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.

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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.

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.

I’m weird, you’re weird

I always eat a sandwich in exactly the same, but, bizarre way. And it doesn’t matter what the filling is. Yesterday it just happened to be a delicious BLT Guido had made for me.

The bread was powder white, the iceberg lettuce was shredded, the tomato was a juicy red buffalo and the bacon was grilled to perfection. It goes without saying things went flaky when I started to eat and I’m not referring to the sandwich. I have culinary musts.

1. Must be served on a plate. Preferably oval but any shape will do in a crockery emergency.

2. Must be cut into two horizontal parts. Four triangles? I’m not a three year old.

3. Must peel back the top slices off first and eat those both separately before anything else. Which then obviously necessitates an urgent need for cutlery.

4. Squiggle a line of ketchup precisely. This should be exactly 6 centimetres in length but absolutely MUST NOT touch the bread.

I could probably carry on right beyond number 10 but I’ve limited word count.

“Do you have any idea how weird you are?” Guido asked me staring at my deconstructed lunch.

”Yes,” I said, “and it’s taken me years of careful practice to get to this point.”

”In fact I’d go so far as to say you’re possibly the weirdest person I know,” he said.

Which I have to tell you was pretty rich coming from Guido, who always religiously reads the back of a shampoo bottle whenever he’s in the shower.

”Though I have to say you have some peculiar idiosyncrasies yourself,” I said measuring my squiggle.

Here’s the thing. When Guido gets dressed in the morning he insists on putting his clothes on in a strict order. He never deviates. Boxers first. Socks. Shirt. Then lastly, jeans. If he throws everything on in a rush he can get quite discombobulated and has to strip off and start all over again. Which is a pretty big deal at 5.30 in the morning.

”Prove it,” he said slouching back in his chair.

I crunched a piece of bacon. I drew up a long and extensive mental list. I wondered what to pick first and which to leave out and what would make him sound even more of a freak than I was.

”For starters you read newspapers backwards,” I said.

I lifted the top left hand piece of bread and nibbled the gooey bit first.

“You always set the volume level on the TV to 10, even if this means neither of us can actually hear it. If I turn it up to 12 you turn it back down to 10.”

By the way, I leave the crusts for last.

”You’re afraid of birds. Particularly one randomly landing on your head.”

I lifted the top right hand piece. It was gooey too but not overly. This was good. Infact on a scale of gooeyness it was a 5. Having a scale of gooeyness is not in any way weird.

“I once saw you eat ice cream with a fork,” I said.

Speaking of forks – I needed one.

“And, you have the ability to sneeze with your eyes still wide open.”

There was a brief silence.

“But hey some of my weirdness I know you definitely like.” He cocked an eyebrow.

There was another brief silence. I was happy for him to prove it.

Stuck on you

Sometimes people have a very specific view about their lives and unfortunately it isn’t always exactly the same as someone else.

”If your life was suddenly turned upside down what would you do?” asked Guido over lunch today. “I mean, think about it. Imagine everything you thought was real and dear to you, wasn’t.”

This is what happens round here. Guido ambitiously decides to substitute grilled chicken strips for jumbo prawns in his paella, then starts to question the meaning of life.

”Like what?” I said sipping a very cold glass of white wine. By the way it was barely noon but I was drinking alcohol, and I’m making no apologies for that.

I had some terrific Sauvignon Blanc in one hand and a Greek olive on the end of a cocktail stick in the other. Everything was normal and real and as far as I could tell I was the right way up. The wine was cold, the olive was salty and earlier, when Guido and I had been in bed, we’d had terrific sex without any extraneous assistance. Sometimes you just have to live dangerously folks.

”Well,” said Guido crunching a breadstick, “Arnold, the guy who delivers the sacks of potatoes to the cafe every week, told me Friday his wife Alice had just run off with his best friend.”

I’ve actually met Arnold. He has a very small body with tiny little arms and legs but a very large and oversized bald head. What he can’t tell you about a potato probably isn’t worth knowing about in the first place.

”Look on the bright side,” I said optimistically with my mouth full, “I expect Arnold will probably be much happier without her.”

”Nope,” said Guido shaking his head. “The bank account with all his savings in it is in his wife’s sole name. Arnold thinks they might have both fled to Belgium.”

Which, if you’re serious about fleeing a husband who resembles a Mr Potato Head then, it’s probably just as good a place to go as any.

“Okay,” I said, “then maybe there’s no bright side to look on after all.”

Guido took another crunch.

“Arnold wanted to know if I had any idea how to alert Interpol,” Guido said in all seriousness. Which just goes to show the sort of idiotic questions a humble London cafe owner is expected to field these days.

I took another sip of wine.

”Poor guy,” I said, “I suppose for us it would be a bit like me running off with your best friend Ted.”

And trust me, you have to perish that thought for my sakes. For a start Guido has no money to steal and the dire condition of Ted’s boney knees means I don’t think he’d be able to flee much further than just south of Pimlico without being on the verge of collapse. Let alone the watery shores of Antwerp.

”Hey kiddo,” I said, “you’re going to be stuck with me for a very long time indeed. I won’t be fleeing any where any time soon. Our world is exactly the way it should be.”

I thought about Alice blissfully enjoying a potato free existence on continental Europe. For her sakes I just hope it’s all worth it.

Oh by the way. If you ever need Interpol you can call them on 616-9000.

I’ll have what he’s having

We’ve had snow in London twice now in a single month. That’s almost unheard of around here. The way some people have been behaving you’d think the whole world was teetering dangerously on the brink of some sort of Armageddon. And don’t even get me started about the public transport system.

I was standing in line for the bus last week when a random dude pushed right in front of me.

I’m late for work – with a capital F!” he shouted at me. “Fine,” I yelled back, “with a capital F!

“That’s what I love about this city,” said my friend Marc, “in times of need total strangers still have a complete disregard for their fellow man. I’m surprised he didn’t take your head off.”

Marc had stopped by the cafe for a bowl of something hot and steamy. He chose a cup of Guido’s carrot coriander soup. It’s been flying out of the door all day. I can highly recommend it if you’re having a day with an F in it.

“Yeah, whatever happened to the Blitz spirit that glued us all together?” I said, “All I know is my mother resorted to panic food shopping at Harrods. Apparently she ended up back at her apartment and all she had was a bottle of raspberry flavoured gin, a jar of pickled turnip tops, and a home macaroon making kit.”

I tried to imagine what my mother would do with all of that stuff. She’d call it – Hors D’oeuvre, Entrée and Dessert. Of course if she was hungry enough she’d have ended up over here at the cafe picking something delicious from the specials board.

“Listen, I think if we were denied copious amounts of food for a few days we’d all be in much better shape,” Marc sighed slowing patting his mid-riff.

“Are you kidding me?” I said, “God forbid.”

I tried to imagine a dinner without linguine smothered in garlic oil and trust me it wasn’t pretty.

“As you know I act like a crazy person when I’m hungry.” I said.

I dipped my bread crust vigorously into my Miso broth. It instantly went pleasingly soggy.

“I remember starving myself through my last banana diet. One night I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on the sofa during an episode of Hawaii 5-O. Rather than admit to a perverted craving for rocky road baked cheesecake I told Guido I was moved by the rugged beauty of Steve McGarrett’s chest hair.”

There was a pause for obvious reasons.

”I get it. At times like that baby,” said Marc, “all you want is comfort food.” He licked his spoon when he said that.

I thought about what comfort really meant to me. Naturally I thought about maple syrup. Who wouldn’t? I thought about the endless possibilities of good mayonnaise.Then inexplicably my brain made a connection to Guido’s thighs. Imagine if all that was rationed and in short supply. Life wouldn’t be much worth living.

”We all appreciate the special things in our life,” said Marc. “I guess that’s why I keep eating here.” He took another mouthful of soup.

That was reassuring.

So if the real Armageddon ever does happen, do take the time to stop by. In the unlikely event there’s nothing you fancy on the menu, I’ll get Guido to quickly rustle something up for you.