We had made no plans to meet up on this first day of the new year. I had received no invitations. So why was I driving to Grange-over-Sands to park the car as though this were one of our regular gatherings?
I knew the Sunrise Cafe would be closed. It was freezing cold, and a nasty south-westerly had come in overnight and was doing its best to render the coast uninhabitable.
But drive I did – and felt a glowing sense of what I can only describe as involvement as I covered the fifteen miles along roads that were mainly empty. From a rational point of view, there was very little chance that they would be there. The silent cafe would hold no expectation of a warm Maria Angelo, standing there with my mug of steaming coffee. Still, I drove, putting aside the world of rational thought, willing myself to enter that different state of mind in which there is found the unexpected, the truly magical . . .
I must have been the only one in the main street of the town as I gathered my long loden coat around me and fastened up its high neck, wrapped tightly around a woollen scarf. It had been a present to myself many years ago while on a business trip in The Hague, and so far had survived several of my annual garment culls. There was something wonderful about the way its tightly woven Tyrolean wool wrapped you from chin to shin; as if to say, in its cloth-like way, there, see, we can cope with anything now. In many ways it was a bit like a cloak, and I smiled at the unintended magical association as I strode, with great purpose and little expectation, up the steep street and past the long line of closed shops. I hadn’t seen anyone wearing such a garment for years, but that rather enhanced how I felt on this new year’s morning.
The Sunrise Cafe was closed, of course. Even the tables had been stacked to one side; and a hand-written note in the window explained that the family were on holiday, and the place would be shut until the end of January. I stood quietly and surveyed the space in which so much had happened in the past year. It had been a futile expectation that they would be there – they were probably huddled in Don Pedro’s tiny caravan, filling it with warmth and cheer. I took one last look around the stacked tables, feeling sad that their weatherbeaten wooden surfaces could not contain my customary mug of coffee. I was about to leave when my eye was taken by a flash of tartan. I walked towards the far table, nearest the cafe’s doorway, to examine what I had glimpsed.
An old-style thermos flask stood upright and propped out of the wind’s fury. A piece of white paper had been rolled tightly and jammed into the handle of the outermost cup. Smiling in disbelief, I extracted it and read the note, which was in Don Pedro’s untidy handwriting. It read: ‘There is colder cafe down by shore – that one closed, too!’
It was a reference to our first meeting (see below) now so long ago . . . and an unmistakable invitation.
Grinning like a child, I scooped the old tartan-patterned object into my gloved hands and ran. The path down to the promenade took me over the giant black walkway that had so recently been the scene of a very scary incident. But, throwing caution to the wind, which was now full into my face, I continued to run down its steep gradient, emerging breathless, onto the deserted prom.
Deserted, that is, apart from a group of figures hugging themselves in the empty garden of the Shore Cafe. A fourth member of their group, a fox-like object, was the first to see me, and ran to greet me as I rounded the end of the descending walkway. Pedro the Pomeranian was so enthused at our meeting, that I had to stop my forward movement to embrace his golden swirling, keeping careful hold of the full flask in my left hand.
Eventually, he turned his head to look for his master, Don Pedro.
When I finally looked up, they were smiling. I approached with a huge grin on my face, clutching the flask like an entry ticket. There were hugs, but nothing was said. They had congregated around a wooden garden table, constructed in a triangular design. Don Pedro waved me to consider the picnic laid out in pieces of greaseproof paper. Essentially, it was a small feast of Christmas leftovers. Mince pies, past their best, but still serviceable, vied with assorted pieces of cheese and some fresh French bread. There was an assortment of festive biscuits to finish the meal.
“Need bigger table for next year!” Don Pedro grinned, breaking the silence and waving me towards the food.
“Good to be complete, at last!” said George Dixter, eyeing up the meal.
Maria Angelo took my arm and stood with me as we all looked down at the wonderful and quite mad feast.
“Can we all have our coffee, now?” she asked, hugging my arm and chuckling . . .
And it was only then that I realised how central I was to their meal – and how completely they were prepared to share it or even forgo part of it. I felt overwhelmed. Maria Angelo. sensing my level of emotion as though such things were still fresh in her own experience, looked at me, gave my arm another hug, and kissed the small tear that had escaped from my right eye.
It was a new year’s day I will never forget . . .
Coffee with Don Pedro is normally published on Thursdays. The previous episodes, some of which are labelled ‘The Beast in the Cafe’ are in the blogs. You can follow the enigmatic trail by clicking on this link.
Contact details and an outline description are on the other pages of this blog and via the website below.