A reunion

Thursday night, and to my High School class reunion at the Scout Hut in Bromley.  Walter With The Big Nostrils, from geography class (who I will now refer to as WWTBN to reduce word count), organised the whole thing.  He was relentless with his electronic reminders.  It was like being stalked by an aardvark with access to email.  When I got there it was packed with people.  It was a huge relief.  My biggest fear was that only WWTBN, me, and a plate of cheese balls would show up.

The first person I clapped eyes on was Ursula Bannon.  All the guys in school used to be driven insane by Ursula’s breasts.  Even back then they were the size of melons.  How ironic that the only person she seemed to be remotely sexually interested in, was me.  This was obviously a horrible waste of tropical fruit.  She used to giggle French phrases when we passed in the corridor because I’m called Jean-Paul and she assumed I was from Marseille.  We didn’t actually get to speak but I could see her enormous breasts still had the ability to pull a decent crowd.  

Jason and Carl, from metalwork class, were there. We reminisced fondly over rum punch about the time Jason welded the class door shut.  We were trapped inside for two hours. Carl got hysterical and had to suck oxygen from a paper bag to remain concious. Mercifully Jason is no longer welding and is now a librarian.  Though he does still have a wonky eye which probably causes mayhem in the indexing Department.  Carl is a very enthusiastic car mechanic.  What he doesn’t know about cleaning out a carburettor is nobody’s business.  Apparently his record for jacking up cars on his garage forecourt singled-handedly in one day currently stands at 16.   It was terrific to see them both but if I’m honest the person I wanted to meet again more than anyone else was, Herbie Dunk.  You couldn’t help but become best friends with a guy with a name like that.  

Herbie loved the antics I got up to.  There’s an old metaphor about loading a gun and somebody else firing it.  Well that’s what Herbie did.  He routinely pulled back the trigger and I happily unloaded the barrel.  Then afterwards Herbie would always yell out to anyone who would listen, “You’ll never guess what Jean-Paul has just gone and done!” or “Wait until you hear what Jean-Paul just said to so and so!”  It was like having my own personal fog horn.  

Anyway Herbie burst into the hut and made a beeline straight for me.  I hardly recognised him.  He is now a completely bald dentist from Brighton.  He does have terrific teeth.  The moment I told him I was getting married he got incredibly excited.  He just couldn’t stop himself loading that gun straight off. 

“No shit! No shit!” he said hopping about, “Hey everybody,” he started to yell loudly, “guess what Jean-Paul just told me.”  People stopped talking and looked at Herbie, and then they looked at me. It must have seemed just like old times.  “Jean-Paul’s finally getting married!  How terrific is that?!”  He slapped his brow and then he slapped my back.  “So,” he winked, “tell us, who the hell’s the lucky lady?” 

I cocked my metaphoric pistol. Then I fired it point blank.  When I told everyone it was a giant hairy chef from Malaga it was quite the conversation stopper I can tell you.

 Let’s just say Tommy Fisher, who I used to get changed next to in Gym, looked pretty startled.

Elvis is in the café

There’s a guy who comes into The Spanish Onion café who’s a professional Elvis impersonator.  The only problem, if it is indeed a problem, is that he also seems to think he actually is Elvis.  That got me thinking.  I had a light bulb moment. Ping.

“You should definitely think about involving him in one of your Spanish themed nights,” I suggested to Guido.  “Elvis and Escabeche – I can see it now.”  Guido pulled a funny face.  Agreed, it didn’t exactly have the best of rings to it.  I’m also not sure the real Elvis ever ate poached fish Spanish style unless it had fried peanut butter sandwiches on the side.  

This guy’s name is Ron, but he prefers it if people only ever refer to him as Elvis.  He visits most days and orders mashed banana and grape jelly on rye.  Guido then unceremoniously heats it in the deep fat frier.  I am making this sound like the café is a magnet for complete food lunatics which, if you ever go there, you will see it is.  Ron tries to speak just like Elvis used to.  When he gets offered a table he usually says, “I’d just like to be treated like a regular customer.”  And then when he leaves, instead of saying good-bye, he says, “Until we meet again,  may God bless you, as he has blessed me.” 

Unfortunately he doesn’t look like the Elvis who played Vegas who was sexy and dressed in tight black leather.  He looks more like the Elvis who played Vegas who was sweaty and dressed in white boots and bat wings. He has jet black hair and matching sideburns.  It must take him about three hours to set it completely iron clad.  Which is just as well as The Spanish Onion is in direct line of the down draft caused by The Shard. 

This morning I took the initiative and struck up a conversation with Ron, sorry I mean Elvis.  I asked him if he would be interested in playing here some time.

“I never expected to be anybody important,” he said curling his top lip, “But I was an overnight sensation.”  He took off his black sunglasses, the lenses of which were the size of dinner plates. “They put me on television.  And the whole thing broke loose.  It was wild I tell ya, for sure.”   I nibbled a piece of toast.  I sensed he sensed I was unimpressed.   “But I did the Ed Sullivan show four times.  I did the Steve Allen show.  I did the Jackie Gleason show.”  I took another nibble.  He changed tack.  “Man, I really like Vegas.”  This was worrying.   Despite a generally enthusiastic audience The Spanish Onion wasn’t exactly what you’d call Caesars Palace. 

“So what do you think Ron?” I said.  “Guido pays a nightly rate and is willing to throw in a free omelette.” I didn’t want to sound desperate but personally I couldn’t face another themed night with the Spanish band Los Chicos clacking their little Spanish heels on the floor all night. “Everyone will love you tender,” I said.

“Thank ya, thank ya very much,” he said. He put his black glasses back on. “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth, I just sorta do’em all together I guess.”

I just hope he doesn’t put any of the customers off their escabeche.

What lies beneath

As well as writing my own blog over the past few months I’ve also been following others who blog around this small planet of ours too, and frankly it’s terrifying.  The worrying common denominator caused by these astonishing bloggers is that they all seem to have far more interesting and rewarding lives than I do.  Then they blog about it.  It makes gripping reading.  Honestly, when it comes to comparing what I get up to, I think I’ll need to start creating a work of fiction just to keep people interested.

The dizzying highlights on my own blog have involved having sex whilst wearing armour, the state of the stuffing in my sofa, Guido’s feet, and, cabbage soup.  I was about to say those are the kinds of examples of the sad depths my life routinely sinks to but I can now report it’s plunged even lower.  And when I say lower, I’m talking right down to the nether regions and underwear.  And specifically, pants. That’s “pants” for British readers and “shorts” for North American.  It may just be “knickers” to everyone else around the globe.  Guido has had a very worrying crisis over the last couple of days involving stretched elastic.

“I don’t want to worry you unnecessarily but…,” he stopped stirring a cauldron of fish stew as I passed by the kitchen yesterday.  He started motioning with a wooden spatula, pointing in the general direction of his groin area, “the soldiers are unexpectedly leaving the platoon.”  

I should explain why he was doing that and what it meant. Earlier this week Guido washed 95% of his underwear all in one go on a wash as hot as a desert and followed it with a fast spin as violent as a tornado.  I am surprised he didn’t hear the noise of seventeen sets of underwear making the collective TWANG! of self destruct as the machine cycle hit full throttle.  The result was that what came out of the dryer unfortunately bore no resemblance to what had originally gone in. What had once happily supported its contents, now sagged irrevocably.  This reinforces the reasons why I never let Guido anywhere near my dirty laundry.  Unfortunately he buys his nondescript underwear from the street market so it doesn’t have a brand name like the kind of underwear normal men wear.  Nor are they an easily recognisable shape like, say, briefs or boxers or hipsters.  Guido’s underwear has always resembled a cross between a jock strap and the undercarriage of a B52 with bomber doors fitted.  Ready to crank open at a moment’s notice and launch an indiscriminate explosion just when you least expect it.  

The upshot of this tale of woe is that I am to be despatched to source replacement items.  To be able to illustrate to stall vendors in the South London area what these garments had once looked like, I have been left with no option but to take a photograph of a pair to show anyone with a strong enough constitution and who might be willing to take look.  Now I know how the cops feel pulling back a sheet on the slab at the morgue.  

There is, however, one thing I am completely confident about.  I can guarantee you there will be no bloggers anywhere posting content like this today.  And you read that here first folks.    

Declaring intentions

If Guido had anything to do with planning our wedding we would only have a guest list of (and we are talking worst case scenario here folks) just four people.  That’s Guido, me, a Registrar, and Gary and Ted – they’ve already confirmed their availability as bridesmaids.  If I’m very lucky this might be followed by a lunch reservation in some dark corner at The Garrison Pub in Bermondsey Street.  As Guido never bothers to read this blog I am happy to tell you that I’ve another covert guest list drawn up.  I am even more happy tell you that it stretches over three pages in my notebook and that there are currently one hundred and four names on it. And no, it doesn’t yet include the Spanish contingent, nor the band.  

“Will it be quick and painless?” asked Guido.  He was making our initial registration sound like a visit to the dentist. 

“It will be if we do it as soon as possible,” I said.  I was lying.  This would make absolutely no difference whatsoever but I thought it might move things along.  “The Registrar will ask us lots of personal and detailed questions and then post our names to a noticeboard in the town hall like two wanted fugitive outlaws from the wild west.”  For some reason cowboy hats and leather tassel chaps sprang tantalisingly to mind.

Declaring your intention to marry is the law here.  Then anyone who wants to, can object to it.  Like the person you might actually still be married to so you don’t become a bigamist. I can’t imagine anything worse than those stories you hear about from time to time where some demented loose cannon bursts through the vestry doors just as the vicar is about to say, and you may kiss the bride, shouting “STOP! STOP!” and causing a right palaver all over the alter. Anne Bancroft’s character in the film, The Graduate, did that right at the end and look at the state she got herself into.

“The Registrar will also want to make sure our intentions are for real,” I said. If they’re not, it’s what they call in the marriage trade, a complete sham. This was obviously making me nervous.  Guido would not be staring into my eyes adoringly.  Nor would he be holding me in a romantic clinch. This may give the Registrar the illusion that we were not in love and it was all just going to be a convenient financial arrangement.  Which would add worrying weight in the sham department. At least we were both British passport holders and it would be impossible for us to be deported to Belarus just because Guido couldn’t immediately recall what date my mother was born or what colour our bedroom curtains are.

“On our wedding day we could get matching tee-shirts with slogans printed on them,” said Guido.  “Something like – he’s mine, on mine, and I’m his, on yours – emblazoned across our chests.  Something obvious so no one would be in any doubt.  What do you think?”  I obviously told him.

By the way, our bedroom curtains are cotton white and we have highly effective black out lining – just in case you were wondering.

The spice of life

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” I said to Guido on my way through the café kitchen this morning.  I wasn’t referring to him of course.  I was pointing to the ham he was liberally smearing honey over. 

“Quit busting my chops,” he said. “I mean how could someone have contempt for something so beautiful as a ham joint?” 

I was merely trying to reinforce an important point I made earlier over a hot toast breakfast.  Today I told Guido that, just for a change, I was going to be making small but significant alterations to my day – and I thought he should too. Why bake a ham with honey when you could use maple and mustard?  Hello? It’s a no brainer. 

“My life feels like a horrible groundhog day.  Each one is beginning to merge together.  I’m stuck in a routine rut.  I get up, I go to work, I source an avant garde candelabra made from re-cycled bicycle parts for a Russian oligarch, and then I come home again and eat cold honey baked ham for dinner.” 

“I can see why you must be bored rigid,” said Guido.

When I walk to work each day I always exit the café doors, turn right, and then head down Bermondsey High Street. My route never differs.  If it did, my ying would simply not yang.  But this morning, I turned left.  I have to tell you it felt like I was walking back to front.  Unfortunately about a hundred yards down the street I managed to get my foot stuck down a drain vent.  Pulling it out I ripped the sole of my boot just below the toe.  So thirty minutes later than usual, and with one very cold and damp left foot, I hopped into my office.   Goodness, wasn’t doing things differently a cinch. 

“You are almost thirty minutes late,” said my assistant Toby.  If you read this blog you might remember Toby has OCD.  He dislikes it when I am late.  Sometimes it feels like he is employing me rather than the other way around.  “I was tracking the erratic movements emanating for your mobile phone and noticed that rather than turning right when you departed home this morning you turned left.  Can we please discuss this worrying anomaly after we have had our coffee?”  That was when I broke it to him we would be doing things differently today and rather than both having coffee we would both be having green tea.  Toby had to immediately lie down with his feet raised slightly above his head to recover from the initial shock of this change to our refreshment schedule.  

Later at the deli I boldly picked a tuna wrap rather than my safe and usual option – a cream cheese bagel.  But I think the tuna was off.  So I sucked on one of those hard boiled sweets and then I crunched. Then I realised I’d chipped a hole in a molar.  It would probably cost about £125 to have my tooth filled but hey, at least I had eaten something different for lunch.  At night over dinner I updated Guido on my amazingly different day. 

“A ripped boot, a catatonic assistant, a stinky lunch, and a big dental bill.  I have to hand it to you, it sounds like the best day you’ve ever had,” said Guido. 

Thankfully the cold ham cuts we always eat on a Monday night tasted exactly the same.

We are what we are

 Yesterday a guy called Walter, who I haven’t heard from in years, emailed me right out of the blue about attending our High School reunion.  There used to be two Walters in my class at High School.  To differentiate between them both we all called one Walter, and the other we all called Walter With The Big Nostrils.  Not surprisingly we called him Walter With The Big Nostrils because he did have shockingly big nostrils in comparison to the size of the rest of his head.  He didn’t mention anything about nostrils in his email but it was definitely Walter With The Big Nostrils who got in touch.  The only conclusion I could draw was that after 30 years of steady growth the rest of him had finally caught up and he was now fully in proportion.  Presumably he was desperate to show this phenomenon off to everybody.  

“I don’t want to scare you but when I was younger I wasn’t like the other boys,” I said to Guido.  He was upstairs laying on the loft floor doing multiple press-ups in between shifts downstairs at the café.  I was laying on the sofa.  I really like watching Guido exercise, especially when all he is wearing is a pair of joggers.  Despite the fact that all that up and down motion was slowly working his sweat pants southwards towards his ankles, I was being annoyingly distracted by random thoughts of oversized noses. 

“Let’s back up a bit,” said Guido.  “When you say you weren’t like other boys just what exactly do you mean?” He looked worried.  Like I was about to break it to him after all these years that I was actually a closet leprechaun.

“Well what I actually mean is, I couldn’t do things like most boys could.” I said.  “I couldn’t throw a ball, or catch a ball.  I was useless at field sports and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t light a fire with just two twigs.”    

Fortunately my talents lay hidden elsewhere.  From an early age I discovered I had an uncanny but natural ability to wallpaper.  As you can imagine my parents weren’t exactly thrilled.  I’d spend hours thinking about what it would be like to be able to rag roll over the walls of the family home completely unhindered.  Of course something like that was only ever going to happen if both my parents had an unexpected and horrible accident which landed them in adjoining oxygen tents.  Just to reassure readers, I didn’t really want that to happen. I might not have been like other boys but I wasn’t a complete psychopath.  But hey, it was still a satisfying thought to think that my parents would have been in no position to veto my plans for a Shaker kitchen. 

“What does it matter what you used to be like, its what you can do now that’s important?” said Guido.  He stopped lifting a medicine ball above his head with what looked like just one finger.  “You can do things other guys I’ve met can’t do.”  He looked at his watch.  “I have an hour before prepping dinner service.  Why don’t you do that hot thing you do where you take all your clothes off and then re-enact the mutiny scene from Treasure Island. I bet none of your old school buddies can do that?  Only guessing.” 

Well it did make a change from wallpapering.

 

Our big night out

One of the downsides of living with a chef is you don’t get to go out to eat that much.   The last time we ate out was at a pop-up restaurant in Peckham Rye some fool had recommended. The only problem was that nobody had bothered to tell us the tables were inside what turned out to be a metal shipping container.  By the time the main courses arrived it was so dark in there Guido and I couldn’t see each other, let alone tell what the food looked like.  But no matter where we eat, I can guarantee you Guido – the chef – will do that thing he always does.  After one mouthful he’ll raise one eyebrow then utter one of the following three sentences.  1. “I am not sure why I ordered this.”  2.  “Is the chef here headless?”  and, I know you will find this one hard to swallow but, 3. “This is not what I would call a clam.”  Well on Thursday night we threw caution to the wind and ventured out again.  This time we were thinking big.  

“Get on your glad rags we are dining out tonight and there will be no expense spared!” said Guido slamming shut the fridge door recklessly. I love it when he gets masterful.

Unfortunately by the time we got to The Real Greek it was full of Japanese tourists.  The Swan at The Globe was full of American tourists and Carluccio’s was just full of people of indiscriminate nationalities stuffing there faces with spaghetti.  Looking at them through the window all slurping and sucking and licking was making me super hungry as well as increasingly psychotic.  When I looked at Guido I was beginning to see the distinctive shape of ravioli in his eyes. 

“I’m starving,” I said to Guido.  “I think I am more hungry now than I ever have been in my entire life.”  Which was ridiculous.  Had I really forgotten that night when I was stuck on the London Underground for three hours between Mansion House and Moorgate?  I had only a Peperami, a Cherry Coke and a small child’s half eaten Big Mac for sustenance.  “At this precise moment I think I could possibly eat my left foot,” I said.  I realise this would have made walking home later particularly tricky. 

Yes.  For a horrible moment I thought we were going to have limp back to the café and face the ultimate indignity of eating cold tortilla.  Then, just when I thought all was lost, I smelt the faint whiff of a deep fried potato in the air.  Who would have thought that the simple but old fashioned British fish and chip shop right next door to the London Eye would come to the rescue.  Every nationality of tourist on the planet was in that shop and we shared one common word no matter which language we spoke.  And that word was, cod. 

Later Guido and I sat down on the bank of the river Thames right in front of Tate Modern.  We watched the pleasure boats go by and the sun go slowly down and shared a bottle of beer. 

“We really should do this again sometime,” I said thinking of all the high class restaurants we were missing out on across this great capital city of ours.  

“Yeah,” said Guido, “Next time I’m going to order the fishcake with the mushy peas.”