The younger of them was 83.
We had lunch in a pub on the outskirts of Newcastle, which might have been worth visiting if one happened to be on the outskirts of Newcastle anyway, and more than usually hungry. Say, because one had been chained to a radiator by terrorists for a month or so, and fed only on the occasional scrap of stale bread.
The 80-mile round trip it involved for me was justified only by the very high quality of the company. The ladies went wild and drank a half of lager - each, not between them - and we had quite a few laughs, mainly at my expense. I’d dressed up for the occasion in a comedy three-piece tweed suit, with my great-grandfather’s watch and chain. This had the dual benefits of enabling me to say that I couldn’t possibly help to stack the load of logs which was delivered to my house this morning, and of making the octogenarians feel thoroughly “with it.”
Afterwards the lady who had been brought over from Germany as war booty in 1945 invited us back to her swish Newcastle apartment for coffee, which turned out not to be just coffee, if you know what I mean. There were cherry brandy liqueur chocolates as well.
Thirty years ago I was so dense that, when a girl invited me in for coffee after a Saturday night out at the theatre, I said, “No thanks, it always keeps me awake if I drink it late at night”, pecked her on the cheek and went home. I’d only chivalrously walked her back to her flat because I lived just around the corner. Her flatmate, who had introduced us, gave me a real earful when we met at work on Monday.
“How could you be so bloody rude to Juliet when she asked if you wanted to sleep with her? Don’t you fancy her?”
“Yes, of course I do. She’s very attractive.”
“Well I wouldn’t rate your chances after that fiasco on Saturday.” [This proved to be an uncannily accurate assessment of my prospects.]
“But she didn’t actually use the words ‘sleep with’, you know. She asked me if I wanted a coffee. Which I didn’t.”
“For God’s sake, man, no girl’s ever going to come right out with it and offer to sleep with you.” [Wrong, but then British mores have changed rather a lot since the late 1970s.] “She’d sent me away for the night so that the two of you could get it together. Surely you realize that coffee is a CODE.”
Well, I hadn’t. But I did from then on. And every time I was invited in for coffee after a night out, I said yes. I would leer suggestively when she asked me how I took it, remarking that perhaps it would be more appropriate if I put that question to her. This often led to my swift ejection from the building. As did my habit of stripping naked and lounging suggestively across the sofa while she was away in the kitchen, pratting about with a cafetière. In fact, now I come to think about it, no woman since bloody Juliet in 1979 has ever invited me in for coffee and meant anything deeper and more meaningful than “do you fancy a cup of hot, caffeine-rich, black liquid made by roasting and grinding the seeds of a tree from the madder family?”
Knowing that, I suppose my behaviour after that second liqueur chocolate this afternoon really was unforgivable.
Still, at least it gave two very sweet old ladies a hearty chuckle. And sadly that may well be the best I can offer to the female population of Northumberland at the time of writing.
That and an introduction to a very cute dog.