A word of warning

If you are thinking about dating a chef, or even worse, you are contemplating getting married to one, then please read the next few words very carefully. You will put weight on. When I met Guido fifteen years ago I was a skinny twenty five year old. You could see ribs. For the first few years we were together Guido slowly enticed me with all sorts of strange and exciting new things I had never experienced before, and I am not just talking about his chorizo.  I have to say the secret weapon in his arsenal was definitely tapas.  If you’d taken a trip through my intestines with a spy camera it would have been like a history of the Spanish cantina.  There was probably even a couple of shrimps down there playing the castanets.  My motto after meeting Guido has always been “Why cook when you live with one?”  I am not completely stupid.  Nowadays I only ever cook when I absolutely have to and thankfully it’s very rare.  This can mean the gap between each occasion is so long I have to re-read the user manual just to remind myself how to turn the hob on.  What goes into the oven is definitely food but what comes out of it can be anyone’s guess. 

Living above the café means there is always food around me.  I can accurately calculate that at home I am never ever more than six feet away from a salami sausage.  So to stay sane and strong I am often in the middle of some sort of a fad diet.  One day I think I might just come up with a diet all of my own and then write book about it. I’ll probably call it the “Just Eat Less Diet.” If I can get it syndicated I think I might be onto a real winner. It would be really easy.  All you would have to do would be to eat less. I do realise it could be difficult to practice what I preach if Guido and I were in bed and he was noisily eating leftover empanadas. For purely hygienic reasons I would have no option but to eat the crumbs.   Temptation is all around me.  It’s a culinary minefield.  Sometimes my will power fluctuates but I generally stay slim by pretending peanut butter is an invention waiting to happen and that if I eat a dessert of any kind it will send me immediately into a coma. I can totally recommend this approach. When I look at New York baked cheesecake I always see oxygen tents. 

I try not to be totally obsessed by how I look.  I often watch re-runs of that TV show, Extreme Make-Over, purely to keep myself grounded and in the real world.  If you have never seen it, it films a person who hates his or her entire body and turns him or her into someone who bears absolutely no resemblance to what they looked like just sixty minutes earlier. Only I think this is edited over weeks or possibly even months because some of the changes are so extreme you would go into body shock if they did it that quick.  I’d definitely consider going on it.  It’s not that I am very unhappy with how I look but I do think there is always room for improvement when you get past the age of forty. I think many of the extreme make-overs the programme undertakes are what you should really call medical procedures. I expect the team at intensive care is never too far away, on call, fully scrubbed up and ready to roll. It also seems to involve some masked expert spending an awful lot of time enthusiastically extracting high volumes of body fat with a sharp ended metal pipe. I hope that is not in any way compulsory.   I would be worried some mad plastic surgeon might get too vigorous and one suck with any zest would see my entire body shoot up through his hose.  I really would hate to end it, concertinaed to the width of a pencil, forever peering out at the world from a waste disposal unit.

I once watched an episode about a couple who had an extreme makeover just before their wedding. Predictably this episode was called – Extreme Make-Over Wedding. I was actually surprised the groom recognised his bride walking up the aisle towards him. It must have been like two complete strangers having sex on their wedding night. A few days ago I tried to find it again on Youtube so that I could sit Guido down to watch it. I thought it might inspire him to come up with a few ideas about what he could do with his hair on our wedding day. There are only so many things you can creatively do with a ponytail and he stubbornly refuses to plait.

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The trouble with gay weddings

This morning I woke very early.  Guido commuted downstairs to the café kitchen and I just lay in our bed between the crumpled sheets thinking about how on earth you are supposed to start planning a wedding. My head was spinning with worry because ours were non-existent.  I didn’t even have a date to play with.  I have to tell you I had some pretty dark and scary thoughts laying there.  They involved men turning up to my wedding who had no actual biological connection with the country known as Scotland, but still thought it was acceptable for them to be wearing kilts. Never before had I considered just how shark infested were the waters of wedding cake or candied pillar content.  And, I completely reached the conclusion that the big trouble with gay weddings are the macaroons. 

I took stock.  Let’s keep things in perspective I told myself.  Okay, so it’s taken me years, but along the way I have been subtly ticking a lot of life’s marital tick boxes.  I just hadn’t realised it before now.  So come to think of it, well done me.  1. Acquired a boyfriend with no interest in having sex whilst wearing armour.  Tick.  2.  Co-habited with acquired boyfriend for 15 long years.  Tick.  3.  Acquired boyfriend of 15 long years finally gets down on his knees and asks me the big question.  Tick.  4.  Acquired a fiancé.  Tick.  5.  Began to successfully organise fantasy wedding day with acquired fiancé.  Hang on a minute, there is no tick.   As I left The Spanish Onion on my way to my office I walked through the kitchen and shouted to Guido in a completely subtle and tick box friendly way. “Terrific conversation last night about marriage dates,” I breezed past him and patted him on the back as he fried an egg, “we’ll no doubt pick up where we left off later tonight.  I can hardly wait!”  

Guido completely ignored me and instead yelled out a food order in his confidential customer naming code, “Toast and jam ready for the “Burnt Bread and Blueberry” on table 5.”  There was definitely no tick.  One of The Twins – I have no idea which – sauntered past me to collect the toast and the jam.  He was wearing his baseball cap backwards. 

“Hey Honcho,” he said, “How’s it hangin’?”  I had no idea what he was talking about or to what he was referring .  I left sensing no other meaningful ticks. 

So once at work I decided to bounce some marriage plan ideas around with my assistant Toby.  He is not gay and he has never been married but he is my only employee so my choice with whom to bounce was limited.  I don’t think he could have been closely checking the tracker he installed on my mobile phone to monitor my movements because he failed to notice me walk through the door.  I caught him red handed reading a comic during work time. One of those weird Japanese comics where the pictures of the characters have little bodies but funny shaped heads and large almond eyes. I pretended not to notice even though just 10 minutes earlier I sent strict text instructions for him to urgently identify suppliers of antiqued wall sconces for a very important client.

I have got this friend,” I said casually, “A very good friend in fact. He just happens to be gay, lives in London, and is also an interior designer. He has incredible taste but let’s just say he’s got a problem.”

Oh?” said Toby, “How unfortunate.” He closed his comic as a mark of respect. “I mean him having a problem, not that he sounds just incredibly like you.” He had his eyebrow cocked.  I was pleased I had him totally fooled.

Yes,” I said, “And his boyfriend of many, many years has just asked him to marry him.”

Please ensure you pass on my congratulations to him,” he said completely inscrutably.

But here’s the rub,” I said chewing the end of my pen. Toby immediately started frowning and staring at my lips. As he is obsessive compulsive he disapproves of any chewing whatsoever and especially so when there is no actual swallowing. “He is getting a bit lost on the detail.”

What kind of detail?” asked Toby.

The kind of detail which involves a start or a beginning,” I said, looking for some sort of helpful flicker of understanding in his face. Never before had he looked so like Clark Kent. “Of course my own head is full to burst of amazing detail on where to start and begin, but I don’t want to scare and faze him.  I thought I would just ask someone like a regular Joe Public guy from straight off the street where he might think was a good place to start to plan his own wedding.”

And you thought of me, right?” said Toby even more inscrutably.  “Well you could tell him the first practical thing might be to pinup some graph paper and map a timeline starting with the wedding date and then work backwards.” He was being hideously practical as usual and this would have been a great idea if I, I mean my friend, did have an agreed wedding date.

Trust me my friend is working on a date,” I said. This was going to be more difficult than I had first thought. “Can I ask you Toby,” I said completely inscrutably, “how would you, as a regular Joe Public guy from straight off the street, feel about rainbow coloured macaroons at your wedding?”

 

 

A Machiavelli plot

Last night Guido and I were in bed. I am getting a bit worried you might be thinking that there may be parts of my blog which are inexorably slipping towards innuendo describing Guido and me in the sack.  I do apologise if it’s beginning to have a rather familiar ring to it.  However I thought you might be interested to know that statistically I had more hits on my blog called, “Faking it,” than any of the others put together. I think this must mean there is a disproportionate number of people surfing the net for whom faking orgasms is more of an interest than having them, so they must have been pretty disappointed when they read my blog. To boost healthy search engine figures from now on I am considering tossing in a reference to sex in the title of all of my blogs so perhaps this one should be renamed “In Bed With Machiavelli.” 

Just to explain why we were in bed but not sleeping or having sex, I like to watch TV there.  Last night I was trying to decide whether or not I was really enjoying the latest Scandanavian drama to be imported over here. Although the TV in our bedroom is only at the end of our mattress it’s still too small for me to read subtitles and unfortunately I can’t speak Danish. They talk fast in Denmark and keeping up to speed with the plotline was impossible. Guido was propped up next to me flipping enthusiastically through the pages of a glossy new cookbook he has added to his collection. This one had an ominous photograph of a meat cleaver and a headless chicken on its cover. As you can tell the two of us really do have some pretty exciting evenings at home these days.

We should start to think about organising our wedding.” I announced. Taking this kind of approach was quite a bold tactic for me. My strategy for raising difficult topics to discuss with Guido has always been to slowly reel him in, like that great British idiom, so he’s done up like a kipper. Apologies to my international readers, I realise you may have to go look that one up. What I mean is that whilst we might start out talking about one topic, like say Spanish football, in my mind I’ve already mapped out where I want the conversation to end, and that invariably involves agreeing that we should wallpaper the bedroom. Trust me my comment about marriage planning was said without any hint of Machiavelli plot or anything which might eventually involve having to rent a waterproof marquee.

Yes you should,” Guido replied still reading.

We have to start thinking about a date and get it in the diary.”

Yes you should,” Guido replied still reading.

We have a complicated bilingual Spanish reception to organise which must absolutely not under any circumstances involve flamenco dancing or the banging of heels in time to guitar music.”

Yes you have,” Guido replied still reading.

We have to think about a venue and seating plans. We urgently need to identify who amongst our family and friends has the strongest constitution to sit next to your Great Aunt Angelicas with The Big Nostrils.” Then, I went in for the kill. “How about going up to Marylebone Registry Office tomorrow?”

I can’t tomorrow. The Twins are taking the day off,” Guido said quick as a flash.

Guido has two nineteen year old brothers who help out at The Spanish Onion café. One helps out back in the kitchen and the other helps out front waiting on tables. They are known as The Twins. This is because, not surprisingly, they do happen to be twins. They have names but we only ever refer to them as, The Twins. Even when I ask one of them “Where is? Or how is?” I always say “Your twin.” As they are identical it is probably just as well one works front and one back otherwise it may get very confusing for the customers. The customer might remind the wrong twin about his or her order and this would utterly confound The Twins. They would probably reply saying something completely inappropriate like, “It wasn’t me.”  When The Twins are in the same room together they sometimes stand next to one another and it makes my eyes go all funny. I have to blink repeatedly like I am seeing double – which of course I am.

Oh?” I said, ”No help front or back in the café? That will be difficult for you?”

Yes. I am afraid so, but I couldn’t say no. They are going to audition for Britain’s Got Talent” said Guido.  I really did have to hand it to The Twins. They may not have talent but they certainly had guts. Guts and the capability to throw a spanner into the finer workings of my fledgling wedding plan.

Talent for what?” I said pensively. I honestly didn’t have a clue.

They told me they were gong to perform some sort of original rap which they have written together,” said Guido.  At that point I felt a strange pang of sympathy for Simon Cowell but I kept going – I wasn’t going down this early without a fight.

Why can’t Rosa and Juan help you?” I asked.

They are dying their hair,” Guido said, flicking his own.  Whilst I realised dying ones hair properly could be a time consuming affair, taking all day long to do it seemed to be egging it to me. I don’t know, maybe that is the sort of thing you do when you are retired. You string things out, like hair dying, to fill the cavernous void which your life will have undoubtedly become.

Why didn’t you tell me and I would have made alternative arrangements to help you out? I’ve done it before. Remember?”  At that point Guido closed his cookbook and then he closed his eyes.

Yes. I do remember. And ever since that day I have been trying to block it from my memory. It’s the very reason you helped out before I have never asked you to help out again.”  I was mildly hurt. It was true, certain memories of that occasion did include Guido getting very red faced and shouting in Spanish. Poor customer satisfaction also rang a faint distant bell in the recesses of my brain. I really don’t think you are cut out for a career in the catering trade,” he said.  This made The Twins sound like a couple of brain surgeons. I had just assumed every customer I met that day had loved me. In fact I had fully expected Guido to report back to me that everybody had missed me and had been asking where I was and, for goodness sakes, when would I be back because they couldn’t wait to be served by such a personable and able young man.

You didn’t take food and drink orders when you should have because you were too busy being distracted by a bunch of muscular builders. When you did take an order you wrote it down incorrectly or wrote it so badly I couldn’t even read it. Those customers who did actually get something out of my kitchen witnessed you inexplicably serving it to those at the table next to them but they were too embarrassed to tell you. This meant that the “Sausage Bap” surveyors got the “Bacon Bap” caretakers breakfast and visa versa. The “Ham and Cheese Croissant” had to be renamed the “Tuna Melt” and the “Salt Beef Sandwich with a Gherkin” (on the side) had his gherkin on the side temporarily displaced. You couldn’t work the coffee machine so the only choice everyone had was a straight black or white coffee and even then you gave the “White Skinnys” whole milk and the “Whole Whites” skinny. Never before have I had to listen to such a litany of complaints about the density of froth. Oh and you left the back door open and the dog from the laundrette next door almost urinated in the oven.”

We agreed that if I agreed not to help out then he will agree to agree to a date. Are you still with me? Machiavelli plot or being kippered, you have to hand it to me it was a great outcome.

How about the first dates we can get towards the end of October?” I thought the vagueness of that question was a stroke of brilliance on my part. As Guido tended to operate in a time and calendar free zone I knew the imminence of that time frame would mean absolutely nothing to him. I might as well have said, how about 2020?

OK, but let me know as soon as you can. I suppose I will have to close The Spanish Onion for business on that day?”

Laugh? I almost came apart at the seams. It was classic Guido. If he honestly thought we would be changing into white suits for a quickie in Marylebone Town Hall between the breakfast and lunch hour rush, then he literally had another thing coming.

Sex and sandwiches

I know I’m lucky.  I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be single.  If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know Guido and I met inauspiciously over the liberal buttering of a sandwich. If you haven’t read any of my earlier posts you may be wondering what sort of pick-up joints I used to hang out in. I am pleased to tell you our later liaisons at his café progressed quickly from the humble bread roll to full English breakfast with beans in the morning, and then a flat white and a pastry in the afternoon. Back then I liked to look at Guido a lot. Well to be precise, sit and stare at him over the rim of my coffee cup and try to imagine what he’d look like naked but with just a chef’s hat on.  It got to the stage I was visiting The Spanish Onion so often under the pretence to eat that I was actually finding it difficult to fit in any work around my eating schedule.  I was beginning to feel like some kind of stalker with an eating disorder. I thought Guido was hot and I was just praying that he thought I was at least lukewarm despite the fact that when he threw culinary references into our conversations I didn’t know whether to fricassee or deglaze.  

I used to do this silly thing when I went into the café each lunchtime just to attract his attention. I know what you are thinking. Pass the sick bucket.  I thought I was being really cute and flirtatious but other customers used to look at me like I was a complete whacko.  I’d stand infront of the specials board and the sandwich fillings list and then ask Gudio to make something which wasn’t up there.  I’d say crazy things like, “I am in the mood for peanut butter and banana on toast,” (if you are dieting avoid this) or,  “Make my day special with stilton and marmalade on rye,” (sounds odd but is surprisingly good) or, in a complete moment of madness, “Cream cheese and olives on pumpernickel – yum,”  (do not try this one at home).   Then when I went in the next day Guido would have chalked up and added onto the list whatever I had asked for the day before.

Guido finally got round to testing my sexuality preferences and hesitantly asking me out on a first date. Was I married – he wanted to know? Did I have a girlfriend? – by any chance? On a scale of one to ten who did I find more attractive – Johnny Depp or Chuck Norris. He asked if I’d like to go to the cinema with him but when we got there it turned out the Curzon was full and we ended up back at his loft for a drink. Somewhere between finishing that drink and breakfast downstairs the next morning, we went to bed. But here is the thing, we went to bed, and then we went to sleep. I hadn’t taken my clothes off in front of another man for about a year. Not since Coleman and that bloody suit of armour. So I had gotten a bit out of practice fooling around. I realise taking your clothes off in front of another man is a bit like standing on one leg because once you have done it once it’s one of those things you never forget how to do, even if you do have the lights switched off. Unfortunately on that particular occasion my body dis-morphia suddenly kicked in. This meant that just at the vital moment my underwear hit the carpet, I promptly burst into tears.

Let me give any of you who are about to go out on a first date a bit of advice, particularly if this is likely to involve taking your clothes off in front of another man, do not start crying when you are naked. I can guarantee you this will kill the moment. It was just as well Guido had been awake since five a.m. grilling bacon.  Thankfully he was exhausted and not really that fussed either way about making woopie. 

I can assure you the second time I took all my clothes off in front of Guido I did not cry.  It was an all round far more pleasurable experience.  Trust me that is a whole other blog. 

 

Meet the parents

Last night after closing the café to customers, Guido invited his parents round for a quiet meal.  The purpose of the get together was to tell them that the two of us were going to get married.  Before they arrived Guido said to me, “Let’s break it to them gently.”  This made it sound like we were going to tell them their gold fish had just died, instead of informing them their only son was announcing that he was marrying the man he loved.

Other than being able to speak Spanish, Guido has absolutely nothing physically in common with his parents. I cannot recognise one single similarity. Rosa and Juan both have very long bodies but very short legs. They have lots of spiky hair which they dye jet black with alarming regularity. Not only do they look Spanish but they also sound Spanish. They are both teeny tiny. You could pick them up and put them in your back pocket like two little dolls.  When I met Rosa and Juan for the first time I immediately drew their attention to the relative height difference between them and their son. This was just in case no one else ever had the opportunity to point it out to them before.

When Guido was a baby,” I said, “did you discover him under a cabbage patch leaf?” I asked. This was because Guido seemed to have skipped the Spanish gene completely. They both thought this was very, very, funny.

Ha, Ha, Ha,” his parents both spluttered in response. “You a funny boy!”

I just couldn’t visualise how on earth Rosa gave birth to Guido. I honestly don’t know how he had fitted up there or how she squeezed him out. If you took measurements I am sure it would have been a mind boggling gynaecological wonder of the modern age. The doctors have probably erected a commemorative plaque at the hospital.

Rosa, giving birth to Guido must have been like trying to crap a refrigerator,” I said. When I said that she thought it was very, very, funny.

Ha, Ha, Ha.” I remember she almost fell over on her tiny little Andalucian legs. “You a very, very, very funny boy!”

That wasn’t the only time they thought I was very funny. Rosa and Juan pretty much laugh at everything I say. Whenever they come round to our home they start laughing the moment I open the door.  This can be quite disconcerting when all I have said is hello, and, how are you? On certain occasions they will also point at me and laugh. I honestly think if I told them I had three weeks to live they would collapse in hysterics.  They are certainly easily entertained. My own parents, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. After ten minutes in their company you have an overwhelming compulsion to go and stick your head in the nearest gas oven. Fortunately Guido does not laugh every time he sees me, as that would simply add to my long list of personal complexes. He can be quite serious, especially when he is making tapas or is asking me to marry him.

Guido made us a delicious mushroom risotto. I told him he should add it to the daily specials board.  He explained you have to keep stirring risotto methodically and adding stock so it doesn’t dry out and if he did that all day long his arm would drop off.  Then, just after the grilled peaches with mascarpone but before the cappucinno, Guido dropped our bomb. I could tell Rosa and Juan weren’t expecting it as conversationally it didn’t quite flow from what we’d been discussing. Which was the ridiculous cost of squid in Spain. Guido turned to his parents and said blankly, “So here is how it is. Jean-Paul and I are getting married.” That’s what he said to them. It came totally out of the blue. Deadpan. Just like that. So on a scale of one to ten in the “break it to them gently” stakes I’d say it was bearly a two and a half. I just hope their gold fish never snuffs it.

There was a moment’s silence whilst I think they processed this information from blunt old English back into Spanish.  After a few blinks of her tiny little eyes Rosa’s brow creased in realisation. In one giant leap she threw herself across the table straight at me. She cupped my face in her tiny little hands and yelled, “Homo!” Well I thought she yelled homo. Guido said later that what she actually said was “hermosa” which means, “beautiful”. At the other end of the table Juan dropped off his chair and fell to his knees like he was about to pray.  Only he didn’t pray he just started banging his chest they way an orangutan does and kept saying “Te amo” – “I love you” – over and over.

“Well that didn’t turn out like I expected,” I said to Guido later in bed.

“Yeah I agree,” he said bashing his pillow. “The risotto definitely lacked salt.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

There are lots of customers at The Spanish Onion café Guido calls regulars. Many of them know each other. If you dine here it feels like sitting down to eat with one giant co-located and extended family born and bred in Southwark. Of course everybody knows Guido. Sometimes people who I have never seen before in my life stop us on Bermondsey High Street to chat with him. It is like living with a B list celebrity. No matter where we are going or what we are doing or how badly we are strapped for time Guido always stops to chat.  He calls this “good customer relations.” However, this can make a trip to the dry cleaners seem like the same duration it takes to make a flyby round Pluto.  Guido has a habit of mentally badging his customers with names to match whichever food or drink they routinely order. It’s like a secret code all of his own.  Let me explain.

There is an adorable elderly couple who sit by the café door every morning from about 7.30 am. until 8.30 am. They dress for December weather in woolly coats and scarves even when everybody else around them is sweltering in the heat of July. I think thermal clothing looms largely in their drawers. They pour over the morning newspapers and then they finish The Times crossword together. Their mental faculties are probably more sharp now than mine have ever been, or ever will be. Before I ever really noticed them wearing woolly coats and scarves in the middle of Summer or even bothered to think about their insulated under garments, we met them one day as we were passing by London Bridge. Guido had a very animated conversation with them both about roast pork and homemade apple sauce. As he said good-bye he threw his big arms around them as if they were long lost relatives. As soon as they were out of earshot I said, “So who are our buddies?” I asked this because they seemed to know a lot about us – including all about me. “Them?” he shrugged. “Oh, they’re just the Extra Hot Cappuccinos.”

There is a friendly young couple with two little two kids who come for Sunday lunch every week. They always look completely harassed to the point of collapse. They carry rucksacks which appear to be on the verge of exploding open. I suspect these are full of the kind of paraphernalia you have to have when you have two kids and you want to ever leave your house. They can be heard saying things like “For God sakes please tell me you have not forgotten to pack the wet wipes?” to one another as if this has life threatening implications. They don’t look like they have slept for about five years. Perhaps they haven’t. If the weather is dry they always ask to sit outside in the courtyard at a table so their children can run around and scream like two little mad people whilst they gorge themselves on a chicken leg each. Guido calls them the “All You Can Eats.”  I assume this is because they have roast potatoes, new potatoes, chipolatta, baked sausage, and some sage and onion stuffing on the side.

There is a terrifyingly bespectacled and tweed suited librarian who hides in a corner booth with a big straw. He sucks on it with great gusto and with a force equal to a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Guido calls him, “Banana Milkshake.”

But my absolute all time favourite is a local guy who works as a motorcycle dispatch rider. You can hear his bike revving up the street before you even see him. Think Easy Rider and you’ll get a pretty close mental picture of what he looks like. He makes your average Hells Angel look like some sort of a pussy cat.  He has trailing long hair, lots of leather gear and colourful tattoos. I’d confidently say that his body is pierced someplace but would not like to specify where as it may make my eyes water.  I wouldn’t pick a fight with him, if you catch my drift. He cruises by every day in the mid-afternoon. He swings back the café door in the style of a gun fight at the O.K. Corral and then politely asks for a bowl of “Spotted Dick.” Sometimes he has vanilla custard on it. Let’s not go there.

Of course when we first met I was also one of Guido’s customers but I have no idea what secret code he used to describe me back them. I’ve always been afraid to ask. I have a disturbing mental picture that it involves being smeared with copious amounts of pesto sauce.  Now that I am his boyfriend Guido has lots of names for me and, depending on what we happen to be doing at the time, I can absolutely assure you they are not all food related. 

 

 

Faking it

This morning I had a meeting about a design job with a construction company at their head office in Canary Wharf.  Despite the number of people travelling on London Underground it never ceases to amaze me who I can just randomly bump into. Tanya and I were, I’ll describe this in the loosest possible sense, colleagues ten years ago.  I recognised her immediately on account of the fact that she was wearing super sized spectacles and was waving at me with both hands whilst wiggling her exceedingly long fingers.

Rewind  ten years and if you happened to have been living in the county of Kent and you used to routinely listen to the radio, then you very well may already remember who I am.  I wouldn’t exactly call myself a celebrity but I regularly took part in a radio talk show dispensing advice to callers about interior design dilemmas.  I was desperate for work, and exposure, so did it for free. The show was like a form of psychiatry only rather than discussing callers’ personality disorders I analysed their choice of scatter cushions.  On occasion I could cause quite a stir in Tunbridge Wells with my colour combos.  The show used to air on Daytime Live and was slotted in between a political debate show where everybody screamed blue murder at one another, and a paranormal spiritualist medium who channelled dead people live on air. If you’ll pardon the contradiction. Once a week any lunatic was encouraged to dial in and ask probing questions like “How can I make my wood chip wallpaper resemble Italian marble?” Sometimes if it was very light on calls the producer would brazenly trawl the lines for unsuspecting callers on hold just waiting for the next show to start. So someone who was actually anticipating a chat with his dead aunt could find himself unexpectedly discussing the adaptability of cork floor tiles with me.

The show lasted an hour and was called Inside and Out. I talked about all interior design things inside, and a seventy five year old gardening veteran, called Gertrude Hoff, talked about her English country estate, orchards and herb garden.  Let’s call her the Mary Berry of hanging baskets. We got exactly thirty minutes each. No ifs no buts. I can now tell you that this is where Tanya comes into the story.  The sole purpose of her job was to sit in the studio wearing her giant sized spectacles and stare intently at a stop watch. I think this was because Gertrude complained that I once spoke too long about the importance of sideboard storage and I had eaten into her air time. This meant she had to cut short a piece about ruthlessly trimming her rose bushes.  Unlike Mary Berry, she was not a sweet lady.  This was a woman who would gladly use her finger nails to take apart a slug just for her own private and twisted pleasure.

Before I came on the scene the show used to be called Let’s Go Outside and Gertrude got to talk for the full hour. Then they brought me in because I think the producers realised there was only so much enthusiasm listeners could sustain for anything to do with pesticides. I think Gertrude was probably upset by this and she saw it as a sort of demotion and therefore had to blame somebody and that somebody just happened to be me. As inside in the title came before outside in the title, I also got to talk first. This did mean I was constantly treading on thin ice with Tanya who would watch me intently wearing her giant sized spectacles. She was particularly adept at counting down from ten to zero with her exceedingly long fingers.  I never once saw her lose count.

Gertrude was German. She had a thick Hamburger accent. It sounded like she started every sentence with the letter Z. In all seriousness she used to say things like “Z grass needs mowing every week in June,” or “Z water butts are a glorious gift from God.” How we prepared for that show was opposite. As soon as one show finished I was already mentally planning what to cover on the next. By the middle of the following week I would have narrowed that down to about one hundred and thirty detailed topics. The night before the show I would lie awake in bed thinking about which topic to ditch and which to use and others I thought I should keep up my sleeve as a backup just in case no one bothered to call and I had to keep talking without sounding like I was making things up. Gertrude, on the other hand, seemed to do no preparation whatsoever. She literally turned up just as the green light was about to be switched on, with her dachshund under one arm, and a voluminous soil splattered gardening manual under the other. She would sit down. She would close her eyes. Then she would blindly open the manual and with a long crooked arthritic finger she would point randomly at a page. Then she would slowly open her eyes, look at the text and, depending on exactly where her finger nail had just landed, say something like “Z sweet peas. Today we will talk about Z sweat peas.”

I think her dachshund had a screw loose. She called it “Z dachshund.” It hated everyone, including Gertrude. It looked at you with utter disdain – if dogs know what disdain is – and this one certainly seemed to. Despite having very short legs it could still travel alarmingly fast for its length and height. It would often throw a sort of canine tantrum in the middle of the show and Gertrude would run around the studio trying to hurl her woollen coat and hat over it to try to sedate it. This could be a bit off putting, especially if it was during my allotted slot and I was trying to re-enforce the point to all of my listeners out there that Austrian blinds should be avoided as though your life depended on it. I thought it was great being on the radio.  I think being on the radio was probably far better than being on the television. That way no one knew what I looked like and were therefore unable to harass me in the breakfast cereal aisle at the supermarket because I had rashly advised them to paint their kitchen pistachio. It did my career wonders. My calling card actually had “As Heard On Daytime Live” on it for a while. Then it got difficult fitting a thirty minute slot in Kent around a work commitment in Manchester. There were also only so many times I could tell callers to white out mauve and sound like I really meant it. So I gave it up.

I had a really lovely catch up with Tanya. We didn’t talk for long but apparently she left the radio station soon after I did because her eye sight started to go all wonky and she got that thing in her hands which doctors call repetitive strain disorder.  I reckon that was because of staring at a stop watch all day long without blinking enough, and an inordinate amount of counting down from ten to zero on her exceedingly long fingers. But what Tanya did tell me before she disappeared up the Northern Line was that Gertrude was a complete fake. It turned out that she had no English country estate, never owned an orchard and there was no herb garden. She’d made the whole thing up.  All she had ever had was that thick gardening book and a three foot long window box.

On the way to my meeting all I could think about was Gertrude and her non-existent geraniums but her abundance of chutzpah. She certainly had me fooled. It just goes to show you don’t always get what you see.  For all the readers of this blog know I might not be a gay London interior designer with a hot Spanish boyfriend after all. I may simply be a colour blind sixty nine year old second hand car salesman from Des Moines with an interest in DIY. It does makes you think, doesn’t it?