Ted

I wrote the following post – Imaginary Friends – back in November 2015. I’ve reposted it in loving memory of our friend, Ted, who read this blog avidly. We lost him on Christmas Day.

Last night, after the café closed, our gay friends Gary and Ted came around.  It was their monthly pilgrimage to The Spanish Onion to play poker.  I don’t know why Guido and I bother.  We might as well open our wallets at the front door and just hand them all our cash.  Not surprisingly, after a few drinks, the conversation drifted to my high school reunion trauma. As it turned out Gary and Ted had a couple of revelations of their own to reveal.

“I think you were very honest,” said Ted sucking an olive, “and brave too.”  He threw a card and drank some wine.  “I’ll raise you.”

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken,” said Gary profoundly staring at his cards.  “Though Ted hasn’t always followed that advice,” he sniffed, “you don’t know about Mary, do you?”  He threw a card too.  “I’ll see you and raise you.”

“Ah lovely, funny, sweet, silly Mary,” said Ted.  He lifted his glass and made a toast.  “To the woman I used to go out with.”  He chewed a macadamia.

“Mary?” I said.  “The woman, you used to go out with?”

“Mary dated a gay man?” said Guido.  “What was she, headless?  I’ll see you and raise you.”

It turns out that before Ted was, well, out, and before he married Gary, he had an imaginary girlfriend. Mary cooked cordon bleu, spoke fluent Cantonese, and played the oboe.  She was quite a catch.  It’s just a pity she hadn’t actually existed and Ted wasn’t straight otherwise I reckon they would’ve been perfect for one another.  The helpful thing about Mary was that she also had an irrational fear of crowds, so didn’t get out that much and none of Ted’s friends ever got to meet her. That was convenient.  I have to say I thought the oboe was a terrific touch.

“I didn’t care if people knew I was gay, but I did care if they thought I was sad and single,” said Gary.  So Gary’s imaginary boyfriend was named Eric.  Apparently he was quite a looker.  They pumped iron together at the gym.  That is unless Gary did actually happen to be at the gym, in which case he told people Eric was an eye surgeon and was busy mending someone’s detached retina.

“When I was a little boy I had an imaginary friend,” said Guido staring into space, “his name was Jose R. Sanchez.”

“Well I didn’t see that one coming,” I said raising my eyebrows.  “Your imaginary friend had a middle name?” I asked.

“Yes, but I have no idea what it was,” said Guido. “Gimmie a break, I was only six years old.”

Just for the record I’ve never had imaginary friends.  And frankly I was beginning to feel left out.

“Perhaps Mary and Eric could adopt Jose R. Sanchez and then live an incredibly happy imaginary life together,” I said.

Later that night I lay in bed next to Guido.  I couldn’t help but think about Jose R. Sanchez.  I imagined what sort of life he might have had and whether he would have grown up to be incredibly hairy.  I wondered if he might have a man bun.  I wondered if he would cook a decent risotto and whether he’d be partial to acrobatic sex.

I reached the sad conclusion these were yet more mysteries on which I can give you no further details. But please feel free to make one up.

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All of us

In the story, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge gets home on Christmas Eve and is visited by three phantoms. One is Christmas Present. His purpose is to take Scrooge all around town and prove that both the wealthy and the poor seek solace in the cheer of the company of others. He’s introduced to people who are invested in sharing with others, and being grateful for whatever they have, regardless of their means.

The great thing I’ve discovered about blogging is that there aren’t any town boundaries. On line there’s no actual material distance or time zones. Visitors check in on you. If you’re lucky they’ll read you all the way to the end of your post. Then if you’re very very lucky they might even leave a comment about what you’ve written to tell you what they think.

Over the past three years I’ve had a bunch of regular visitors who have turned out to be a happy band of followers. For them it makes absolutely no difference what colour, gender, sexual orientation, politics or religion the writer holds, as long as he or she has conviction in what they believe and holds his or her own. Of course you can’t expect to agree with all of what you read. Left or Right. Blue or Red. Straight or GAY. Maple Surup or Mayonnaise. We keep our own moral high ground over individual differences because we’re invested in reading about each other’s lives. We cast a hook when we write and then reel each other in. That band of bloggers post poems, recipes, music, writing, pictures (of all sorts), personal thoughts, hopes and sometimes their dreams.

I’m no Scrooge but I know what I’ll do if Christmas Present stops by tonight. We’ll go on a blog tour. I’ll show the phantom the true meaning of what it’s like to seek solace in the virtual company of like minded others who are grateful for what they have. Who invest a bit of time to catch up with one another, regardless of our means.

So whether you’re a reader who’s never commented, you’ve done it only once and never again, or you’re a serial visitor, I hope you’ll join the band. All are welcome.

Have a Happy Christmas everyone.

Pregrets

Ever knew you were definitely going to regret doing something but you still ploughed straight ahead and did it anyway? Well, you’ll be pleased to know there’s now a word to describe how that feels.

I have a back catalogue of “pregrets” so long it makes The Beatles play list look like they were one hit wonders.

Those drunken words – just one more bottle of Prosecco please – in a late night dive of a bar springs ominously to my mind. Even before popping the cork I can feel the room beginning to spin around and around. Or, how about a two course lunch menu at Fenchurch Sky Garden which promptly extends to three and a calorific pudding doggy bag. Not to mention the ubiquitous heart attack inducing kebab stop thrown in on the night bus on the way home. Way before that I’m already thinking, Geez, where’d I put the Alka Seltzer? Plink, plink, fizz…

Plaid fashion disasters with wide lapels and tight new shoes never worn fill my closet to a near hinge busting point. Not to mention ill judged Summer belly flops into cold shallow waters and a mullet hair cut which made me look like a dead ringer for Billy Ray Cyrus. I hope you’re getting the picture because the prosecution is almost ready to rest it’s regretful case.

You’ll be glad to hear the good news that I’ve few, if any, regrets about ever having sex. However there was that one time when Guido and I tried to have a threesome with a blow up crocodile. I bounced off horizontally half way through and ended up with a bruised coccyx. That really hurt.

Some people I know have all the appearance of sailing through life and never looking backwards because as far as they’re concerned the only way is forward. They know where they’re going. Onward and upwards and to hell with the consequences. They make their Que Sera Sera choices and what will be will be. And I really admire that. But I’ve just never been a – Je ne regrettte rien – kind of a guy. I worry. But then inexplicably do whatever I was worrying about possibly regretting. Then I worry about worrying in the first place. I called Guido up on the phone once and told him I was worried that he was worrying that I was worried about me worrying. I had to repeat that four times before he knew what on earth I was going on about. I actually began to wonder myself.

Last night in bed I told Guido I was worrying about worrying about regrets I knew I was going to regret.

“Are you talking about pregrets?” he asked me. “Because if you are you really need to snap out of it.”

I lay silently still next to him and tried to get snapping. I pulled up the blanket then instantly regretted it because I was worried my exposed feet would probably start getting very cold.

“Why don’t you try thinking of things from a different point of view,” said Guido. “Let me put it this way – I’d much rather regret the things I’ve done, than the things I’ve not done.”

I told Guido I couldn’t possibly have put any of that better myself. Then I asked him to pass the inflatable crocodile and start pumping.

16, going on 17

Last night Guido and I were in bed.

Relax readers. This isn’t going to be another one of my interminable posts about our athletic extracurricular activies between the sheets involving mayonnaise and an unidentified kitchen appliance which makes a dull, but highly pleasurable, buzzing sensation. Absolutely nothing was happening. I’m guessing Guido was just laying there next to me minding his own business and thinking. I can’t tell you exactly what he was thinking about because, unfortunately, I’m not able to read his mind – but, whereas you and I might count sheep – Guido usually spends his last moments of consciousness carefully weighing up the benefits of a short crust pastry over a sweet puff. If you’ve ever eaten one of his melt in the mouth apple turnovers, then you’d know why.

“How do you feel?” I said. I said this in the style of a caring and kindly physician. The sort of doctor who has just taken your pulse and is alarmed to discover your blood pressure is 140 over 90 yet still smiles at you as if all vital signs are perfectly normal.

At first Guido didn’t react. He does this sometimes just after lights out. If he thinks I’m about to launch into a heated debate which has absolutely nothing to do with baked apples then he’ll just pretend to be fast asleep.

“What I mean is, how do you really feel?” I was still sounding caring and kindly and wasn’t in any way whatsoever concerned about the possibility of rapid heartbeat.

“I feel fine,” he said from the darkness, “I really do feel fine.” Then there was further silence for a bit until he finally added without any prompting, “But, why are you asking me?”

Okay, I’d been reading about a Dutchman, who is legally seeking to change his biological age from 69 to 49. It was reported he thought his true age was damaging his ratings on the dating app Tinder.

“Perhaps I should rephrase that question and simply ask you, how old do you feel?” I asked.

Forget legal. I think if you were able to rewind the clock it would be a terrific idea. You see, I quite like the thought of having the swimmers body of a 19 year old but the 70 year old brain of someone smart, like Einstein. That way I could casually discuss the laws of physics in figure hugging Speedos with a poolside hunk. As opposed to the reality of actually having the body sag of an Albert yet annoyingly still the complexion of a spotty teenager.

“That depends on what I’m doing at the time,” said Guido wisely. “I like to think I still have the staying power of someone a third of my age. Yet I know these knuckles can’t knead bread the way they used to.”

It’s funny what getting old means to some people. We made a pact right there and then. I promised I’d stop fretting about my body (on account of the wrinkles) if Guido promised to stop worrying about his sweet pies (on account of the dough).

Thankfully I’m not on, and nor have I ever been on, the Tinder app. I’ve got Guido to thank for that. But if you are, and you chat to a Dutchman who tells you he really doesn’t feel his age, he really is his age.

Home again

Sometimes it’s the very simple things in life which are the most enjoyable. Take, for example, a fresh egg French omelette flipped over at home for me by my husband on a quiet Saturday. Last night I’d say I had a Mmmh… moment; and that definitely came with a capital M.

I’ve been staying away with work for what feels like forever. But now I’m back in the sack. So to speak.

“I wanted to give you a great welcome,” said Guido.

And boy did he ever give me one.

He was standing shirtless at the stove, and trust me Guido’s no sack of potatoes. He’s big. He’s hairy. He’s fit. From where I was standing he was cooking with gas in more ways than one. I raised a wine glass in a very appreciative salute.

The eggs bubbled.

I put an arm around his waist and randomly squeezed his jogging pants. You won’t be surprised to read my hand was drawn to somewhere around the crotch area.

“You know,” I said, “ I can detect you’re not wearing any underpants.”

I reluctantly loosened my grip. I took a slug of booze.

“Hey,” he said holding up his spatula defensively, I’m only frying an omelette here.”

All the more reason to be wearing underpants, I thought.

“It’s true, you know what they say, about absence making the heart grow fonder.”

I knew he meant it because when he flipped that omelette I could see it wasn’t the only thing rising to the occasion.

You know I’ve missed his company, the chat, the laughs, picking up his smelly socks. I’ve even missed that weird sound he makes in the middle of the night like his throat is a dripping tap.

“I suppose there were some up sides to staying in a hotel,” I said. “I didn’t have to make the bed, and, being alone it’s meant I’ve made it half way through Dr Zhivago. You’ve no idea how gripping Boris Pasternak can be under the sheets.”

“That all sounds pretty heavy and worryingly intellectual,” said Guido frowning.

I sliced my hot omelette with relish. At that exact second you have no idea how thankful I was not to be anywhere near post a revolutionary Russian.

“So, I’m intrigued, how d ‘you fill all that time here without me?” I asked.

There was a short but thoughtful silence.

“Hmm… working in the cafe and GAY porn,” said Guido blinking.

This was not sounding in any way pretty heavy or really intellectual. It was veering more to the Neanderthal and sordid but nevertheless still obviously fun under the sheets.

“Hang on,” he said, that’s not strictly true because sometimes I surfed the net for sticky rib recipes.”

There was another short silence.

”But yeah, mostly it was GAY porn.”

I had to admire his honesty. Sticky rib recipes are hard to find.

“I see,” I said, “well I’m back now. I doubt I’ll be progressing much further with turning the pages of Dr Zhivago but I’m not in any way promising you I can deliver an accurate snapshot of Dino Does Dallas.”

Just so you know, I’ve never actually done Dallas.

Much later, when we were both tucked up in bed and Guido was fast asleep, I lay there thinking just one thing.

There’s really no place like home.

Scenes from a marriage

I’ve been working hard in Manchester. It’s been lonely.  I’m home for four days. On the plane I calculated this meant I’d have around 5760 minutes to eat copious amounts of Guido’s food and fit in as much hot sex as I could before I had to fly back. I’ve figured if I eat faster it’ll free up even more time to take my clothes off.

Last night, in the middle of a mouthful of ravioli, my father called.

“Have you spoken to your Mother?” he asked.

No hello, it’s me, or a how are you?

“No,” I said quickly, on account of the parmigiana sauce.

“I see,” he said, and then hung up without saying a good-bye.

About thirty minutes later the phone rang again. This time it was my mother, Cruella.

Just to set the scene for you – the pasta was over and we’d happily moved on to the hot sex part. Guido and I were naked and re-enacting a love scene from The Adventures of Robin Hood. Guido loves to fire his arrow. We’d just got the part where Errol Flynn throws Olivia De Havilland up against a column and he tells her that he’s nothing to offer but a life time of hardship and danger. Which sure rang a bell.

“I was wondering if you and Guido would come over for lunch tomorrow?” Cruella purred.

There was an awkward pause on my end of the line for obvious reasons.

The last time my mother “cooked” it involved a pineapple chunk and a cube of cheese on a cocktail stick.

“Perhaps, Guido would rustle up something wonderful?” she asked.

I sighed. I suppose she wasn’t to know he was going to be busy for the next 4320 minutes. So I said yes and hung up and then went straight back to Sherwood Forest. Hey, don’t judge, the clock was ticking, right?

We took the Underground over to her apartment this afternoon. Guido had a Tupperware box stuffed with a potato watercress salad and a salmon under one arm. When we got inside I knew my mother meant business because she’s taken the plastic cover off the sofa.

“There’s something I want to tell you,” she said.

Then she just sat there staring at me like I should’ve been the one telling her something. So I just stared back.

“And?” I said, finally.

She took a sip of Gin. The ice rattled.

“I suppose I should just go right ahead and tell you,” she said.

I stared.

She took another sip of Gin. The ice still rattled.

“It’s your father,” she finally gasped dramatically, “you see, he’s asked me to marry him again.”

I stared.

“And,” she said, “well, after much consideration, I’ve said yes.”

Tonight Guido has a pot roast on the stove. I think there’s a chicken in there. I’ve drunk almost a whole bottle of wine, but I don’t care. In fact, I’m about to open another. I’ve spent a whole hour trying to talk Guido into buying a pair of green tights so that we can make our love scenes together more authentic but I’m sensing he’s not that keen.

Tomorrow, I’ll call my mother. I’ll tell her I’m very happy for her.

Then I’ll call my father and ask him if he’s insane, and if he knows whether it’s hereditary.

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.