The nights are gradually darkening, the mornings are stygian, the dead leaves perform as bouncing Russian cossacks in the wind, leaping, twirling, brown confetti from a wedding of the dead. My chaffinches and blackbirds and blue tits and robins perform vigorous pointing motions with their wings at their mouths, a la Tom and Jerry cartoons when someone is hungry. I'd stopped feeding them, hoping they'd find natural fayre from the blackberries and rosehips and little crawling insects. Like a pisshead in Ipswich at midnight, though, they've clearly missed the 'Warky Bird Kebabs'n'Chip Shop' I'd naively opened last year.
October rolls onwards, mists and fruitfulness, strange warm days when you curse having turned the central heating back on. The evenings have started drawing in with a vengeance and, soon enough, it'll be Xmas decorations and late-night shopping and Bing Crosby. The stollen slices and mince pies are already cluttering my local M&S.
Work was the same old; same meetings, same looks of longing at the Kettering Drive Thru' McDonalds, as my stomach rumbled and I quieted that little voice in my head which said "Just a cheeseburger - go on. You won't even know you've scoffed it. Won't spoil the salmon and rice salad you're optimistically having for dinner. Just a cheeseburger - and some chips, oh and you'll need an apple pie". I ignored it, and swallowed the drool back. I'm definitely losing weight. My trousers are looser than a Deano goal kick.....
I hadn't had a text from Tel all week, neither had I expected one, but he was coming home on Friday night and I vaguely remembered he'd ordered the cab from Stansted at 11pm. I offered to drive down and pick him and the wife up, but then a couple of friends I hadn't seen for ages contacted me in July and invited me to see Level 42 at the Regent, so i had to rescind the offer. Tel took it well enough at the time, thinking his brother-in-law would fill the breach, but then they had a dinner date in London booked, so....
Level 42 were magnificent by the way. You should have been there. Crowds of fifty-somethings, staid and slightly warm in the airless theatre, heads bobbing to the Blow Monkeys and the effects of chilled beer, became kids again by 9pm when the Levels deigned us. We screamed 'Livin' It Up' back at them, and marvelled at 'Heathrow' while secretly hoping 'Something About You' wouldn't be too far away. I had a text from Tel as we re-entered the chill night air, my friend joyously holding her Level 42 t-shirt signed by King and Lindup. I stayed with them, and we sat up til five am talking and sipping a decent Merlot. As befits a group of old farts who are nearing 50 (I'm not!) and feeling the pace.
The text simply said 'Home @ 10.00, plane erly so we got cab come 2 moz @ 7pm an well cachup".
I got home by 10.30am, knackered and smelling of late night adventures and spilt wine. I had a McDonalds at 8.30am in Cardinals Park, the nearest for the train. The voice seemed appeased by the sausage mcmuffin and the coffee and the cardboardy hash brown. I rubbed my eyes and dislodged the sleep forming in the corners and felt unclean, like I'd spent the night in pissed trousers which had now dried. The train was thankfully on time and I sat self-consciously ( and illegally) in first class, avoiding the hordes and sipping my Starbucks macchiato.
A sleep, a shower, a walk in the warm, breezy afternoon around Ardleigh and Dedham and then a drive home, another shower, a change of clothing and a cab to Tel's and there we were, all back, present and correct.
Mrs Tel hugged me in welcome on her front door mat. She smelt of Anais Anais and hair stuff. She was dressed in sky blue t-shirt, dark blue trousers and open toe Gucci sandals. "We've mist yer" she said as we parted after the embrace. "How'd it go?" I asked. "Yeh luvly. Rained a bit lars week, but we were busy so di'nt matter". She called Tel, who appeared like the proverbial genie after the lamp had been rubbed, framed in the kitchen doorway, an "Espana - Marbella" red pinny covering his torso up to his knees, a pair of meat tongs in his right hand. "Allo mate!" he chuntered. "Jers sortin' the steaks aat, be wiv yer in a mo - wanna beer?" He disappeared and then reappeared to hand me a bottle of Estrella.
He was in the kitchen for a while so I sat in their lounge and talked with Mrs Tel about their holiday, and she went and fetched her new coat and belt and skirt she'd bought to show me. "Levver over there's really cheap" she said, "so yer can pay a bit more an' get a load better than yer get over 'ere". They'd (thankfully) not had their photos developed yet, and she showed me a few of their villa on her mobile. The pool looked lovely. "All ours'n'all" she said proudly. "An' a little barbecue built in. Not that we used it 'cos we ate out all the time. Terry said he couldn't be bovvered cooking".
Tel bounded in, the apron gone, smelling of Old Spice and Armani eau de cologne. "Steak's nearly there" he told us, and we took our seats in their dining room.
He served, we ate, he served more, we ate again, then he threatened cheesecake or profiteroles for pud and I declined, mopping juices from mouth and brow, the sides of coleslaw and onion rings and mushrooms and chips and corn on the cob adding to the medium-rare meat and bulging my (already substantial) gut to Blobby-like realms.
We sat and chatted in the dining room, glasses of the port he'd bought back giving a rich promise of winter nights and spices. He gave me my gifts; a bottle of LVB tawny port from an excellent maker, a litre bottle of duty-free Bombay Sapphire and a box of Cohiba cigars with the message "Olny for ocasions!" on the front. I do like a cigar now and then, even though I stopped smoking in February. It was kind of them and I thanked them profusely. We had another hug.
Tel said "Well, I aven't found anyfing worf taking a plunge on yet, but I ave found a few I need to check aat". He mused on the move, seemingly scared of Brexit and the likely affects, told by a property agent in Spain that he needed to wait until a decent place came up. He's signed up to websites and emails and texts and newsletters from ex-pats in the area, so he's happy he's done everything he can. For now. He's already talking of booking another trip in January, this time a week at a cheaper place, just to sound out the market and see what's available. "Jus' me tho that'll be - don' wanna take the missus and make more expense".
I left at 1am, tired and a bit tipsy, my taxi waiting for me outside, the driver wanting to chat. "'Ad a nice evenin' then?" he asked. "Yes" I said, clutching my goodies in a Lidl carrier bag to my chest, yawning and blinking at the brightness of the street lights. "Dinner wiv frends?" asked the driver. "Yep" I replied "they've just come back from holiday and I've missed them, I really have". "Thass nice" said the driver, and we sped ever homewards, me to my bed, him to the job crackling in on his radio. And i was glad.
NB - quick note about the sad news re: JoeSoap. He was kind enough to read my notes regularly and kind enough to tell me he enjoyed them. RIP Joe and thank you. My deepest sympathies to his family.