I won’t have what he’s having

I think it was Shirley Conrad who once said “life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” but if someone bakes one then I’m happy to eat it. Especially if it’s got crushed garlic, chopped parsley, smoked ham and a topping of crispy breadcrumbs.

“Hey, snap out of it,” said my friend Marc clicking his fingers impatiently. I met him for lunch yesterday at The Spanish Onion. There were no mushrooms on the Specials Board and I was getting the distinct impression that, whilst life may not be too short, he was definitely measuring it.

For some strange reason he was wearing sunglasses (indoors) despite the fact it was dull outside. Worryingly, since we last hooked up, he’s also become a devotee of Wellness. Something of a craze round these parts. I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned, wellbeing, isn’t about an extreme lifestyle choice. It’s about not getting sick.

“I’m having on average 7 hours and 36 minutes sleep – I’m timing it,” he said. “When I wake up I immediately turn on the infrared light at the end of my bed and meditate. It helps focus my mind for the day ahead. I shower using only organic products. You do know shampoos and gels are totally toxic? Then I weigh myself and use a litmus strip to test my urine pH levels.”

Goodness, I thought, no time for Cheerios then?

“I take shots of activated charcoal or an isotonic supplement. The latter comes from plankton. That way I stay hydrated. Oh, and by the way I’ve converted to vegetarianism. It’s been scientifically proven that when an animal is killed the cortisol they release into their bodies ends up flowing into yours. However, I’m finding eggs a colonic challenge.” I guessed an omelette for lunch was out.

Apart from the words – it helps keep me hydrated – I didn’t have a clue what Marc was talking about. But I couldn’t help wonder when was the last time he had decent sex. No wonder he was still single.

“So, Greta Garbo, what’s with the sunglasses in January?” I asked.

”They’re a blue light block – it cuts out negative junk,” he said. “Did we high five? I like to share magnetic energy.” He raised a flat palm so naturally I slapped it. Afterwards I could feel a slight tingling but no magnetism. I suppose I should’ve been grateful he wasn’t asking me to take a piss on a colour chart.

This kind of wellness sounded torture to me. I’m all for feeling fit and happy but why does the journey there have to be so monastic? What next, laying on a bed of nails? By all means I’ll cut my cholesterol and even shed a few pounds in the process. Hell, I’ll try not to drink so much alcohol too (ok let’s not get carried away folks), but where’s the joy? The peanut butter? The custard? The immoral thoughts of bearded men with no clothes on?

Later when Guido and I were in bed I asked him if he thought life was too short to appreciate a good mushroom.

”Not if it’s got crushed garlic, chopped parsley, smoked ham and a topping of crispy breadcrumbs.”

Which just goes to show my husband and I know what we like stuffed. And I feel perfectly fine telling you that.

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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.

Someone like me

It was my father’s third wife who told me, then as an awkward teenager, I was somebody who was really special.

“Always remember,” Flora said, “someone like you is born to sing their own song.”

I, of course, instinctively knew right at that moment, she knew, that I knew, exactly what she was talking about.

“And don’t you ever be afraid to sing it,” she said.

Flora was all of the things that draw you to a person. Compassionate, unconditionally loving, prone to drama, but a whole bunch of fun to be around. She thought absolutely nothing of baking me a chocolate gateaux for weekday breakfast. Which regular readers will now know probably explains a great deal about me. Although she didn’t have any children of her own, she had the ability to tap into what was crackling over a gay adolescent’s frequency like an untuned radio; yet still able to make perfect sense of it to translate for the listener.

“ When you’re older – listen out for someone else singing the same song,” she went on, “and if you hear it, promise me you won’t be scared to listen to it.”

I’ve never forgotten about that conversation with Flora, and was reminded of it again when I saw two young guys in our cafe courtyard this lunchtime. It’s one of the first occasions Guido’s set up tables outside in the Denmark Hill garden. And when I use the term garden, it’s in the loosest possible sense. The place has had a brush up and a lick of paint. You’d be impressed.

I watched them both. They were laughing. They ordered club sandwiches with extra ketchup, they shared a Coke from the same iced glass and for the longest time they stared at one another. Then one reached out and held the other’s hand.

That’s when I heard a familiar song playing in my head. Someone like me can’t miss it.

“Why d’you have such a happy smiley face on?” asked Guido when I strolled into the kitchen.

“I just heard a song I like,” I said.

I pulled a stool up at the counter top where he was mixing the contents of a cake batter. It looked wet and thick and luscious. It took a great deal of self restraint – of which I have very little – to stop me from sticking my finger into it.

“Yeah?”  he asked, “which one?”

He had a dap of flour on his left cheek and his apron was crisscrossed around his muscle shirt. When he flashed me a wide smile I reached out and stroked the back of his hand.

“Let’s just say” I said, “it’s a favourite of mine.”

A little while ago, when the cafe closed, I came back out into the courtyard. The sun is still casting shadows on the tops of the roofs here in London. I know Guido’s inside tidying up because I can hear the sound of pots clattering from the kitchen. The window’s open and he’s just started singing along, at the top of his voice, to a tune on the radio.

He’s the worst singer. Yet in that little nano second of a moment, I got the feeling that everything is good around here. Just maybe it’s all going to work out.

And you have no idea how happy that really makes me feel.

Only when I laugh…

I’ve been reading about an interesting discovery made by researchers in Canada. It turns out a misconception that smiling makes people look younger is actually doing the opposite and is making us all look older.

You read it here first folks.

A group of people were asked to guess the ages of 35 men – some of whom were smiling and some who had neutral expressions. The results concluded that those who were smiling were judged to look older than their true age. The Pysconomic Bulletin and Review (there’s a publication which trips off the tongue) concluded that wrinkles around the eyes when smiling were to blame.

I stared apprehensively into the bathroom mirror yesterday morning and smiled and guess what? The scientists were right. However, there remained a small crumb of hope. If I closed the bathroom blinds to make it dark, and then straightened my face I reckoned I could easily pass for several years younger. The trick was to make sure I didn’t twitch a single facial muscle.

I strolled through the cafe kitchen on my way to work. An aroma of warm vanilla pancakes filled the room. My nostrils were flexing but my face was totally poker. In fact it was more poker than when I’m actually playing poker. I passed Guido who was methodically stirring a small pan of porridge. He was smiling – so he’d obviously not read Pysconomic Bulletin and Review any time recently.

“Good-bye husband,” I said. Only it came out more like a ventriloquist whose lips weren’t moving. Unfortunately this sounded as if I was saying “Shood-guy dachshund.”

Guido stopped stirring, and then smiling.

“What the hell’s gotten into you?” he said.

I could’ve stopped to explain but I was worried it might age me so I kept walking. Honestly, I could feel the years dropping off with every step.

When I arrived at the office my assistant, Toby, got increasingly alarmed by my new demeanour. He doesn’t like change of ANY kind. Readers may remember Toby has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which obviously makes him a laugh a minute to work with. I don’t think spending all day trying to fathom my totally random filing system helps. It’s really not that surprising he’s always so miserable. Although bearing in mind recent Canadian research, this could explain why he looks about 13 years old, despite being 25.

Toby kept trying to cheer me up. He made hot chocolate. He even put snipped up marshmallows on top into the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

“I could tell you jokes?” he said after an hour.

I’d been completely silent because I’ve also discovered that when I talk I excessively raise my eyebrows.  That creases my forehead which doesn’t help on the wrinkle front.

“This Rabbi and this Priest were playing golf…,” said Toby suddenly.

“Oh really,” I said, “you don’t have to do that.”

There was another pause.

“I know one about a penguin who goes into a bar,” he said.

Last night in bed Guido told me laughing was good for me. Apparently it’s scientifically proven that the more you laugh the longer you’ll live. So I told him the penguin joke.

“A penguin goes into a bar and asks the barman if he’s seen his brother. I don’t know, says the barman – what does he look like?”

I sure hope it works.

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.

I’m weird, you’re weird

I always eat a sandwich in exactly the same, but, bizarre way. And it doesn’t matter what the filling is. Yesterday it just happened to be a delicious BLT Guido had made for me.

The bread was powder white, the iceberg lettuce was shredded, the tomato was a juicy red buffalo and the bacon was grilled to perfection. It goes without saying things went flaky when I started to eat and I’m not referring to the sandwich. I have culinary musts.

1. Must be served on a plate. Preferably oval but any shape will do in a crockery emergency.

2. Must be cut into two horizontal parts. Four triangles? I’m not a three year old.

3. Must peel back the top slices off first and eat those both separately before anything else. Which then obviously necessitates an urgent need for cutlery.

4. Squiggle a line of ketchup precisely. This should be exactly 6 centimetres in length but absolutely MUST NOT touch the bread.

I could probably carry on right beyond number 10 but I’ve limited word count.

“Do you have any idea how weird you are?” Guido asked me staring at my deconstructed lunch.

”Yes,” I said, “and it’s taken me years of careful practice to get to this point.”

”In fact I’d go so far as to say you’re possibly the weirdest person I know,” he said.

Which I have to tell you was pretty rich coming from Guido, who always religiously reads the back of a shampoo bottle whenever he’s in the shower.

”Though I have to say you have some peculiar idiosyncrasies yourself,” I said measuring my squiggle.

Here’s the thing. When Guido gets dressed in the morning he insists on putting his clothes on in a strict order. He never deviates. Boxers first. Socks. Shirt. Then lastly, jeans. If he throws everything on in a rush he can get quite discombobulated and has to strip off and start all over again. Which is a pretty big deal at 5.30 in the morning.

”Prove it,” he said slouching back in his chair.

I crunched a piece of bacon. I drew up a long and extensive mental list. I wondered what to pick first and which to leave out and what would make him sound even more of a freak than I was.

”For starters you read newspapers backwards,” I said.

I lifted the top left hand piece of bread and nibbled the gooey bit first.

“You always set the volume level on the TV to 10, even if this means neither of us can actually hear it. If I turn it up to 12 you turn it back down to 10.”

By the way, I leave the crusts for last.

”You’re afraid of birds. Particularly one randomly landing on your head.”

I lifted the top right hand piece. It was gooey too but not overly. This was good. Infact on a scale of gooeyness it was a 5. Having a scale of gooeyness is not in any way weird.

“I once saw you eat ice cream with a fork,” I said.

Speaking of forks – I needed one.

“And, you have the ability to sneeze with your eyes still wide open.”

There was a brief silence.

“But hey some of my weirdness I know you definitely like.” He cocked an eyebrow.

There was another brief silence. I was happy for him to prove it.

I’ll have what he’s having

We’ve had snow in London twice now in a single month. That’s almost unheard of around here. The way some people have been behaving you’d think the whole world was teetering dangerously on the brink of some sort of Armageddon. And don’t even get me started about the public transport system.

I was standing in line for the bus last week when a random dude pushed right in front of me.

I’m late for work – with a capital F!” he shouted at me. “Fine,” I yelled back, “with a capital F!

“That’s what I love about this city,” said my friend Marc, “in times of need total strangers still have a complete disregard for their fellow man. I’m surprised he didn’t take your head off.”

Marc had stopped by the cafe for a bowl of something hot and steamy. He chose a cup of Guido’s carrot coriander soup. It’s been flying out of the door all day. I can highly recommend it if you’re having a day with an F in it.

“Yeah, whatever happened to the Blitz spirit that glued us all together?” I said, “All I know is my mother resorted to panic food shopping at Harrods. Apparently she ended up back at her apartment and all she had was a bottle of raspberry flavoured gin, a jar of pickled turnip tops, and a home macaroon making kit.”

I tried to imagine what my mother would do with all of that stuff. She’d call it – Hors D’oeuvre, Entrée and Dessert. Of course if she was hungry enough she’d have ended up over here at the cafe picking something delicious from the specials board.

“Listen, I think if we were denied copious amounts of food for a few days we’d all be in much better shape,” Marc sighed slowing patting his mid-riff.

“Are you kidding me?” I said, “God forbid.”

I tried to imagine a dinner without linguine smothered in garlic oil and trust me it wasn’t pretty.

“As you know I act like a crazy person when I’m hungry.” I said.

I dipped my bread crust vigorously into my Miso broth. It instantly went pleasingly soggy.

“I remember starving myself through my last banana diet. One night I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on the sofa during an episode of Hawaii 5-O. Rather than admit to a perverted craving for rocky road baked cheesecake I told Guido I was moved by the rugged beauty of Steve McGarrett’s chest hair.”

There was a pause for obvious reasons.

”I get it. At times like that baby,” said Marc, “all you want is comfort food.” He licked his spoon when he said that.

I thought about what comfort really meant to me. Naturally I thought about maple syrup. Who wouldn’t? I thought about the endless possibilities of good mayonnaise.Then inexplicably my brain made a connection to Guido’s thighs. Imagine if all that was rationed and in short supply. Life wouldn’t be much worth living.

”We all appreciate the special things in our life,” said Marc. “I guess that’s why I keep eating here.” He took another mouthful of soup.

That was reassuring.

So if the real Armageddon ever does happen, do take the time to stop by. In the unlikely event there’s nothing you fancy on the menu, I’ll get Guido to quickly rustle something up for you.