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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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.

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.

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.

Roses round the door

Whenever I was asked as a child to draw a picture of my ideal home, I’d get out my wax crayon and sketch a flat fronted two up two down cottage with a door and a crooked chimney with corkscrew smoke puffing out of the top of it. Then I’d swap colours and, with flair, add a rose flower winding over the porch. I’d never heard of the word, quintessential (let alone spell it), but even back then I knew what I wanted.

I’ve spent five nights alone at the new cafe premises in Denmark Hill. I use the description, cafe, in its loosest possible terms. Let’s just say it’s no longer a kebab shop. It’s hard to describe what it is, because it’s just a shell. A few weeks ago I took the decision that Guido and I should make the living space upstairs habitable first. I could stay there and oversee the work downstairs. That way I’d be on site to deal with emergencies.

If I ever come up with such a hare brained idea ever again in my entire life – shoot me.

Our builders are from Romania. There are lots of them. They travel in a pack. They arrive at six o’clock in the morning in a caravan of trucks. Regular readers will know I consider six o’clock in the morning still to be the middle of the night. They dig with shovels. Unfortunately I’m unable to speak fluent Romanian which, in current circumstances, would be advantageous. The head builder is called Roman. I’m not making that up. In my opinion he has the biggest “builders bum” crack I’ve ever seen. Those of you unfamiliar with this anatomical term may want to Google it. You’ve been warned. I try very hard not to get too close to Roman’s. It’s like some horrible cosmic black hole. I fear I may inadvertently be sucked into it like quick sand and be unable to escape; never to be seen or heard of again this side of the universe.

On the language front Roman isn’t that brilliant with English but he does understand the words yes and no. He definitely uses the word, no, more than he uses the word, yes. Which when you ask him the question –  is your construction plan on schedule? – and the answer is no, it’s pretty disappointing considering the number of shovels involved. However, if I ever ask Roman if he’d like coffee and sandwiches, the answer is always, yes.

“What do you mean the construction plan isn’t on schedule?” said Guido when I called him in the middle of a very busy lunch service at The Spanish Onion to tell him the construction plan wasn’t on schedule.

“The lasagna’s for table 3!” I heard him yell.

I could almost smell the cream sauce.

“Are you a complete idiot? Stop making coffee and sandwiches immediately,” he said.

His rationale was that this may be making it impossible for Roman and his team of completely professional builders to focus on our looming deadline.

Personally I’m not sure this approach will go down too well with so many men with shovels.

By the way, there’s a climbing pink rose around the cafe back door. I’m hoping that’s a good sign. It’s certainly as close as I’m going to get to quintessential in Denmark Hill.