Full frontal

I am using this blog to offer a public apology to a woman who was sitting on the upper deck of a London bus last night. I hope she wasn’t too traumatised by what she witnessed and that the memory will slowly and permanently fade from her mind. If not, I think she’ll sue.

I should explain.

Our apartment above The Spanish Onion Cafe is one story up a flight of stairs and has windows which look right out onto the busy street below. There are cars and buses and very determined people who walk very fast carrying brief cases and satchels who get on those buses. Did I mention buses? They honk and they hoot and their engines shudder but like every other white noise in a big city you just get used to it. In fact you forget they’re even there or that they pass parallel to our lounge window to a strict timetable. You could probably even set your watch. Contrary to what you’re thinking this is not a review for London transport.

I should also explain my husband Guido has never had a fear of being seen naked. I think it’s a European thing. In Spain the people there let everything hang out. But over here in England it’s cold and wet and explains why I’m all buttoned up – metaphorically speaking. Well let’s just say I think that woman on the bus last night was wishing Guido had been zipped up too – and I’m not metaphorically speaking.

My husband watches TV in his boxers but sleeps in the nude. Occasionally he’ll take all his clothes off on the journey between the sofa and our bed yet inexplicably get distracted by something en route between the two. Like washing the dinner dishes or pumping up the back tyre of his mountain bike stark naked. I’m not complaining because it elevates what could be mundane domestic activities to a new and hugely entertaining level. Well, there’s nothing quite like it on Netflix and I like my thrills cheap.

“The roller blind looks wonky,” I said. We were both on the sofa.  I was laying down after a good lasagna. “It’s unhinged,” I said.

Like a lot of things around here.

“Yeah,” said Guido, “It needs 2 mins with my power tool.”

There’s nothing like a good drilling on a chilly Saturday night, and, Guido’s boxer shorts were already half way down so he’d pricked my interest. He got up and balanced one leg precariously on the arm of our chesterfield. A feeling of impending nudity swept over me.

“I’ll try a good jerk,” said Guido as he pulled hard on the cord.

There was a predictable – TWANG! – as the curtain hook screws sprang from the plaster, which fell at exactly the same moment as my husband’s shorts. And you see, it was then that the bus stopped right next to the window and a woman on the top deck slowly, and innocently, turned her head inward to our home.

It’s hard to describe the exact expression on her face. Eyes widened, jaw dropped, a mouth opened. There was shock and a whole lot of awe. It was like the porn version of the “Eleven O’clock Diet Coke Break.”

So, whoever you were, I’m sorry.

Guido, on the other hand, reckons you’ll be back tonight.

Three men and a jockstrap

Readers of a nervous disposition are warned that the following text contains a description of three men (one currently unknown) a discarded jockstrap, and a bacon sandwich. However, to those readers who are emotionally stable and who have been actively trawling the internet in the hope of one day finally finding a blog post about three men (one now going commando), dodgy knicker elastic, and, a pork rasher – then please read excitedly on…

But first, indulge me for a moment. Let me draw your eyes up above the front door of The Spanish Onion Cafe. There hangs, appropriately, a Spanish onion. It’s made of hard plastic, about three times the size of a soccer ball and it’s swung contentedly there on a chain since 1974. Guido’s father still unhooks it periodically to lovingly rinse it with car shampoo. The reason I’m telling you about the onion is because there is now an indefatigable link to it and the amazing objects members of the public choose to discard on a London street.

In Bermondsey I’ve come to expect the unsolicited beer bottle, cigarette packet, rolled up copy of Metro Newspaper, or shoe even, into our window boxes. So please picture the cafe door swinging open this morning and a very excited pedestrian shouting loudly – “Has anyone lost a jockstrap?” It’s certainly not the sort of random question you want to be bothered considering whilst quietly enjoying a crispy bacon sandwich on rustic bread with a generous squirt of ketchup. It is, however, if you’ve ever lived in Bermondsey, the sort of question you should never be surprised you’re being asked.

A hush descended. Another customer dropped a knife on a plate. Someone politely coughed. The bald guy opposite me drinking a latte suspiciously felt his crotch. Our new waitress Brenda, showing an unhealthy sign of interest in jockstraps, went outside to investigate. Brenda has quickly made herself indispensable. Brenda doesn’t actually call herself Brenda, she insists we all call her Barbarella because she thinks this sounds more exotic. Which of course it does. However, although she wears tight faux leather clothing and stiletto boots that’s where any resemblance to Jane Fonda in outer space ends – but she can carry two espressos and a plate of hot soup simultaneously; so who am I to judge?

Once back inside Barbarella covertly leaned over my sandwich, which momentarily disappeared into her cleavage.

“Sweetheart, brace yourself,” she said surreptitiously out of the corner her mouth, “there’s a jockstrap hanging from your onion.”

I stopped chewing. The bald guy opposite felt his crotch again.

I fetched Guido out of the kitchen and onto the pavement and both of us looked up. The soggy jockstrap looked grey and limp like it had been on one too many fast spin cycles and the elastic had decided to give up all hope of future support.

“I wonder where that came from?” I said squinting.

Guido looked at me like I was an idiot.

“Well you’ll have to get up there and pull it down pronto,” said Guido, “I’m busy with three full English breakfasts and an egg Florentine to go.”

Honestly he’s always got an excuse.

Later, Barbarella suggested we post a sign in the cafe widow –


Apparently, she has a foolproof way of ensuring underwear is always re-united with its rightful owner. Like I said, she’s indispensable.

Love is in the air

I left a random comment on my friend Blobby’s blog about a month ago. In it I described how I’d been in a cafe in North London minding my own business, but had slowly become aware of a man and a woman seated behind me. Both of them were talking loud enough to be overheard. I won’t bore you with the exact details of their diatribe but their views were that homosexuality was a shameful abomination. It absolutely shocked me. Yet what had made me particularly mad about that day was not, ironically, the man and the woman. It had been my own reaction. I was so furious with myself that I hadn’t been able to confront them with a cutting or biting or witty or sarcastic put down. Instead, I’d just gotten up and walked right out into the street with a cold coffee and a half eaten cookie. And then I’d fumed about what I should have said all day long.

Needless to say when I got home Guido put things, as he always does, in complete perspective.

“What does it matter what these sort people think? They’re a dying breed.”

He was tossing a mixed salad at the time and I’ve never realised how leaves in a mustard dressing could be so hypnotically therapeutic.

“It’s who loves us and how we show love back that’s important. Forget all about their hate because the only person who’ll feel bad about it – is you.”

He was right.

Fast forward to yesterday when Guido’s father celebrated his 70th birthday. It was time to show him the love. Inexplicably my mother, Cruella, had actually called me to say she thought it would be a terrific idea if she and my father threw Juan a surprise party. Honestly, ever since my parents remarried my mother’s been acting like a Stepford Wife resident. She’s either had a personality transplant without telling me or is having a hell of a lot of sex. But let’s not go there.

Anyway of course the idea ended up with Guido catering and tables set and candles lit in the courtyard at The Spanish Onion. There were lots of Juan’s friends at the party I’ve never even had the opportunity to introduce readers to; other you’d have known. Guido’s mother, Rosa, sang an interesting version of happy birthday in the style of a Hispanic Marilyn Monroe. My parents were embarrassingly loved up. The Twins (remember them?) were back from an ashram in India. They’d both shaved their heads so it was still impossible to tell which was which. My artist friend Elton turned up. His latest show is proving a blockbuster. Marc introduced us to his new Portuguese boyfriend, and I have to say both were positively glowing. Fingers tightly crossed; I’m hopefully optimistic. Ethel and Bethany from the laundromat next door brought some of their lethal homemade hooch and later, Gary finally flew in. Brian wagged his tail.

When it got dark I went back into the kitchen to get some more candles and cold wine, and after a moment or two I glanced out of the open window because the most wonderful sound seemed to be wafting though the air. It’s hard to describe it in words but let’s just call it; love.

And I’ll choose that over hate every time.

Vote, Jean-Paul!

It’s times like this, where there are no obvious political leaders across the political divide, that desperate times call for desperate measures.  It’s why I’m now stepping up and offering my services to take over the running of my country.

I realise this will probably involve getting up out of bed before 8 am on weekdays, and limiting myself to one and a half bottles of wine a night, but if Churchill could do it then so can I. For the sake of a prosperous future I’m prepared to make any reasonable sacrifice – as long as there’s a big official car and unlimited access to business class air travel. Hey, I’m not a complete idiot.

So here follows my 10 point, though in no particular order of importance or implementation, election pledge:

1. Free maple syrup for all citizens. This will develop strong economic links with the people of Canada. This is a good thing as I’ve never met a Canadian I haven’t liked.

2. Men with beards will proceed straight to the head of any bus queue. This is in recognition of their selfless devotion to facial grooming.

3. Mastering the art of paella making will become a compulsory subject on the school curriculum. This will mean our country’s youth will be equipped with one of life’s vital skills.

4. Alexander Skarsgard will be recruited to read the evening news. I haven’t decided yet what, if any, clothing he will wear. But he’ll obviously have to be flexible.

5. From the date of my election, skinny jeans will be banned in public places. They can, however, be worn in the privacy of citizens’ homes for their own twisted personal pleasure.

6. My mother, Cruella, will be exiled to someplace inhospitable (possibly northern Norway) with only intermittent access to forms of telecommunication. My father will be free to visit her at any time to perform conjugal acts, but obviously will be forbidden from discussing this with me.

7. L’Oréal will appoint me as their goodwill ambassador. Looking my best will be critical. Especially if voters expect me to get out of bed before 8 am.

8. Vacuuming will be declared a new Olympic sport. Citizens must aspire to good suction and neat rugs.

9. I will let them eat cake. Especially anything with a coconut frosting.

10. My husband will become deputy prime minister and will carry my briefcase with the nuclear codes in it. Listen, if I carried it myself it would invariably be left at the front of a bus queue whilst I mingle with bearded voters.

“I’m not sure the general public will see immediate merits in sending your mother to the Arctic Circle,” said Guido slurping up a plate of spaghetti last night, “and neither would your mother.”

I tutted.

“It’s also weird that three out of ten of your pledges involves food. I mean, what about your stance on the European Common Fisheries Policy and any negotiations on a Bilateral Trade Balance?”

I tutted again.

“A mere trifling footnote in history,” I said.

Obviously until Guido’s attitude towards my premiership bucks up I’ll be scrubbing pledge number 10 (see above) and to hell with the nuclear consequences.

“Listen up kiddo. You can please some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time,” I said.

I stirred my pasta.

Abraham would have been proud.

Food for the soul

I’m one of those people for whom music can trigger very vivid memories. Which would explain why whenever I hear The Gypsy Kings track “Bamboleo” it makes me want to rip all my clothes off.

I was reminded of this fact last night but first let me rewind you, by way of a silly explanation, to when I used to regularly stop by The Spanish Onion cafe during my lunch break. This was before Guido and I were dating, simultaneously removing each other’s clothing, or liberally spreading condiments onto each other’s bodies on a regular basis. Though I was definitely thinking about all of that. I was younger. I was thinner. I was still hopefully amoral.  I was also totally unaware how a tiger prawn fried in garlic butter could change the course of two gay men’s lives. Yet there Guido would be – behind the chilled glass counter with his big chopper – whipping up something utterly delicious for me. Of course all I’d be dreaming about was him whipping everything off me.

The reason I’m telling you these sordid details is because, in the background, The Gypsy Kings CD would be playing loudly. Naturally all that plucking and strumming would work me up into a post lunch frenzy. So there you have it folks, it was inevitable; sooner or later all my clothes would drop off.

Fast forward to last night and let’s just say familiarity breeds familiarity. That predictable but comforting end of week routine where Guido collapses on our sofa wearing nothing but his underpants. By the way, one leg of our leather chesterfield is still broken and is now propped up precariously with a can of chopped tomatoes. Anyway, I lay next to Guido debating whether it would be completely revolting if I added spray cream and vermicelli sprinkles to sliced banana on toast (by the way, it’s not).

“I guess this is what we’ve sunk to on an ordinary Saturday night,” I said, “you letting it hang out in all directions and me stuffing it in,” I licked my lips. “I mean, what the hell is next for us?”

Guido shrugged.

“This is what domestic bliss looks like kiddo,” he said waving his arm enthusiastically across the empty room, and I don’t think he was joking either.

I let out a long “hmmm” noise.

“Are you happy Guido, I mean, are you really happy?” I said staring at the ceiling pensively whilst considering another slice of toast. It was tempting.

“Oh God. We’re not going to have one of those conversations, are we?” said Guido sighing.

So I waved my arm just as enthusiastically as he had across the other side of the room.

“I mean, when you see me at the end of a long day, do you still feel the same way you did all those years ago?” I said picking a stray piece of banana stuck between my front teeth. Let’s just say it felt icky.

“Look. Why don’t we listen to some music and have some wine?” said Guido deftly changing the subject, “or is that too predictable for you?”

I hear a cork pop and the music start.

However after that my memory is kind of blurry. I’m not sure which came first. The wine or the music. Suffice it to say, you can probably guess what happened next.

Recipe for disaster

I love my husband. I really do. How he’s stuck with me all this time is nothing short of miraculous because when we first met I really don’t recall dating him with the same conviction he did me. I just thought I’d suck it and see for a fortnight to find out how we got on. I never realised all these years later that the same man and a full jar of Nutella would still make me so very very happy.


There’s always one area in a marriage which will cause an argument. And for us it’s when I “help” in the kitchen.

When I was single I didn’t starve to death. I knew how to burn toast and incinerate a can of beans. But when someone keeps telling you, you can’t cook, it slowly erodes your confidence. You begin believing it. So any mention of “help” and Guido will shudder but grudgingly assign me a task, well let’s call it – a damage limitation exercise. Like scrubbing a potato.  I, on the other hand, like to imagine myself as the late, great, Antonio Carluccio.  Chucking any old rubbish into a crock-pot with gusto, but still creating a culinary masterpiece. In reality this is probably more like a disturbing episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.

The problem with frying is that one minute everything’s sizzling away looking just like it should do, but, take your eyes off it for just one minute to read a short text message from your mother and it’s turned into a sort of molten lava. And no amount of stirring or scraping will resuscitate them. Well that’s what happened last night, so I did what any novice chef would do with a skillet smoking dangerously and on the verge of bursting into an uncontrollable fireball. I tossed it into a sink of freezing cold water. For those of you who’ve never done this, please don’t try it at home unless you have the fire brigade on quick dial.  Apparently it has a very similar effect to what happens in the core of a nuclear reactor when they expose the plutonium rods. There’s a big whooshing noise and steam erupts with enough piston power to generate free energy for most of the East End of London.

Confronted with this unfolding scene, Guido began to look and act just like Gordon does. He went a weird crimson colour and you could see the veins in his neck all pulsating like he was about to throw the mother of all tantrums.

At this point I had a horrible flash back to the last time I “helped” grilling an aubergine so I knew what came next. After the vein throbbing comes the teeth gnashing and the feet hopping and there’s a lot of colourful language. Let’s just say if this blog post was a podcast it would have an “R” for restricted rating.

Well, I defy anyone to remain calm under such trying circumstances. So I did what I did when I was single and had one of life’s catastrophes. I ordered Chinese. I had sweet and sour pork and Guido had a stir fried chilli beef. It arrived in fifteen minutes and was absolutely delicious.

You know this “cooking from scratch” thing – I really don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be.

And then there were three

Brian moved in with us a week ago. Brian is owned (if dogs ever actually belong to anyone) to our friend Gary but, on account of Gary’s extended shifts at the airline, we’ve agreed to look after him (if dogs ever actually think they’re looked after) on a purely temporary basis.

That was a very long sentence to describe a week which has seemed to have been very very short. Just like Brian’s incredibly small Jack Russell legs, which I have to say can move very very fast.

I feel like Brian has lived with us for a month, if not a decade. He’s set himself right at home. I’ve half expected to see him wearing slippers, throw on a smoking jacket and pull up a chair by the fire. In fact he’s made himself so alarmingly  (disarmingly) comfortable he’s now like a part of the furniture, or at the very least a sort of furry foot stool or writhing hot water bottle. That is except for when Guido or I move towards the back door and Brian will leap up like grease lightening with the kind of enthusiasm for extended exercise I could only fantasise about. Since he’s lived with us I think I’ve lost more than five pounds. If he stays long term I may shed so much weight I could be in danger of completely disappearing. I’ll be like the incredible shrinking man taking the dog for a walk. I’ll have to wrap myself in bandages – invisible man style – so I don’t get run over by a London bus when I take Brian to the park.

Boy, does Brian LOVE the PARK. Did you see how I shouted that one out by putting the words, love, and park, in capitalisation and bold? If this blog could add bells and whistles it would be ringing and resounding.

Pre-Brian, when I used to go to the park with Guido, it would usually involve me lolling on the grass on a rug reading House and Garden or eating a muffin or slurping an enormous ice cream. Invariably there were ants. Often there would also be perverts lurking in the trees. The perverts I could live with but the ants were a right royal pain in the arse. That’s, ass, to North American readers. Well when Brian and I go to the park now there’s no laying around. He wants me running and jumping about like Usain Bolt. Its absolutely exhausting. Sometimes Guido will come with us too and throw a frisbee or a ball, or both, and then after an hour when we get back home to our loft Brian will be all frisky and wagging his tail but Guido and I will be like we need to get hooked up to oxygen masks.

“How long do you think this temporary Brian arrangement,” as Guido has started calling it, “will last?” said Guido flopped out on our sofa and drinking a beer straight from the bottle this afternoon.

Brian was sighing periodically at Guido’s feet.

I was also drinking a generous glug of white wine – for purely medicinal purposes you understand?

Brian didn’t look happy.

I don’t think he approves of our reckless habit of drinking alcohol in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I guess proper hosts would at least have offered him a glass.