Saga Sagas

I have a new friend at Caffè Nero. His name is Cecil and he’s 87. My quota of octogenarian acquaintances may soon outgrow my dwindling band of ‘normal’ friends. I’m not sure how worried I should be.

Cecil comes into Nero on a Saturday. Like all the other lonely souls, what he really wants is someone to talk to. He moved to Leeds from the East End in the war and lived in a back-to-back in Harehills. He used to travel to school on the tram for a ha’penny but he was too poor to afford a cap.

I’ve yet to snap a candid picture of Cecil but to put you in the picture, he’s a cross between Patrick Stewart and a kindly wizard.

Cecil is entirely pleasant company. If I’m being honest, I’m beginning to grow a bit weary of my other coffee shop friend Peter and his constant carousel of desperate dates.

Pushing 80 himself, widower Peter is still pursuing the entirely unsuitable 50-something year old business woman, who not only has a partner already but appears to be stringing poor Pete along. I’ve tried to point this out to him but he seems completely blinded by love. Never a fool like an old fool and all that.

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I mentioned such concerns to fellow Nero regular Linda the other day (former miserly, seen here uncharacteristically shrouded in fur, who’s actually turned out to be surprisingly friendly).

She nodded along sagely, before stating: ‘Peter is a petulant child. Like all men, he’s completely self-obsessed and selfish.’

I haven’t been able to look at Peter in the same light since. I saw him on Saturday and he regaled me with his usual tales of myriad dinner dates, Italian holidays and trips to the opera, while simultaneously dabbing wet eyes about his deceased wife and lamenting how lonely his life is. I couldn’t help but think, perhaps Peter is a bit selfish?

Peter concluded the conversation by telling me about his weight training and the dumb bells he’s been lifting at home.

‘However, I hear you’re very fit,’ he said. ‘You’ve been spotted at the gym.’

‘By who?’ I said.

‘Colin Firth!’ he said.

(Colin Firth is a harassed-looking dad, who brings his kids into Neros on a Saturday, usually leaving a trail of biscuit crumbs and destruction in his wake. Don’t be fooled by the name either: he’s a less attractive, ginger version of his Hollywood doppelgänger)

I’m assuming Firth meant ‘fit’ as in healthy, not the ‘phwoar’ sense. But still, I find the idea of frazzled-father Firth and petulant Peter having such a conversation about me a little unnerving – not least because all I really do at the gym is flap around on the cross-trainer for half an hour.

Peter also seems to have turned on another Nero oldie: Malcolm (dotty old Majorca fan).

‘Malcolm isn’t happy that I’m been getting on well with Bridget,’ said Peter.

(Bridget being another wholly unsuitable love interest)

‘He keeps coming over and standing right next to us, puffing out his chest like a peacock. I’ve had to tell him to push off.’

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‘Anyway, you’re on half term next week,’ continued Peter. You’ll be able to see all this for yourself!’

Perhaps it’s time to retreat to Starbucks.

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.’

Legs Eleven

I was once the doyenne of my local Caffè Nero, attracting the attention of a plethora of wrinkly retirees. Not any more. Now I have a new competitor in town who goes by the name of LEGS.

I’d never even heard of Legs this time last month. But there she is, batting her eyelashes at the oldies, driving Porridge-Loving Pensioner to hospital, and holding court with the morning regulars (Peter, Malcolm and co,) – while they all listen to her every word in rapt admiration.

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The woman can do no wrong.

According to a Peter (wet-eyed widow who gave Legs her namesake due to the fact that her well-toned pins are always on display), Legs is an amazing person: she’s studying for a doctorate in Sport Science or something, she’s a ‘strong and independent’ W-O-M-A-N (cue Beyonce soundtrack), she went travelling the world on her own; she’s probably about to make a breakthrough in finding a cure for cancer.

Apparently, her penchant for skimpy shorts and scanty vest tops merely masks her true wonderfulness. Even miserly retiree Linda is spellbound.

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‘Never judge a book by its cover,’ says Peter.

Our resident do-gooder isn’t called a Legs for nothing. She really does wear shorts every single day, rain or shine. I tell a lie: I might have spotted a pair of stripy leggings the other day. Still, it leaves me often pondering, what does she wear in winter?!

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Peter came over the other day and said he realises that he’s been neglecting me now that Legs is in town. I didn’t disagree.

Peter attempted to introduce me to Legs in the coffee queue but she merely narrowed her eyes and smiled unconvincingly, in that slightly competitive way that only girls can fully understand.

Luckily for me, I have an ace card up my sleeve: I’m going to Mallorca in a week or so and Malcolm is still hellbent on imparting every last drop of knowledge he has on his favourite holiday destination.

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Not content with passing on all of his literature, he has now taken to recommending restaurants, the type of wine we should buy, and the places we should visit. He even had a recommendation on the local brandy.

Malcolm pottered in the other morning and made a beeline straight for me (bypassing Legs. Ha!).

I was sat in the window (which had angered Adrian The Academic who likes to sit in that particular window seat while he’s studying quantum mechanics and reading up on complex geometry – more on him another time).

‘I’ve barely been able to sleep for worry that you might not know how to get from Palma to Orient,’ said Malcolm.

I nodded in what I hoped was a suitably ‘I’ve-been-concerned-too’ manner, while looking up from one of Malcolm’s Mallorca books. I carry one around in my bag and then scramble to get it out and bury my head in it when I see him approaching.

‘There’s two routes, you see,’ he went on. ‘And I’m worried you might take the wrong one.’

An hour later, and following some very laborious directions, I reassured Malcolm that yes, I now knew the correct way to Orient and yes, I would stop at that quaint little village en route, and yes, I would try some tapas at that little taverna he loves so much.

I’m half expecting Malcolm to come in with an actual hour-by-hour itinerary for our holiday next week.

Porridge-Loving Pensioner, meanwhile, has been all but BANNED from Caffè Nero. That’s not strictly true; the manageress told him that unless he stop pestering people to give him a lift to the hospital and then getting irate when they refuse, he won’t be allowed back. PLP took umbrage at this and has now GONE ROGUE.

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He occasionally shuffles around grinning toothlessly at people but has taken to frequenting other eateries in the area. I saw him quite contentedly tucking into a large bowl of fries in the bar next door, bits of grease splattering his stained suit. The porridge days are over.

I went into Caffè Nero avec husband this weekend and who should be standing in the queue happily conversing with Peter but my nemesis Legs.

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‘That’s her!’ I said to the husband.

‘Who?!’ said gormless husband.

‘Leggssss!’ I hissed.

The husband studied her for some time, legs and all.

‘She’s actually a very attractive woman,’ he said.

The Hunk at the Gym

After listening to Lipo Liza‘s woeful tales of extreme fat removal and dodging the advances of omnipresent Big Grey Man, it seemed only fair that I should finally get a new gym ‘buddy’ who was a bit easier on the eye.

My latest gym friend is a bit of a hunk – a young hunk, in fact – but with a beard. Yep, a beard. Not that weird goaty thing that Brad Pitt grew; I’m thinking more of a bristly Ben Affleck in the film Argo.

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You know when you catch someone’s eye several times by accident or suddenly clock that you’ve been vacantly staring at them for some time? That’s what happened with The Bearded One last month. I was on a cross trainer directly opposite him and realised I had been staring in his general direction for quite a while, as my legs peddled away.

I then started to think, ‘Oh no, MAYBE he thinks I’m staring at him because I fancy him. Which I don’t of course (having only eyes for the husband). Except now, I’m acting like I DO fancy him.’

My friend Andrea and I have a name for this: it’s called Toy Soldier Syndrome (the name is a long story). It’s basically where you become convinced that someone THINKS that you fancy them so you start acting flustered and coquettish around them – even though you definitely DO NOT fancy them at all (kind of a weird self-fulfilling prophecy).

After a few minutes, I stole a quick glance back at The Bearded One to ascertain the state of play. As soon as my eyes rested on his, he smiled straight back at me!

I went bright red.

The Bearded One then dismounted from his bike and, despite there being many available cross-trainers, he curiously stepped onto the one right next to me! I was so flustered that I hastily fled the cross-trainer completely, cheeks flaming. This silly non-event was made worse by the fact that the husband was obliviously lifting weights, just several metres away.

The following week, I whipped into Marks and Spencers at my usual gallop and was just striding purposefully towards a Super Whole Food Salad, when a voice said in my ear, ‘You won’t need a cross trainer to work that off!

Cripes… it was him. Bearded and besuited.

‘I’m on a healthy kick,’ I squeaked, immediately going a nice shade of beetroot. ‘I’m going on holiday tomorrow.’

‘Me too!’ he exclaimed, a youthful glint in his eye. ‘I’m going to Ibiza. My girlfriend’s parents have a boat there.’

Ah, a girlfriend. Phew.

‘I’m going to Croatia with my husband,’ I said, sounding like a prim housewife. And immediately thinking, ‘Oh no, he probably now thinks I’m some desperate old housewife with a crush on him.’

‘See you at the gym,’ he said.

‘Defo,’ I squeaked.

I scurried off to join the queue, scooping up a pack of Percy Pig sweets on the way.

I have a fairly serious problem with Percy Pig and Haribos. About twice a week, I purchase a pack at a petrol station or supermarket – and then gluttonously tip the whole lot into my mouth – in one go. I probably need to see a therapist – shortly followed by a dentist.

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I dashed to the car, clambered behind the wheel and before you could say ‘Super Whole Food Salad’, I had rammed the whole pack of Percy Pigs straight into my mouth – just in time for The Bearded One to be passing by.

He smiled at me through the car window in a slightly bemused manner and gave a departing wave. I attempted to smile back but my cheeks were bulging like a giant gerbil.

‘Oh great,’ I thought, ‘I just told The Bearded One that I was on a health kick and then he just saw me gorging on a bag of Percy Pig sweets in a most uncivilised manner.’

I vowed to have a month off from the gym.

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…’