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.

 

 

 

 

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Revolving Relationships

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a Halloween party – last year I was dressed as a gothic vampire with slicked-back hair drinking blood-coloured cocktails, with Michael dressed as a ghost. However, the persistent popping of bangers outside in the streets and the relentless flow of premature Trick-or-treaters is wearisome. My living space is at the back of the apartment and I can therefore appear not at home, which is a saving grace. Goodness only knows what it’s like for our senior residents, but as it was Thursday I’m sure I was about to hear.

I dressed very anti-Halloween in a Madonna T shirt, and after adding a light jacket, I made my way to the café.

Lil was already sitting at our table with Gisela. Their teacups were already three-quarters empty and I therefore surmised they’d been in residence for a while.

‘Trick or treat?’ I asked as I greeted them. Lil backed away from my affection.

‘Don’t you fu-…’

‘I mean don’t start all that bloody nonsense Wayne. I’ve had enough of it already,’ said Lil after making us blush at her first stunted repost, containing additional colourful language I hadn’t heard from her before.

‘The noise of the banging, and into the night. Don’t the parents make the children come into the home at a reasonable hour?’ asked Gisela.

I poured myself a cup of stewed tea, and nodded to Armando behind the counter.

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‘Standards have slipped. In my day you’ve have got a clip around the ear for such behaviour, and not just from your family. Most of the community had licence to do so. And respect for your elders reigned,’ said Lil.

Gisela tutted and added, ‘same in Deutschland.’

‘Marty says that at our age we’re lucky to get any banging,’ said Lil and started cackling.

‘Excuse me,’ said Gisela as she got up and moved towards the ladies.

Lil tutted.

‘Everything OK with Gisela?’ asked Armando as he joined us armed with a fresh pot of Assam.

‘She’s not happy that Marty has stayed over. She said it’s not very ladylike.’ Lil pursed her lips. I was shocked.

‘I had no idea your relationship had progressed,’ I said trying to keep a judgemental tone from my words.

‘Don’t you start too Wayne,’ said Lil.

‘What about Bill?’ I asked. Armando put his hand firmly on my arm which I took as an indicator that I was overstepping boundaries.

‘He’s not here and life goes on,’ said Lil starting to look a little teary.

‘We don’t want you to get hurt,’ said Armando just as Gisela returned from the bathroom closely followed by our waitress.

‘Full English please,’ said Lil.

‘I’ve a strange request and wondered whether henceforth you’d consider having scrambled eggs Lil,’ I asked.

‘Errr why? I like a nice runny fried egg,’ said Lil.

‘It’s my mum – ’

‘What’s it got to do with her?’

‘She reads my blog and hearing about runny yolks makes her feel queasy.’

‘I’ve nothing against your mother, I’ve never met the woman, but no. Why don’t you stop writing about it?’

‘A key part of Breakfast Club is breakfast.’

‘In that case, I’ll have an extra runny egg please Judith.’ Lil let out an explosive laugh as she delivered this last line. I’m afraid Mum is going to have to stiffen her upper lip and endure trickling yellow centres.

I ordered porridge with blueberries, Gisela a pain au chocolat and Armando an orange muffin.

‘Think of all the non-meat eaters you offend Boulevardier with your vegetarian breakfast and a pork sausage on the side eh,’ said Lil. Everyone giggled. Lil was on point with her sharp banter today. I suspect it was to keep the discussion away from her and Marty. She must realise he wasn’t as rosy as she painted him. I couldn’t see the appeal.

‘Have you seen Mavis this week?’ I asked.

‘Goodness please don’t mention her,’ said Gisela firmly.

‘Yes I saw that quarrelsome cow on Tuesday at Age Club,’ said Lil ignoring Gisela’s protestations.

‘Oh no, not more arguments,’ said Armando.

Lil pursed her lips and demurely picked up her teacup.

‘She can not help herself Armando. She is snide and I will not be walked over.’

‘Dare I ask what happened?’ I enquired.

‘Yes you may. She was standing with her gaggle of followers when I arrived. I smiled vaguely and walked towards Gisela and the tea urn. As I passed I heard Mavis say that it was unfortunate that some people take Marty too seriously and try to tame him. And what’s more, apparently he’s interested in anything in a skirt. I honestly did think twice Wayne whether to ignore her and carry on but I couldn’t. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned and said to her that he wasn’t interested in her and her polyester trousers and added that if I had her legs I’d wear long pants too. Her followers didn’t know where to look. She added something but I had spun on my heels and reassumed my victory step to Gisela. She hurled something further but I only heard the ‘Lillian’ at the end. There was no tittering from her posse. They know better than to get involved.’

‘What is it with you two?’ asked Armando.

‘History, dear boy.’ And before we could press further, breakfasts arrived. One day I was determined to find out their history. They sparred at the slightest crossing of words, but when the chips were down, had each other’s backs. It was as if there was a blood bond. Were they related? I didn’t ask.

‘Judith,’ Lil called after the waitress, ‘I asked for a runny egg and this is solid.’

‘Oh gawd,’ said Armando under his breath.

‘Sorry I thought you said not runny, let me change it,’ said Judith and started to remove the plate.

‘No, no I’m too hungry to wait,’ said Lil holding onto her plate for dear life.

I sat back and watched Lil tug-o-war, and report battles, as I stirred the blueberries into my steaming porridge.

‘Sorry Lil, you sure you don’t want me to change?’ asked Armando.

‘No it’s fine. At least it will keep Wayne’s mum happy for today. Every cloud and all that,’ said Lil as she sliced a segment of white and pushed it against a mushroom, lifted her fork and masticated.

‘How’s your Brazilian?’ asked Gisela.

‘Gone,’ said Armando. Our cutlery clanked simultaneously on the table and all eyes fell on Armando.

‘It’s fine. It wasn’t working. Dating is too much effort at the moment. I’m going to focus on the café and see what comes along.’

‘Good plan,’ said Lil and returned her knife and fork to her respective hands.

‘Quatsch,’ exclaimed Gisela as a blob of chocolate escaped from her pastry onto her lap.

‘I don’t know why you eat those things Gisela, you always get in a mess,’ said Lil.

‘I don’t, thank you. They are delicious but dangerous.’

Lil huffed as she thrust a corner of toast into her mouth.

We all jumped, as a banger exploded right outside the café followed by a stampede of youth.

‘Bloody hell – Why oh why is half-term the same time as banger season,’ said Lil.

‘Don’t worry, it’ll be bonfire night next week,’ I said.

‘Don’t just don’t,’ said Lil waggling her finger in my direction. She rested her napkin on the table after daubing the corners of her mouth. ‘Perhaps we should have a little Sherry to settle our nerves,’ she added.

‘Didn’t you have enough of that at the funeral?’ asked Armando.

‘You can never have enough Sherry,’ said Lil as she extracted a new bottle of Bristol Cream from her trolley. ‘Got any glasses Armando?’

I have to say I agree with her last pronouncement and felt quite decadent sipping Sherry at 11am. The only improvement I would suggest would be to have Oloroso. I prefer its dark chocolate taste.

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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.