Someone like me

It was my father’s third wife who told me, then as an awkward teenager, I was somebody who was really special.

“Always remember,” Flora said, “someone like you is born to sing their own song.”

I, of course, instinctively knew right at that moment, she knew, that I knew, exactly what she was talking about.

“And don’t you ever be afraid to sing it,” she said.

Flora was all of the things that draw you to a person. Compassionate, unconditionally loving, prone to drama, but a whole bunch of fun to be around. She thought absolutely nothing of baking me a chocolate gateaux for weekday breakfast. Which regular readers will now know probably explains a great deal about me. Although she didn’t have any children of her own, she had the ability to tap into what was crackling over a gay adolescent’s frequency like an untuned radio; yet still able to make perfect sense of it to translate for the listener.

“ When you’re older – listen out for someone else singing the same song,” she went on, “and if you hear it, promise me you won’t be scared to listen to it.”

I’ve never forgotten about that conversation with Flora, and was reminded of it again when I saw two young guys in our cafe courtyard this lunchtime. It’s one of the first occasions Guido’s set up tables outside in the Denmark Hill garden. And when I use the term garden, it’s in the loosest possible sense. The place has had a brush up and a lick of paint. You’d be impressed.

I watched them both. They were laughing. They ordered club sandwiches with extra ketchup, they shared a Coke from the same iced glass and for the longest time they stared at one another. Then one reached out and held the other’s hand.

That’s when I heard a familiar song playing in my head. Someone like me can’t miss it.

“Why d’you have such a happy smiley face on?” asked Guido when I strolled into the kitchen.

“I just heard a song I like,” I said.

I pulled a stool up at the counter top where he was mixing the contents of a cake batter. It looked wet and thick and luscious. It took a great deal of self restraint – of which I have very little – to stop me from sticking my finger into it.

“Yeah?”  he asked, “which one?”

He had a dap of flour on his left cheek and his apron was crisscrossed around his muscle shirt. When he flashed me a wide smile I reached out and stroked the back of his hand.

“Let’s just say” I said, “it’s a favourite of mine.”

A little while ago, when the cafe closed, I came back out into the courtyard. The sun is still casting shadows on the tops of the roofs here in London. I know Guido’s inside tidying up because I can hear the sound of pots clattering from the kitchen. The window’s open and he’s just started singing along, at the top of his voice, to a tune on the radio.

He’s the worst singer. Yet in that little nano second of a moment, I got the feeling that everything is good around here. Just maybe it’s all going to work out.

And you have no idea how happy that really makes me feel.

Advertisements

Only when I laugh…

I’ve been reading about an interesting discovery made by researchers in Canada. It turns out a misconception that smiling makes people look younger is actually doing the opposite and is making us all look older.

You read it here first folks.

A group of people were asked to guess the ages of 35 men – some of whom were smiling and some who had neutral expressions. The results concluded that those who were smiling were judged to look older than their true age. The Pysconomic Bulletin and Review (there’s a publication which trips off the tongue) concluded that wrinkles around the eyes when smiling were to blame.

I stared apprehensively into the bathroom mirror yesterday morning and smiled and guess what? The scientists were right. However, there remained a small crumb of hope. If I closed the bathroom blinds to make it dark, and then straightened my face I reckoned I could easily pass for several years younger. The trick was to make sure I didn’t twitch a single facial muscle.

I strolled through the cafe kitchen on my way to work. An aroma of warm vanilla pancakes filled the room. My nostrils were flexing but my face was totally poker. In fact it was more poker than when I’m actually playing poker. I passed Guido who was methodically stirring a small pan of porridge. He was smiling – so he’d obviously not read Pysconomic Bulletin and Review any time recently.

“Good-bye husband,” I said. Only it came out more like a ventriloquist whose lips weren’t moving. Unfortunately this sounded as if I was saying “Shood-guy dachshund.”

Guido stopped stirring, and then smiling.

“What the hell’s gotten into you?” he said.

I could’ve stopped to explain but I was worried it might age me so I kept walking. Honestly, I could feel the years dropping off with every step.

When I arrived at the office my assistant, Toby, got increasingly alarmed by my new demeanour. He doesn’t like change of ANY kind. Readers may remember Toby has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which obviously makes him a laugh a minute to work with. I don’t think spending all day trying to fathom my totally random filing system helps. It’s really not that surprising he’s always so miserable. Although bearing in mind recent Canadian research, this could explain why he looks about 13 years old, despite being 25.

Toby kept trying to cheer me up. He made hot chocolate. He even put snipped up marshmallows on top into the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

“I could tell you jokes?” he said after an hour.

I’d been completely silent because I’ve also discovered that when I talk I excessively raise my eyebrows.  That creases my forehead which doesn’t help on the wrinkle front.

“This Rabbi and this Priest were playing golf…,” said Toby suddenly.

“Oh really,” I said, “you don’t have to do that.”

There was another pause.

“I know one about a penguin who goes into a bar,” he said.

Last night in bed Guido told me laughing was good for me. Apparently it’s scientifically proven that the more you laugh the longer you’ll live. So I told him the penguin joke.

“A penguin goes into a bar and asks the barman if he’s seen his brother. I don’t know, says the barman – what does he look like?”

I sure hope it works.

Orzo and tears

Last Wednesday night I was in a funk.

Well, I defy you to feel overly ecstatic about a return trip all the way to the outer reaches of the Northern Line to deal with an awkward builder. He thought an avocado coloured bathroom is a perfectly acceptable design option in this day and age. Oh and in the process my big toe got stubbed.

“You won’t believe the day I’ve had,” I said.

Guido was standing in the cafe kitchen in full experimental mode. His man bun was twisted into a knot with a pencil stuck in it. His reading glasses were perched on the tip of his nose, and his gravy splattered recipe notebook was propped up against a huge Spanish onion. Apparently he calls this – culinary improvisation.

“Don’t you just think Orzo is the most under-rated of all pastas?” he said sagely.

I dropped my portfolio bag on the floor with a great clatter.

“Listen, if I ever wake up and tell you I’m planning a trip to Edgware Road in the middle of rush hour – tie me tightly to our bedhead, would you?” I said. And I really meant it. Though I have to say, a fleeting thought about that was not entirely unappealing.

“Now that Spring has sprung I feel invigorated by nature’s ingredients,” Guido said. “Out with stodgy one pot stews I say!”

He waved a wooden spoon in the air with a flourish.

“Can you believe that idiot could seriously consider saving a green bath tub in the middle of a total renovation?” I tutted VERY loudly, “I mean, what a pinhead.”

“1 and a 1/2 cups of dried Orzo fried in some garlic and olive oil to start,” Guido said, tipping everything into a skillet. After about a minute he added 3 and a 1/2 cups of hot vegetable stock and some chopped fresh thyme. “Now I’m going to boil this little baby for exactly 8 minutes.”

He set an egg timer and started scribbling into his notebook like a madman.

I sighed. Then I slowly, but theatricality, wrestled off my shoe. Then my sock. They landed unceremoniously someplace near the freezer. Then I lifted my bare foot onto the counter top in front of Guido. I sighed again, only louder.

The timer went ping. Guido added 1 and 1/2 cups of garden peas and the zest and juice of a lemon into the broth.

My toe throbbed angrily but silently.

“I think I may have fractured a metatarsal in my big toe,” I said, “because at exactly the same split second I told that moronic builder to rip out the bath he dropped a sledgehammer on my shoe.” I could’ve cried.

He’d said sorry with a wild grin on his face. But, he had more muscles than me so to compromise I agreed to describe the colour as, chartreuse.

Guido started grating a lump of Parmesan.

“Are you listening to anything I’m saying?” I said.

“Here,” said Guido, placing a bowl of steamy, sweet smelling, fresh, pasta in front of me, “this will make you feel so much better.”

I dipped a soup spoon into it and tasted. I added a twist of pepper and a generous sprinkling of cheese and I have to tell you I think Orzo is the most under-rated of all pastas.

I was sure to tell Guido so too.