Bad habits

Bad habits. I definitely know there are some of us who have more of them than others.

People (like me) have itsy bitsy tiny ones you’d barely even notice. They’re like a speck of moon dust up in the outer atmosphere of life. Then there’s other people (like Guido) who have great big ones the size of a space station orbiting earth. No matter how hard you try to ignore them they stubbornly refuse to burn up during re-entry.

There’s a hook on the back on our bathroom door and a steel ladder radiator for wet towels to dry out but Guido never hangs anything there. It must be one of the great mysteries of his life that after a soggy bath they miraculously pick themselves up and are back to hand the following morning to pat his face dry.

Need I mention underwear? Usually this blog will go into great, and I’ll admit gratuitous, description about how my husband and I peel our knickers off one another and then open a bottle of maple syrup just for the hell of it. But I can’t recall telling any of you how our boxer shorts eventually reach the Ali Baba laundry basket. Let me solve that one for you.

I put them in there.

It’s the same as when I replace the empty toilet roll holder, and close the dishwasher door.

Last night Ted and Gary and their super intelligent Jack Russell dog, called Brian, came over. Naturally I raised this in conversation with them.

“As far as I’m concerned the only person in our household with any bad habits,” said Gary, “is Brian.”

I looked at Brian and he looked at me. I could see this obviously came as a big surprise to him.

“He likes to chew a bone in our bed at the most inopportune of moments,” sniffed Ted.

Brian shook his head in complete disagreement but nobody seemed to notice. The whistle had been blown, as they say.

Later on our sofa (after I’d picked up the soggy towels, refilled the toilet holder and shut the dishwasher door) Guido and I sat on the sofa watching the sports channel. As usual, the remote control was strategically held between his legs in a vice like grip. I defy anyone to wrestle it free without the use of deep hypnosis or metal plyers.

“Can you believe Ted and Gary have no bad habits?” I said, “I mean, really!”

“None they were willing to tell you,” said Guido staring at the TV.

Poor Brian, I thought. I reckoned he was going to be far more careful where he chewed in future.

“At least you conceded I had none,” I said.

“Well, none I was willing to tell them,” said Guido. He had this annoying smirk on his face.

There was a long pause.

“I could have mentioned that you chatter on and on inanely for hours in bed after switching the lights out whilst I’m struggling to get some shut eye,” he said. “And you reveal intimate facts about our sex lives to persons unknown across the globe via your blog.”

There was another long pause.

I found myself thinking about the varied and diverse uses for maple syrup. Then I made a mental note.

I really must keep my mouth shut in bed.

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At Guido’s table

When you live with a chef, sometimes, you can’t help but feel guilty. I think it’s something to do with all that relentless chopping and slicing and deglazing he does for me. Well, last night I thought, to hell with fricassee. Give the kid a break. Take over. Keep things simple but honestly nutritious.

“This is a genuine surprise,” said Guido laying the table nervously. “The last time you cooked it was definitely a meal to remember.”

And for all the wrong reasons folks.

I fastened on my apron with a fanfare like all the good chefs do.

”Oh don’t worry,” I said breezily, “I’m keeping things simple this time so thought we’d go for something really light – like a tomato soup.”

Guido sat down at the kitchen table. I could sense his anticipation.

“You know, the first item of furniture I ever bought was this table,” he said.

For some strange reason, he knocked wood.

“And a table seemed to me like the most important thing in my life. It talked to me. Food. Family. Friends.”

The first item of furniture I ever bought was a bed. Let me tell you it didn’t talk to me. And I wasn’t thinking of family or friends either, I was thinking about only one thing.

Hot Sex.

I was living in Camden at the time and I was dating an accountant called Coleman. He had a semi-detached house in Kensal Rise so we’d regularly rip each other’s clothes off in North London. I certainly don’t remember a lot of sleeping going on. Of course that relationship flatlined long before I’d met Guido. Which is a relief because if I’d written a blog about getting into bed with an accountant every night I’m guessing it wouldn’t be half as exciting as telling you about how Guido dips his crudités in the nude.

“I’m keeping this simple,” I said resting a tin of soup by the stove, “It’s a classic recipe… Heinz.”

I pulled back the ring pull and decanted the contents into a pan. I held it up and squinted at the instructions. Heat slowly and stir until hot. This sounded complicated. I was beginning to regret not going down the Chopped Salad route.

”Do you think you’ll be serving any accompaniments to go with it?” Guido asked hopefully.

I let out a sigh.

”Well, I was going to open a box of crackers,” I said, “but if you want to test me to my culinary limits I could try simultaneously buttering a bap.”

Honestly! What next, an Ox on a spit?

”Let’s stick with crackers,” said Guido smiling sympathetically. I guess it takes a chef to know pressure, with compassion.

“Voila!”

I poured the steaming soup into bowls and set one down infront of Guido. I watched him gingerly pick up his spoon and dip it in and then taste it.

“Well, what d’you think?” I asked.

He swallowed. He made a funny sucking sound with his tongue. He closed his eyes. He paused.

”You know, I think this might possibly be one of the best tins of soup I’ve had heated for me in my entire life,” he said.

I suggested whipping up something more exotic next week. Like a cheese on toast. But, Guido says I really shouldn’t try to run before I can walk.

A hole in my sock

This is what my blog has sunk to. Telling you about the state of my socks.

Well last night Guido and I were getting into our bed at Denmark Hill. The cafe downstairs was all closed up. The lights were switched off. The walk in freezer was making that annoying whirring noise like a jet engine on it’s final approach to the runway, and the street lamp outside our window had started flickering like a strobe. Honestly, it’s no wonder I’ve got insomnia.

As usual the only thing left to talk about with Guido before lights out was whether I’d flossed and if he was feeling horny.

”Why is it at this time of year when it’s cold outside you get into bed with more clothes on than you usually wear during daylight hours?” asked Guido. He’d flapped the blanket back waiting for me to climb into bed. “And will you hurry up please?”

Guido has this terrific ability to get under the sheets naked but still feel as warm as toast to the touch. He then heats up as the night wears on. It’s as if his internal thermostat has been cranked up at exactly the same time as mine has been switched to zero. If we get in there at midnight he’s all cosy and laid back but trust me, by three o’clock in the morning he’s metamorphosized into the human equivalent of a steam pipe.

”Hang on,” I said, “I’m still pondering what to wear.”

I already had my Justin Bieber pyjamas on. They’ve faded, and over the last twelve months I’ve lost two buttons from the jacket, but I’m still soldiering on. I reckoned I needed another layer so I wrapped a towelling bathrobe round me for luck.

“Ready?” Guido asked.

I could tell he’d lost interest in sex because he could work out how long it would take me to strip off again. Then, just as I pulled a sock over my icy foot, I stuck my big toe through the tip of it.

I let out a wail.

”Oh, what now for crying out loud?” said Guido sitting up again.

”I’ve just poked a hole through my sock.”

I said this in the same way a newsreader would announce a story about some horrible natural disaster.

”Well, just leave it sticking out like I do,” said Guido.

Whislt this sounded perfectly reasonable, in the dead of night it was going to be a constant distraction. There I’d be, waiting for sleep to wash over me, yet still having nagging thoughts my toe was at risk of frost bite. I kicked it off and got into bed with the other sock still on.

I’m really weird when it comes to socks with holes. I’ll throw out the bad one but keep the good. Which explains why we’ve a drawer full of singletons dreaming of the happy day when they’ll eventually be paired up again with a new and interesting partner. Only that never happens. Instead you’ll see Guido walking down the street blissfully unaware he’s got an Argyle golf sock on one foot and a candy stripe on the other.

I was going to tell Guido I thought our sock drawer was a metaphor for our lives – colourful, odd, messy, mismatched – but he was too busy pretending to be asleep.

Zen, and me

Last Wednesday was World Pasta Day. Guido looks for any excuse to get his Ragu out. I’d have written a post about it but there’s only so much cannelloni one person can consume without having to lay down straight after.

“You should try to find your inner Zen,” said Cara. She teaches a yoga and meditation class at The Fish Kettle cafe every Sunday morning. “Food isn’t a substitute for happiness.”

Only a woman the width of a Twiglet but who still bends at right angles like a pipe cleaner could offer you such advice. Personally I’d just love a hobby which meant I didn’t have to lose twenty pounds at the end of it.

Readers will know I’ve been down the weight loss road before. It has pot holes. Need I remind you of – The Banana Diet?

“It’s not your body which rules your life, it’s your mind,” said Cara.

She was eating a plate of Guido’s homemade heavy cream scrambled eggs on rye at the time. I’d rather have his muffin.

“Take me, for example,” she put her fork down, “before I discovered transcendental mediation my life was a void. It was a juxtapose. My entire being was an orgy of hidden horrible turbulent depths. I felt like some nightmarish water spout was going to suck me right up and spit me out into a barren wasteland on life’s shore. God, these eggs are terrific. I have no idea how Guido cooks them.”

I sipped my full-fat latte.

“In my opinion it’s the chicken who did all the hard work,” I said.

Listen, she’s not the only one who can hypothesise you know.

Cara slid a book across the table. Even though it was upside down I could still read the title – Meditation For Beginners. My heart sank. I was just hoping it was more comprehensible than the Spanish For Beginners book Guido bought me. He got really cranky when I inexplicably started making up Andalucian words. Anyway, yesterday on the way home from work I took the book out and started reading it on the London Underground.

I peered up over the top of it and could see that there was a Hot Guy In A Hoodie (HGIAH) sitting right opposite.

I stared at the page.

Get into a comfortable position.

I tucked my arms in. I wiggled down into the seat.

I looked back at HGIAH. He had beard.

I stared at the page

Close your eyes.

This made looking at the HGIAH far more difficult. It was also going to make reading the book completely impossible. So, I only shut one eye.

I squinted at the page. At first I thought I read, stop breathing, but realised that was utterly ridiculous as I would drop dead.

Stop thinking about your breathing.

I wondered if HGIAH was thinking about water spouts.

Focus on your inhalation and exhalation.

After a monent I realised I was panting erratically. This pricked HGIAH’s attention. He leaned over next to me rubbing his beard. He looked perplexed. He pointed to my book.

”Personally, man, I think it’s the body that rules your life, not the mind,” he said.

He had aura and he had depth.

If he hadn’t got off at Victoria Station I reckon we could have discussed the life enhancing aspects of a muffin.

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.