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.