Being picky

Yesterday morning Guido cooked me a delicious homemade breakfast in our café. I had a soft poached egg on a hot buttered English muffin. The white was as white as white can be and the yolk was eggy and runny. I really should’ve been having one of my Mmmm… moments. However, unfortunately I happened to be sitting between two other customers. One was a three year old girl called Chloe – who spent the entire time throwing her jam coated toast on the floor – and the other, her five year old brother called Robin – who dedicated much effort to picking it up again and animatedly throwing it at my head. I feared the freshly painted walls behind me may take on the appearance of a splattered Jackson Pollock.

Not surprisingly I was reminded of an article I’d read a couple of weeks ago about a café owner in Torbay who instigated a policy of not allowing any children under 12 on his premises. Apparently he’s been inundated with complaints from outraged parents, and, words of encouragement from everybody else in equal measures. I have to say, I awkwardly find myself in the “encouragement” camp. The owner has been quoted as saying he simply wanted to create a nice quiet zone where grown-ups could sit, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere. I really don’t think that Chloe and Robin would totally get that. Nor, would their parents.

“It’s a slippery slope,” said Guido stirring a worryingly large pot of lentil soup. “I mean, where do you stop?”

Where indeed Guido? Whilst I don’t think this was a question he expected an answer to, I gave it a considerable amount of thought anyway and decided I’d like to immediately ban anybody who came in here whistling before 8 a.m., would forbid entrance of either sex wearing plastic crocs clog shoes with socks, and, people with bad haircuts.

“It’s all about the customer,” said Guido magnanimously. “If you were too picky you’d never make any money.”

He did have a point. Perhaps I was being too harsh with the bad haircut embargo. Suddenly I was relaxing my ban to simply include the odd bad hair day. However I’m absolutely sticking to my guns about whistling in the morning. Particularly if it involved simultaneously wearing clogs.

Much as I like the idea (and children generally) of eating my poached egg and stodgy muffin in complete peace, you’ve got to be realistic about it. After all, this is Denmark Hill and there are just as many fruit cakes around here as there ever were when we lived in Bermondsey. Though I still can’t see anything wrong with wanting to once in a while escape from badly behaved kids, even if they do happen to be your own, to a place where I could sit, relax and soak up the solitude. In fact, I have a friend who has two children who once told me, and I quote – “thank God I actually like my own children because I can’t stand anyone else’s.”

“You have to be very tolerant in this business,” said Guido propped up in our bed later. “You’ll always find customers who want to complain.” He let out a big sigh. “The other day someone actually complained about the quality of my sausage – can you believe that?”

Now, that really is outrageous!

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I just can’t get along without you

In my opinion there’s something very peculiar about a person who takes part in any kind of physical activity whilst wearing sweat pants, then straight after, immediately blows all that hard work by eating a chocolate chip muffin.

“It takes all kinds,” said Guido. He had a, you don’t know what you’re talking about, sort of a look on his face when he said that. He was also holding a felt tip pen and one of my old sketch pads between his legs at the time. He’d drawn the words – YOGA & CAKE – on it in bold capital letters to make a sign; that seemed to me to be a complete oxymoron. Those two words just shouldn’t be connected by an ampersand.

“Well, that’s an oxymoron if ever I saw one,” I said pointing to what he’d written.

Trust me, oxymoron, was a very big word for a Wednesday night conversation between me and Guido in our bed with no sign of sex on the cards and no dictionary. Now I could tell that he knew, that I knew, that he didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Stop trying to impress me by using big words with moron in it,” he said.

I love the idea of taking up yoga. I love it almost as much as I love the idea of cake. But I’m worried about the obvious practicalities. Like getting down on the floor and then being able to actually get back up again. Eating a fluffy sponge topped with a sticky ganache is so much easier folks.

The reason I’m telling you this is because there’s a fitness instructor called Cara who now drinks coffee in The Fish Kettle and wants to take over the whole place for a one hour yoga class on Sunday mornings. Apparently she knows an army of people who like to get their kicks by standing on their heads. You just bring your own mat and then strip off. Why Guido thinks anyone would want to then spoil their zen like state by eating a slice of cake is debatable. I’m not at all averse to people stretching downstairs in the cafe, as long as they don’t all start chanting loudly. Hey, it’s the only day I get to laze upstairs in bed under the blanket.

“I bet you can’t even cross your legs properly,” said Guido crossing his legs properly.

I lay back and looked at his hairy thighs. He really should cross his legs with no clothes on more often.

“Very good,” I said, “now put your left ankle behind your right ear.”

“Oh now you’re just being silly,” said Guido, “but I tell you what, if you can do it – I’ll even get you some cake to eat in bed right this second and to hell with any melted frosting on the clean sheets.”

Here’s a word of advice from someone who now knows. If you ever get an unexpected offer to have sex and then right after eat a muffin in the lotus position, don’t turn it down.

The last supper

Last night Guido and I invited both sets of parents over to The Spanish Onion. It’ll probably be the last time we see them before we move out of our loft above the café.

Guido’s parents, Rosa and Juan, insisted on cooking from scratch which was obviously terrific. My mother’s no longer dating the rich Sheikh or the highly muscular but worryingly pliable American businessman. My father’s also split with Amber. So it was just the six of us and in my opinion that was even more terrific.

It was weird seeing my parents sitting at the same table being nice. I think it’s the longest they’ve been in a room together since their divorce without one of them throwing a frying pan at the other. After dessert Guido and I made the coffee. When I say we made the coffee what I mean is Guido made the coffee. I rattled the cups and saucers.

“Your parents seem to be getting along extremely well,” said Guido. “At one point I thought your father was going to feed your mother some chorizo from the end of his fork.”

“I know,” I said, “it’s pretty amazing what three bottles of a good Rioja and some homemade tapas can do to salve decades of wanting to strangle each other. Just saying.”

“They were staring intently at each other through the flickering candle in the middle of the table,” said Guido frothing up some milk.

Here’s another one of Guido’s secret insider barista tips for you – if you want really frothy milk make sure its stone cold before you start.

“My mother was probably trying to figure out if she could set my father alight like a human fireball with only the aid of a small naked flame,” I said sceptically.

“Oh I don’t think so,” Guido said smiling, “that candle wasn’t the only thing being rekindled tonight.”

At about eleven o’clock Rosa and Juan caught the bus back to Dulwich and a while later, after some Cointreau, my parents left too.

My father hugged Guido good-night and then I watched him walk towards Southwark Street and he turned left out of sight. Just before he did, he paused at the corner under a street lamp and glanced back at me and he blew a kiss.

Then my mother got into a cab and wound down the window.

“You know I envy you?” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“I do,” and she took my hand and she squeezed it tight. “You’re one of the lucky ones. You’ve found what some of us spend our whole lives searching for but never find.”

I must have still looked bemused.

“Love, of course,” she smiled. “Darling, in the end, it’s all that really matters.”

Later when Guido and I were in bed and the lights were switched out and he was fast asleep, I lay there thinking.

I thought about our finances and if there was enough for the new cafe and if Guido would still love me when we’re completely broke and I’m even fatter than I already am now and my eyebrows are even more bushy.

I think I sighed a big sigh and just rolled over and closed my eyes.

My mother was right. In the end there’s only one thing that really matters.

Roses round the door

Whenever I was asked as a child to draw a picture of my ideal home, I’d get out my wax crayon and sketch a flat fronted two up two down cottage with a door and a crooked chimney with corkscrew smoke puffing out of the top of it. Then I’d swap colours and, with flair, add a rose flower winding over the porch. I’d never heard of the word, quintessential (let alone spell it), but even back then I knew what I wanted.

I’ve spent five nights alone at the new cafe premises in Denmark Hill. I use the description, cafe, in its loosest possible terms. Let’s just say it’s no longer a kebab shop. It’s hard to describe what it is, because it’s just a shell. A few weeks ago I took the decision that Guido and I should make the living space upstairs habitable first. I could stay there and oversee the work downstairs. That way I’d be on site to deal with emergencies.

If I ever come up with such a hare brained idea ever again in my entire life – shoot me.

Our builders are from Romania. There are lots of them. They travel in a pack. They arrive at six o’clock in the morning in a caravan of trucks. Regular readers will know I consider six o’clock in the morning still to be the middle of the night. They dig with shovels. Unfortunately I’m unable to speak fluent Romanian which, in current circumstances, would be advantageous. The head builder is called Roman. I’m not making that up. In my opinion he has the biggest “builders bum” crack I’ve ever seen. Those of you unfamiliar with this anatomical term may want to Google it. You’ve been warned. I try very hard not to get too close to Roman’s. It’s like some horrible cosmic black hole. I fear I may inadvertently be sucked into it like quick sand and be unable to escape; never to be seen or heard of again this side of the universe.

On the language front Roman isn’t that brilliant with English but he does understand the words yes and no. He definitely uses the word, no, more than he uses the word, yes. Which when you ask him the question –  is your construction plan on schedule? – and the answer is no, it’s pretty disappointing considering the number of shovels involved. However, if I ever ask Roman if he’d like coffee and sandwiches, the answer is always, yes.

“What do you mean the construction plan isn’t on schedule?” said Guido when I called him in the middle of a very busy lunch service at The Spanish Onion to tell him the construction plan wasn’t on schedule.

“The lasagna’s for table 3!” I heard him yell.

I could almost smell the cream sauce.

“Are you a complete idiot? Stop making coffee and sandwiches immediately,” he said.

His rationale was that this may be making it impossible for Roman and his team of completely professional builders to focus on our looming deadline.

Personally I’m not sure this approach will go down too well with so many men with shovels.

By the way, there’s a climbing pink rose around the cafe back door. I’m hoping that’s a good sign. It’s certainly as close as I’m going to get to quintessential in Denmark Hill.

Patio Daddio

Boy, do I enjoy Guido’s sausage.

God this blog is getting utterly predictable. And, talking of utter predictability – The British Weather. It’s a sad but indisputable fact that in my warped mind there’s a delicious connection between Summer time and sausages.

I’ve always been in love with our Summer. It’s quirky and it’s unfathomable. It’s an enigma. It has a life all of its own. The sun can turn up unexpectedly and scorch slap bang in the middle of February then, for the whole of August, I’ll be wearing a plastic poncho.

Well this year it swept in right on cue a few weeks ago only to blow straight back out again.

“It’s here again,” said Guido staring up at the sky last night. “Up there, behind those whispy clouds is the sun, and it’s shining bright,” he said, pointing upwards with his index finger.

I took off my glasses and looked up hopefully. I half expected a big old drip from our leaky gutter to drop straight into my eye. I blinked. He was right. There it was.  I could immediately imagine sipping white rum, orange curaçao and a twist of lime.

There’s another big phenomenon when the sun eventually decides to shine in Bermondsey. In the first flush of a warm June I can guarantee the same thing always happens.

“You know what?” Guido stood on the steps to our loft.  “I’ve got that balmy June feeling,” and he said it like he meant it in a way that might involve sausages.

This was good.

“I’d say conditions are pretty terrific tonight.”

There was a pause.

“I’m going to get it out.”

This was better than good.

I accept that on a cold night when Guido says the words – I’m going to get it out – it usually involves at least one of us having to take all of our clothes off. But what he meant last night was he’s got a rickety old handmedown hibachi grill his father used to burn on the beach in Malaga. It’s seasoned by time and decades of spatchcock chicken and burnt old bamboo kebab sticks. It’s the foolproof and well oiled secret ingredient to Guido’s perfect barbecue.

I telephoned our friends Ted and Gary.

“Brace yourselves,” I said, “Guido’s getting it out.” I could almost hear them salivating down the line.

Ten minutes later they showed up at our place with Brian their super intelligent Jack Russell. All three of them were panting with their tongues hanging out.

“Where’s his big sausage?” asked Ted hopefully.

Guido lit the hibatchi.

Then there was a tap tap on the back gate. It was Bethany and Ethel, our hungry neighbours from the laundrette next door.

“I could tell by the smell of smouldering wood chips Guido had got it out,” Ethel said. “I’ve brought you a bottle of my homemade hooch.” She had the mesmerised look of someone with a blackened pork chop praying on her mind.

I should have known Guido isn’t really like other guys who grill. Until last night I’d never had smoked oysters with roasted garlic butter and romano, toasted vegetable quesadillas with kale pesto, then baked barbecued bananas and vanilla ice cream.

I’m really loving the start of Summer.

I just hopes it sticks around long enough for Guido to get his sausage out.

You grunt, I’ll groan

Ever heard of the expression about the morning after the night before?

“So,” said Guido looking at me sort of smugly as I walked through the cafe kitchen this morning. “Tell me, just what exactly were you doing under the sheets in our bed late last night?”

I never usually have to be asked to explain.

Guido was simultaneously scrambling eggs in a very hot frying pan, cooking bacon under a flaming grill, and toasting waffle batter. And with great aplomb I might add. As I’m someone who can barely do one thing at a time, I always admire someone who can do two. Let alone the ability to do three.

I cast my mind back to last night. I was struggling to remember anything because, if I’m completely honest, I was trying very hard to resist the temptation to eat the eggs. Guido scrambles with unsalted butter and a splash of cream.

I looked at him blankly. I blinked obliviously. From what I could recall, we’d both had a quick kiss and a grope then one of us had flicked the lights out. Then we’d gone to sleep. It’s with great regret I have to tell you he hadn’t passionately wrestled my Justin Bieber pyjamas trousers off. Trust me, I would’ve remembered.

“What?” I asked.

Then I had one of those horrible creeping thoughts. The kind you get when, although you know you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, you can’t help keep thinking you should feel guilty about doing something.

“Well,” said Guido, “you sure were making a lot of strange groaning noises from the dark side of the bed.”

He was still stirring and flipping and toasting.

“Really?” I asked innocently. “I seem to recall I was having another one of my highly enjoyable dreams about George Clooney and me. We were in a gondola.”

I’d just made that up. George and I have done a lot of terrific things together but doing them in a gondola was unexplored territory.

“I see,” said Guido, “I expect with all of that groaning it must have been a bit of a nightmare. Doesn’t say much for George’s charisma after all.”

I laughed.

“I suppose it could have been worse,” I said, “I could have been grunting like you usually do when you’re fast asleep.”

I’d just made that up too. Guido sometimes snores noisily with his mouth open wide enough to catch a fly but I’d never heard him grunt before.

He stopped multi tasking.

“Grunting?”

I started walking.

“Grunting? You’re just making that up,” he stopped doing what he was doing, “you’re making that up just because I said you were groaning.”

I kept walking.

I sat down in the cafe and ordered a big frothy cappuccino. I even pushed the boat out and had marshmallows on top. I could smell the faint whiff of a burning waffle and I could hear a lot of crashing and banging and shouting coming from the kitchen. There may even have been some loud and intentional grunting.

I got out my iPhone and Googled – Groaning In Bed. There were some accompanying pictures too. It was quite a eye opener I can tell you. Then I Googled – Grunting In Bed.

Let’s just say I’d much rather be groaning than grunting.

The moon in the gutter

Late last Guido got his big hose out. Don’t go there.

He was washing out our courtyard when he made a big puddle in the gutter. The moon came out and shone there so it felt like suddenly the sky was upside down.

Then the telephone went, ring ring. It was my mother, Cruella.

“Darling, I need some urgent help,” she asked me breathlessly from her end of the line. “I’m in a suite at The Park Plaza Hotel in the middle of a completely delicious love affair. I’ve met a muscular thirty-three year old American vacuum cleaner salesman. He’s from a place called, Brookings.”

All I heard were the words – vacuum cleaner salesman – which came as a shock because the last I’d heard she was dating a Sheikh.

“He keeps telling me how wonderful Brookings is but I don’t know what to say about it,” she said, perplexed.

I chewed my lip. I assumed the hunk was laying some place nearby, completely exhausted.

“I’m not sure where that is,” I said, “but I think it might possibly be Montana.”

There was an awkward short silence from my mother. It was obvious she didn’t know where Montana was either.

“Look,” I said,”just tell him you have a love of wide open spaces and the great outdoors.”

There was a click on the line as she instantly hung up.

I did that Google Map thing. Brookings turned out to be a city in South Dakota. As you can tell issues with geography are hereditary.

The telephone went, ring ring again.

This time it was my friend Marc. In the past he’s had an intense relationship with an Italian guy called Secondo. The bust ups and make ups have been legendary. They split up in London a few months ago but now they’re apparently planning a passionate rekindle in Naples.

“Boxer shorts or thong?” asked Marc excitedly, “I don’t know which is best to wear for the big reveal?”

I had a feeling the question was rhetorical. I suggested whichever he thought was easiest to pull off. Then he hung up too.

“I’m worried about my mother,” I said to Guido. “She keeps having affairs with men half her age.”

Guido crunched a Dorito.

“I’m worried about Marc,” I said. “He’s going to try to find love with a mad Italian but in the final analysis I think he’s pinning too much on a thong.”

Guido crunched another Dorito.

“Well,” said Guido, “maybe that’s what it’s all about. The journey, the trying to figure it out. Perhaps in the end there is no answer to life’s great romantic questions except that not everyone ends up with who you think they should.”

I tried not to visualise my mother in bed. I couldn’t help wondering if the hunk was trying to explain the finer details of vacuum suction as she blabbed bizarrely on about the wild beauty of Montana.

Not to mention the twists and turns of Marc’s love life. For some reason it reminded me of a plate of spaghetti vongole – easy to throw together but prone to end up a horrible tangled mess.

Maybe Guido was right.

I looked at the gutter again. The moon was still there. Perhaps the world was upside down after all.