Party Of One

It’s Saturday night and Leeds city centre is abuzz with happy folk, drinking, eating and shopping.

Somewhere in the middle of this merry revelry is yours truly: dining alone in Nando’s.

It’s a sad old sight. All around me people are chatting animatedly – occasionally casting suspicious/ sympathetic glances in my direction.

How I came to be tucking into a medium-spiced butterfly chicken sans dining partner boils down to two crucial factors:

1. The husband is stuck on a road somewhere in the French Alps. Due to a combination of taxi driver ineptitude, a land slide and a gargantuan boulder blocking the only passable way down the mountain, he has missed his flight home and is currently in an agitated state, attempting to book new flights back from the back of the taxi with limited phone signal and depleting battery power.

2. My addiction to Nando’s (previously blogged about here) is now so great that if I even go one week without sinking my chops into a peri-peri-flavoured meal, I start to get withdrawal symptoms. These can range from nightmares about being attacked by a giant red rooster to swigging peri-peri sauce straight from the kitchen cupboard.

Dining alone, especially on a Saturday night, is a tricky beast to pull off. As I travelled into town, I was already contemplating which of the city’s Nando’s would be best to confidently pull off my Carrie Bradshaw-esque solo dining experience.

Do I go for the quieter Nando’s, discreetly holed away upstairs somewhere? This would reduce the possibility of strange stares from fellow diners, yet almost certainly accentuate my solo-ness.

Or do I go for the bustling Trinity shopping centre where trendy hipsters will be too busy taking selfies to spare me more than a passing glance?

I plumped for the busy Nando’s.

Lo and behold, in front of me in the queue was another lonely diner: a Japanese student who used exaggerated arm movements to communicate that he needed a table for one.

Japanese student sorted, the waitress turned her attention to me.

‘Table for one,’ I said breezily, adopting the air of this-is-all-perfectly-normal.

The waitress studied me for just a fraction too long and for one horrifying moment I thought she was going to pair me up with the Japanese student, which would have been terribly awkward given he only had a rudimentary grasp of the English language.

I was so busy worrying about said scenario it was only when I had been deposited at my table and the waitress had departed, that I realised she had seated me – perversely – in the middle of a huge, empty table for 10!

There might as well have been a giant illuminated arrow pointing down on my head. Tag line: ‘This sad woman is dining alone.’

‘Excuse me,’ I said to another passing waitress. ‘This table is too big for me. There’s only me. It looks, well, a bit strange.’

‘I understand,’ she said, her eyes filled with pity. ‘I’ll get you a smaller table.’

After some conspicuous hovering around while I inwardly chanted, ‘I’m an independent W-O-M-A-N’, a smaller table was finally found for me, sandwiched awkwardly between two couples.

I join the queue to order.

My phone rings. It’s my sister.

‘Where are you?’ she says.

‘In Nando’s,’ I say. ‘About to gleefully stuff my gills with spicy chicken, fries and halloumi cheese.’

‘On your own?!’ she exclaims.

‘Er, yes,’ I say, in a small voice.

I glance back at my temporarily-abandoned table, just in time to see the original waitress obliviously seating another couple there. Nooo!

There’s a long pause on the phone.

‘You seriously need help,’ says my sister.

Getting Shady With The Ladies

It’s Saturday morning and the perfect chance to catch up with Peter, my weepy 70-year-old coffee shop pal who’s looking for love.

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Peter’s love life is now so complicated that even I’m struggling to keep up. Despite claiming to be a one-woman man (he was devoted to beloved Brenda for 50 years), he seems to have at least five women now on the go. That’s a lot of irons in the fire.

Here’s our Graham with a quick reminder: there’s ‘Gates’ – a woman who lives near by (who opens her gates as a signal that he’s allowed in for a bottle of Lidl Prosecco), there’s a nurse he’s got his eye on in Nero (she has nice legs, old Pete doesn’t miss a trick), a council woman he tried to ask out but rebuffed him (he won’t ask again!); another widower with an interest in ballroom dancing (‘work in progress’).

But the woman who has really stolen his heart is a local business woman, who is so affectionate she practically ‘mauls’ him. Problem is, this business woman already has a partner. Peter’s head tells him to ‘get out now’, but his heart’s telling him otherwise.

I’m worried this won’t end well for emotionally-fragile Pete.

To further complicate matters, it turns out Peter has a love rival: Shady Kevin. Shady Kevin is another fixture on the Nero scene: a perma-tanned, grizzle-haired property developer with an eye for the ladies. He might be generously described as a silver fox but I think he looks shifty – and Peter agrees.

‘I may be in the kindergarten when it comes to women but when it comes to men I’m all there,’ said Peter. ‘There’s a saying we had in the car business: ‘no-one can lift my leg’.

‘I don’t trust Shady Kevin one bit. He sits in the corner watching my every move.’

‘If he was a horse, I wouldn’t ride him and if he was a dog, I’d have him muzzled!’

Malcolm, on the other hand, seems to be getting a bit bothersome in his old age. A hand-written letter arrived from him at my workplace, thanking me for the olive oil I bought him in Mallorca back in August. I’m a little alarmed by this, as I don’t recall telling him where I worked.

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Luckily, the heat’s off because Peter tells me that Malcolm’s developed a small fixation with a woman called Bridget (stern-looking school m’am with bobbed hair; takes no prisoners). However, Bridget has a crush on ‘Colin Firth’ (a married father-of-two with Hollywood looks, who makes her heart ‘beat furiously’). Introduce Shady Kevin into this mix, who apparently fancies Bridget…  and poor Malcolm doesn’t stand a chance.

And if this wasn’t enough characters to add to this ever-evolving soap opera, let me introduce you to one more: Leery Len.

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Leery Len is part of the late afternoon Nero crew (a whole new group of oddities, separate to the morning pensioner parade we’ve come to love and know). Leery Len is one of those highly-irritating people, who talks in a really loud voice so that every conversation is like one big stage show for those unfortunate enough to be around him.

This boombastic bozo meets with his friend religiously at 5pm every evening and spends a lot of time complaining bitterly about his perpetually-complicated love life, namely ‘idiotic’ women who don’t return his calls.

He also makes loud, border-line misogynist comments about women in his vicinity such as, ‘My oh my, she’s stunning and look at her legs!’

Occasionally, he bellows silly statements across to me such as, ‘I don’t know how you cope with that machine (my laptop) – I once signed up to email and got hundreds of the blasted things!’ and, ‘Do you think I should join Facebook? What’s the difference between Facebook and Twitter?’

Have you ever tried to explain the difference between Facebook and Twitter to a technologically-challenged buffoon? It’s harder than you think.

One final new Nero character who deserves a mention is Note Woman. Note Woman apparently delivers hand-written notes to people sat drinking their coffee. The notes are all steeped in paranoia, saying things like, ‘Do not trust the man you are talking to.’

I haven’t actually met Note Woman yet; she might even be an urban myth.

But I’m already looking forward to the day a crazed-looking pensioner sidles over and drops a note in my lap saying: ‘Do not trust that shifty man in the corner with the grey hair and suspicious tan….

‘Get him MUZZLED.’

Love’s Labour’s Lost

The over-60s social scene at Caffè Nero continues to provide hours of entertainment and guess who’s in the thick of it…

Former regular Porridge-Loving Pensioner, once part of the fixtures and fittings, is now long gone, last seen shuffling off towards the local boozer.

Following ‘flowersgate‘ (in which he threw a bunch of flowers at Legs for refusing to take him to the hospital), there was another awkward showdown over some suits and shirts Malcolm had brought in for him (apparently Malcolm wanted some money for them but PLP kept making excuses). He hasn’t been sighted since.

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And Legs (scantily-clad nemesis vying for the attentions of Peter, Malcolm et al.) is STILL wearing shorts despite an average autumn temperature of 8 degrees.
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But coffee-shop staple Linda, formerly lampooned as a miserly retiree, is now my NBF!

Peter told me that Linda is a very shrewd antique dealer, who doesn’t take any prisoners. From what I’ve seen, I’d be inclined to agree. She used to regard me with suspicion as I chewed the fat with Peter and Malcolm.

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Then one day, I ended up in a three-way conversation with Linda and Peter and she seemed to grudgingly accept me.

Later, Peter told me that po-faced Linda is a naturally suspicious person but he said that now I’d cracked the ice, I’d be accepted.

‘Her bark is worse than he bite,’ he said.

He wasn’t wrong. The next day, Linda came charging over to me in a harried fashion, muttering something about her new iPad not working. I’m not sure what she wanted me to do so I smiled sympathetically as she patted me arm before charging off.

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The following week a most extraordinary offer from the former miserly: she quite randomly offered me a pair of shoes!

Apparently, she had bought some beautiful brogues many years ago that she couldn’t wear due to a problem with her foot and wondered if I’d like them.

I had to break the news to her that I have freakishly large feet (details here) so I wouldn’t be able to shoehorn my trotters into them. On news of this, she simply patted me on the arm again and charged off.

After his intense interest in our trip to Mallorca this summer, Malcolm went a bit quiet for a while. Peter told me that someone had insinuated to poor Malcolm that he was a bit of a pest. He had naturally upset him and he’d been sipping his cappuccino in solitude.

That all changed this week when Malcolm shuffled over in his fedora and asked if he could sit with me. We had a bit of a chat about his days in the Air Force in Egypt.

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Malcolm has a wife who is virtually house-bound. His trip to Caffè Nero is his only trip out of the house all day.

‘If I didn’t have this, I might go potty,’ he said.

‘There was a woman with grey hair who I used to see every day heading to the Co-Op,’ he mused.

‘She told me that she only reasons she went shopping every day was that it was the only human contact she would have.

‘It’s not much fun getting old,’ he added, gazing contemplatively out of the window.

Fellow oldie Peter continues to regale me with tales of grief from deceased wife Brenda (there was a bit more sobbing the other day) while juggling the complexities of dating. The old devil has a potential three women on the go!

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According to Peter, the dating rules aren’t much different for the over-60s than they are for teenagers. There’s a lot of text games going on.

One woman, I’ve nicknamed ‘Gates’,  is game-playing to the extreme. Peter has to drive past her house in the evening and if the gates are open, he’s allowed in. If the gates are shut, it’s a Marks and Spencer’s meal for one back at home.

Peter keeps assuring me that he doesn’t want a replacement for Brenda, just some company. ‘Il companionata‘, as they say.

‘Linda says when it comes to dating, I’m not even in the junior school; I’m still in kindergarten,’ he said, wistfully.

But it seems Gates locked Peter out too many times because he’s now interested in someone else altogether – who he met right here in Caffè Nero.

‘My heart’s now elsewhere,’ said Peter, who only appears to converse in metaphors. ‘I never imagined anything after Brenda but lightning has struck and it’s like a bolt.

‘It’s a very complicated situation,’ he went on. ‘You’d think it would get easier in my twilight years but there’s a lot of emotional baggage.’

‘Don’t get in too deep,’ I said sagely.

‘It’s too late,’ lamented Peter. ‘My nostrils are only just out of the water.’

The Return Of Dirty Harry

True love has yet to strike for my old mucker Harry.

He appears to be back on the market – or in the window of the local hardware store again, at any rate.

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His original criteria requested someone who is good-looking, with personality AND style. This time, he’s lowered his expectations slightly.

But style isn’t something he will compromise on, citing his need for a ‘special friend’ who can ‘put it together for any occasion’!

Just where is Harry planning on taking this elusive – yet stylish, good-looking and charismatic – companion?

I’m tempted to give him a bell.

Dirty Harry

If you’re looking for love, then look no further than the window of our local hardware store…

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I love that Harry’s chosen lady has to be good-looking, have personality AND style (and if they can offer some spelling lessons that would be a bonus for old Haz).

Bless Harry. He’s not one to commit too early either, preferring an occasional luncheon to a regular dinner. Wouldn’t want to impinge on his boys’ nights out, I bet.

Still, he says he only CAN be interesting.

And does anyone know what OHC stands for? A quick Google came up with two possibilities: Over-Head Camshaft or Outer Hair Cells, neither of which sound particularly appealing.

I bet Harry’s phone won’t stop ringing… not that you would even get to speak to him (the old bean’s screening his calls!)

But maybe I spoke too soon…

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Who needs match.com when you can find romance like this? As Dirty Harry himself might say: ‘Go ahead, make my day…’