“Print with us,” he didn’t say, though the message was writ large as we sat down to exchange pleasantries.
I did what you’re supposed to do when you have a business meeting, offered coffee and biscuits. Though given my track record, my friend might have wished I hadn’t.
The last time someone called I’d prepared by buying a new coffee machine. It would make better-caffeinated drinks than the stuff in jars that’s sold at the local supermarket.
And so I invested in a machine that frothed milk, squirted hot water through ground coffee and made something that would bring a warm smile to a cappuccino-drinking connoisseur.
It would probably have been a good idea to have tested the machine first, rather than made my first coffee when another friend arrived. But that’s Captain Hindsight for you; full of good ideas when it’s too late to put them into practice.
That friend found himself on the receiving end of a quadruple espresso, though I didn’t realise that’s what I’d made. I’d simply been surprised that the coffee machine had dispensed such a small cup and so I’d whizzed the machine four times until it gave me enough for a decent-sized cup.
I guess I ought to have realised my error when my friend ran around the garden, screaming, that something was wrong. You live and learn.
I think my failure at making a decent cup of coffee stems from my limited experience with the damn stuff. Raised by a father who eschewed coffee and a mother who was probably addicted to it, I clearly inherited the XY chromosome and have only ever drunk it twice.
The first time was in Bosnia, during the Balkan conflict, when someone offered me something described as Turkish coffee. It kept me awake for a week.
The second time was at a restaurant where the maître d' asked if I’d like to end the evening with a hot drink. Much to her surprise – and for the first and last time ever – I agreed, ordering something that sounded snazzy: ‘Double espresso, please.’
At 3am, I was still rushing and realised why people don’t do that so late at night.
And so when my friend visited from the Lake District, I decided to play it safe.
There’d be no quadruple espressos, nor even rubbish watery iterations. I’d bought powdered stuff from the supermarket that sprang to life as the kettle blew.
My masterstroke, however, was this… My friend is based in Windermere and we’d got a cupboard full of Grasmere Gingerbread from a recent trip north.
“Biscuit?” I offered. He nodded, imagining a custard cream, Digestive or Hob Nob.
“They’re from up the road,” I said, as I unfurled the greaseproof paper and laid out a beautiful packet of gingerbread.
He smiled the smile of a man who’s just eaten a bacon sandwich after living as a vegetarian for 18 months. Bingo. Who knew quality biscuits could do such a thing?
He drank his coffee, oblivious to the bullet he’d just dodged, and focused on the gingerbread. Delicious. We spoke about work and holidays – he’d just been to Iceland, lucky man, and was planning a second trip. I’d just been to the recycling centre, but was hoping to get away in December.
We talked about work. He achieved his aim, I think, as I agreed to spend pots of money and buy too many books. And then it was time to leave. I did the decent thing, re-wrapping the rest of the gingerbread and offering them to him to enjoy on his journey back home.
He accepted, willingly, and I shed a silent tear as I lamented the brilliant snacks I’d just given away.
And that was that. I walked him to the door and watched as he pulled off the drive, already missing the Grasmere Gingerbread that I’d magnanimously given away. Why hadn’t my brain intervened and stopped my mouth from saying: ‘Take them for the journey.’?
I enjoy seeing my friend from time to time, though there are times when he really takes the biscuit.