Just a second

I’m sorry to have to admit to this but at eleven thirty this morning Guido and I were still in bed with the duvet pulled up over our heads. The bedroom roller blind was pulled down. And when I say, the bedroom roller blind was pulled down, what I really mean is that it was hanging at the kind of precarious and twisted angle that only a drunk man like me could have possibly achieved. I vaguely remembered having an awfully involved argument with the cords attached to it seconds before I dived head first onto our bed. I also seem to recall a noisy bong! pow! zing! sound as I hit the mattress springs. I found that highly amusing at the time but at eleven thirty this morning I can guarantee you I wasn’t laughing. In fact I wasn’t doing anything much at all. It seemed like a gargantuan effort just to simply open one eye.

I knew I was still alive because I could feel a throbbing sensation (only not in a good way) across the bridge of my nose. I sat up and felt all over my head. Thankfully it was where I had left it the day before, i.e. still attached to my body.

“Oh God,” I croaked pathetically. “I’ve yet to meet anybody who’s ever jumped up out of bed in the morning after a night on the town who’s said – Gee I really wish I’d had another drink last night, wouldn’t that be a terrific idea.”

I closed my left eye again but even in the semi mid morning light I could tell Guido was worryingly upright in a perky sort of way. Let’s call it a sixth sense of mine. Fortunately I was relieved I couldn’t smell any trace of mayo.

“Did you know that tomorrow night,” Guido said, “the ten-second countdown to New Year 2017 is actually going take 11 seconds?”

“Do what?” I said blinking back into focus.

I’m sure you’ll agree this sounded like the start of a completely riveting conversation but if I’m honest all I was thinking about was when my husband might get up and cook me some breakfast. I thought tentatively about whether to have hot buttered wholemeal toast or a griddled muffin and if my eggs should be scrambled or fried over easy, just how I like them.

“A leap second is to be inserted into the world’s time standard and, technically,” he explained, “midnight tomorrow will actually happen twice.”

There was a long pause.

“Okay, decision made, I’ll have them scrambled on wholemeal,” I said decisively.

There was another long pause for obvious reasons.

“Leap seconds happen because the Earth’s turn is slowing.” Guido ploughed on regardless of my breakfast order. “Every year astronomers work out how much we have slowed and if necessary whether they need to insert one.”

So there you have it folks. Tomorrow when you’ re toasting in 2017 just think of me and Guido sitting here up in the loft at midnight London time with a bottle of Moet and Chandon and his stop watch.

If it’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that every second of this precious life of ours counts, even if it is only long enough to pop a cork. So wherever you are, remember to use yours wisely.

Have a Happy New Year everybody.

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The cafe is now closed

Thursday the café closed at one o’clock in the morning when the last of the Christmas party revellers finally packed up and staggered out into the street. For the final thirty minutes of opening time there was a group of about twenty-five customers, including Guido because I can distinctly remember hearing his voice wafting through the floorboards, give a rousing rendition of, I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts. I’m guessing a lot of alcohol had been consumed.

Guido arrived upstairs in the loft about an hour later and fell into bed next to me with a half drunk bottle of Monopole Champagne and two lukewarm turkey legs. I wasn’t complaining.

The café always closes over Christmas and New Year because all of the commuters stay home and the locals are way too busy at this time of year having a nervous breakdown trying to figure out how to switch their own ovens on. I have to tell you it’s actually nice to, for at least just a couple of weeks, live the kind of life that I assume normal people do. I’m guessing that doesn’t involve the constant roar of an industrial sized cappuccino machine frothing hot milk all day long, and listening to Guido’s daily analysis of that particular day’s most bizarre sandwich filing request.

“I’m warning you, ” said Guido, “it looks like an atomic bomb has been detonated downstairs.”

“Oh we can clean up in the morning,” I said as I nibbled a leg and drank straight from the big bottle.

I didn’t care about the mess because this year our Christmas had just got even better.

My mother, Cruella, has hooked up with a rich young Sheik in a Belgravia hotel for the next five days and Guido’s parents, Rosa and Juan, despite being three suitcase busting limits over their baggage allowance, were last seen boarding an aircraft at London City airport bound for Andalucía. Frankly I’m surprised the plane managed lift off. So now it’s just the two of us left here alone in Bermondsey.

“Perhaps we could just stay in bed for the entire time like John Lennon and Yoko Ono did when they had their protest at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam,” I said.

I silently imagined what Guido and I could get up to between the sheets to help promote world peace. I’m pleased to report that initial thoughts were extremely appealing and no it didn’t involve a salami sausage.

“Yeah, we could just lay here and contemplate our lives as we know them,” said Guido. He always strangely gets a bit like Albert Einstein when he’s drunk. “Or were you planning on suggesting something more energetic?”

I told him I was definitely open to all offers but I’d have to pace myself if it involved mince meat.

I chewed on the last of the turkey. We sipped the remainder of the Champagne between us and then Guido switched out the lamp. I could hear strange gurgling noises emanating from the darkness. I wasn’t sure if it was me or Guido or if our loft’s highly delicate but temperamental plumbing system was about to spring a leak as a surprise Christmas present.

Then I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers and I did what I always do. I hoped for the best.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Risotto, with love

Guido told me there is something very relaxing and therapeutic about stirring round a risotto but it’s only now I think I may have got the point of it. Last night in our kitchen he initially tried to draw the analogy that cooking Italian Arborio rice is the equivalent of culinary transcendental meditation. Only rather than completely emptying your mind and having a eureka moment you get to transform a handful of simple ingredients into a quick and satisfying supper. Now that’s what I’d call enlightenment.

“Why do all of your recipes start with melting a very large slice of unsalted butter?” I asked Guido.

“Because,” he said, “everything tastes better that way.”

“Okay, but should I stir anti-clockwise or clockwise?”

I asked that awkwardly holding a wooden spoon and staring hopefully into the bottom of the pan. Guido looked at me strangely. I suppose it must have been a bit like being the driver of a bus who suddenly asks the passengers if any of them know which is the brake pedal. When I cook, everybody around me needs nerves of steel.

“It really doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistently rotating,” he told me with a reassuring pat on the back.

Consistently rotating? I nodded enthusiastically. I tried to look like I knew what he was talking about so I slowly ran a finger down the opened page of his battered and stain splashed recipe notebook. I could see words like chopping, frying and simmering but there was definitely nothing in there about rotating. I sucked the end of the spoon.

“That means stirring, you big dummy,” said Guido.

What can I tell you? That particular part turned out to be the easiest. Despite being under watchful instruction it was when Guido started telling me what else to throw into the pot that I started having nagging doubts about my cooking ability.

“Relax. Why don’t you just think about this in another way. Pretend you aren’t cooking. Imagine you’re making love with the ingredients,” said Guido in a way that only he could. This is the same guy who once seduced me with a zucchini.

I thought about Tuesday night when we’d both last had sex and, whilst there was definitely butter involved, I couldn’t remember Guido sticking an onion anywhere.

Go with the flow, I thought. I closed my eyes and started to rotate whilst thinking as lasciviously as I could about anything hot and steamy. Something started to work.

Passionately chop one onion. Caress 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a thick seductive slice of unsalted butter until hot. Add the chopped onion and fry tantalisingly until light golden (about 7 minutes). Add a pack of voluptuous lardons. Fry until crisp. Add 300g of joyous risotto rice and spurt in 1 litre of hot vegetable or chicken stock. Rotate in an anti-clock wise or clock wise direction (whichever floats your boat people) for 5 minutes then reduce heat and simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes until the rice is lovingly tender and you are hot under the collar. Drop in 100g of frozen peas for added excitement with a pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer for 3 minutes – if you can hang out that long. Serve romantically in warm bowls with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Honestly, I’d say this risotto was actually better than making out.

Four weddings and a father

One of the great things about writing a blog is that, if you’re really lucky, people will begin to read what you write. Sometimes they’ll come back again and read some more of it. And if you’re very very lucky, when you’ve been trying to write something humorous at the time, you might just possibly make somebody laugh.

I wrote a post here a while ago called, Charles Aznavour and me, and if I’m honest I thought I was being pretty funny with it. Amongst other things that particular piece was about my mother’s love life. Regular readers will know that I always refer to her as Cruella. I wrote about my mother’s attraction to small Frenchmen and how I bore an uncanny and worrying resemblance to the singer Charles Aznavour. I still blame the eyebrows.

Well, l received an anonymous comment about that post recently. The reader thought I should even things up a bit on the parental front and include an equally pithy narrative about my father because he was probably just as much of a fruit cake as my mother was. The reader’s words, not mine. But it’s funny how people who’ve never met you before and know almost nothing about you, other than that you have an interest in spreading mayonnaise on you’re husband’s feet, can suddenly prick you conscience. It’s true, I certainly could never describe my parents as a match made in heaven. My father isn’t French and he’s terrible at singing karaoke so I guess on some level their relationship was almost certainly doomed from the start.

Despite being divorced and sometimes unavoidably absent my father did try his best for me. When I was growing up he always used to instil a moralistic code with words like, when you make a mistake you are still beautiful, or, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And never were those latter words more relevant than when, aged 12 and already displaying signs of an interest in interior design, I’d attempted to single handedly wallpaper his kitchen whilst he sat in his front room obliviously watching the late evening news. But the great thing about my father is that he’s always lived by the same advice he gave to others too. So despite having 4 marriages (including the one to Cruella) he’s still beautiful and still trying.

“A great marriage means falling in love with the woman over and over again,” he told me once, “unfortunately I’ve just never been able to successfully do that with the same one I was married to at the time.”

I don’t think my father regrets leaving any of his wives. Nor does he seem to regret growing his hair, buying hipster jeans, or being forced to wear a Fitbit. Of course if he hadn’t done those things he’d never have met Amber and started dating her. As long as my father avoids making any cultural or historical references to events prior to 1992, never reveals he hasn’t a clue who One Direction are, and avoids having a heart attack, then I think the two of them will probably have a terrific future together.

I just hope that makes my anonymous reader as happy as it seems to make my father.

Think about this

Late last night when Guido and I climbed into bed things started to get heavy almost straight off. I think it was only marginally to do with the very large and thick wedge of home baked raisin and apple pastry plait and the full fat cream which I’d scoffed just before I’d gotten between the sheets. As you will now realise, The Banana Diet is off the menu. Though I’m making a mental note as I type this. Visit pharmacy tomorrow to buy some more Pepto-Bismol.

“It’s times like this it really makes you think, doesn’t it?” said Guido staring at our bedroom ceiling in deep contemplation like he’d gone into some sort of a trance.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the paint is still flaking off it.

“I mean,” said Guido with a thoughtful hmm… sound at the end his sentence, “what’s it really all about?”

Great, I thought, it’s almost midnight and the last thing I wanted to do was start to contemplate life as we know it under a duvet. So I lay there silently next to him waiting for some kind of hidden clue about where this conversation might be going to take us. In the end I just said what I always say to Guido when I can’t figure out what he’s talking about. Which is – why don’t you roll over and I’ll give it a rub? It usually moves things along a bit.

“Who would have thought one man’s life would be defined by what he decided to put in his mouth?” said Guido completely ignoring me. Though if I’m honest I suddenly perked up. I had the feeling this conversation had the potential to turn into something really quite promising after all.

“Think, just for a moment, about some of the special people who have made their mark,” he said.

The air should have been full of Mahatma Gandhis and Winston Churchills but for some strange reason the only person running through my mind was Judge Judy Sheindlin.  But Jim Delligatti, who sadly died aged 98 last week, certainly hadn’t been on my list. If you’ve never heard of Jim, 50 years ago he single handedly invented the Big-Mac. He created the formula of having two lots of everything – beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a special sauce – all in one burger.

“The dude was a legend,” said Guido flicking out the light. “A true hero in the world of beef in a lightly toasted brioche bun. I can only dream of coming up with a recipe which might one day be so iconic.”

I closed my eyes in the darkness. Despite the fact I’d just eaten a luscious slice of sticky dessert merely 15 minutes before, I felt weirdly empty. I opened my eyes. Big-Mac 550 calories, fries 230 calories, milkshake 530 calories. Total 1290 calories. That’s more than half an average Joe’s daily calorie intake in one sitting. I closed my eyes again and tried to think only about bananas but it didn’t seem to work.

I really couldn’t tell you what Guido’s legacy will be to the culinary world but if it has anything to do with what I write and what you read on this blog then I think it’s definitely going to involve a salami sausage. And if he took the lead from big Jim Delligatti, there will probably be two of them. Now, that certainly was something to think about.