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.

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‘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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Humbug Hamburgers

I’d had an emotionally conflicting week. I supported Lil utterly, but having heard Marty’s story I had come to the conclusion that the situation wasn’t as one sided as I’d previously thought. He had to be accountable for his actions, true. However, he deserved to be given some latitude as his own life course had moulded his person and his behaviour protected his own heart from further wounds. It’s never too late to make changes and grow, but I did wonder whether these two pensioners should give it another go. Lil was keen on him, and nothing ventured and all that, yet I couldn’t predict the level of hurt which existed in the future. I was certain, however, that it would be a bumpy ride. They were both adults and would make their own decisions, but Lil looked on us as her supporters, her roots, and I wouldn’t let her down.

The second and more pressing unexploded bomb was that Mavis had orchestrated the date(s) with Lil’s beau. Marty had been sensible and sensitive enough not to appraise Lil of this fact and only Armando and I knew. We had brought Cyril into our confidence but could rely upon his discretion. I couldn’t make up my mind whether to relay this intelligence, and if so, when. Lil deserved to know but it would definitely add additional stress to an already rocky relationship. I had misjudged Marty’s behaviour and had been trying to convince myself that he’d misunderstood a hand of friendship, but it wasn’t sitting comfortably. I was struggling to keep an open mind where Mavis was concerned. The worst case would be that Lil found out that we already knew, and held back, and I couldn’t trust Marty to not set the wheels in motion, whether inadvertently or not. If Mavis became aware that we knew I am thoroughly persuaded that she would stab Lil with the knife of knowledge.

Lil had, thankfully, decided to leave the sanctity of her block and attend Breakfast Club this week with Gisela. I couldn’t quite understand from the garbled message, but there was news from the German member of our clique.

Armando was standing by one of the café front windows with his arms folded as I arrived. His eyes were as red as the sky on a summer’s evening.

‘Good morning Armando. Are you burning the candle at both ends again?’

‘Morning Wayne, and yes café is busy and I might have another bulletin,’ Armando answered with a cheeky grin. I was about to request additional and immediate information when a familiar polka-dotted shopping trolley appeared ahead of Lil and Gisela.

‘This conversation isn’t over,’ I said to Armando as I waved to the girls.

‘Who are you waving at? Silly sod,’ said Lil as she poked the door open with her umbrella which doubled as her stick. It was dotted too and coordinated perfectly with her shopping cart. ‘Now lift my trolley in would you Boulevardier.’

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The activity of getting to our table created a fuss. I wasn’t as adept a navigator as Lil and struck several chairs en route to the back of the café. I was glad to see the returned trolley in one sense, as it aided Lil to keep her balance. However, it was also her security blanket which had all but disappeared in recent times. I cleared the thought that Marty associated shopping trollies with old women from my brain before it had a chance to germinate. Gisela looked distant and sad.

‘Now, I have to tell you that I’ve had some upsetting news,’ she said as she adjusted her spectacles to sit higher on her nose.

‘Hang on Gi,’ said Lil, ‘let’s get the tea order in first. I’m parched.’

‘Already in progress,’ said Armando and huffed.

‘My name is Gisela. We all have preferred designations Lillian.’

Lil pursed her lips – her mood was truculent today.

‘What’s happened?’ I asked.

‘One of my school friends has passed away. She was so healthy until the last few months.’

‘I’m so sorry for your loss. Were you close?’ I asked.

‘We have written every week since I left Germany.’ Gisela removed her glasses and wiped the moisture from the corner of her eyes.

‘Are you planning to attend the funeral?’ asked Armando.

‘I am. I am flying to Bonn tomorrow. I’m terrified. I haven’t been home in over 30 years. I feel very emotional. I don’t know what to expect and here is my home now and I don’t want to confuse that.’

Judith was by our side with an extra-large floral pot. We took the opportunity to place our orders. Lil never wavered from her Full English – Armando joined her, which was a surprise and I wondered why he needed refuelling? I had a vegetarian with a sausage, and Gisela a bacon sandwich.

‘I have to keep my strength up. I’m not one of those people who makes a fuss about eating when upset,’ said Gisela. Lil pursed her lips and folded her arms. I poured the tea to alleviate any growing tensions.

‘I think you’re doing the right thing. Hopefully you can cherish some memories of youth again, and celebrate change. I mean Germany wasn’t united when you were last there.’

‘Yes, I’m trying but I’m scared too.’

The door opened and there stood Marty and Mrs McAleen. Nelly approached us first and greeted the table – nervously.

‘Take a seat Nelly,’ said Lil.

‘Sorry for your loss Gisela,’ said Nelly. Marty was hanging back.

‘Pull up a chair Marty,’ said Armando.

Our breakfasts arrived and there was a kerfuffle as space was made for the plates, and condiments were shuffled along.

‘Thank you Nelly. It’s been a hard week.’

‘What’s up?’ Nelly elbowed Marty for asking a question he already knew the answer to. She’d briefed him that morning on their way. The grapevine always wheedled its way through the community.

‘Gisela has lost an old friend in Germany and has to go there tomorrow,’ said Lil through gritted teeth as she tore open her egg and plonked a mushroom into its yellow innards.

‘I always thought she was a bit of a Hamburger,’ said Marty.

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Gisela started to cry.

‘What did you say that for?’ said Lil.

‘I think he was trying to lighten the mood,’ I said.

‘Why are you sticking up for him?’

Cyril walked in and straight back out again.

‘You are a saucy baggage when you get cross,’ said Marty.

‘Who are you calling an old bag?’ said Lil and tutted.

‘We’ll go,’ said Nelly glaring at Marty. ‘Shame as I was just in the mood for a Coca-Cola. Sorry Gisela.’ Nelly leant over and planted a comforting kiss.

I hadn’t seen this side of Nelly before. She’d always seemed to be at her brother’s beck and call. Marty pushed his chair back and walked out with a passing ‘See you all when I’m looking at ya.’

‘It’s not him. Any mention of Germany at the moment is hard, and my husband used to call me his little Hamburger, even though I was from Bonn.’

I understood. The emotions associated with the past intensify the more past there is. I recently went to a reunion in the village where I grew up. I walked into the pub which had once been my local, and it looked similar but the people who were now the locals looked at me as if an outsider. I should have felt completely at ease but I didn’t until the flood of old friends appeared. I settled down but the nostalgia of memory didn’t sync with the surroundings that day.

Lil tore tigerishly at a piece of bacon before thrusting it into the baked beans dispelling tomato sauce over the edge of her plate.

‘You are the messy pup today,’ said Gisela.

‘What do you expect when my breakfast is spoiled and I’m given indigestion?’ Lil slammed her cup on its mismatched saucer.

‘Careful please,’ said Armando.

Lil tutted.

‘How long will you stay in Germany?’ I asked.

‘I have an open return. If I feel good then I might spend a few weeks there and see my childhood home one more time.’

‘And I’m abandoned,’ said Lil.

I started to remind Lil that not everything revolved around her drama but decided better of it. She was responding to more than Gisela disappearing for a few weeks.

‘We’re still here, and your Cyril is only across the hall.’

‘Yeah I suppose – although I saw him come in earlier and vanish straight away.’

Who could blame him I thought as I nodded and refilled our cups.

Indian Summer at Breakfast Club

The large chrome electric fan in my bedroom was fast becoming redundant and balmy heat was giving way to a chill in the air. The last vestiges of summer were clinging on but would soon lose their grip to the melancholy of autumn facilitating the onset of winter.

The only positive I could find was that it was Thursday and that meant Breakfast Club. I pulled the duvet up to cover my cold shoulders and wondered whether Armando had re-organised the café to accommodate a larger table to facilitate Lil’s growing popularity. Attendance was becoming a lottery and I didn’t know who would have a lucky number today. Were Gisela and Cyril regulars or passers-by? Was Mavis going to make another battle appearance? Had anyone heard from Bill? The only one I willed not to see was Marty, and I hoped he was already on his way out.

As I knotted my delicate neckerchief I deliberated as to how the promise of a spring scarf had given way to the cold of its autumn counterpart. Depression was setting in. I could feel its dark veil snuffing out my light.

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Our table, which had not altered in size or capacity, was empty. Armando was behind the counter and I nodded and half-smiled in his direction. He reciprocated.

There were three solo customers, each at their own table, clutching their cups and mugs as if searching for the feeling of warmth. No one looked happy.

A gust of pensioner entered the café as Gisela, who was closely followed by Lil, arrived. They both looked flustered.

‘Morning ladies,’ I said with as much positivity as I could muster and rose to kiss them.

‘Morgan Wayne, sorry we are late,’ said Gisela who led the charge.

‘We’re not late, and morning Wayne and to you too Armando,’ said Lil with irritation in her voice.

I glanced at my phone to validate the time as 9.57. No one was late. I decided not to share my findings.

‘We have cut too fine,’ said Gisela and added, ‘I prefer to allow extra time to ensure promptness and we agreed you would arrive at the corner for 9.45 precisely.’

‘I told you I had a last minute adjustment to make and we don’t need fifteen minutes for a four minute walk. Goodness Gisela, you do get dramatic at times,’ said Lil.

‘I’ll order tea,’ I said trying to divert attention. I did understand them both. I would rather be early than late. However, they were neither – they were perfectly on time.

Armando joined us, ‘tea is on its way and café is empty.’

Oh dear the change in season was affecting everyone’s mood.

Judith appeared with a large grey pot which she settled in the centre of the table, and stood, notepad poised to take our order.

‘Full English please,’ said Lil.

‘Me too,’ said Gisela. Lil raised her eyebrows. I surmised that Gisela was attempting a white flag through food.

‘Vegetarian with a sausage please,’ I said.

‘Ha,’ said Lil and cackled, ‘that never gets old Boulevardier.’ Gisela laughed too. It was in fact a small cackle that I hadn’t heard from her Germanic timbre before. Lil was catching and I hoped Gisela was infected by Lil rather than becoming her Single White Female.

‘Blueberry muffin for me please,’ said Armando.

‘No Marty today?’ I asked Lil.

‘No, he’s off to the races. He asked me to go with him but I told him I wouldn’t miss a Breakfast Club,’ answered Lil. She looked upwards and into the distance.

Gisela tutted. She was indeed becoming Lil’s mini-me.

‘How’s the love life Armando?’ I asked.

‘Yes good. He is a nice man. The only problem is his English. He doesn’t really speak any. We have to use a translator application on his phone. It makes for slow conversation.’

‘Time to talk, have you?’ cackled Lil.

Armando tutted.

Lil removed the cream silk scarf which had been covering her head and patted her very set curls. I took my cue.

‘Fancy-pants hair Lil.’

‘Yes, thank you. I splashed out and went to the hairdressers yesterday. Sometimes I need more than just a rinse at home.’

‘I must pay a visit myself,’ said Gisela as she tried to pouf her own deflated locks, ‘looks wunderbar.’

Lil gave her side swirls another pat.

‘I do love an appointment at the hairdressers; someone gently washing your hair and massaging your head. And then a good session under the dryer with a pile of mags at your side. Ooooo I could go every day if I could afford it,’ said Lil.

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‘Why is it at the hairdressers that we don’t get to read anything serious? Does the dye, shampoo and hair-cutting shrivel our brains?’ I asked.

Gisela looked puzzled. ‘I always take my crochet.’

‘Silly sod,’ said Lil, ‘as if you’d read anything deep,’ she added as she pointed at me. She was now fully animated and continued, ‘Look at all that shit you watch? Keeping Up with the Real Housewives of bloody America.’ The magnitude of the squawk filled the café with sunshine.

‘I guess you just want to read something light between the gossip eh?’ I bantered back.

‘Too right sunshine,’ said Lil. She was indeed bringing some sunshine into this grey day.

Our plates arrived leaving a trail of fragrant smoke behind them. I tucked straight in and carelessly pulled my egg apart and watched the yolk blend with the mushrooms and halloumi.

‘Heard anything from Bill?’ asked Armando.

‘Yes, I had a call from him in the week. It was great to hear his voice and he sounded well. His daughter is apparently a bit controlling and has restricted his food intake, but let’s face it, losing a few pounds wouldn’t go amiss,’ said Lil as she frantically added salt to her bacon.

‘You think he’ll come back?’ asked Armando.

The atmosphere started to dip. Lil looked pensive as she chewed on a combination of egg white and tomato. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve not thought anything of it.’

‘He must miss his home. I do, and it’s been a long time since I were in Bonn,’ said Gisela.

Our momentary joy was waning.

‘Autumn always makes me miss my aunt,’ said Lil and dabbed her eye with her pink paper napkin.

I reached over to put my hand on hers, but she moved it too quickly to pick up her cutlery again.

‘But autumn also reminds me of betrayal and that awful Bellamy woman, which makes me very cross,’ said Lil as she tore into an uncompromising rasher of bacon which was proving difficult to slice demurely.

‘I don’t know the history, but she is certainly a multiple faced woman,’ said Gisela as she firmly placed her own cutlery on her plate. She hadn’t managed to finish her voluminous platter but looked sated at her efforts.

Lil was alluding to more than the latest spat with Mavis, but I wasn’t sure now was the best time to pursue her on the subject. The gloom of faded summer had us all in its icy grasp.

‘Yes, well I’m not going to dwell on her and her duplicity, especially as poor Betty isn’t even in the ground yet,’ said Lil.

‘Oh so sorry,’ said Armando and mouthed, ‘who’s Betty?’ to me. Lil saw.

‘Don’t worry boys. Betty came to our Age Club for a while before she got put in care in Highgate. I didn’t know her that well, but the poor sod had no life at the end, according to Mavis. It’s her funeral next Wednesday.’

‘Are you going Lil? Gisela?’

‘Yes, although I didn’t know her. Lil has said it’s OK and that we all go to all the funerals,’ said Gisela.

‘Well they’re the main get-togethers at our age, and I never say no to a free vol au vent,’ said Lil.

There was an air of imminent darkness as seasons were changing but at least we’d shared a few laughs among the tea and sausages at our warming Breakfast Club.

Masterclass

I’d missed Breakfast Club last week as I had booked a masterclass with VG Lee. I had the first public reading of my work at Polari Literary Salon approaching. I wanted, and needed, to immerse in Val’s advice and expertise.

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There had been one snag, and manoeuvring around it was not going to be pain-free. I’d forgotten to validate my non-attendance with Lil and had to call her to excuse myself, and as it transpired, beg forgiveness.

‘What do you mean, you forgot to mention it?’ asked a belligerent, which I interpreted as disappointed, Lil.

‘I got my weeks mixed up Lil,’ I added as much humility as I could muster.

‘I don’t understand why you need to go to hers on a Thursday. It’s very inconvenient. I’m an incredibly busy woman myself, but manage to make time for Breakfast Club.’

The line went quiet for a few moments. I was lost for words to assist in smoothing these choppy waters.

Lil was in no humour to wait for my response and continued, ‘I guess we’ll have to get along without you, but could you please make sure this doesn’t happen again Wayne.’

Having the last word, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, seemed to restore Lil’s inner peace and harmony.

I’d sent a text to Armando who’d asked no questions and replied in a civilised way. We usually shared a couple of texts every week, but I have to confess I hadn’t been as proactive in starting conversations since Lil’s crush theory. I’m sure she was mistaken, but equally I didn’t want to deliver false hope.

The café door was propped open as we were in the middle of a heat wave. The two small tables outside were occupied by patrons looking as if they wished it were cooler. I’m not going to moan about the heat, as I love it, however, we are not equipped to deal with it in the UK – there is no escape. I’m not suggesting for one moment that we should invest in environmentally unfriendly air-conditioning units at home for the few unbearably hot days and nights we have each year. It’s similar to those who bemoan the country grinding to a halt in the snow and make comparisons with Canada (who spend most of the winter feet-deep in the white stuff). We have a few days of extreme weather each season and should grin and bear with our upper lips stiff and intact.

Lil was at our table with Gisela – Armando was nowhere to be seen. I walked across the café, which was mostly empty. I greeted them both with a gentle kiss on the cheek.

‘Armando.’ Lil shouted at the kitchen wall, ‘he’s turned up this week. Breakfast Club is in session.’

‘I’m sorry I missed last week. How have you been? And nice to see Gisela too,’ I said.

‘Guten Morgan,’ said Gisela in a firm tone. I couldn’t work out if this was irritation or a formal Germanic timbre.

‘Yes, fine thank you Wayne. The world does continue to spin in your absence,’ said Lil and roared with laughter. Gisela tittered too. Armando arrived with a beautiful 1950s large family teapot decorated with a dandelion design and four cups on a simple wooden tray.

Judith followed Armando to take our order. Lil’s appetite hadn’t been suppressed by her irritation as she ordered a full English, Gisela pain au chocolat and I followed suit. Armando settled for a blueberry muffin.

‘Gone all continental have we Boulevardier?’ said Lil.

‘I ordered the same as Gisela,’ I said.

‘I thought it might be because you’re spending all that extra time closer to France – in Hastings,’ said Lil. Gisela and Armando sniggered. Lil was on fire and I hoped that we were bantering and joking. I decided to play along.

‘Val sends her regards Lil,’ I said.

‘Who?’ said Lil. She knew exactly who I meant.

‘Val, VG Lee,’ I answered and smiled directly at her.

‘Does she indeed. How very jolly of her…’ Lil compressed her lips in disapproval. I wasn’t done with her yet.

‘How are you getting on with her novel, you know, the one she signed for you.’

‘I’ve only read a couple of chapters and it’s annoyingly good,’ said Lil and cackled appropriately.

‘Is this conversation only for two people?’ asked Gisela.

‘Usually,’ said Armando.

I waved my white flag symbolically and lifted the enormous yet delicate teapot and filled the expectant cups with refreshing and pacifying fluid.

‘I guess I should be well-mannered and ask if you had a productive day with her?’ said Lil.

‘It was great thanks. Hard work as always but I’ve shortlisted the pieces I’m going to read at Polari Literary Salon at the Southbank next month.’

‘It’s not all mini-Battenbergs then?’ asked Lil with a little more banter in her tone.

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‘No, we did however have a cake break, and the best part of a couple of bottles of wine with dinner,’ I said and started to laugh. Armando started to laugh too but we were both stopped mid-titter.

‘Are you telling me that you went to Hastings to “work” and ended up getting drunk?  What a pair of bloody lushes,’ said Lil. I suspected friendly conversation had expired, which was confirmed when an enormous and earthquake-creating tut followed. Gisela’s tut echoed.

‘I’m disappointed Wayne. I wrote a couple of children’s books and you don’t ask me for advice,’ added Lil. Gisela and Armando were silent.

Breakfasts arrived which provided a welcome break in the conversation.

‘Come on Lil, that was in the 50s and Val is my friend too.’ Goodness Lil was ridiculously possessive sometimes and she’d sulked so much, and to the point of making me cross. I picked up my croissant and deliberately tore a corner dramatically and thrust it in my mouth and only then looked across the table.

Lil hadn’t picked up her knife and fork and looked a little watery around the eyes. I didn’t know why I’d let her rile me and mirrored in response. I assume it’s because I care and don’t like to upset her. However, I had to remember that she was an elderly lady who’d recently gone through some traumatic events.

‘Don’t let it get cold Lil. You’ll need your strength for next week’s celebrations,’ I said and reached over and put my hand across hers.

‘You remembered,’ Lil said and picked up her cutlery and started urgently slicing through a chunky pink rasher.

‘Yes, and don’t forget it’s a birthday picnic in the park,’ said Armando, ‘Gisela has promised some authentic kuchen.’

Gisela nodded and MMmm’ed through the chocolate centre of her pastry.

‘Is Filippe coming Armando?’ asked Lil.

‘Who’s Filippe?’ I asked.

‘Armando has a new fella Wayne. You shouldn’t miss Breakfast Club and you might not be out of date,’ sparred Lil.

She had a point.

‘No he can’t make it, he’s a-working,’ said Armando.

‘What does he do?’ I asked casually trying to subtlety bring myself up to speed.

‘He’s a window cleaner,’ answered Armando.

I nodded my support that Armando was moving on from Jason.

Gisela’s remaining piece of pastry was causing her some difficulty and ‘scheisse’ was declared as the chocolate shot out from the side of her mouth and into Lil’s cup.

This was to be a long Breakfast Club.

End of the Line – all change please

I was grateful it was Thursday and Breakfast Club, although with the volume of shenanigans which had already come to pass this week, we would probably need a Breakfast-Brunch-Lunch-Dinner Club to catch up fully.

For once it wasn’t Lil at the centre of all the activity. It had been so busy that I hadn’t spoken to her at all. I had planned to call and check in with her after Bill’s sudden departure but it hadn’t made it into pole position on my to-do list.

Michael had stayed with me all week. We usually spent Friday until Monday together but after the success of Santorini we wanted to spend a whole week together – a normal week, to see how we got on, and it was going pretty good thus far, but more on that later.

I’d had an emergency drink with Armando one evening due to some distressing events in his personal life.

My phone rang Tuesday morning. It was Armando calling which was unusual. I was fixated with a work report which was due and wasn’t perfected when the welcome interruption diverted me.

‘Oh Wayne it’s all gone a-wrong,’ said Armando as the call connected. It took a few seconds for my brain to move from sales planning to Armando. I didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t mentioned anything amiss at our last Breakfast Club and the café seemed to be doing OK, but his wouldn’t be the first commercial establishment to come and go within a couple of years in Crouch End; some only lasted a couple of months. I did not understand why there was such a high turnover in our little corner of North London as the area is affluent, and niche boutiques and endless cafes should thrive. I had heard rumours that rents were extortionate and it was by no means easy to make an acceptable living, but surely not our café. It was too much to bear thinking about and I’m not sure that Lil would take the news well.

‘I’m sorry Armando, what’s happened?’ I eventually managed to answer. I had a tendency to go off into my own dreamlike state and debate internally when all I needed to do was to ask the question.

‘I’ve had to finish my romance with Jason. Another failed attempt. Will I ever find my love?’ said Armando.

‘I am very sorry to hear that. I thought everything was going well, despite your clashing schedules.’

I was relieved – call me unfeeling if you like. While I was upset for Armando, after all he’s a lovely guy, I was glad it wasn’t the café. It’s become one of my regular haunts and a hub in my world, it would be such a shame to see it vanish. I reasoned that this was not entirely selfish as while Armando was upset, Jason was relatively new in his life, and the loss of the café would have incurred far greater and lasting consequences.

‘It was just that. It was such an effort to see each other between the café and his odd shifts. We were only able to see each other twice, and for a short time, in the last three weeks. It was destroying my heart…’ Armando stopped talking and I’m sure I heard a sobbing between breaths.

‘Do you want to meet up later for a drink?’ I asked.

It was agreed. We would meet at 6.30pm at our local pub. It wouldn’t impede on my time with Michael as he would be at college then in any event.

Armando was already seated at a booth table in the corner as I l searched for him at the bar. He looked pale, aside from his eyes which were red. He was nursing a pint of something. I ordered a double Sherry and some snacks and joined him.

Armando explained ‘My life feels like it’s slipping away. All I do is work, and I have no time for a real life.’ His eyes began to well up again. I reached over and gave his hands a consoling squeeze.

‘Jason didn’t have much time either. I think it was the combination of you both which made it difficult. You are a handsome, lovely man with a lot going for you.’

This didn’t help much and only succeeded in ensuring his tear ducts were in full working order. I took the opportunity to offer a wasabi pea or two. I’d ordered a small dish at the same time as my drink. They were not cheap either; long gone were the days of a packet of dry roasted peanuts. Although I’m sure some bright spark in marketing will bring packeted peanuts and pork scratchings back in the future, as a retro yet innovative ploy to secure customers.

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We chatted in a similar vein for an hour or so during which time I managed to consume two double Sherries to keep Armando’s two pints of cider company.

I was getting hungry. I couldn’t even remember lunch it was so long ago, and the wasabi peas barely filled a hole. Despite Armando’s protestations that he wasn’t hungry I persuaded him to come with me to our local Caribbean fusion restaurant. As we walked along Park Road I already knew what I was going to have; grilled tiger prawns with spicy mayonnaise to start, followed by jerk chicken with rice and peas and plantain. I would forgo pudding – it only being Tuesday.

Armando had a supper of cider as expected with a few kernels of popcorn which were gratis and placed on the tables in small plastic bowls. All I could do was listen and reassure him that I would support him as much as I could. I was surprised he called on me as I didn’t know him intimately. He’s such a nice guy I’m sure there are lots of people who’d queue to assist him in a crisis. Equally I was happy to be the shoulder to literally cry on. We hugged as we went our separate ways.

I hadn’t spoken to him since then, and ergo didn’t know what I would find when I opened the café door.

Lil and Armando were huddled at the table and didn’t notice my entry. There were two other members of Lil’s community flanking her; Gisela – and I could barely believe -Mavis. This week was turning into some type of alternative universe. Had I stepped through a mirror and not noticed it?

‘Ah there you are,’ said Lil once my presence was realised, ‘you’ll have to grab a chair from that table.’ She pointed at the adjacent and empty stall. I obeyed but was irritated to have been ousted from my usual position, by Gisela, and of all people, Mavis.

‘Too much tragedy,’ said Gisela wearing an empathetic expression.

‘You’ll find someone new, who actually deserves you Armando,’ said Mavis.

‘I’m not sure he’s ready for the “there are plenty more fish in the sea” speech Mavis,’ said Lil.

I held my breath.

‘Good point, well-made Lillian. You’re in the same boat. I still can’t believe what happened with Bill,’ said Mavis.

‘I need to get on with my life now, as do you Armando. It’s not a practice run,’ said Lil.

‘Good advice,’ said Gisela.

I’d walked into a mutual appreciation society and hadn’t even got a cup of tea yet. I raised my eyebrows and played with the cup handle hoping to issue forth a subtle hint.

‘Anyway, my dear, we’ll let you get on and see you this afternoon for the committee meeting. Bingo needs a new compere,’ said Mavis and with that she and Gisela got up. After farewells and their departure I moved into my usual seat.

‘I could die of thirst over here,’ I said with a forced smile.

‘So sorry Wayne, I’ll get a fresh pot. What do you want for breakfast?’ said Armando.

I’d meant to make a joke, not offend his hosting skills.

‘Thanks. Porridge with blueberries please – ’

‘And a full English for me please. I have to keep my strength up,’ interrupted Lil.

I wanted to share my news about Michael but it seemed insensitive alongside everyone else’s current romantic adventures, or lack thereof.

‘When did you and Mavis become close Lil?’ I asked.

‘We’ve known each other for years, and yes she can be a nosey busybody but she’s been very supportive the last couple of weeks. Gisela said she’d noticed a vast improvement too,’ said Lil.

I hoped it was genuine but I’d never been sure of Mavis. I wondered whether she simply enjoyed wallowing in other people’s misery.

‘Have you heard from Bill?’ I asked tentatively.

‘No. I don’t think it would be right at the moment either. I need some space from the whole Bill situation. How are things with you and Michael?’ asked Lil.

I didn’t have a choice now and I was bursting to fill them in.

‘Great – but I feel a little insensitive talking about it at the moment with you guys,’ I answered.

Armando shrugged.

‘It would be lovely to hear some positive news about a good relationship right now,’ said Lil.

Breakfasts arrived. I noticed that Armando wasn’t eating again. He poured another tea for Lil and me and an espresso was deposited in front of him.

Lil set to work as always, buttering her toast first and then delicately peeling back the skin of the yoke on her fried egg, before she launched into carving the bacon.

I took a mouthful of porridge and continued, ‘He’s staying at mine all this week. We’re having a trial week, when we have to go to work and live our normal lives.’

Lil started shaking with laughter and I thought she was going to spray her recently inserted bacon over us. ‘A trial week. It’s not try before you buy Wayne,’ she bantered.

‘We are forty-something men and to be honest a little set in our ways so it’s a sensible approach and it has been great,’ I said.

I took another mouthful of porridge and eyed my fellow breakfasters staring at me, urging me to continue. I thought I’d lighten the mood rather than descend into slush.  ‘I’ve been reading some Barbara Pym lately, and laughed at her middle-aged characters, usually women, who get in a tizzy when the vicar makes an unannounced visit and they feel obliged to miraculously come up with something other than the bread and butter they’d planned for their own supper, or wonder when they’ll get a chance to finish the novel they’d planned to read that evening.’

‘I’m not sure that type have trial weeks Boulevardier,’ said Lil.

‘Thank you, and if you’d let me continue…  Well I was in the kitchen yesterday and noticed that the bin was full and it was Wednesday. I only change the bag once a week, and on a Monday. I was irritated. After a few huffs, one of which was fixed directly at Michael, it dawned on me that I was being as silly as a character in the Pym novel.’

Excellent women

‘Ha, you bloody silly sod. It’s only a bleeding bin bag.’ Fortunately Lil didn’t have any food in her mouth as she exploded with laughter.

‘I know, I know. It’s getting used to someone else being around. But it’s nice that he’s there and we’re existing well together. Don’t even get me started on the number of times the dishwasher has been on.’ I smiled hoping I’d added additional jollity to our rapport.

Armando put down his empty coffee cup and got up, ‘I need to check on the kitchens.’

There was a pause in the conversation and I felt uncomfortable. I trusted I hadn’t got overexcited and overdone the stories.

‘I told you Lil. It’s insensitive. Armando and I met up for a drink during the week and he is upset.’

‘Interesting,’ said Lil with a sage expression.

‘Why is that interesting?’ I asked.

‘Yes he is upset, but dealing with it. He mentioned the wonderful evening you had together. I think he’s taken a shine to you Boulevardier.’

‘Don’t be silly Lil. We’ve been friends for ages,’ I answered. But had we? We didn’t know each other that well. He knew I had Michael. I hoped she was wrong.