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.’

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 Half-Job Husband

The husband arrived home from work the other night. He walked through the front door and left it half open; he kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the hallway; he flung his damp gym towel over the nearest door to dry it but left it still folded up.

Welcome to the world of Half-Job Harry.

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Half-Job Harry is the moniker I gave to the husband for never doing a full job on anything. I’m not sure whether other people have this problem with their partners but it drives me bananas.

Half-Job Harry does do jobs but he doesn’t do them thoroughly. He might, for instance, reluctantly change a lightbulb (a weekly occurrence in our apartment – what is it with these spotlights?!)

But once done, he will leave the old lightbulb on the side, the chair he used to climb in the middle of the room, and the plastic packaging from the new bulb strewn somewhere on the floor – while happily reclining back on the sofa, satisfied that he’s achieved a spot of entry-level DIY and his work is done.

Last month, after more persistent hen-pecking, the husband reluctantly sloped off to put some oil and screen wash in the car. He was gone for some time and he returned empty-handed.

It was only when I opened the car boot this week, that I found a big plastic box swimming with greasy oil and screen wash from where he hadn’t secured the bottles properly.

Half-Job Harry is usurped only by Put-Off Pete. Put-Off Pete likes to leave smelly bin bags by the front door because he will ‘take it in the morning’; he leaves paperwork to pile up on the kitchen worktop – because he will ‘deal with it next week’; and he leaves ironing on the side because he will ‘put it away tomorrow’.

Put-Off Pete came into play the other night when I asked the husband if he could nip down to the basement to quickly read the electricity meter.

‘I’ll do it at some point over the weekend,’ said Put-Off Pete.

‘At some point over the weekend?’ I cried. ‘It’s only Wednesday night. It will only take two minutes!’

‘If it only takes two minutes, you can go,’ said the husband.

‘You know I don’t like to go down there for fear of What Lies Beneath,’ I said.

What Lies Beneath is the name we gave to the eerie void underneath our apartments, which also houses the electricity meters – and probably several hundred super-rats.

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For three years, we were oblivious to What Lies Beneath until we went on a mini adventure to sabotage SuDick’s carpet tiles (SuDick are our bothersome neighbours (details here) who insisted on laying carpet throughout the communal corridors. As part of our anti-carpet campaign, the husband and I decided to start stealing the stash of carpet tiles from the basement at the rate of one by one. We then frisby them off our balcony and into the valley below. This little game has become a lot of fun).

I think it’s fair to say that the husband does not like doing DIY. We were having a picnic in the garden of The House We Might Never Actually Live In the other weekend (we occasionally eat a Sainsbury’s £3 meal deal there – it’s the only picnic we can afford, given that the garden is costing a third of my monthly salary to upkeep), when the husband spotted a tree that had blown down in the wind.

If you look closely, you can see it perpendicular to the green conifer. I’m not quite sure what one does in the event of a felled tree – dial a tree surgeon?

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The husband went for a closer inspection of said tree and started rambling about climbing up the wobbly-looking conifer next to it and CHAIN-SAWING it down.

For someone renowned for his inability to use a radiator bleeding key and who once had a particularly close shave with a circular drill that nearly took his eyebrows off, the idea of the husband willingly going anywhere near a chainsaw is a very frightening prospect indeed.

Luckily, Put-Off Pete soon jerked back into action.

The fallen tree’s been there for a couple of months now and thankfully the husband hasn’t mentioned it since.

His damp towel is still festering in his gym bag; there’s a pile of unread letters on the kitchen side; and the car’s been demanding more screen wash for at least a month now.

Basically, it’s business as usual.

Barking Mad

I went to our local bar Further North for a glass of wine – and found myself sharing a table with a giant dog.

This was no ordinary Fido; it was a gargantuan, slavering brute of a thing that took up a whole space of its own.

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When it opened its mouth to yawn, its jaw was so big, I was nearly swallowed whole.

Perhaps its presence wouldn’t have been quite so odd if it wasn’t a: Friday night and b: the bar wasn’t the size of a shoebox.

My friend Sally-Ann thought this was the most preposterous thing she had ever witnessed.

‘What is that dog even doing here?’ she hissed, sipping on her glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

‘I think it’s actually having a pint!’ I whispered back.

‘He’s only brought it here because it says ‘Dogs Welcome’ on the door,’ mused Sally-Ann.

‘I’m sure my pet hamster would be welcome here too but I’m not going to go home and get him – just because I can!’

The next week, we went for another drink at Further North. This time there were two mutts in residence – a Labrador reclining by the door and another dog of indeterminable breed lying flat-out in the middle of the floor.

The bar only holds about 25 people in total – soon we could be overrun by hounds!

I’m generally quite frightened of dogs, especially if they jump up, lick or bark loudly. I once got bowled over by a neighbour’s dog, aged 3 – and I’ve never quite recovered. My friend’s dog recently licked my bare leg and I had an overwhelming urge to dash home and have a shower.

I still like the idea of having a companion to take for walk. But if I was to ever acquaint myself with a four-legged friend, it would basically have to be lazy, mute, with limited salivation. And if it could refrain from moulting all over my Laura Ashley sofa, that would be a bonus.

The husband would love a dog, after the death of his childhood pooch: Trixie. 20 years on, he can’t talk about Trixie without his eyes misting over. He loved that dog.

My mum, on the other hand, believes that getting a dog is a bad idea because you’ll just be too upset when they die. This is quite a strange theory. But then she has got some peculiar ideas.

But what dog should one get? My friend has a Wire-Haired Fox Terrier and it resembles a giant teddy bear. When you’re having a conversation, it cocks its head to the side as if listening carefully. It also has a fairly aloof personality, which I admire.

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In my eyes, the Wire-Haired Fox Terrier is only usurped by three other breeds: the Bearded Collie; the Old English Sheep Dog and the Cockapoo. Here’s a selection that I’ve encountered recently – including a sad-looking St Bernard.

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The Husband has ruled out all of the above for a variety of reasons; too hairy; too lively; too slobbery; not MANLY enough. He also pointed out the problem with having a dog is that dogs attract other dogs, many of which I’m frightened of.

On reflection, I think we’d have to plump for the humble – but no less loveable – Golden Retriever.

My friend Abi has recently acquired a dog; a Shar-Pei. It’s lovely but very boisterous. It jumps up a lot and licks me voraciously. I’m terrified.

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When I go round to her house, she shouts through the letter box, ‘I’m going to open the door now. The dog’s in training – can you just ignore her.’

‘Don’t worry – I was planning to!’ I cry, before the door swings open, a blur of brown fur and pink tongue rushes to greet me, and I pin myself up against the wall – like a plank – until the commotion is over.

Here is a picture of me attempting to take it for a walk, although I suspect the reverse is true.

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One bonus of having a dog – particularly if you’re single – is that it attracts a lot of attention. Last summer, Abi found herself fending off advances from fellow dog walkers in the park.

We tried to coin a phrase for the newly-discovered phenomenon of dog flirtation but couldn’t. Smokers have ‘smirting’ – but ‘dirting’ and ‘flogging’ just sounded plain seedy.

Abi phoned me the other night.

‘Fancy a drink at Further North?’ she said. ‘I’ve just found out you can take dogs there!’

I had visions of the dog careering around the tiny bar, knocking over wine glasses, and using my leg like a giant lollipop.

‘Absolutely not,’ I said.

My Coffee Shop Friend

I’ve been in denial for a while but it’s time to come clean: I spend £2000 a year on coffee.

A crack cocaine habit would probably be cheaper.

I’m the person who enters Caffe Nero and before I can even say, ‘regular one shot, extra hot, skinny, wet latte – in a paper cup’, the barista is already cranking up the temperature gauge on the milk frother, with a knowing nod and an inward sigh.

But it’s not the coffee that I’m addicted to – it’s the coffee shop culture that I’m really hooked on. There’s something about sitting back, sipping on my latte and watching the world go by that keeps me coming back for more.

Who wouldn’t want to eavesdrop on these two woman (I call them ‘The Miserleys’) putting to world to rights each morning?

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These po-faced pensioners actually put their fingers in their ears when a crying baby is in earshot. I’ve started hoping that an unsuspecting new mum will pop a screaming newborn right next to them, just to see their horrified faces.

The Miserleys would have a field day if they ever got chatting to SuDick.

But my favourite coffee shop character is Peter – a kindly widow, who drives from his house near Harrogate every morning for his regular cappuccino and a seat in the window.

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The first time I met Peter was when he sat himself in the seat opposite me. I was about to get up and leave, and thought I’d throw a friendly, ‘What are you up to today?’ his way.

An hour later, he was still talking, dabbing his wet eyes with a handkerchief, as he described scattering his wife’s ashes under her favourite tree en Provence.

His beloved Brenda, it transpired, had passed away a year and four months ago. Life wasn’t the same anymore, he said, as I waded through the 140 pictures of Brenda, he was eager to show me.

In the space of an hour, I heard all about his love of Italy, his glory days as a body builder, running a car garage in North Leeds – and the fact that his son and his brother never come to visit him, and his daughter lives in Australia.

But his saddest statement was this: ‘It doesn’t matter how many days out you plan or how many friends you see, when you turn that key in the door at the end of the day, it’s just you in an empty house’.

I was almost in tears myself.

The next time I saw Peter, I told him I was off to do some decorating.

‘Brenda loved decorating…’ he said, wistfully. ‘It’s a year and four months since I lost Brenda now…’

And off he went again.

A week later, I told him I had him I was going to the gym.

‘Brenda loved the gym…’ he said. ‘She was such a beautiful woman…’

Last week, I did something bad. I saw Peter ambling across the car park towards Caffe Nero – and I’m afraid to say, I hid behind my car. I just hadn’t got 30 minutes to spare to chat about Brenda.

Still, I told the husband about my new friend Peter and one Saturday, as the barista was busy burning my milk, there he was.

‘Look, it’s my friend Peter!’ I said to the husband, pointing proudly.

Peter waved and began to head over… but then something extraordinary happened: he walked straight past me!

Instead, he shook hands with the lady next to me, and then ventured on to greet the person on the table after that.

At that moment, I realised Peter knew everyone in Caffe Nero – even the The Miserleys.

My coffee shop friend didn’t just want to cry on my shoulder; he wanted to cry about Brenda on everyone’s shoulders.

Peter might be special but I felt a little less so.

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.