“Come on mum,” I say in a wheedling voice. “I’m going to have some cinnamon toast. Don’t you fancy a bite to eat? My treat…”
Mum frowns at the menu. “Well,” she says hesitantly. “A toasted scone might be nice. With some raspberry jam…”
When the uniformed waitress has scribbled down our order, my mother slips off to the ladies room and I rest my elbows on the cool pane of glass which protects the tablecloth from tea and coffee stains and stray dollops of whipped cream, and look around me. The flock wallpaper, which used to be a claret red, is now deep racing green. The carpet looks different too, although I can’t recall how it was before. If I crane my neck, I can see along a narrow corridor into the tiny kitchen, which appears to have had an extreme makeover in gleaming aluminium.
At the tender age of fifteen, I began working in a local newsagent’s to top up my pocket money. My memory of my first day in that job is crystal clear.
“20 Park Drive,” barked an elderly customer as he stepped up to the shop counter, under which the penny sweets were laid out in their cardboard boxes. I swallowed the white chocolate mouse I had just popped into my mouth and reached for the paper rounds ledger, scanning the pages for a mention of Park Drive, assuming the gentleman had come to settle his bill. “What on earth are you looking in there for, you daft cow,” the man said impatiently, “the fags are behind you…”
My face glowed an attractive shade of beetroot as I turned to face the wall of cigarettes behind me and scanned the unfamiliar packets. Legally, I wasn’t old enough to buy any myself, but within a few weekends I would know every price off by heart, and soon when particular customers shuffled through the door, I would reach instincively for their smokes of choice. In that neck of the woods back in 1987 by far the most popular brand were Lambert & Butler, which came in gold and silver coloured matt-finish packets not dissimilar from those they are sold in today.
My second weekend job, at the age of sixteen, was in a tearooms in York city centre. The main attraction of that job was the generous tips left by the well-to-do ladies who stopped by for breakfast, elevenses, lunch and afternoon tea. I scurried around, hot and flustered in the wool skirt and heavy blouse of that season’s uniform, and served cream teas and triangle sandwiches (“would you like the crusts on or off, madam?”) in this very room.
I do a swift calculation in my head, put a shocked hand to my mouth, then remove it so that I can repeat the sum on my fingers, twice, to make sure there can be no mistake.
I worked here NINETEEN years ago? Can that be possible? I mean, the waitress hastening towards our table with two large cups of coffee and a jug of single cream is probably not even nineteen years old. I worked here before she was even born?
I send an incredulous text message to my Boy to the effect that I am having an attack of age vertigo.
“Tu m’excites plus qu’une fille de 20 ans,” he retorts immediately.
I set down my phone with a smile. This boy, I think to myself, is most definitely a keeper.