Ahhhh… breakfast! One of my five favourite meals of any given day.
When I was, I don’t know, let’s say twenty-one, I read an American novel, written in the fifties, where the protagonist goes out to breakfast. I thought this the most sophisticated, urbane and adult thing a person could do. It’s the only thing I remember of the book. Yet at that time, the early 1980s, in that place, Finsbury Park, it wasn’t what people did. At least, no one I knew did. This, of course, is ridiculous. To say there weren’t cafés that would serve you a full english or even toast and marmalade can’t be right. Yet it didn’t happen in my world.
So this is what I aspired to, when I grew up. I don’t know about growing up, but, oh boy, have I gone out for breakfast. It is, without doubt, one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been for low breakfasts with watery coffee and limp toast and for smart breakfasts with starched napkins. I love the ceremony of it as well as the modest luxury. I love being among other people, too. So on Sunday I met Amanda and her mother in Marylebone, which is a smarter part of London than Finsbury Park, at Fischer’s, which is a smart place to eat a smart breakfast.
I first knew Amanda when I was seventeen. She was in the year above me at school. One Sunday night, at a disco called Countdown near Oxford Circus, which had a sort of space travel theme, we snogged on a sofa. She smelled, I remember, of strawberries. Yes, I kissed a girl and I liked it. Amanda is the last girl I snogged which is no comment on her or her snogging technique. I’ve snogged many, many men since. Many. Some of us need a little time to find our style. I didn’t meet her again for nearly forty years. We’ve become great friends, Amanda and I. She told me that one of her two greatest regrets is that she didn’t take the opportunity, when it was offered, to become a nose for Chanel. Perfume’s loss was sanity’s gain as she’s now a therapist. No, I’m not going to tell you her other great regret.
We’ve met in Fischer’s before. Amanda is a fiend for gröstl, a dish of potatoes, onions, bacon and paprika with two fried eggs on top in a copper skillet. Well, which sane person wouldn’t be? Still, I had the bircher muesli, which may ferment a bit overnight so it’s a little like having a desert wine for breakfast. This also sounds like a decent start to the day, doesn’t it? Amanda brought her mother, Naomi, who I hadn’t met before. Naomi had some germanic ham with an egg on top and some gluten-free toast. Naomi is 84 next week and has been very poorly for some time. Naomi is also properly gorgeous and is coping with old age in a way my own mother doesn’t. Naomi is interested in people and places and conversation. We did, I’m embarrassed to tell you, talk about me too much. But we also talked about her life and the things she likes. She had to miss seeing Gypsy the other week because of her illness, almost on the same night I was blown away by it. My friend and barber, Huw, told me that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was written as a sort of sequel to Gypsy. I shared this information and we all went ooh and discussed our favourite musicals.
It was a difficult decision for each of us but you can see there was some happy crossover. Also considered were West Side Story, of course, Carousel, The King and I, The Producers and the films of Fred Astaire in the 1950s. No performer has ever rhymed with debonair more sweetly than Fred Astaire. Discounted, very quickly, was the oeuvre of Andrew Lloyd Webber, although I’ve seen fewer of those than Amanda and Naomi.
Cabaret, in my humble, is at the pinnacle of human civilisation. A brilliant bouillabaisse of high and low life in thirties Berlin, it is a thrilling mixture of music, lyrics, dance, design, story, history, Nazism, violence, thuggery, failure, suppressed homosexuality, bumsen, wealth, ambition, poverty, politics, poor parenting, the genteel English, gentile Germans, Jewishness, antisemitism, assimilation and its limitations, love and its limitations, friendship, threesomes and performance. It’s got it all and then some. We talked a little about my idea to mash-up The Sound of Music and Cabaret; the Captain would sing Two Ladies to the Baroness and Maria, ze laydeez ov ze orkestraa would play the nuns, and so on. I’ve written before about all this here.
We easily moved on to Joan Crawford and films where she fell in love with violinists half her age. This led us, naturally enough, to our family problems, the Dorset coast, France and hydrofoils. Such is Sunday morning conversation. I don’t suppose it’s the very worst thing about ageing, but not having enough people to discuss the things that mean something to you must make life that much harder. I can’t tell you how much I like both Amanda and her mother, Naomi, and you know how much I love going out for breakfast.