Tim is just back from Bangkok where he lives and writes for most of the year. We miss each other very much.
He says, ‘I haven’t got you a present. Well, I did have a present for you but I don’t now. Let me tell you what it was: I saw these three women a little while ago. They were young and well-built, really big and strong and they were walking together through grass this high.’
We are ordering our coffee. He points to his thigh which is level with some blocks of chocolate tiffin. I really do not need tiffin – even this chunky, glistening homemade tiffin for £3 a handful – but it takes a little effort not to mention it.
‘And they were carrying bags of rice on their heads. Big bags of rice. I took a photo. I had it printed. Sunset. Three women. Grass. Sky.’
He holds his hands above his head to show something like a very large hat.
‘Then they put the bags down against a wall and I went over and I tried to pick one up.’
The cappuccino machine wheezes like a train about to go and he has to raise his voice.
‘And I couldn’t lift even a corner of the bag. Couldn’t lift it.
‘So I thought you could put it on your wall and when you are writing your novel and you get tired of writing your novel and you think why did I start writing this novel? you could look at your lovely picture and think well I could be carrying bags of rice and then you would be happy to go back to your novel.
‘I had it framed with glass and everything and put it in my suitcase. But when I opened my suitcase this morning it was all broken. I tried to fix it but I got jam on it.
He looks sheepish but also delighted.
‘Jam/glass – it was all a bit of a mess so then I thought I’d just tell you.’
‘That’s lovely,’ I say. ‘That’s just as good as a present.’
‘You wouldn’t want to be carrying bags of rice.’
‘No. I wouldn’t be very good at that.’
‘I couldn’t even lift a corner!’
Then the Australian chap gives us our coffees. There is a coffee-milk-coffee pattern on the top of each – they look like a pair of stripey hearts.
Or perhaps onions cut in half.
This is how coffee is poured in Melbourne. We are in Soho, London. Tim is excited about the coffee, which is Australian. Creamy and vanilla-ey, he reckons. He is drinking a lot of coffee because of the jet lag.
When I am tired of writing I will look at the space on my wall and I will think of the three young women. I will think to myself thank you very much.