have you missed London?’ I asked Bill.

‘Yes and especially this one here.’ He put his hand on Lil’s. Judith returned with two industrial sized pots of tea.

‘I’ll pour,’ Marty said as he decanted into Lil’s cup.

‘You might want to let it brew first mate,’ Bill said.

‘It’s as weak as gnat’s piss,’ Lil said.

‘What plans does everyone have for New Year’s Eve?’ Armando asked moving swiftly on from the battle of Lil.

‘I’ve invited all those here and a few other stragglers to mine for a few Sherries,’ Cyril said.

‘I’m off to Berkhamsted,’ I said.

‘No doubt some bloody hoity toity affair,’ Lil said.

‘I think my friend Karen would be pleased to be addressed in that manner,’ I said.

‘I don’t understand why we can’t all just go to Cyril’s,’ Lil said.

Breakfasts arrived which provided a needed break in the conversation.

‘What are you doing Armando?’ Gisela asked.

‘Quiet one.’

‘Ha, no doubt with his new fella,’ Lil said and cackled. She dipped a corner of toast into the baked bean’s tomato sauce before plunging it further into her egg yolk. They must both be blinded by love, I thought, as I couldn’t see this behaviour as particularly alluring.

‘How was your daughter Nelly?’

‘She’s grand. I miss home sometimes, although I don’t think I could trust this one on his own.’  She glugged from her stout and elbowed Marty in the ribs. Bill laughed louder than was necessary. Gisela for once was managing to eat her chocolate croissant without spillage.

‘I can’t eat any more,’ Bill said and looked at his half empty plate.

‘What’s happened to you in the country Bill? You used to polish that off and have a slice of cake too,’ Lil said.

‘I guess my stomach’s shrunk,’ Bill said and patted his flatter tummy proudly.

‘I bet that’s not the only thing that’s shrunk,’ Marty said. I nearly spat turkey sausage across the table but managed to maintain my decorum.

‘Marty,’ Nelly said with a hint of reprimand in her tone.

‘I for one can’t wait for Cyril’s soiree,’ Gisela said.

‘Ha, not sure how soiree it will be after we’ve all had a few drinks,’ Lil said.

‘Hmmm – I suppose that New Year is one of the few times it’s acceptable to be disorderly,’ Cyril said. Cyril’s expression didn’t support his comment. He was thinking of his Rococo mirror and other classic furnishings.

Judith started to clear the plates.

‘Delicious as ever,’ Gisela said.

‘Dare I ask if Mavis is back in town?’ I enquired.

‘Apparently not back for a few more days. She’s cleared out to friends in the country for cleaner air. Perhaps she should stay longer and clean some of that bile from her attitude,’ Lil said.

Judith held a tray with eight glasses of something fizzy.

‘I think we should all wish each other good health, wealth and happiness for 2015.’ Armando stood up. It wouldn’t have seemed right to declaring a happy new year.

We all joined Armando and clinked glasses and embraced wishing each other prosperity. Lil stood up slower than everyone else and had a suitor either side looking at her longingly, waiting to be the chosen one. I kept one eye on Lil as I embraced Mrs McAleen. Lil looked from one to the other, the moment seemed to play out in slow motion. She put her glass down on the table before turning to Bill and embracing him. He planted a smacker right on her lips. She reciprocated. Lil then turned to Marty and half-heartedly embraced him with an apologetic hug. His arms hung by his side.

‘Should old acquaintance be forgot…’ Gisela started to sing.

 

Happy-New-Year

 

 

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Marty’s Pad

‘Good morning Mrs McAleen,’ I’d said as I greeted Nelly standing below the clock tower.

‘Ah morning Wayne, how are you?’ she’d replied clutching her Crouch End tote bag against her body.

‘Much better for seeing you on this cold morning. Are you with your brother?’

‘I’m waiting for him. We’ve having a morning coffee and I had to finish some shopping first, although I might have a Coca-Cola.’

I was about to clarify the obsession with the dark fizzy drink when Marty appeared looking sheepish as he eyed me. At least he was alone. I needed to play it safe and not launch into a Mavis inquisition.

Coca-Cola_0

‘Morning Marty – Armando and I wondered if we could meet with you and talk about the current and unfortunate situation.’

‘Errrrr, yeah I guess. Do you want Nelly to be there too?’

‘No, let’s keep it to the boys for now.’

‘I don’t want Cyril to come.’

I took a breath and tried to keep my tone neutral and said, ‘It will just be the three of us.’

After jotting his address in my phone we parted. I wasn’t going to tell Lil or anyone else what had just occurred. I wasn’t sure how Marty would respond to our interference and didn’t want to cause any additional difficulties, but equally he’d upset Lil and we were looking out for her. We were walking the knife-edge of pensioner drama.

Armando and I had agreed to meet separately at Marty’s so as not to arrive threateningly en masse. I didn’t realise the tall Victorian building contained local authority housing as I buzzed on number 12 of 15, and wondered at so many dwellings packed inside. Marty granted entry. The communal hallway was a mess, and I could hear children crying in one of the flats. The carpet on the stairs was worn and filthy. There were three brown doors on the second floor hallway; one opened and Marty welcomed me in. Armando was already sitting on the arm of a battered wingchair, next to the stained and rickety wooden dining table. As I looked left I saw the kitchenette; Marty lived in a bedsit. There was a second older armchair – no sofa, and a small double bed in the corner. An old TV, and a small table, and a black wireless were the only other features of note.

‘Tea?’ asked Marty, pointing to the blemished pot on the table.

‘Yes please,’ I said, hoping for a clean cup. The sugar bowl was cracked and protected by a once white plastic cover.

‘I am in the middle of explaining to Marty that we want to help him sort out the situation with Lil,’ said Armando. I sat down on one of the dining chairs, and Marty followed suit.

‘Things weren’t this complicated in Ireland. I long for those days,’ said Marty.

I bit my lip and was glad I’d sipped a preparatory Sherry before I left home. It was going to be difficult to refrain from blasting him with both barrels, such was my affection and spirit for Lil.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Armando.

‘I wasn’t one for going out when I was young. I used to spend a lot of my time bird catching. You could sell them for a few bob at the market. We had a net as tall as this room, which we would secure with pulleys, and release when there were a number of birds feeding on the field. I could catch 10 to 15 at a time. They were mostly green plover, but sometimes we had golden plover, which went for more. It isn’t legal anymore.’

‘Was it legal then?’ I asked. His going into so much detail with his story was irritating.

‘I suppose not,’ said Marty.

‘You lived here long?’ asked Armando.

‘I’ve moved around a fair bit since my divorce – ’

‘You were married?’ I interrupted.

‘Yeah for close on twenty years, to Janet. Janet Loos as she was, and a beauty queen of Tewkesbury.’ Marty paused and looked distant. I was not surprised in the slightest that his marriage had failed if his current morals were a barometer. I also noticed the pile of racing papers on the floor and wondered if his gambling had also contributed to the demise of his relationship.

‘I came to England when I was 23. A fella from home had some building work here, in Swindon and the surrounding area, and it was more money than I could make in Cork. I couldn’t believe the weekends in Cheltenham; all the girls flocked to the American servicemen who were stationed there. Me and my mates used to wait and see who was left at the end of the night. Easy pickings. That’s where I met Janet. She was actually dating one of the American soldiers at the time, but her mother didn’t approve. I loved her so much but it was difficult to keep her happy. She was never satisfied. She didn’t want children, and as hard as I worked it was never enough. The more hours I worked, the more she spent and the more men she had. When we split up Nelly joined me in England with her daughter, and we relocated to London.’

‘Where’s Nelly’s husband?’ I asked. I was taken aback by Marty’s sudden outpouring of revelation. I was definite that he was a ne’er do well, but he had heartbreak of his own, and judging by his current living situation, wasn’t having an easy time of it now either.

‘He had an accident on the railways, where he worked. He was never the same and died. Nelly looked after him until the end, but in those days no one wanted to take on a woman with a child. We lived together for a while but that didn’t work. Nelly said my comings and goings didn’t provide a stable environment for the girl.’

‘I didn’t know Nelly had a daughter,’ I said.

‘There’s a lot you don’t know about me and my family Wayne. She married and is back in Ireland. She’s happy enough.’

‘Do you have any idea of the trouble that already exists between Mavis and Lil?’ Armando asked.

‘I’m getting the picture. Listen fellas I know why you’re here, and it’s not that simple. I wasn’t one for settling, and always take a number of outings with a multitude of women, but Lil is different and I’ve struggled with that. I like spending time with her more than most, but I still want to keep my other female friends.’

‘But why Mavis?’ asked Armando.

‘She approached me, and I never turn down chance for a chat and some female company.’ I knew it. Marty was far from innocent but Mavis had injected herself in the middle.

‘Why didn’t you go to the fair with Lil?’ I asked.

‘We’d had a row and she put the phone down.’ This wasn’t exactly how Lil had presented it, but I tried to keep an open mind.

‘What did you row about?’

‘She was unhappy and feeling frumpy and took offence at my suggestion to shop for some modern garments. I joked, “I can tell that you’re square by the clothes that you wear, so why not get with it, and pay me a visit”. It used to be the advertisement on the wall of the tailor’s back home.’

‘And what about Cyril?’

‘What about him?’ asked Marty.

‘I’m not sure you’ve been welcoming to him,’ Armando said politely.

‘He’s got Lil eating out of the palm of his hand, and yes he might say he prefers men, but I’m not so sure. They’re always round his posh flat.’

‘I can assure you. He isn’t interested in a romantic relationship with Lil,’ I said.

‘Told you that has he?’ asked Marty.

‘Not in so many words, but I know.’

‘I agree,’ said Armando.

This wasn’t as straightforward as I thought. Before today I was convinced that Marty was the villain, however, I wasn’t certain now. I was still convinced he wasn’t right for Lil. She needed someone she could feel secure with and that wasn’t Marty. He was in fact a sad character and tainted by his own life experiences and lack of acceptance of getting older.

‘Thanks for explaining,’ said Armando.

‘Are you going to help me sort it out?’ asked Marty.

‘We’ll see what we can do, but you have to understand that we have to make sure it’s right for Lil,’ said Armando.

‘Yes of course. She sees you two as her sons and I can see why,’ said Marty.

‘One question before we go,’ I said. Marty nodded.

‘Why is your sister always talking about Coke?’

Marty let out a belly laugh. ‘She’s always loved the stuff, and it was a bit special when we were younger. A real treat. It could be worse, she could have followed in our Gran’s footsteps.’

‘What does that mean?’ asked Armando.

‘She lived to 95 and swore it was because of half a pint of Guinness and some snuff, daily,’ said Marty.

‘What does snuff taste like?’ I asked.

‘Suppose it tastes like snuff,’ said Marty. And after that useful response we thanked Marty for his hospitality and departed. How to address this with Lil would occupy significant cerebral space over the coming days.

 

 

 

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.