It wasn't that long ago when I first put big fingers to little keys, extolling the virtues of taking early retirement, no time restraints and the general feel-good factor of no longer having to obey the clock. Strangely enough, that now appears to have changed. Siobhan, who used to bemoan my early morning zest, now likes to hurry me along after breakfast so that we can be assured of taking our much favoured table in a small, but very busy alfresco coffee shop near to the town square. From our vantage point we watch the world go by, sip endless espresso's, sample at least one-a-day of their endless, exquisite array of Utopian desserts, as more or less the same people go about their day. People watching, if you have a like-minded partner with a sharp wit and a good eye for detail, is fun. Siobhan excels at our watching game and is very astute. She notices every small detail about our daily subjects, of which we collate and compare before awarding points for tardiness, the very often lack of table etiquette and of course sheer entertainment factor. We are not vain enough to believe that we have been overlooked by the other 'watchers' out there. We merely enjoy the characters in our now matutinal game.
First up on our 'regulars' list is a fellow, late 60's. He wears outlandish sunglasses and a different matching watch every day. His dress code is strictly supermarket slacks, sandals and tee-shirts with varying different foofaraw on both back and front. Today it is Steve McQueen, Andy Warhol style. He badly needs an appointment with a good tailor and a new razor. He has ordered thick pea soup in a raised bowl. I notice the chef has adorned the surface with chopped sweet red peppers and a scattering of thin scallions and mint. He munches noisily on large, rather odious cold sausages, of which he slices delicately into perfectly vertical strips. He is meticulous, always ensuring that his spoon is immaculately clean before making the dreadful faux pas of drawing the spoon and its contents towards him. In the ashtray, a thick cigar, half smoked and with the makers name on the band still in place. Och... no etiquette at all. Strangely, he doesn't look the slightest bit Australian. His bush of silvered hair is backcombed in such a way that it resembles a chickens wing. Every so often he will look around nervously before easing his rump casually to one side to emit, what we can only imagine to be a somewhat borborygmus moment. He agonises over his daily newspaper crossword puzzle. Sometimes to the extent where he sucks the end of his pencil as he throws back his bulbous head, searching for a 3-letter riposte. We both note, to our constant amusement, that he sometimes bends the words to fit by using the blacked out squares.
Behind him is the Lambretta man, tall, late 40's. He arrives at precisely the hour, never before, never after. His fastidious punctuality tells me that he cannot possibly ride far through the dense and seemingly chaotic mid morning traffic. The fact that he always wears white socks is also an indication that he lives somewhere close with an elderly mother. He converses loudly in honeyed, but broken, French clichés, into a Samsung Galaxy phone, the one with the sparkly case that looks as though it was designed for 'Fiddy Cent'. He scurries from his scooter in a hubris manner and strides into the restroom to ensure that his seemingly unnoticeable hairpiece hasn't slipped during the short journey away from his momma. He collects his usual tutti-frutti milkshake from the counter, pays by card and perches himself theatrically on the wooden stoop inside, legs akimbo, displaying the fact that he has quite purposely neglected to wear under-crackers. Siobhan laughs as she recalls the significance of the pickled walnuts her wee granny puts out in a jar at family occasions. I notice him covertly trying to look at my wife as his lounge lizard lips pucker at his straw. His gaze shifts between her breasts and her legs. He is obviously people-watching himself. He catches my eye, squares his shoulders and tilts his head in an amusing alpha-male moment. I give him my best full on psychotic Glaswegian smile, the one that says 'if you continue to appraise my wife, I will happily come over there and slowly eviscerate you with a blunt spoon.' I normally accompany this smile by tracing my index finger v-e-r-y slowly the entire length of the scar that hangs off the side of my mouth. He looks quickly away, convinced of my seemingly chthonic connections in regard to his health. His legs close like that of a butterflies wing. I continue to smile. I sense that his bravado is rapidly disappearing along with the swift gathering of cloth that is currently hurrying to safety up his rear end. I continue to stare. I am totally fascinated by the millions of tiny diamonds of glistening light that reflect so beautifully from the glue attaching his hairpiece to his scalp.
Next up, our table waitress, a rather unhappy young lady, aged somewhere in her mid-teens. Her choice of clothing is never consistent with both the weather and the surroundings. Oversize shirts, various dark leggings, on occasion even a rather baggy sweater that does nothing for her. As parents we feel a wave of protectiveness rather than mockery at her appearance.
"Teenage pregnancy, Catholic upbringing probably, the poor wee soul" whispers Siobhan, "and I bet she is still to tell her parents about what we already know"
Knowing what some Catholic fathers can be like on finding out such news, we always like to leave her a larger tip than is usually required. Just in case she needs to leave in a hurry. She constantly scans the piazza, clearly looking for someone. Possibly the weans father? Maybe... I would gladly give her the keys to the remains of the "on loan" Fiat 500 that is sulking against the kerb only a few streets away if it meant she would find happiness with the obviously worried young man who enrolled her into the pudding club. If only they had gone to the cinema instead of that quiet place on the beach on the night in question. It could have course been much worse. Wiggy Lambretta himself might have offered her a ride home on his scooter while momma was away out at the bingo. His tutti-frutti wouldn't have been the only thing with a cherry on top, that much is for sure. Eventually, a teenage boy carrying boxes of fruit catches her eye. She flushes slightly and we notice a secret wee smile. He makes an unnecessary detour towards the wooden stoop. I hear Siobhan make that now familiar female "awwwww" sound.
Finally, a person of whom we are both loath to watch has finally arrived. Tall, slightly military in stance, possibly Cuban, always resplendent in a perfectly pressed white summer suit, lilac shirt and a weather-beaten brimmer hat. 'The General' as we have christened him, is lead into the seating area by a very dedicated Labrador. A kind young couple, freshly arrived from Britain with their pale faces and polyester windbreakers, move their chairs for him. The General, still in his mid-50's is officially blind. Not partially sighted. Blind. It says so on his dog. Yet we once witnessed him in another part of town, stoop down and collect a large denomination bank note that had been carried off in the wind and deposited rather conveniently in front of him. There is not a seeing-eye dog in the world that can pass that information on to its owner, that I am certain of. A large bowl of ice cream is brought to his table. It is deliciously vanilla. The young sad-faced waitress has forgotten the spoon. He already knows it is not there as he clumsily forgets to grope around for it. She returns with the spoon and the owners harsh words still hanging in the air. I notice that the proffered lagniappe is both malted and expensive. It is accepted without thanks. He has a vague resemblance to W.C Fields, his nose a broad red button in the middle of his round face. We discuss quietly how he manages to notice a tiny silent drip of ice cream on his jacket lapel. His little secret is further rumbled when he pulls out a pocket watch and tells the time without the use of either braille or holding it out in front of his seemingly telepathic wee dog.
I afford him a knowing smile and a discreet wink as we stand up to leave. He glances away to hide the exposed egregious habit of which he is undoubtedly the master. Meanwhile, the cockerels wing, has as ever departed in the direction of the leather market, while Wiggy Lambretta continues to babble loudly into the cell phone that we doubt is even switched on. A small stubborn weave of synthetic hair protrudes alarmingly at a rakish angle. I glimpse a smooth pate beneath, ivory in colour, a glaring inlet to the nothingness beyond. The waitress and her bump bend lissome-like on a cleansing pilgrimage to wipe both spilled sausage and melted tutti-frutti from the sun bleached wooden floor. Her eyes never leave the fruit carrying boy. I make sure she sees the folded tip beneath my plate before the General decides to enhance his detestable daily take. Siobhan suggests that perhaps there is a hell after all, an eternal dinner party with at least three of the above gracing my table. I pray to a god that I do not believe in, my soul is indeed eventually placed into a fiery brimstone lake instead.
Time for lunch.
Chef's Autumnal Soup
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small Spanish onion, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 cup of fresh scallions, chopped
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 dash of agave sisal, blended until it reached liquid form
1 cup kale, ribs removed, chopped
1 cup Swiss chard, ribs removed, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1 builders handful fresh green parsley, whole
1 small handful cilantro
1/2 – 3/4 cup cashew cream, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or high-quality vinegar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in large pot and add onions. Cook over medium-low heat until starting to brown. Add celery, half of the zucchini, scallions and garlic; saute for a few minutes, but no more. Add vegetable stock along with kale, chard and a dash of agave liquid. Bring to a boil, then quickly drop to low heat and cook for a minute or two until the greens are slightly wilted.
Transfer soup to high speed blender, in batches if necessary. Add reserved zucchini, spinach, parsley, cilantro and cashew cream and blend until creamy. Return soup to pot and reheat gently over low heat. Add lemon juice or vinegar, if using. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Garnish with a drizzle of cashew cream, cracked pepper with large dods of crusty bread to serve.