Over you

When my gay best friend Marc flew halfway across Europe, to Naples, this Summer to try to kiss and make up with his Italian boyfriend, Secondo, I crossed my fingers tight and hoped for the best. Really I did.

”I’ve got my fingers crossed,” I distinctly remember saying to Guido in bed at the time. That got him worried.

Of course I speak metaphorically because when someone you care about flies thousands of miles on a thong and a prayer looking for lasting love with a hot guy he’s known for only a few months, what else can you do? You hope love will out. Well things don’t always go to plan, do they?

Fast forward to last night and Marc was laying crying in our bed. I noticed my pillow looked damp and dented, and not in a good way.

“How could I have been so stupidly naive?” sobbed Marc.

He has passion.

“I mean, can you blame a guy for flying to Italy to surrender his body and soul to a man who’s a doppelgänger for Emmanuel Macron?” he asked.

I sucked my index finger. Then I chewed my nail. I don’t think I agree with his policies but I’d definitely vote to see Emmanuel Macron topless.

”Have you any idea when Marc’s extricating himself from our bed?” said Guido out of the corner of his mouth.

He was hovering in our hallway, wearing only a pair of plaid tartan boxer shorts. I have to tell you the sight was not unappealing.

“I mean, I totally get that he’s tried his luck with a guy who’s hotter than the French President but it’s all ended in a horrible romantic car crash and now we’re picking up the pieces.”

“His Love Boat has sprung a proverbial leak,” I said. I peered into the bedroom. There were wailing noises. “All I can say is Marc seems to be welded to our over blanket right now.”

Guido started pacing back and forth.

“I get it. Really I do. But I’ve got to get into that bed tonight and then back up out of it at 5 a.m. tomorrow to start frying homemade hash browns. Just sayin’.”

Whilst I realised the customers of Denmark Hill were counting on him, I told him to shoosh.

I went into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed.

”I’m never dating another Italian again,” said Marc blowing his nose. “In fact I’m never dating another man again.”

Ruling out an entire European nation was one thing but in my opinion discounting a whole gender was a bit worrying for a gay man.

”Okay,” I said, “here’s the deal. If you agree to shift your nervous breakdown from this bed onto our lumpy sofa then I can promise you hash browns for breakfast.” I gave a big smile.

If that hadn’t worked I was happy to lure him with the promise of a slice of Larry Mufffin’s Buttermilk Pie.

Later in bed Guido showed me his appreciation by offering me sex before lights out. He looked at his watch.

“We’ve got time for a quick one if you fancy it?” he said.

Obviously I switched out the lamp. I lay thinking about Emmanuel Macron and whether he wore plaid tartan boxer shorts in the sack.

Marc. This one’s for you.

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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.

Being picky

Yesterday morning Guido cooked me a delicious homemade breakfast in our café. I had a soft poached egg on a hot buttered English muffin. The white was as white as white can be and the yolk was eggy and runny. I really should’ve been having one of my Mmmm… moments. However, unfortunately I happened to be sitting between two other customers. One was a three year old girl called Chloe – who spent the entire time throwing her jam coated toast on the floor – and the other, her five year old brother called Robin – who dedicated much effort to picking it up again and animatedly throwing it at my head. I feared the freshly painted walls behind me may take on the appearance of a splattered Jackson Pollock.

Not surprisingly I was reminded of an article I’d read a couple of weeks ago about a café owner in Torbay who instigated a policy of not allowing any children under 12 on his premises. Apparently he’s been inundated with complaints from outraged parents, and, words of encouragement from everybody else in equal measures. I have to say, I awkwardly find myself in the “encouragement” camp. The owner has been quoted as saying he simply wanted to create a nice quiet zone where grown-ups could sit, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere. I really don’t think that Chloe and Robin would totally get that. Nor, would their parents.

“It’s a slippery slope,” said Guido stirring a worryingly large pot of lentil soup. “I mean, where do you stop?”

Where indeed Guido? Whilst I don’t think this was a question he expected an answer to, I gave it a considerable amount of thought anyway and decided I’d like to immediately ban anybody who came in here whistling before 8 a.m., would forbid entrance of either sex wearing plastic crocs clog shoes with socks, and, people with bad haircuts.

“It’s all about the customer,” said Guido magnanimously. “If you were too picky you’d never make any money.”

He did have a point. Perhaps I was being too harsh with the bad haircut embargo. Suddenly I was relaxing my ban to simply include the odd bad hair day. However I’m absolutely sticking to my guns about whistling in the morning. Particularly if it involved simultaneously wearing clogs.

Much as I like the idea (and children generally) of eating my poached egg and stodgy muffin in complete peace, you’ve got to be realistic about it. After all, this is Denmark Hill and there are just as many fruit cakes around here as there ever were when we lived in Bermondsey. Though I still can’t see anything wrong with wanting to once in a while escape from badly behaved kids, even if they do happen to be your own, to a place where I could sit, relax and soak up the solitude. In fact, I have a friend who has two children who once told me, and I quote – “thank God I actually like my own children because I can’t stand anyone else’s.”

“You have to be very tolerant in this business,” said Guido propped up in our bed later. “You’ll always find customers who want to complain.” He let out a big sigh. “The other day someone actually complained about the quality of my sausage – can you believe that?”

Now, that really is outrageous!

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.

You grunt, I’ll groan

Ever heard of the expression about the morning after the night before?

“So,” said Guido looking at me sort of smugly as I walked through the cafe kitchen this morning. “Tell me, just what exactly were you doing under the sheets in our bed late last night?”

I never usually have to be asked to explain.

Guido was simultaneously scrambling eggs in a very hot frying pan, cooking bacon under a flaming grill, and toasting waffle batter. And with great aplomb I might add. As I’m someone who can barely do one thing at a time, I always admire someone who can do two. Let alone the ability to do three.

I cast my mind back to last night. I was struggling to remember anything because, if I’m completely honest, I was trying very hard to resist the temptation to eat the eggs. Guido scrambles with unsalted butter and a splash of cream.

I looked at him blankly. I blinked obliviously. From what I could recall, we’d both had a quick kiss and a grope then one of us had flicked the lights out. Then we’d gone to sleep. It’s with great regret I have to tell you he hadn’t passionately wrestled my Justin Bieber pyjamas trousers off. Trust me, I would’ve remembered.

“What?” I asked.

Then I had one of those horrible creeping thoughts. The kind you get when, although you know you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, you can’t help keep thinking you should feel guilty about doing something.

“Well,” said Guido, “you sure were making a lot of strange groaning noises from the dark side of the bed.”

He was still stirring and flipping and toasting.

“Really?” I asked innocently. “I seem to recall I was having another one of my highly enjoyable dreams about George Clooney and me. We were in a gondola.”

I’d just made that up. George and I have done a lot of terrific things together but doing them in a gondola was unexplored territory.

“I see,” said Guido, “I expect with all of that groaning it must have been a bit of a nightmare. Doesn’t say much for George’s charisma after all.”

I laughed.

“I suppose it could have been worse,” I said, “I could have been grunting like you usually do when you’re fast asleep.”

I’d just made that up too. Guido sometimes snores noisily with his mouth open wide enough to catch a fly but I’d never heard him grunt before.

He stopped multi tasking.

“Grunting?”

I started walking.

“Grunting? You’re just making that up,” he stopped doing what he was doing, “you’re making that up just because I said you were groaning.”

I kept walking.

I sat down in the cafe and ordered a big frothy cappuccino. I even pushed the boat out and had marshmallows on top. I could smell the faint whiff of a burning waffle and I could hear a lot of crashing and banging and shouting coming from the kitchen. There may even have been some loud and intentional grunting.

I got out my iPhone and Googled – Groaning In Bed. There were some accompanying pictures too. It was quite a eye opener I can tell you. Then I Googled – Grunting In Bed.

Let’s just say I’d much rather be groaning than grunting.

The moon in the gutter

Late last Guido got his big hose out. Don’t go there.

He was washing out our courtyard when he made a big puddle in the gutter. The moon came out and shone there so it felt like suddenly the sky was upside down.

Then the telephone went, ring ring. It was my mother, Cruella.

“Darling, I need some urgent help,” she asked me breathlessly from her end of the line. “I’m in a suite at The Park Plaza Hotel in the middle of a completely delicious love affair. I’ve met a muscular thirty-three year old American vacuum cleaner salesman. He’s from a place called, Brookings.”

All I heard were the words – vacuum cleaner salesman – which came as a shock because the last I’d heard she was dating a Sheikh.

“He keeps telling me how wonderful Brookings is but I don’t know what to say about it,” she said, perplexed.

I chewed my lip. I assumed the hunk was laying some place nearby, completely exhausted.

“I’m not sure where that is,” I said, “but I think it might possibly be Montana.”

There was an awkward short silence from my mother. It was obvious she didn’t know where Montana was either.

“Look,” I said,”just tell him you have a love of wide open spaces and the great outdoors.”

There was a click on the line as she instantly hung up.

I did that Google Map thing. Brookings turned out to be a city in South Dakota. As you can tell issues with geography are hereditary.

The telephone went, ring ring again.

This time it was my friend Marc. In the past he’s had an intense relationship with an Italian guy called Secondo. The bust ups and make ups have been legendary. They split up in London a few months ago but now they’re apparently planning a passionate rekindle in Naples.

“Boxer shorts or thong?” asked Marc excitedly, “I don’t know which is best to wear for the big reveal?”

I had a feeling the question was rhetorical. I suggested whichever he thought was easiest to pull off. Then he hung up too.

“I’m worried about my mother,” I said to Guido. “She keeps having affairs with men half her age.”

Guido crunched a Dorito.

“I’m worried about Marc,” I said. “He’s going to try to find love with a mad Italian but in the final analysis I think he’s pinning too much on a thong.”

Guido crunched another Dorito.

“Well,” said Guido, “maybe that’s what it’s all about. The journey, the trying to figure it out. Perhaps in the end there is no answer to life’s great romantic questions except that not everyone ends up with who you think they should.”

I tried not to visualise my mother in bed. I couldn’t help wondering if the hunk was trying to explain the finer details of vacuum suction as she blabbed bizarrely on about the wild beauty of Montana.

Not to mention the twists and turns of Marc’s love life. For some reason it reminded me of a plate of spaghetti vongole – easy to throw together but prone to end up a horrible tangled mess.

Maybe Guido was right.

I looked at the gutter again. The moon was still there. Perhaps the world was upside down after all.

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.