Possible attendance at men’s breakfast had always fostered velleity in me, until I buckled to the strenuous invitation from my Catholic deacon friend. It was to be the setting to present his epic 500-mile Camino pilgrimage; and it was going to help me a little since I was also editing his book on it. A couple of friends, to whom I had shown without comment, ‘Saturday – men’s breakfast’, in my diary, had each lifted an eyebrow, so no pressure then.

Yesterday I walked the just-over two miles to the church, located in Pope Close (yes). Under an overcast sky and wrapping-up weather of 2°, it took about half the distance for me to cognitively restructure enough to finish the second half. But by the time the unassuming modern brick and timber structure came into view I was back to steeling myself for the encounter. Inside, most of the men had arrived, happily standing about in jumpers and cardigans with mugs of the steaming proverbial. Having found my deacon to say hello, I saw with great relief that there was someone else I knew, a man who lives a street or so away from me, and importantly a fellow non-Catholic, and like me, married to one.

Half-a-dozen tables were laid out with paper tablecloths and a large plastic dispenser of tomato sauce. Pretty soon we sat down, I at a table with my neighbour, someone who works with St Vincent de Paul, and three others. After the La Faba pilgrimage prayer, a male hubbub sprang up similar to when I breakfasted at Peckham Spike* in 1965, but at that grim place tin plates of porridge ladled from dixies were slid with great force down to those at the ends of long trestle tables – keep your elbows up, boys! Here, on the other hand, three smiling women from the adjacent kitchen bore aloft salvers of sandwiches steaming with sausage and bacon, while a slim young man in a grey waistcoat walked amongst us with a coffee pot and milk jug, like an airline steward.

Thank goodness for the neighbour, a bloke I see from time to time, a few months younger than I, and formerly in the merchant navy. When the deacon started to talk and apologise for his neglecting to include music for the slides, I muttered almost to myself, ‘Well, could be a blessing.’ And the SVP-man grinned in agreement. Everyone attended to the deacon’s energetic photo and feelings presentation of his walk, while simultaneously relieving the plates of their munchy offering.

’Twas all not so bad, but then frequently things aren’t. With the presentation over, there were the usual questions that dragged things out enough to get my fingers drumming. Finally, my sailor-neighbour gave me a lift back during which, because he said he was going to Nottingham that day, I hogged the time mournfully reminiscing about picking up girls at the Sherwood Rooms dance hall, a couple of years before that other, homeless breakfast in South London. At last, my house’s warmth closed in on me wonderfully.

I’d done it! I’d survived men’s breakfast!

* see:

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