In the bathtub

Our horribly temperamental boiler has been up to it’s old tricks again. It’s making banging sounds in the dead of night. It’s like sharing our loft with a sadistic poltergeist who gets his kicks from rationing our hot water. So on Monday Guido had what he thought was a really terrific idea. We’d start sharing our baths until we booked U-benders Plumbing back in.

It certainly proved to be one of his more insane suggestions.

When I fill a bath I flick out the lights, burn a scented candle and switch on a relaxation CD which sounds just like waves lapping on a beach in Barbados. If I shut my eyes I can imagine I’m swimming with dolphins. Unfortunately it’s when I re-open them again I discover I’m actually doing the breastroke in a chipped metal bath in Bermondsey.

Guido’s approach to bathing is polar opposite. He jumps in with a bar of cheap soap and a old flannel and then he leaps straight out again. That particular tsunami spills a shed load of water all over the floor. If you go in after he’s come out you’d best take your flippers.

“I like my bath to resemble an extra hot and steaming cappuccino,” I said, “warm and milky underneath with a comforting coating of froth on top.”

“I know you do,” said Guido, “but I prefer my bath to resemble, well, a bath. Nice and wet and full of water and not a single trace of a mud face pack floating on it.”

He doesn’t exfoliate anything like I do.

“Okay here’s how it’ll work,” said Guido, “we’ll both strip off then, as you’re smaller than me, you’ll climb in first. I’ll lower myself into whatever space is left whilst you distract the poltergeist by turning on the taps. Oh and while you’re down there, soap my loofah would you?”

It was an offer no husband could realistically refuse.

I slid naked into the empty tub whilst Guido began a very weird nude balancing act. He placed both of his elbows on each side of the bath. Then he pressed his huge feet onto the tiles behind my head. He looked like he was levitating above me. Which is more than I can say for the hairy vital statistics hanging ominously between his legs. If he moved they started to swing hypnotically from left to right. Though I was worried that when they eventually hit the water they’d projectile towards me like a couple of rogue scud missiles. They could’ve taken one of me eyes out.

“Quick, turn on the water,” said Guido, “I’m not sure how long I can keep this up.”

I twisted the left tap. I twisted the right tap. Water from both was stone cold. As it gushed past my chest I suddenly realised how Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet must have felt when the Titanic hull got breached. Let’s just say there were definitely no Dolphins. In fact the last thing I can remember yelling was – call a priest.

Later, as I lay corpse like on our bed shivering, Guido said that he’d once seen Bear Grylls say on TV that the best thing to do for someone suffering from hypothermia was to rub the victim very vigorously.

Well, I thought, it was the least Guido could do.

Charles Aznavour and me

Now that I’m married to Guido I’ve been toying with the idea of changing my surname.

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” said Guido in bed last night, “what on earth do you want to do that for?”

My surname is Smith. It’s not exactly the most exciting surname in the world and his is Vasquez, which sounds more, well, exotic.

“Ok, I could double barrel it and call myself Jean dash Paul Smith dash Vasquez,” I said. There was a moment’s silence as that grammatical option sank in for both of us.

“How could any normal person possibly go through their day to day life and still manage to keep up with all of those dashes?” said Guido. And for once he made perfect sense.

I’m also a person with an eye for aesthetics so the longer I pondered it the more I thought it would look odd without another dash strategically placed somewhere in between the Paul and the Smith too. That would mean three dashes between just four names and in my opinion it was beginning to verge on overload on the hyphen front.

“Like I said,” I said, “I could cut to the chase and just drop the Smith altogether and fully embrace the Vasquez.”

At that point Guido switched off the lamp and did that thing where he pretends to instantly go to sleep.

Here’s an interesting fact you don’t know about Guido. His middle name is Guillermo. His mother told me that when he was a baby what she really wanted was to call him Guido Geronimo Vasquez. Not surprisingly his father put his foot down.  I assume he didn’t want his son being mistaken for an Apache. Though apparently Geronimo originates from a very rare Italian form of Jerome. As you can see his mother has a terrific sense of humor, though I have to say I’m somewhat relieved his parents didn’t split their differences and call him Sitting Bull instead.

On this blog I call my mother Cruella. She isn’t really called Cruella. She doesn’t have hair the colour of a skunk and she doesn’t wear a Dalmatian fur coat. Though she does have very bright red lips and she has been known to smoke using a long cigarette holder. But she definitely does act like someone who could be called Cruella Smith or possibly even Cyanide Smith. Her name is Catherine but sometime around about 1974 she started calling herself Cookie. The name Cookie evokes something sweet and syrupy and melting, and trust me, the Cookie Smith I know is none of those things.

“Why Jean-Paul?” I once asked my mother inquisitively when I was much younger.

“Just before I met your father,” she said, “I had a torrid affair with a small Frenchman who looked just like Charles Aznavour.”

Knowing my mother he could actually have been Charles Aznavour. I’m not sure if the particular Frenchman she had the torrid affair with could sing but let’s just say every time she hears the song, She, Cookie comes over all peculiar. The worrying thing is, from a certain angle I share a passing resemblance to a younger version of Charles Aznavour. We do both have very bushy eye-brows and big noses.

I lay in bed in the dark thinking. Jean-Paul Aznavour. It does have a certain ring to it.

The drawing board

When Guido and I arrived home from Spain last weekend I sat for a moment silently staring around our tiny loft above the café. After a week of Mediterranean sun, open countryside, and sea air, all I could see were red topped London buses dizzily whizzing past our first floor window and an apartment stuffed with the detritus of life. Let me re-phrase that last sentence. All I could see was an apartment stuffed with the detritus of Guido’s life.

Propped up against the back door was Guido’s mountain bike, two broken pumps, muddy running shoes, a ripped chef’s torque hat, weeks of unread copies of the Sunday Times newspaper and a precariously stacked bundle of twenty French cookbooks. They’re printed in French. Despite being unable to actually speak French, Guido remains undaunted. In fact he’ll often pick one out at random and casually thumb through it excitedly in our bed at night. Then drool. It’s what’s they call food porn. Though it’s a little depressing knowing that whilst I lie as seductively as I possibly can next to him, my husband is still more interested in coq au vin.

When we were abroad my architect friend Ruben left a message on our ansaphone. He offered me his old drawing board. I’ve often fantasied about sketching on a proper architect’s drawing board at home, but we’ve never had the space.

“We haven’t got the space,” said Guido when I told him.

“You could padlock your mountain bike downstairs in the courtyard,” I said.

“Well I hope that’s not being written into your blog,” said Guido frowning, “you never know who reads that. On the face of it your readers may appear to be the sort of people who enjoy hearing all about the exciting adventures of two gay men living in South London, but for all you know they could turn out to be unscrupulous locals with big chain cutters.”

I very much doubt the criminal element of Bermondsey wait with baited breath for my next post. But if they do, and they can keep their thieving hands off Guido’s bike, then I’d be more than happy to offer them a vintage copy of, Entertaining Parisian Style. It’s a bit tattered so I’d throw in a couple of second hand bicycle pumps if anyone’s interested?  The offer’s on the table.

On Sunday, the board and paper arrived and battle lines were drawn before even one sketch took place.

On Monday night when I got home Guido had inexplicably scrawled U-BENDERS on it, which turned out to be the name and telephone number of an emergency plumber. Trust me, you don’t want to know.

On Tuesday night when I got home he’d scribbled the words GONE TO FOOTBALL THERE’S AN ENCHILADA IN THE FRIDGE IF YOU’RE INTERESTED? at the bottom corner. Just for the record, I was interested.

Last night when I got home he’d drawn a huge smiley face slap bang in the middle of the board. Underneath he’d written DON’T WORRY I’VE REMEMDERED THE VANILLA CUSTARD FOR FRIDAY NIGHT! Given our history with mayo I predict a very interesting weekend ahead.

But does Guido really think I’m so naïve that I’d consider ditching my drawing board space for his bike just because he’s now promising to drive me insane with uncontrollable desires and passionate urges connected with runny custard?

Yes.

Wild capers

Guido and I have been staying with his Uncle Gustave. His property is just outside Puerto Pollenca. It’s a gorgeous old stone farmhouse with a big dusty yard with chickens roaming around, and one very serious and anxious looking turkey who clucks a lot. Let’s just say you’d cluck a lot too if you were a turkey and it was just over three months til Christmas.

Once I’d turned up at the celebrations for Cousin Carlos (with the two left feet), Uncle Gustave decided to take me under his wing. I think it was something to do with the fact that I insisted on wearing my Vivienne Westwood suit to the party. It’s bright, it’s red, and it’s a big plaid tartan. But it’s more than that. It’s made of wool, it was thirty one degrees in the shade, and I was sweating like a hog. Is your new husband, Uncle Gustave asked Guido tentatively, a lunatic? Well, yes but I do feel now we’re related everyone should know I’m a complete basket case. Anyway, late on Saturday night Uncle Gustave decided to step in. With the help of Google translate and a lot of hand waving he told me he was going to take me out on one of his infamous hunting trips.

Much later in bed, as I listened to Guido’s deafening snoring, two important thoughts kept whirring around my brain:

1. This bedroom would look so much better with a Ralph Lauren throw and matching lamps, and;

2. Had Uncle Gustave ever seen the movie, Deliverance? It could explain why his turkey looked like he was constantly on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.

So bright and early with sun up at seven a.m. the following morning I heard a rat tat tat on our bedroom window. It was Uncle Gustave’s bony old knuckle. Guido was still completely unconscious when I left so thankfully he was blissfully unaware that I was climbing onto the back of a clapped out old scooter with an arthritic octogenarian and a completely null and void travel insurance policy.

“Rapido!” waved Uncle Gustave, “Rapido!” What will be will be, I thought. I’m not religious but I said a brief prayer.

Of course I needn’t have worried about killing anything, or shooting my foot. Our “hunt” involved a pair of rusty and blunt old scissors and a half dozen wild caper bushes. They were just where you’d least expect to find them. A tumble down bridge, a deserted finca, a fountain in a local square and Uncle Gustave’s neighbour Rita – with the bell tower. Ring a ding.

But who’d have thought that he’d be to salted pickling vegetables what I am to saving South London from random and thoughtless wall papering?

In the yard tonight Guido wrapped freshly caught hake, garlic butter, and a sprinkling of capers in foil. He set it over hot coals on the bar-b-q. Then, after dinner, I happily listened to him and Gustave talking Spanish. Every so often Guido would take his uncle’s hand, or they would gently embrace, or they’d just raise their wine glasses in a knowing toast.

Watching them gave me that warm tingling feeling. The one that makes you feel everything is good in the world. And that if only once in our lives, everyone could get the chance to go hunting with someone just like Uncle Gustave.

Real men wear Speedos

Guido’s cousin, Carlos (With The Feet), is twenty one years old next week. On Friday we fly to Palma for a big family celebration and I’m already bracing myself.

Every time I meet Guido’s Spanish relatives they sound like they’re speaking Klingon. It’s very disconcerting unless you happen to be James T Kirk. On my first trip there Guido told me that if I was ever in any doubt about what to say to anybody I should simply smile and repeat the following sentence over and over. Esta tiene un sabor muy bueno!  To readers unfamiliar with the Spanish language that means, this tastes very good! Which is all very well until you find yourself in a room full of Klingons but no tapas.

So in this lull before the storm I feel a little bit like the NASA guy who sits in Cape Canaveral moments before lift off. He’s the one with the headphones pointing at the big electronic tracking screen shouting, “T Minus Blah Blah Blah” and “Ground Control to Major Tom – We’re Good To Go.”

Well here on the launch pad in South London, although the countdown has begun, we’re still stuck on amber. I’m not sure Buzz Aldrin ever had trouble with his Speedos, but the pair I removed from my closet last night to pack for the beach just won’t fit. Somehow I’ve gotten too big. And you can read into that whatever you please.

“I’ve told you a million times already,” said Guido dipping his finger into the peanut butter jar, “you’re too big, they’re too tight.”

I looked down at the piece of cloth stubbornly stretched mid-way between my knees and my thighs. Where there’s a will there’s usually a way yet clearly there wasn’t a way that wasn’t going to involve lubricant and a shoehorn. The question, does my bum look big in this, loomed large in the room.

“But,” said Guido licking his finger slowly, “what I’m looking at is still aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.”

Houston, as they say at NASA, we have a problem. I honestly didn’t think I’d gotten any bigger myself. The Speedos must have shrunk.

“We may have to go to Plan B,” said Guido raising an eyebrow. He had a worrying sparkle in his eye.

I knew what was coming. And be afraid people. Be very afraid.

There’s a beach in southern Majorca called Es Trenc. Let’s just say clothing requirements are kept to a complete minimum there and when I say a complete minimum what I really mean is, it’s optional. The last time Guido and I went to Es Trec we were the only people on the whole stretch who had any clothes on. Unfortunately we ended up on sunbeds right next to a German couple who insisted on paying ping pong on the sand all afternoon. It’s hard to convey in words of one syllable what I saw that day. Lifeguards should’ve issued us with a warning. Something like – this ping pong game contains scenes of a graphic nature and may be injurious to health. Wear a helmet.

So today I played it safe and bought a replacement pair of Speedos. They make me look super slim. I managed to get in them and Guido’s already managed to get me out of them.

We have ignition. As they say at NASA.

 

Brainwave in Bermondsey

I was reading an interesting article on-line in New York Magazine last week. It said that neuroscientists had scanned Sting’s brain. It certainly got me thinking.

“I wonder what they saw?” I said to Guido as I coiled a piece of his super rich and creamy spaghetti sauce around my fork at dinner tonight.

Here’s another one of my insider tips for you guys on the spaghetti front. Guido fries his lardons first until they’re really crispy, whisks and tosses free-range egg yolk into the hot pasta and then, lastly, parmesan – the cheese is sliced. I defy you not to grate it.

“I expect they saw Fields Of Gold,” said Guido cracking black pepper liberally without a hint of sarcasm.

There was a point to Sting’s brain being scanned, it wasn’t just some random cranial nose around. It was to do with trying to identify what creativity looked like.

“I reckon neuroscientists might be interested in screwing open my head to take a look inside my brain,” I said, “I think it could possibly be one of the more complex specimens they’ll ever come across.”

Helping progress medical science has always been something of an ambition of mine. Though, as someone who blogs about his worrying addiction to sausage, I realise this may not be something regular readers will instantly associate me with.

“It would be good to understand what goes on up there,” said Guido tapping my temple, “and it would help a lot to know what you’re really made of.”

As a child I always hated that old nursery rhyme. You know the one where, in a politically incorrect universe, idiots used to tell boys they were created from slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails. Needless to say growing up with a highly developed interest in soft furnishings, scatter cushions, and an unhealthy appreciation of Mary Tyler Moore, I couldn’t exactly relate.

“What do you mean, really, made of?” I asked. He was making me sound like a dummy.

“I’ve got this weird image of what I’d see,” said Guido, “and I think it might look a bit like the contents of this bowl of pasta.”

I looked at the half eaten remnants of his dinner which was gooey and glutenous and messy. I truly got where he was coming from. I tried to imagine my head cavity packed full of carbonara sauce and, honestly, I quite liked the idea. I could certainly think of worse things to find. Like angst and guilt and randomly obsessive thoughts about hefty slices of Boston baked cheesecake for breakfast.

“I think it’s probably just as well you can’t,” I said, “see what I am thinking right at this second.”

I have to tell you it’s pretty awkward when graphic thoughts of Guido’s hairy thighs flash before my eyes when I’m absolutely least expecting it. Let’s just say I’m not sure what the neuroscientists would make of it.

“What do you think they’d see in my head?” said Guido. That was a tough call. I didn’t want to jump straight in with cliches. But obviously, I couldn’t resist.

“Well,” I said, “off the top of my head? A fixation with aubergine pesto, strong signs of Latino madness, and a general dislike of Nigella Lawson recipes.”

I’m pretty confident Sting’s brain couldn’t compete in any way whatsoever. I don’t care what the doctors say.

Tale of the unexpected

Unlike Guido, I love the unpredictability of life.

“If you had three minutes left to live and someone said you had to make a choice between eating mayonnaise or salad cream,” said Guido chewing on a salami in our bed last night, “which would you pick?”

Well of course that would depend where and on what it’s being spread. Not to mention who’s doing the spreading. But let’s just be completely clear, if I’d three minutes left to live I seriously doubt I’d be sharing them with a lettuce.

“I’m not that fussy,” I said, “as you know I’ll happily squirt anything.”

I pinched my nose to avoid the overpowering scent of garlic emanating from Guido’s breath.

“And I do like surprises,” I said, ever the hopeful.

I know what you’re thinking. Levels of excitement in my life must fluctuate wildly as I appear to now be getting my kicks from discussing condiments. My mother, Cruella, could possibly call this – the insanity of marital domesticity. I never listen to her advice though I can see her logic. I think it probably explains why she started drinking large volumes of gin and dates very young men.

Guido’s the only person I know who doesn’t like surprises. In fact he doesn’t like anything being sprung on him and I’m not just talking about salad dressing options.

“I hate surprises,” said Guido. “if I was about to nibble a tortilla but it turned out to be an omelette, I would not be amused.” There was a long silence. “Just saying.”

This is the same guy who once freaked out over a clam chowder cooked with mussels. What can I tell you.

“The thing is,” said Guido, “I’ve always known what I’ve wanted in life. So I’ve never considered alternatives along the way.”

Goodness was it just me or was this conversation getting deep. Weren’t we just innocently talking about mayonnaise? What next, how to achieve world peace? As far as I was concerned we hadn’t even exhausted the possibilities surrounding Thousand Island or Calorie Reduced Blue Cheese yet.

I thought about life choices I’ve made in the past. I winced. Clearly the majority weren’t part of my masterplan. Of course that wasn’t strictly true. When I met Guido in the cafe for the first time and he was happily stuffing my ciabatta I instinctively knew I craved a big hairy Spaniard. Especially, as it turned out, he had a curious obsession with sausage. I mean honestly, what’s not to love?

After Gudio switched out the lamp we cuddled up under the blanket like we always do. Predictability felt pretty good after all.

“How do you feel about a trip to Majorca?” Guido said totally surprising me. He rested his chin on my shoulder. “My cousin, Fernando With The Big Hair, emailed me. He’s throwing a surprise birthday party for his son, Carlos With The Big Feet. It’s in September. We’ve been invited.”

I opened my eyes. This surprise was getting better by the minute.

“My parents will cover the cafe whilst we’re away, so I’ve said we’ll be there. Just try not to stare at his big feet.”

I love big feet. I especially like licking Guido’s toes which taste equally good whether they’ve been dipped in mayonnaise or salad cream. As you now know, I’m really not that fussy.