Headless and heartless

“D’you think I’m an oddball?” I asked Guido over dinner last night.

“Yeah,” he said without a moment’s hesitation or pause for intake of breath.

I realise this could be worrying. See below.

“Okay, forget the recent incident in bed when I got naked with that tub of ricotta cheese,” I said. “It happened to be the closest thing to hand at the time and I don’t remember you complaining.”

Sometimes in life you’ve just got to improvise.

“I hear what you’re saying but what I’m really asking you is – and please don’t in any way feel obliged to rush to a conclusion before you answer my next question – think it through fully before you answer it, but – am I weird?”

“Yeah,” he said.

Guido stopped chewing. He put his fork down. He stroked the back of my hand.

“Hey, what’s worrying you?”

We we’re eating dinner in a restaurant called il Giardino. It’s right on the square in Pollensa old town on the island of Majorca. It’s a lovely place, but I wasn’t really hungry and I’m pretty sure Guido wasn’t either.

Neither of us expected to be here right now because I have a stucco house in Notting Hill to refit before the end of the year and, as you know, Guido’s busy having a nervous breakdown simultaneously working two cafes.

This means that a thousand miles away in London:

1. an over enthusiastic, sweaty, highly tattooed, (did I mention sweaty?), demolition man is swinging his big hammer unsupervised in a listed building

2. overnight Guido’s parents have reverted The Spanish Onion lunch menu to circa 1974, and;

3. Banjo, an agency chef on a gap year from Melbourne, has been let loose at The Fish Kettle with an overt interest in avocados

I have to tell you it’s the perfect storm.

”Because your cousin Sofia told me with great pleasure that your cousin Mariana said I was a complete nut job.”

For the purposes of this blog I will now only refer to Guido’s cousins as The Ugly Sisters. I didn’t have the heart to tell Guido his cousin Mariana went on to tell me his cousin Sophia had called Guido a heartless opportunist. I have to say in the scheme of things I’d much rather be heartless than headless.

”Ignore them,” said Guido. He lifted up his fork again. Maybe he was hungry after all.

There is a reason I’m telling you this.

I put a blog post on here in September 2016 about Guido’s much loved Uncle Gustave. He owned a farmhouse and some land here. He was very old. He died in his sleep two weeks ago. Apparently he was found dead tucked up in bed clutching an empty bottle of VSOP brandy, a photograph of Ava Gardner on his pillow, and a big smile on his face. I can think of worse ways to go. We flew out for the funeral, much to the consternation of The Ugly Sisters, as the family gossip rumour mill is that Uncle Gustave’s left his entire estate to Guido.

It’s certainly amusing what the prospect of money does to some people’s head space.

The funeral is tomorrow. We will bid Uncle Gustave a very fond farewell. I’ll be the one wearing black acting like a total nut job. Guido will be as gracious and respectful as ever.

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I just can’t get along without you

In my opinion there’s something very peculiar about a person who takes part in any kind of physical activity whilst wearing sweat pants, then straight after, immediately blows all that hard work by eating a chocolate chip muffin.

“It takes all kinds,” said Guido. He had a, you don’t know what you’re talking about, sort of a look on his face when he said that. He was also holding a felt tip pen and one of my old sketch pads between his legs at the time. He’d drawn the words – YOGA & CAKE – on it in bold capital letters to make a sign; that seemed to me to be a complete oxymoron. Those two words just shouldn’t be connected by an ampersand.

“Well, that’s an oxymoron if ever I saw one,” I said pointing to what he’d written.

Trust me, oxymoron, was a very big word for a Wednesday night conversation between me and Guido in our bed with no sign of sex on the cards and no dictionary. Now I could tell that he knew, that I knew, that he didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Stop trying to impress me by using big words with moron in it,” he said.

I love the idea of taking up yoga. I love it almost as much as I love the idea of cake. But I’m worried about the obvious practicalities. Like getting down on the floor and then being able to actually get back up again. Eating a fluffy sponge topped with a sticky ganache is so much easier folks.

The reason I’m telling you this is because there’s a fitness instructor called Cara who now drinks coffee in The Fish Kettle and wants to take over the whole place for a one hour yoga class on Sunday mornings. Apparently she knows an army of people who like to get their kicks by standing on their heads. You just bring your own mat and then strip off. Why Guido thinks anyone would want to then spoil their zen like state by eating a slice of cake is debatable. I’m not at all averse to people stretching downstairs in the cafe, as long as they don’t all start chanting loudly. Hey, it’s the only day I get to laze upstairs in bed under the blanket.

“I bet you can’t even cross your legs properly,” said Guido crossing his legs properly.

I lay back and looked at his hairy thighs. He really should cross his legs with no clothes on more often.

“Very good,” I said, “now put your left ankle behind your right ear.”

“Oh now you’re just being silly,” said Guido, “but I tell you what, if you can do it – I’ll even get you some cake to eat in bed right this second and to hell with any melted frosting on the clean sheets.”

Here’s a word of advice from someone who now knows. If you ever get an unexpected offer to have sex and then right after eat a muffin in the lotus position, don’t turn it down.

The last supper

Last night Guido and I invited both sets of parents over to The Spanish Onion. It’ll probably be the last time we see them before we move out of our loft above the café.

Guido’s parents, Rosa and Juan, insisted on cooking from scratch which was obviously terrific. My mother’s no longer dating the rich Sheikh or the highly muscular but worryingly pliable American businessman. My father’s also split with Amber. So it was just the six of us and in my opinion that was even more terrific.

It was weird seeing my parents sitting at the same table being nice. I think it’s the longest they’ve been in a room together since their divorce without one of them throwing a frying pan at the other. After dessert Guido and I made the coffee. When I say we made the coffee what I mean is Guido made the coffee. I rattled the cups and saucers.

“Your parents seem to be getting along extremely well,” said Guido. “At one point I thought your father was going to feed your mother some chorizo from the end of his fork.”

“I know,” I said, “it’s pretty amazing what three bottles of a good Rioja and some homemade tapas can do to salve decades of wanting to strangle each other. Just saying.”

“They were staring intently at each other through the flickering candle in the middle of the table,” said Guido frothing up some milk.

Here’s another one of Guido’s secret insider barista tips for you – if you want really frothy milk make sure its stone cold before you start.

“My mother was probably trying to figure out if she could set my father alight like a human fireball with only the aid of a small naked flame,” I said sceptically.

“Oh I don’t think so,” Guido said smiling, “that candle wasn’t the only thing being rekindled tonight.”

At about eleven o’clock Rosa and Juan caught the bus back to Dulwich and a while later, after some Cointreau, my parents left too.

My father hugged Guido good-night and then I watched him walk towards Southwark Street and he turned left out of sight. Just before he did, he paused at the corner under a street lamp and glanced back at me and he blew a kiss.

Then my mother got into a cab and wound down the window.

“You know I envy you?” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“I do,” and she took my hand and she squeezed it tight. “You’re one of the lucky ones. You’ve found what some of us spend our whole lives searching for but never find.”

I must have still looked bemused.

“Love, of course,” she smiled. “Darling, in the end, it’s all that really matters.”

Later when Guido and I were in bed and the lights were switched out and he was fast asleep, I lay there thinking.

I thought about our finances and if there was enough for the new cafe and if Guido would still love me when we’re completely broke and I’m even fatter than I already am now and my eyebrows are even more bushy.

I think I sighed a big sigh and just rolled over and closed my eyes.

My mother was right. In the end there’s only one thing that really matters.

Soup for one

I heard a pretty funny joke about the sanctity of marriage this week. Well, it made me laugh. I’m not that great at humor but I think I remember the punchline.

“The reason my relationship has lasted this long is that my husband and I dine out on a romantic supper twice a week. There’s music, flickering candles, great tasting wine, followed by a whole lot of flattery and then some amazing sex afterwards. I go out on a Friday and my husband goes out on a Monday.”

Stick with me, there is a point to this blog post.

I’ve been out of town working all week. The evenings away get kind of lonely. The hotel restaurant is full of people travelling through just like me. Tables for one, our heads buried in a book or in our iPhone between the starters and the main course. Occasionally we’ll look up and twist a salt shaker or crush some black pepper over a watery tagliatelle. If we’re feeling really bold we might even crack a smile at a complete stranger. Last night I took a look at the menu and jumped straight to the dessert.

If you want to alleviate the monotony of dining out alone trust me, just eat a dessert. Don’t die of shock. I had a fresh fruit sorbet. If Chris, at The Juicenut, is reading this, honest to God you better be proud of me. There was a lot of serious competition I can tell you. It was a toss up between a slab of sticky toffee pudding and a blow torched creme brûlée.

Anyway the reason I’m telling you this is because after dinner (dessert) I went into the hotel bar. I started to type a new blog entry on here which had absolutely nothing to do with jokes or loneliness or healthy option sorbets and feeling overly sanctimonious about eating them. Right after I sat down the waiter unexpectedly brought over a very large glass of wine. If I’d drunk it, it would’ve blown out all of my good work on the calorie count front – especially as all I’d religiously sucked was a blueberry sorbet all night. I looked at the big glass of wine, and then looked at the waiter.

“This is from your friend over at the bar,” he said smirking strangely. He cocked his head awkwardly behind him.

You know once in a blue moon, a guy, who I’m not actually happily married to at the time, will find me highly attractive and try to hit on me. I realise you might find that particular fact astonishing. Trust me, I do too. This sensation can be a terrific ego boost if it’s George Clooney’s Hairy Body Double, or, an absolute nightmare if it’s Quasimodo’s Long Lost English Cousin waving over next to me. Either way will depend on where I am and who happens to be doing the hitting on me at the time.

Anyway. The guy at the bar told me the joke. I laughed. It was pretty funny, but, I told him I didn’t cheat on my husband unless it’s on a Monday.

Half full

I like to talk to all the people I meet and listen to their stories. When I do, I’m always struck by how much more dynamic and high powered their lives seem to be when I compare them with mine. And they’re wiser too. Socially they know what’s in and what’s out. They wear great clothes and mix with such other interesting and intelligent people. They go places where they have heated debates. They finalise business transactions over lunches at Sky Garden and dine out at Beaufort House and then they get legless on heady cocktails at The Jam Tree. I tell Guido this and ask him why we never go to those places and if he’s completely sure he wouldn’t prefer it if we did.

“Are you kidding, who needs all that? Our lives win hands down every time,” he said last night shaking his head. He was laying on our sofa wearing only a pair of old ripped underpants at the time. “Hey, have you seen the television remote?” he yelled.

There’s a familiarity, and a distinct predictability about our lives. Let’s just say if you put bread in the toaster you know what’s going to pop up out of it. If you get my meaning. Sorry to give you yet another food analogy but that kind of neatly sum us up. And as sure as sure can be when I get into bed at night, no matter how late it is, Guido will already be in it. I can guarantee you I can predict there’ll be one of two things that’ll always happen next right after I slide between the sheets. Either we’ll have sex, or, we’ll just switch out the lamp and pull up the blanket and have a heated debate about whether French Toast tastes better with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Trust me, there’s something really terrific to appreciate about each of those separate outcomes, even if both of them leave me feeling starving hungry when we’re done.

We signed the lease for the new café in Denmark Hill on Wednesday. Now that the ink is still damp on the papers the reality that money is going to be even more tight than it was before is slowing beginning to sink in. We’ve got a restaurant to renovate and rooms upstairs to make habitable and The Spanish Onion to try to keep afloat. I’m going to have to work harder, and Guido is going to have to cook faster. Momentarily, that imaginary cocktail glass still sitting waiting for me at The Jam Tree bar was ominously half empty.

“Well for what it’s worth, I think the secret to a rich and happy life is to have an exciting new beginning once in a while,” Guido said later propped up between the pillows.

We were in bed and we weren’t having sex and we weren’t discussing the merits of fried eggy bread so there you go, maybe our lives can have some unpredictable surprises after all.

“But you know what?” he rolled over right next to me, “all that really matters is that we’ve got one another to try new things out with.”

He was right of course. And I loved him for reminding me my imaginary glass should always be half full.

Simple pleasures

Yesterday I wandered through the café kitchen on my way out to work thinking, thank God it’s Friday. I can’t say I was looking forward to another day pondering the multi faceted uses for a vintage 1970s shag pile rug. As you can tell there’s never a dull day at the office for a South London interior designer.

“You know,” said Guido staring at the stove flame whilst holding his spoon in the air pensively, “sometimes it’s the simple things in life you derive most pleasure from.”

It wasn’t clear if he was talking to me or the spatula.

“Strip off. Be bold. Get down to the bare bones.”

Then he made a worrying sort of, Mmm… noise.

I looked at my watch. It was nine thirty a.m. and let’s just say I didn’t have the time or the inclination to start taking all of my clothes off. Trust me, Guido’s epiphanies are time consuming.

“Never before have three little words – less is more – seemed so appropriate to me.”

Guido’s eyes started to mist up.

“I see,” I said, seeing nothing at all, “I’ll tell you what Einstein, perhaps we could continue this very interesting conversation when I get home, “but unfortunately,” I said, “I’ve got a client waiting for me in Islington who has a weird but very expensive fetish for Italian polished marble.”

The clock was ticking on that one, trust me. But Guido certainly did get me thinking.

As I dodged other commuters across the concourse at London Bridge Train Station I wondered why on earth I was struggling to balance two satchels and an oversized portfolio when probably only one of them would do. Then down on a Northern Line tube train I sat opposite a guy wearing a Burberry tie and a big man scarf knotted with a flourish and a hat and I thought – aha! That’s actually all I can remember thinking at the time, but it definitely was fashion overkill. Whilst extremely cute, I resisted the temptation to lean over and point out to him that in my opinion the combination of a beard and only a cocked hat really was totally acceptable.

Later last night at home I got real quick to where Guido had been coming from.

Roman food with only 3 ingredients.

I’m telling you, pasta really does taste best almost naked. Oh and, it’s on the specials board tonight. We still have tables if you want to stop by. If you can’t then here’s the recipe. But just one thing, remember, strip off.

Cacio e Pepe

Bring a deep pan of water to a boil and season with salt; add spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes before it’s tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, melt 2 chopped tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of cracked pepper and cook, until toasted. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and one table spoon of chopped butter. Reduce heat to low and add 3/4 cup of Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add 1/3 cup of Pecorino, stirring and tossing until the cheese melts, and coats the pasta. Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry. Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.

Going for a song

This week Guido’s super tiny Spanish parents, the super diminutive Rosa and Juan, invited us round to their place for dinner. All I ever hope for when we go round there is a quiet night in with his folks and a big plate of Rosa’s hot and spicy salt and pepper calamari. Guido’s parents might be small in stature, but trust me, their portion size is always huge. Rosa serves it with a homemade chopped tomato salsa like you’ve never tasted before. If she ever bothers to tell me the recipe I’m going to immediately press it into production at a bottling plant and probably become a millionaire overnight.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that Guido’s parents burst out laughing every time they clap their super tiny eyes on me. Apparently the words – hello, or, how are you? – have never before seemed so incredibly funny.

“Hello,” I said smiling at Juan as he threw open his big front door in downtown Dulwich.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” said Juan bent over double looking up at me, “you so so funny!” He waved me in and hugged Guido.

Juan is so super tiny and his son is so super tall they kissed somewhere around Guido’s knee caps. Unfortunately when Juan starts laughing, it’s highly contagious. So, so do Guido and me. This usually means that by the time I finally find Rosa in the kitchen we’re all almost hysterical but no one can remember what the hell anyone is laughing about.

“How are you?” I asked Rosa, who just happened to slicing vegetables with the same but unaided vigour of a Kenwood food blender switched to its highest setting.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” she shrieked, stopping only to point her big cleaver at me, “you so crack me up and into many MANY tiny pieces.” I’m guessing that would be many many even more super tiny pieces. At the time I could smell the scent of her delicious calamari batter mix so I was just praying she’d manage to serve it all up before she fell to bits.

I’ve got to tell you the fish main course was great. The almond cake dessert was terrific too but nothing could prepare me for what came along with the coffee and I’m not talking about that full bottle of liqueur. Let’s just say you can’t miss an electronic organ when it’s got pride of place with a microphone plugged in right in the center of the room. Especially when it comes with a fully integrated orchestra at the press of a button. And when Rosa sings she really puts her heart and soul into it. Some how she manages to make Margarita Pracatan sould like Maria Callas. I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t shot themselves. I’m hoping for their sakes they’re deaf.

After almost a full bottle of Tia Maria, Guido agreed to play a tune on the keyboard. Rosa, Juan and me sang along, and whilst I have absolutely no idea what it was, I think the four of us might now be taking bookings for bar mitzvahs and weddings. The clip below is the closest I can give you to the real thing (and boy it’s pretty close).

Rosa might overcook the lyrics to any song she says sings, but her calamari is pitch perfect.