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Portobello Puff - Chapter 9

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'Was it that bad?' Geoff is leaning forward expectantly, black coffee cooling at his elbow.

'Grim,' I say. I've tried to delete the details of my excruciating date with Toby, the guy who picked me up in Dr Ling's waiting room, but somehow they won't dissolve.

'I'm retiring from the dating ring,' I say. 'Too traumatising.'

Geoff nods his approval. 'It's time you focused on yourself,' he says, parroting the Californian relaxation coach whose CDs I regularly have to review. 'Take a deep breath and dive into a Lake called You.'

'What happens if the lake's too shallow?'

Geoff shrugs. 'Cracked skull, spinal injuries, that sort of thing.'

We both sit in silence as snippets of Coffee Plant conversation drift around us. The N.A crowd are in today and behind us, several of them are discussing their abandonment issues.

To our right two girls in expensive parkas are talking about the flat on Elgin Crescent that their parents are buying them. Outside the window, Eric the local Big Issue seller is chatting to Linda as she arranges boxes of Portobello mushrooms.

'Did you know that if you have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in and enough food to eat, you're in the top 7% of the world's population,' I say, swallowing the final mouthful of the magnesium-rich banana (I'm still following Dr Ling's advice), which tastes quite nice when dipped in coffee.

'What if you sleep on a sofa?' Geoff's been kipping on his tattered two seater since his ex Natasha took their bed.

'Still 7%.'

'Lucky me,' Geoff yawns.

'Apparently,' I say, continuing with the theme of that morning's website article, 'thoughts of gratitude can change your body chemistry. Your immune system is boosted, blood pressure is lowered, serotonin levels rise.'

'You don't honestly believe that, do you?' says Geoff.

'Not sure,' I say. It's a nice thought but I need a lot more proof - like a board of top notch Nobel prize-winning Swiss scientists presenting me with hardcore statistics, bar charts and intricate Venn diagrams, all derived from several decades of controlled experiments at whichever Institute they test nebulous New Age theories.

'But Daddy said I could!' To our right the parka girls are bickering about who'll have the bigger bedroom with the en-suite bathroom.

'How was the Westway club?' I say loudly to block them out. Geoff's been volunteering at a local lunch and leisure project for the elderly.

'Shepherds pie - good,' Geoff does a thumbs-up sign, jagged bitten nail glinting in the pale afternoon sun. 'Apple crumble - disappointing,' the thumb tilts downwards. He then embarks on a low-level rant about some woman, who scolded him for helping himself to seconds.

'Come on, dear,' I say to shut him up. 'I'll buy you a Greggs Festive Bake.'

'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' says Geoff grinning like a loon, presumably to show the surge in serotonin.

I'm just sliding off my stool when my mobile rings. I check the number and my heart starts jumping like a jack-hammer.

It's Wilson.

More next Friday...