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.

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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.

Music to make love to

When Guido and I lived in the loft above The Spanish Onion our immediate neighbours were a lesbian couple called Bethany and Ethel. We always knew when they were having sex because of the groaning emanating through our walls. Sometimes the electricity power would inexplicably fluctuate and the floor boards would creak like they were manoeuvring a baby grand. One morning after a particularly passionate session I bumped into Ethel in the street outside.

”Did the earth move for you?” I asked.

Everytme they got amorous after that they’d turn up their music system to try to mask what they were up to. Let’s just say their taste in music was eclectic. Guido would always wait until everything had gone completely quiet, then he’d rattle our headboard against their bedroom wall and crank up “It’s Raining Men” at full volume. I honestly don’t think they saw the funny side.

There is a point to this story.

My father came round to the cafe for breakfast yesterday.

“I’m taking a lady friend back to my place tonight,” he nibbled his buttered toast furtively, “and I want things to be perfect.”

“Who is she?” I’m nothing if not direct.

”Let’s just call her special,” he nibbled, “I want the ambiance to be absolutely perfect.”

He’d bought toxic wine, he had scented candles, and was planning on scattering floor cushions. What woman would not be utterly seduced by this? Except now he was stuck on appropriate music. This was not surprising as, Amber, his nubile ex-girlfriend would only ever take her clothes off listening to One Direction.

”Things squelch when you make love over 60 so I want something to drown it out,” he said.

“Hmm, “ I said, “in that case you don’t want anything with too quick a tempo, unless you’re planning a premature ending.”

He stopped nibbling.

”Listen kiddo, at my age I need something that takes a while to build up to the big crescendo, but, doesn’t turn into a full-on marathon.” He sipped his coffee, “I’m not the man I used to be.”

Beethoven’s 5th was obviously out then.

“So nothing too shmaltzy or anything that could turn into a singalong,” I asked.

”The last thing I want is to hear her breaking into song and throwing me off my concentration.” He unconsciously nibbled faster.

”Well Guido and I have our favourite tracks, but obviously depends if we’re using mayonnaise or melted chocolate at the time.” I dunked my donut. “Listen, I’ll email you a suggestion,”

Later that night I called my mother.

“I can’t talk long darling,” she said all breathy, “I’m seeing a man friend later.”

”Who is he?” I asked.

“Let’s just call him special,” she said.

It was 2 a.m. when I woke up in bed. My eyes were wide open and it wasn’t because Guido was snoring like a fog horn. The penny had finally dropped. After forty years of happy divorce my parents were making love to each other again.

Anyway, here’s the track I picked. If you do try listening to this whilst making love, don’t blame me if you start thinking about two sixty five year fruit cakes having weird sex with a scatter cushion.

Though I really wouldn’t blame you if you did.

In your dreams

I’d like to share an exciting discovery I made recently. Depending on what you like to dream about, this could be a complete game changer in the nocturnal activity stakes.

I can confidently confirm that (and I accept this may initially seem unbelievable to some readers) corn fritters dipped in a chilli sauce will make you dream about Armie Hammer.

I am proof of his pudding.

Last Friday I just happened to randomly eat one and then right after I climbed into bed and fell asleep. When I shut my eyes it was like falling down a rabbit hole. I had one of the most amazing dreams I’d ever had in my entire life, and best of all it involved Armie Hammer with very few clothes on. It’s now happened twice in one week. Both times, corn fritters, chilli dip, strip all my clothes off, climb into bed and then, BAM! A nanosecond later and what d’you know? Armie comes a knock’n. Don’t tell me that’s a freaky coincidence.

I’ve still got to unlock the scientific link between the humble deep fried fritter and the guy who gloriously portrayed a bow legged Lone Ranger, but, let me reassure you – I’m working overtime on it. Corn fritters? I’m all over them.

All I can tell you is Armie’s a hell of a lot more persistent in my dreams than George Clooney ever was. In fact, if you’re reading this George – we’re through. You really can blow hot and cold. Sometimes I don’t see you in my dreams for weeks on end and then right out of the blue you’ll just pop up nonchalantly from under the blanket and expect me to pick up where we left off. Well listen up kiddo, there’s a new hunk on the block.

Honestly, Armie’s got great big hands that can get all over you. Given half a chance he’d knead you like a piece of pliable wet bread dough. In the middle of the night he’s got the ability to get me into positions I didn’t think possible. And here’s the best bit – he’s insatiable. Armie knows no exhaustion. He just keeps going on and on like a love machine so for two consecutive nights this week he just couldn’t seem to get enough of me. If pushed I’d say the feeling was mutual.

“You drive me totally insane,” said Armie, pulling back the sheets and tucking my heels neatly behind my neck. He told me just last night my chilli dip totally hit his spot. He’s making Guido sound like a right lazy bones in the sack – and that’s saying something. Especially if it’s a slow Tuesday in the kitchen and mayonnaise is on bulk buy at the market – if your catching my drift…

“Last night in the middle of the night when you shouted out – Give it to me Kemo Sabe – what exactly did you mean?” said Guido buttering my toast at breakfast time.

It was a tough one to try to explain away but just like Tonto I think I successfully covered my tracks.

”Maybe you should lay off those corn fritters just before bedtime,” said Guido, “I think they might be twisting your mind.”

So there’s a little bedtime homework for you folks on the fritter front. Get frying tonight. Oh, and please don’t forget, tell Armie I said Hello.