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.


Readers of this blog might just be able to remember an old post I wrote months ago about the ongoing saga which became globally known as, Our Unpainted And Flaking Bedroom Ceiling. Fortunately no one will yet be familiar with the other possible internet sensations now happening in my life but include, A Very Wonky Kitchen Floorboard, or, The Incredible Leaking Bath Plug.

You certainly read important and internationally breaking news here first folks.

This week Guido inadvertently added yet another item to the ever growing list of DIY disasters. Whilst drawing up the window blind in our bedroom he successfully managed to rip it completely free from the bolts holding it to the ceiling which were clinging on for dear life – old and fatigued, I expect. God, I know just how those screws must have felt.

“Don’t worry,” said Guido brushing plaster dust from the top of his head at the time. “Keep calm. I’ll re-hang tomorrow.”

That was six days ago and I’m still waiting and I’m still counting. I feel I’ve now got no other option but to call this latest unfortunate incident, The Unhinged Pelmet. This should not in any way whatsoever be confused with, The Unhidged Front Door. Opening that currently involves performing something not dissimilar to The Heimlich Maneuver on the lock and handle every time we want to get into our home and, frankly, it’s becoming tedious.

Well last night, whilst Guido was cooking dinner, I decided to strike whilst the pan was sizzling hot.

“I’m thinking about hiring a man,” I said completely casually, “and please don’t feel it’s at all a reflection on what you can do or cannot do with those big strong hands of yours. But to be honest, I’ve decided I’d be more than happy to find, and pay, a professional.”

Guido started to stir his risotto anti-clockwise in a blind panic. Then the penny eventually dropped who I was hiring, and why.

“Well,” he said, “if you’re talking about the VERY few MINOR bits of DIY which I’ve promised to fix over the last fifteen years, let me make absolutely clear, I’m perfectly CAPABLE.”

Please note the capatalization in the sentence above.

No, it wasn’t lost on me either as I sat listening intently on our, Sofa With The Missing Left Foot, which is currently being propped up with a 2014 curled and tattered copy of the South London Yellow Pages.

“If I can fry mushrooms in a Dutch Oven without crowding them in the pan then I can screw down a wonky floorboard,” said Guido smugly. There was an ominous ping, as he kept stepping on it.

“Okay,” I said, “but just promise me one thing, you’ll take your time and you’ll use the proper tools.”

Well, when I got home from work tonight boy was I in for a very pleasant surprise. Picture it. I found Guido standing in the loft, wearing cut off Levis, Caterpillar boots, a tight fitting white vest, and a very chunky tool belt buckled round his hips. Never before had home improvement pricked my interest so overwhelmingly.

“Where d’you want me to start?” asked Guido obligingly revving up his drill bit in anticipation.

“How about the bedroom?” I said naturally.

Needless to say there’s been a lot of screwing going on.

Guido pops up

Tuesday night Guido and I were in bed. Lights were out. I was tucked up fantasizing about how Alexander Skarsgard and I might both crash land in the Amazon jungle together. I wondered if he’d mind wearing a loin cloth and if he’d consider swinging through the trees towards me, preferably with his legs wide open. You Tarzan, me Jean-Paul.

“I’m thinking about getting out and popping up,” said Guido unexpectedly.

In the blink of an eye I’d gone straight from a Brasilian rain forest to a lumpy mattress in Bermondesy. I stuck my leg over the edge of the bed and happily yanked off my Justin Bieber pyjama bottoms.

“Okay,” I said, “But I hope you’re cool with just a quick one? I’ve got a ten o’clock tomorrow morning with a Russian in Chelsea who wants to discuss designing a replica of Ceasars Palace Casino in his basement. I could really do with the shut eye.”

“What?” said Guido. There was an embarrassing pause. “I said I was popping up, not getting it popped up.”

I got back into bed frankly feeling quite disappointed.

“Did you read that article in the local newspaper about the pop up brothel around the corner which got busted by the police?” As you can tell our neighbourhood’s real classy. “Well,” said Guido pensively “naturally it got me thinking about rock buns.”

I’d no idea what the hell he was going on about.

“I’m talking about starting a pop up bakery, silly,” he said. “Selling artisan bread and cakes direct.”

You’ve got hand it to him. Guido’s ideas always sound amazing laying in bed in the dark at midnight. Unfortunately it’s in the cold light of day his plans sometimes turn out to be more fruit cake.

“Ted and I’ve been talking about it and he’s willing to help.”

“How much?” I asked sceptically.

“Oh he’s very enthusiastic,” said Guido.

“Yeah,” I said, “But how much money? Has Ted any idea of the cost of flour these days?” I was talking convincingly like I did.

“Oh I couldn’t accept an offer of money,” said Guido.

“Why not?” I said.

“Well he didn’t offer any actually,” said Guido.

Ted’s our semi-retired millionaire city banker friend and best man with the dodgy legs. Him and Guido bonded on a bakery course at Peggy Porchen. Nobody plaits a croissant like Ted. Well tonight Ted and Gary and their super intelligent Jack Russell, Brian, came round to the cafe to play poker and talk dough. I’d half expected Brian to be trained to shuffle, cut, deal – and now knead.

“I’d do spelt loaves and poppy seed rolls,” said Ted winning the first hand with a Royal Flush.

“Hmm,” said Guido getting pensive, “I’d do chocolate roulade and Victoria sponge. Let’s keep gluten-free on the back burner for now.”

“And what would Brian do?” I asked just for a laugh. Brian looked up at me confused. I guess he’s not mastered the perfect doughnut yet.

“Oh he’d just entertain customers,” said Gary. “We’ve already taught him to effortlessly balance a muffin on the end of his nose whilst simultaneously walking backwards.”

Picture it.  A seven foot Spaniard, a guy with nobbly knees, and a dog walking backwards, all selling bread and cake from a rucksack on the Southbank. Goodness, Martha Stewart sure would be proud.

The ones who get away

My singleton friend, Marc, telephoned me last night to tell me another boyfriend has just gotten away.

“You’re in a monogamous loving relationship. You’ve just got married. You’ve no idea what it’s like being single,” Marc sighed. “I’ve blown it with Secondo. I prayed for the moment when he told me he adored me, and then when he did, I acted like a complete klutz sending mixed messages. Now he’s gone home to Italy and hasn’t called or emailed me.”

Well I thought, we can all be a klutz.

Let me rewind you to the Summer of 1996. I met a guy called Uri; a student from Israel visiting London for a whole month. He had a Roman nose and a torso like a Greek marble statue. His hair was black and glossy and tapered at the nape in a little wiry curl. His legs were as hairy as an orangutan’s and when I closed my eyes alone in bed at night I’d fantasise about stroking them. I’d imagine emigrating to Haifa with Uri and being on the beach, and swimming in the warm Mediterranean Sea with him, and being fed seafood from the end of his fork.

He’d tell me he’d set his alarm clock just to watch a sunrise over the London roofs or to hear the sparrows chirp from the window ledge of his hostel. He was sexy and young and sweet. One evening that Summer we strolled to Regent’s Park and we sat under a big oak. We joked around. We fooled about. Then, he reached out to me unexpectedly, yet, as I always hoped he would. He put his hand right on top of mine and held it there for a moment. And he touched me gently on the lip.

“I adore you,” he said.

It seemed like the world ceased turning on it’s axis, clocks stopped ticking, and for the first time in my life another guy had just said he adored me. Here’s the klutz part. I blew it because in that moment I got scared and sent mixed messages.

So the world started turning again and my watch went tick tock. We walked awkwardly to a fried chicken shack on a street corner and that’s when Uri explained he was flying home the following weekend but he’d send his address and we’d always keep in touch.

Sometimes, when Guido switches on the TV night news, I’ll see a report about a shooting or a bus bomb or some other God awful thing in Israel. That’s when I’ll think about Uri. I’ll pray he’s safe, that he’s found as good and kind a man to love like Guido, and I’ll wonder if he ever thinks at all about the time he told me he adored me.

So I tell Marc on the telephone he’s absolutely right. I can’t possibly know how he feels because I’m in a loving monogamous relationship and I’ve just got married. Me a klutz?

But if Uri Baumgarner from Tel Aviv is still out there and ever happens to find this blog, there’s something I want you to know. I should’ve put my hand back on top of your hand and squeezed it tight. When you stroked my lip I should’ve smiled straight right back at you. And then, in 1996, I should’ve told you that I adored you.

It’s a mad world

I’ve just finished working with two psychiatrists on the interior design of their minimalist London home. I saved them a fortune on a cast concrete kitchen island. I was kind of hoping they might repay the favour and consider cutting me a deal on some discounted therapy. Nothing too heavy. Maybe just three sessions a week for the next twenty five years.

Every time I met them I felt like I was acting out a scene from an Ingmar Bergman movie, only without the subtitles. I half expected the grim reaper to turn up in a plume of smoke and offer to make us all some coffee. To lighten the mood I even told them my best psychiatrist joke but they still didn’t laugh. Instead they’d just answer all of my questions by posing a question all of their own. Like when I showed psychiatrist number one chalk and bone coloured wall paint, psychiatrist number two asked me how I felt about it. What I discovered he really meant was, how did I really feel about it. I didn’t know whether to say I had no particular strong personal feelings either way or just lay straight down on their leather couch and reveal my dysfunctional love for cheese.

“If you went to see a shrink what d’you think you’d find to talk about?” I asked Guido in bed last night.

I do like to probe him once in a while. Get to the root of his thoughts. God, I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one. Can you honestly imagine Guido trying to explain to someone in the medical profession about the trauma linked to discovering a hollow meringue? I guess it’s all relative brother.

“Actually I’ve never felt the need to over analyse my life,” he said with an air of sane superiority. “But I think you could do with a bit of help on the head examining front.”

Much as I hate to admit it, he did have a point.

“Frankly I wouldn’t know where to start. I’ve got such an extensive back catalogue in my brain it would probably have even bogged Freud down for years,” I said.

I thought about all of the hang-ups and fears and fantasies I’ve got. Just to give you a flavour, they include Nick Jonas with no clothes on and mung beans. Though not necessarily at the same time. I’m a car crash waiting to happen.

“Relax. Chill. Take a look around you,” said Guido. “Have you seen that guy who’s recently pitched a tent by London Bridge Tube Station? Well, today, I saw that he’s started to entertain commuters by juggling with bananas.”

A word of advice here for readers, don’t ever try that. Aerodynamically bananas end up acting exactly like a boomerang. I tried using one years ago in bed at night with Guido and I almost knocked myself unconscious when it rebounded and hit me on the back of the head.

Trust me. There’s knowing when to use bananas, and just being bananas.

By the way, here’s the joke. I hope you find it funnier than those two psychiatrists did.

Two psychiatrists meet on a blind date and hit it off so well they go to the nearest motel to have wild sex. Afterwards one rolls over and says to the other, “That was good for you. But how was it for me?”

The worst pies in London

As you know I like to mash up life’s tedious predictability whenever I can.

“Let’s swap roles,” I said to Guido in bed Wednesday night.

It’s definitely not what you’re thinking.

“I’ll cook dinner tomorrow,” I said jauntily choosing to ignore the groaning noises emanating from the darkness on the other side of the bed.

In the morning I called my mother to confirm the recipe for her all time favourite (classic) Ham and Egg Pie.

Please note how I’ve put the word (classic) into parenthesis. The only thing my mother was able to cook (from scratch) – please note how I’ve also put the words (from scratch) into parenthesis – was that pie. She made it a trillion times when I was a kid. Anytime I ever asked what’s for dinner it was always that. Occasionally she’d try to throw me off the scent by calling it Egg and Ham Pie but she never fooled me one bit because it always turned out to be Ham Before The Egg Pie.

You whisk egg the way you’d prepare scrambled, with a knob of butter and a splash of full cream milk, then pour straight into a pie dish. The ham was chopped bacon, which my mother hacked to bits with a pair of her dress making shears. Then she’d open a pack of ready made filo pastry, throw it with a memorable flourish on top of the wet mixture, and then bake it for about 25 minutes. It was surprisingly good.

I dialled Cruella’s number.

“I’ve decided to cook (from scratch) your (classic) Ham and Egg Pie for dinner,” I said. There was a long silence. I think she could hear the parenthesis crackle down the line.

“Oh God, does Guido know yet?” was all she asked.

At work I wrote down the recipe ingredients on my notepad just in case I inadvertently forgot any. Ham. Tick. Eggs. Tick. Pack of ready made filo pastry. Tick. I chewed the end of my pen. Whisk egg. Chop bacon. Turn on oven. This was beginning to sound complicated.

“I’ve decided to take the afternoon off,” I said to my assistant Toby, “I’m cooking dinner for Guido and this recipe takes a LOT of preparation.”

Toby raised an eyebrow.

Last night I made the pie. It took several attempts to open the packet of pastry but I persevered. I set the table. I lit a candle. I poured wine.

“Well,” said Guido, “I’m not sure how you’ve achieved this.” He prodded the pie like it was radioactive waste. “The eggs are so over-cooked they taste like chalk, but bizarrely, the bacon’s still raw.” He put his cutlery down and picked a piece of shell from between his two front teeth. “Without a doubt this is the worst pie I’ve ever tasted.”

“Gosh, that’s quite an accolade!” I gushed, thinking how badly things could have turned out, “thank you so much!”

“But you know what?” he said swilling some Pinot Grigio, “you’ve given me a weird marketing idea.”

When I got home tonight I discovered Guido removing a sign from the cafe window. It read, and I quote:

We Sell The Worst Pies in London – They’re Revolting

Apparently Guido’s pies, with hand carved ham and free-range egg, wrapped in a parmesan crust, sold out within the hour.

You’ll be relieved to know he made sure that they were completely free of any added parenthesis whatsoever.