Last night our friends Gary and Ted came round to the café after closing time to eat linguine and play poker. Just to clarify. The linguine and the sauce was homemade. The poker was much more messy. Gary and Ted shuffle ruthlessly and constantly win. Ted makes Cool Hand Luke look like a pathetic loser.

“Did you know,” I said, “being naked surrounded by a group of people makes you feel good?”

Everybody stopped staring at their cards. If you’re ever looking for a conversation stopper, do try it.

“Honest to God,” I said, “I heard it on the radio earlier whilst I was in the bath.”

There’s been a serious study. It’s been published in (and I’m not making this up) the Journal of Happiness Studies. They’ve come to the conclusion that taking off your clothes around strangers is probably good for you.

“You’re making this baloney up,” said Ted. I could tell by his nonchalant use of the word baloney that he had the makings of a great hand.

“No, honestly,” I said. I made a cross my heart sign with my spoon. “Anyway, if it’s in the Journal of Happiness then it’s got to be true, right?”

I’ve never actually read anything published in that Journal before but I definitely do like the sound of it. The next time I’m having a down day I’m going to look it up and start thumbing through it enthusiastically to see where I’ve been going wrong. Putting clothes on in the morning, by the sounds of it.

“Apparently 850 British people were asked to fill out an online survey,” I said, “and it was found that those who spent more time naked were happier with their bodies.”

I thought this was terrific news. Who cares that the rest of the world is going down the pan. Just strip off and everything will be fine. Shout it from the roofs I say!

“Wow,” said Gary. “Perhaps the next time we come over to play cards everybody should take all their clothes off before the first round.” He paused. I think he was weighing up the pros and cons of how this might affect any winning streak. “Though I do realise this could make it difficult to concentrate if any one of us was holding a Straight Flush in their hand at the time.”

“It’s possible,” said Guido sagely, “that the people who were surveyed were happier with their bodies in the first place so were more likely to spend time naked, and it’s not that being naked made them any more happier.”

I don’t know about you but I had to get Guido to repeat that sentence three times before I understood what the hell he was going about. Maybe it’s just me, but I think he should just stick to linguine.

“Okay,” I said, “it’s fine for you, Mr Einstein with a six-pack. But what about the rest of  us who spend half our lives on The Banana Diet, and the other half sucking everything in.”

Relax. There is light at the end of this tunnel of nudity. Apparently the findings also suggested that seeing other people naked could be even more beneficial than being seen naked yourself. A brief surf of the net, for purely scientific purposes, confirms this is correct.

These guys at The Happiness Institute really know what they’re talking about.

Warm like the sun

“When I was a little kid I used to be terrified of the dark,” said Guido tightly tucked up next to me in our bed last night.

As he is now just short of about seven feet tall this is a very hard concept to get your head round. I suppose he was tiny once upon a time. As I’ve said to his mother Rosa, many many times before, it must’ve been a gynaecological miracle just giving birth to him. After all of those hours of squeezing and panting I think they should’ve erected a commemorative wall plaque at the hospital.

“I’d cry out and my Pappa would come up and turn the lamp on and he’d try to reassure me that everything was really alright.”

“I can imagine Juan bounding upstairs,” I said, “what did he do, pacify you with a dummy dunked in sangria?”

“No, silly,” said Guido. “He’d lay me down and tell me to close my eyes and imagine I was on the hot sand on our favourite beach just outside of Malaga. Then he’s ask me if I could feel the glow from the sun and I’d say yes and he’d pull the blanket up around my neck and switch out the lamp and then everything would seem to be okay again.”

“That’s so sweet,” I said, because it was. “Mental imagery can be such a powerful tool you know. I use it every time I look at myself naked in the mirror. I just pretend I’m Joe Wicks. If you threw in a wok and a high protein stir fry, frankly you’d be hard pushed to tell us apart.”

“Weren’t you afraid of the dark?” he asked.

“Not really no,” I said, “I was far too busy trying to drown out the sound of my mother chasing my father around our house with a frying pan. They spent almost all their brief and deliriously happy marriage trying to kill one another.”

Suddenly outside there was the sound of an ear drum exploding bang. It was loud enough to make Guido leap from bed to look out of the window and drag all of the blankets across our bedroom floor with him.

“What on earth was that?” he said.

“Oh, it was probably just Ethel in the laundrette next door. One of her barrels of hooch explodes from time to time depending on gas content. Either that or it was one of the night buses backfiring. Come back to bed would you?” I said, “and bring the bedclothes with you, its freezing in here.”

It was very cold in London last night.

He climbed back in beside me.

“You feel like an iceberg,” Guido said. So he snuggled up behind me and put his big hairy arms around my waist and nestled his chin on my shoulder. “Is that better?”

“Yeah,” I said. And I made the same, mmmmh…, kind of moan I usually only specially reserve for when I’m eating a slice of his homemade shortbread. It’s crumbly with a chewy chocolate and caramel topping on it. It’s totally orgasmic. I’ll divulge his recipe someday and you’ll all realise exactly what’s been missing from your lives all these years.

“Close your eyes,” Guido said, “and imagine you’re laying on a hot sandy beach in Andalucía. Can you feel the glow?”

I closed my eyes. Let’s just say I could definitely feel something.

Blue Monday

It may have escaped you but, Friday’s date was the thirteenth. To top it all Monday’s going to be what’s statistically the most depressing day of the year. They don’t call it Blue Monday for nothing. So to combat this double whammy, this perfect storm of worldwide malcontent, I decided to put on a happy face.

I got out of bed Friday and looked in the bathroom mirror. I’ve got to tell you it wasn’t a pretty sight. Despite the application of copious amounts of gel I had a tuft of hair which stayed stubbornly standing erect on top of my head like some sort of radio antenna. I smiled my best smile and got dressed. It was grey and wet and miserable outside and, although only about ten paces from our loft to the café backdoor, I still got soaked.

“Hello husband!” I waved cheerily, as I dripped all over the place, “How’s my culinary lover this fine and glorious morning?”

Guido was standing frowning infront of his chopping board with a big carving knife in his hand. He started to ruthlessly stab an aubergine. In my head I heard the violins from the soundtrack of the movie Psycho. Never before had I felt such sympathy for a vegetable. I moved swiftly on and threw open the kitchen door.

“Good morning London!” I yelled at the customers.

Everybody stared at me grumpily. Nobody said anything. Okay, I thought, I’m definitely sensing bad karma. I wanted to reassure them. Today wasn’t that bad, just wait until you get a load of Blue Monday. I sat down in the nearest booth opposite the customer I affectionately call The Lady With Bushy Eyebrows. This is because she does have big eyebrows which are only ever visible from over the top of her newspaper, even when she is simultaneously eating breakfast and sipping coffee. She makes Freda Kahlo looked plucked. I distinctly heard her say the words, oh no, as I sat down.

Guido has two nineteen year old identical twins work for him. One helps out front, the other out back. They both have names but I can never tell which is which so to make it easier for myself I only ever refer to them as, The Twins.

“Lovely to see you Twin!” I said jauntily. He sauntered over warily with a notepad. “I’ll have a slice of toasted happiness and a cup of positivity please!”

He seemed startled by my liberal use of exclamation marks. “Have you just taken a pill?” he asked, curling his top lip. I shook my head still smiling.

“No,” I said, “But to keep this real I’ll have a mug of hot water with a slice of lemon, and a banana please.” I mean, what better day to reboot The Banana Diet? I tapped Freda Kahlo’s newspaper.

“Today’s Friday 13th,” I said flashing my teeth, “traditionally bad luck. Personally I blame The Last Supper.”

Freda raised her big eyebrows, “Yeah,” she said, “Just be careful you don’t get run over by an oncoming bus today,” which I thought was particularly caring of her.

Later in bed Guido told me The Twins had grassed me up and that my happy disposition was scaring the customers.

“If you keep this demeanor up through Blue Monday,” he said, “I’ll have to lock you in a cupboard until Tuesday.”

I think he meant it.

Where’s the beef?

Paul Newman once famously said that the reason he remained faithful to his wife Joanne Woodward was his discerning taste. “Why eat hamburger,” he said, “when you’ve got steak at home?”

There is a point to this story.

All this week I’ve been in Sheffield working for a very demanding client. For the purposes of anonymity, and so I still eventually get my pay check, let’s call her Cybill. Against my better judgement I’d agreed to style everything in Cybill’s home hot pink. Apparently her ex-husband had hated pink. I was happy to help out but the finished look was always going to be like living inside a human sized version of Barbie’s Camper.

“My ex-husband Simon had an expensive love of silk ties,” said Cybill, “he had every design you could possibly think of and some of them were even pink.”

You know sometimes being an interior designer is just like being a shrink.

“And then when I found out he’d cheated on me I calmly took out a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer and I went up to the bedroom and I chopped up every tie he ever owned into tiny little pieces.” She smiled as she said that. “And then when I found out who he was having the affair with, well, I went straight round to her home and threw a tin of pink emulsion over the roof of her car.

“Really?” I said.

I didn’t know whether to call the Police and report the whacko or just paint faster.

“My ex-husband was not what I’d call a dependable man.” Cybill looked around the room and let out a big sigh. “But pink is such cathartic colour, don’t you agree?”

Fortunately I’d been staying in a hotel nearby where nothing was pink. It was mahogany brown with tired looking purple tones and a weird sticky green stain on the carpet right where you’d put your feet when you stepped out of the bed. There was also a completely useless throw over the mattress which, when I rolled over in the middle of the night, it wrapped me up tight like one of Harry Houdini’s old straightjackets. Depending on how many shades of pink my day had been, I’d sit in the hotel bar before dinner. I’d have a warm Diet Coke and, to alleviate thoughts of psychotic Cybill, flick through a tattered visitors’ guide of the Yorkshire Dales. Then l’d drink four large glasses of dry white wine in quick succession, one right after the other.

On Thursday night I called Guido on my mobile. I’d never been so pleased to hear his voice. Apparently the heating in the loft had broken down again and he was in bed still wearing all of his clothes plus a balaclava on his head.

One of the things I love about Guido is his dependability. If there was ever a gas explosion in the café you’d find him standing upright once the dust settled still pickling a plum.

“What’d you have for dinner?” he asked.

“A hamburger,” I said.

“Well.” he said “when you get back here I’ll knock up a steak au poivre for you as a treat.”

I switched out the lamp and lay in bed thinking about pink bedrooms and Paul Newman. Trust me. I couldn’t wait to get home.