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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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.

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.

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.

The Italian job

I met my friend Marc. He’s the one who moved to Italy to live with his incredibly athletic lover, Secondo. It turns out he was a complete schmuck after all. He wasn’t just having sex with Marc but successfully entertaining half the male population of Naples as well. If you get my meaning? Their reconciliation was doomed from the start.

“Tell Marc we’re all out of pathos over here otherwise he might end up sobbing in our bed again like the last time,” said Guido, unsympathetically whisking an egg.

“Yeah, well, but for the grace of God there go you and I,” I said. “If you hadn’t met me your life could well have turned out just like that egg – scrambled.”

We went for lunch to Village East in Bermondsey. I picked the toasted aubergine.

”You know I’ve been back from Italy for two weeks and I still find it difficult to look at a smoked mozzarella without bursting into tears,” said Marc pondering my appetiser. I think he was welling up.

I thought about changing my order to avert an emotional melt down which might involve our mattress.

“It must be very difficult,” I said realising total betrayal, rather than cheese, was probably the greater of Marc’s worries at the time.

“I guess there are worse things in life than having an affair with a delusional sex maniac,” Marc said.

I sipped my wine. I have to admit it took me a moment to think of one.

“What would you have learned from an experience like that?” he said sagely.

I wished he hadn’t asked.

You see, I’m not part of that hippy dippy naval gazing brigade. I try not to over analyse things. I don’t see life as a never ending learning experience where even if something is so awful you still manage to scrape something “good” out of it to weave into a silver lining.

Sometimes life deals you a completely crap hand and that’s as good as it gets. The only way to make it better is to try to extradite yourself from whatever the situation is. A job sucks. A boss is a complete ass. A relationship is totally toxic. And you move on, because sticking around won’t ever make any of it any more acceptable. Of course, there are occasions when you simply can’t walk away. No amount of chanting or stroking crystals or hand wringing is ever going to make you feel better. I know, because I’ve been there. And the only way I got my head round it was to hope that tomorrow was going to be a better day.

“Goodness,” I said, “I don’t know – what d’you think?” I said annoyingly answering a question with another question.

“I suppose I wish I’d never met Secondo and never tasted his tagliatelle al fungi,” he said. And he definitely meant it.

Later, at home in bed, I asked Guido if he’d any regrets which involved a mushroom.

“No,” he said pulling up the bed clothes to his neck, “but never underestimate how awkward they are to stuff into a pastry vol-au-vent.”

“Ok, but how do you feel about delusional sex mania?” I asked hopefully.

There was a brief pause. Guido turned the lamp back on.

”I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m willing to give it a try.”