The Italian job

I met my friend Marc. He’s the one who moved to Italy to live with his incredibly athletic lover, Secondo. It turns out he was a complete schmuck after all. He wasn’t just having sex with Marc but successfully entertaining half the male population of Naples as well. If you get my meaning? Their reconciliation was doomed from the start.

“Tell Marc we’re all out of pathos over here otherwise he might end up sobbing in our bed again like the last time,” said Guido, unsympathetically whisking an egg.

“Yeah, well, but for the grace of God there go you and I,” I said. “If you hadn’t met me your life could well have turned out just like that egg – scrambled.”

We went for lunch to Village East in Bermondsey. I picked the toasted aubergine.

”You know I’ve been back from Italy for two weeks and I still find it difficult to look at a smoked mozzarella without bursting into tears,” said Marc pondering my appetiser. I think he was welling up.

I thought about changing my order to avert an emotional melt down which might involve our mattress.

“It must be very difficult,” I said realising total betrayal, rather than cheese, was probably the greater of Marc’s worries at the time.

“I guess there are worse things in life than having an affair with a delusional sex maniac,” Marc said.

I sipped my wine. I have to admit it took me a moment to think of one.

“What would you have learned from an experience like that?” he said sagely.

I wished he hadn’t asked.

You see, I’m not part of that hippy dippy naval gazing brigade. I try not to over analyse things. I don’t see life as a never ending learning experience where even if something is so awful you still manage to scrape something “good” out of it to weave into a silver lining.

Sometimes life deals you a completely crap hand and that’s as good as it gets. The only way to make it better is to try to extradite yourself from whatever the situation is. A job sucks. A boss is a complete ass. A relationship is totally toxic. And you move on, because sticking around won’t ever make any of it any more acceptable. Of course, there are occasions when you simply can’t walk away. No amount of chanting or stroking crystals or hand wringing is ever going to make you feel better. I know, because I’ve been there. And the only way I got my head round it was to hope that tomorrow was going to be a better day.

“Goodness,” I said, “I don’t know – what d’you think?” I said annoyingly answering a question with another question.

“I suppose I wish I’d never met Secondo and never tasted his tagliatelle al fungi,” he said. And he definitely meant it.

Later, at home in bed, I asked Guido if he’d any regrets which involved a mushroom.

“No,” he said pulling up the bed clothes to his neck, “but never underestimate how awkward they are to stuff into a pastry vol-au-vent.”

“Ok, but how do you feel about delusional sex mania?” I asked hopefully.

There was a brief pause. Guido turned the lamp back on.

”I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m willing to give it a try.”


Chop! Chop!

Life can be extremely stressful for the best of us. It’s a complete jungle out there. Work. No work. Awkward clients. Financial obligations. Attempting to cross the road at the London Bridge intersection without being flattened by a Number 43 bus. Recurring thoughts of my divorced parents having sex again, and unfortunately with one another. My lumpy waistline. The list is limitless.

“Meditate, drink a green tea, listen to music. Read a good book like I do,” said my personal assistant Toby.

By the way he’s still a complete fruit cake. For those of you who don’t know, he has paranoid manic acrophobia with a dash of obsessive compulsive disorder thrown in for some good measure. Obviously he’s a real laugh a minute to have around at the office. When I hired him a few years ago he was a student fresh out of Agricultural College. Unfortunately, back then, there wasn’t much demand for a privet hedge expert in Bermondsey so the employment agency sent him over to me where he started obsessively sourcing mosaic bathroom tiles.

I raised my eyebrows. It was an involuntary reaction. By the way they’re bushier than ever and continuing to grow worryingly closer together. Give it another six months and I’ll be a dead ringer for Frida Khalo.

“Or anything else which helps you to de-stress,” Toby added witheringly.

Naturally my mind turned to my biggest go to stress reliever.

Guido’s sausage.

I’m not fussed, it can be a big smoked variety or a hot spicy Italian with decent girth. Either way I get into a Zen like state when Guido starts waving about his big chopper. If any of you are feeling freaked out by life you should call ahead and come round to the cafe to watch him get it out. I can guarantee you’ll be in Nirvana in no time.

So when I got home tonight, I naturally went straight into the kitchen.

“How was your day?” asked Guido cheerily.

Tantalisingly he already had his apron on. I sensed he was ready to get straight down to business. It was like he could read my twisted and insatiable mind.

I looked at the slab and checked out his solid chorizo. It lay there, calling out to me, from the work top.

“Oh never mind how my day went,” I said pulling up a stool, “let’s get this show on the road.”

He looked at me strangely.

“I’m guessing you’ve had a bad day?” he said, “and thankfully I know how to help.”

There was a moment’s silence and then – Chop! Chop!

I’m telling you, all hell broke loose.

I ooohed.

I ahhhed.

I salivated. I thought about doing things to that sausage which probably defy my blogging skills.

DO NOT try this kind of activity at home unless you’re in a secure area with a highly trained professional. All I know is that chopping really started hitting my spot. It’s kind of a blur now but at one point I think I was on my knees. Hell, it was better than a ylang ylang candle and a tub of Hellman’s Full-Fat Mayonnaise on a rainy Sunday morning.

Later, after a fried frittata and a cuddle, I can report I felt completely calm.

Read a good book? Hmmm, I’ll be sure to tell Toby what he’s really missing.

Still in love

Against all of the odds – and I’m really not a betting man – inexplicably my long divorced parents are still conducting their rekindled love-in. In fact, they flew to Dubai for a holiday today. This will mean sitting next to each other on a plane for more than seven straight hours and then spending every waking moment (and I assume every sleeping moment) together. If you’d asked me twelve months ago about the likelihood of that ever happening I’d have laughed out loud and said there was more chance of Trump and Kim Jong-un slapping one another on the back. So, what do I know?

”Life’s full of surprising twists and turns,” said Guido tonight whilst serving up a great big pasta dinner.

The cafe was shut but tantalisingly the lights were still on. Every so often there’d be a tap tap tap on the window by someone looking desperate, gesticulating wildly, and then mouthing the words – ARE YOU STILL OPEN?. I’d mouth the words right back – NO SORRY WE’RE SHUT – and then provocatively suck up a long buttery strand of spaghetti. If looks could kill, I’d be a dead man.

”Maybe your parents will tie the knot again,” Guido said swirling his fork. I let out a groan.

”Urgh,” I said, “Can you imagine it?”

That would elevate my parents into the same marriage category as twice wed Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. And, co-incidentally, my abiding memory of their union the first time around was like living through a groundhog day of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. They’d slug it out, night after night, like a couple of mud wrestlers. Trust me. No one swings a frying pan like my mother, Cruella, and no one ducks his head faster than my father. Honestly, I’m surprised I’ve turned out as well adjusted and balanced as I have.

You can stop laughing.

”Well, sometimes two people are just meant to be together. Time, maturity and the realisation that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” mused Guido.

He opened a bottle of Rioja with a pop.

I stopped chewing.

“Thank you Dr Ruth,” I said. “Though I suppose the upside would be I’d finally get to fulfil my childhood ambition to be a bridesmaid, and, you could lay on a fish inspired bridal finger buffet.”

Weirdly my thoughts strayed to a mental image of my mother in a cream organza dress with Guido tossing a calamari.

”My father actually owns a blue velvet wedding suit. No really he does,” I said.

He really does. Apparently he bought it for his first marriage to my mother and then wore it to his next three ceremonies. I should know, because I’ve seen it. I’ve been ring bearer, best man and, a hopeful witness. I swear if he threw that suit through the church doors it would probably walk up the aisle all by itself and say, I do.

”Don’t be mean,” said Guido, “some people just aren’t meant to be alone.”

I heard a tap tap rap sound. I mouthed the words – NO SORRY WE’RE SHUT – and sucked loudly.

Later in bed I lay staring at the ceiling wondering if my parents’ plane had landed and if they’d tried to kill each other yet.

Of all of life’s emotions, love, is still definitely my favourite.

The truth about lying

Tonight night Guido and I were tucked up in bed like a right couple of old crocks. The lights were out and the sheet was pulled up to our necks. The faint whiff of French mustard betrayed what we’d been up to only moments earlier. It’s amazing the fun two grown adults can have with some pretzels and a spatula.

“When was the last time you told a lie?” I asked Guido.

There was a long and suspicious pause.

“I’m sensing this is a trap to trip me up?” he said from the darkness. “What do you know, that I don’t?”

I was prompted to ask him as earlier in the day I’d been reading a fascinating article about something called – The Honesty Experiment. Three astute British subjects, who were hooked up to state-of-the-art electronic lie detectors, were then challenged to get through a whole week without telling a single fib. The premise was to see if we could ever create a world in which we could not lie.

“Think about that question very carefully before you reply,” I said, “because statistically we all do it at least nine times a day.”

Nine times? That didn’t sound so much to me. I fluffed up my pillow and mentally rewound the previous 24 hours. Hmmm. It didn’t take long for my trustworthy persona to descend into a Machiavellian plot.

“I can’t remember,” said Guido with an air of smugness, “I like to be totally honest.”

Well obviously he was lying.

I chewed my nail. Even before lunch I reckon I’d racked up a whole pack of lies. Astonishingly my entire daily quota was gone in less than three hours. I can be very generous you know, even when I’m lying. And at least two of them were absolute whoppers. I wondered if there were any rules about borrowing some of tomorrow’s lies if I could trade some on a particularly slack day. The scientists would’ve had an absolute field day with me. A world without lies? I was trying to rationalise their supply and demand.

“What about you, Pinocchio?” asked Guido.

I tutted, but of course Guido was quite right. My nose was bigger than the Lizard Peninsula. In fact, the more I thought about it, I realised I was some sort of pathological liar. Only in a good way.

“At least I consider myself a polite liar,” I said.

Guido rolled over, “What exactly does that mean?”

“I tell nice lies.” You know I can be as smug as the best of them. “I like to practise the kindest form of dishonesty.”

He groaned and rolled over again.

“When Donna came into the cafe this afternoon she wanted to know if I could see her black hair roots – and I said no – but what I really meant was – hell yes. When that guy who wears the suit – with the limp – got to the bus stop I told him to get on the bus first – even though I suggested I was second in line when actually I was first. And this morning – when you asked me how my porridge tasted and I said it was fine – well what I really wanted to say was – it needed more salt.”

And I apologise to readers for my high hyphen count in the preceding paragraph but that’s what happens when I lie. Apparently I add dashes.

Guido flicked the lamp on.

“That porridge was perfect,” he snapped.

You know – some people just can’t handle the truth.

In our bed

As you know there are many mysteries in my world, but none was more pressing to unravel last night than this – who, and what, was in bed with us?

As you know I love our bed. It’s six feet wide and six feet six inches long. Guido jumps out at five a.m. in the morning and collapses back in at ten p.m. at night. At some point we collide in the middle of it. Every day I zhoosh up the sheets and every week I wash them on a very hot non-bio wash and then tumble. If I think sex might be on the cards on a Tuesday afternoon I’ll even iron them. My mother, Cruella, once told me if you want to fully satisfy a man in bed you should use a good hairspray and practice hospital corners. That’s the sort of inane advice my mother still gives to me to this day. Which says a lot about my bed making skills and the state of my mother’s hair.

“Have you been eating Ritz crackers in bed without me?” I asked Guido accusatorily last night. “It feels like there’s salt between my toes.”

There was a short but defiant pause.

“The last thing I ate in this bed was a salami on Monday night and that’s the God’s honest truth,” said Guido blankly. I don’t know about you but anyone who says, and that’s the God’s honest truth, usually turns out to be a liar.

I shuffled my feet because now the mattress looked lumpy.  I flapped the blanket. It still felt uncomfortable. I tutted.

”If you want to know what’s happening down there why don’t you go take a look for yourself,” said Guido.

This is exactly the sort of suggestion Guido makes on a regular basis but invariably turns out to be both time consuming and completely exhausting for me. Though it’s not without certain reward.

I lay there perfectly still thinking about possibilities and how much time was left before lights out. Then I remembered I kept a torch under our bed. This is for emergencies, like an unexpected power outage. Or sometimes in the middle of the night when Guido’s soundly asleep, I’ll shine it up one of his crevices just for the hell of it. This is for my own personal and twisted pleasure, which just goes to show what a combination of insomnia and boredom does to my brain.

I switched the flashlight on and crawled down between the sheets. It was a whole different world under there. I imagined it must be what diving 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was like. Full of dark shadows and unidentifiable hairy objects which occasionally twitch and are prone to pop up in your face.

It was a good 10 minutes before I came back up gasping for air. Here’s what I have to tell you about what I found.

It’s exactly three days since that bed was fully laundered but I retrieved; a pair of contorted underpants, the TV Guide rolled up tightly, one sock, a plastic fork, and a fully intact Oreo cookie.

“So,” asked Guido nonchalantly thumbing through the page of last night’s entertainment options, “did you find what you were looking for, or will you be going down again?”

Honestly, there’s only so much excitement a guy can take.

Sex and Jelly Beans

Last night Ted and Gary and their super intelligent dog, Brian, came round to Denmark Hill to play poker.

Guido and I are completely broke right now so I said we’d only agree to take part on one condition – we bet with Jelly Beans. It seemed like a terrific idea, though forfeiting my favourite flavours was more difficult than I’d anticipated.

“Have you ever had sex on anything that happened to be moving at the time?” asked Ted. He’s nothing if not direct.

I sensed this could be a ruse to distract me from what was shaping up to be a terrible hand. I shuffled my cards. I fingered a Buttered Popcorn flavoured bean expectantly. I could feel Brian watching my every move. I think he may have an unhealthy interest in Jelly Beans.

“No,” I said, “but my first serious boyfriend did have a king-sized water bed. Does that count? I’ll see you and raise you with two Cotton Candy.”

Two Cotton Candy? What was I thinking? I watched them land in the middle of the table and I can tell you, it hurt.

“Was that the same creep who hid a suit of armour in his closet but bizarrely kept trying to get you to put it on?” asked Gary. “I’ll see your Cotton Candy and throw in a Lemon Drop.”

I chewed my nail. I momentarily thought back to those naive but heady days of youth at Coleman’s semi-detached house in Kensal Rise. What we got up to in there made 50 Shades Of Grey look a pale and unappealing beige. There wasn’t much I wasn’t willing to try back then though I can tell you there’s only so much you can do with a medieval head visor on at the time.

“Yeah, I had to keep telling him to try not to make any sudden movements. I could put up with the odd ripple, but if he got over excited it could get choppy on account of all that water.”

“I’ll see your Lemon Drop and raise you with a Strawbery Cheesecake,” said Guido casually. “But explain – on anything that happened to be moving – during sex?”

I liked Guido’s style. I could tell he was subtly trying to throw Ted off his game. That Strawberry Cheesecake bid was a total master stroke if you ask me. I noticed Brian nodding sagely.

“Well, I told Ted two passengers on my flight yesterday joined the mile high club,” said Gary. “They disappeared over the North Sea and I never saw them again until the outskirts of Paris. There’s only so much to hold one’s interest in a turbo-prop washroom,” he sniffed. And as a career Flight Attendant, Gary should know.

“Oh please,” I said. I started to unconsciously nibble on an Island Punch, closely followed by a Top Banana. The combination was odd but not entirely unpleasant. “Who the hell were were they, a couple of Hobbits? I can barely find the space in there to turn around and wipe my own ass.”

But let’s not go there.

Much later, when Guido and I were alone in bed, I successfully dropped a Jalepeno Jelly Bean into his belly button cavity.

“I can reassure you,” he said, “there’s only one thing I want to see moving during sex.”

Obviously, I got him to prove it.

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.