Summer Daydreams, p.1Carole Matthews
Just a note to say THANKS SO MUCH for choosing to read Summer Daydreams. There are so many demands on your hard-earned cash these days, that I really appreciate it. I hope that you’re managing to take a break from the daily grind this summer to kick back with family and friends.
I love it when readers write to me and tell me where they’re taking me on holiday! I have been halfway round the world and back in someone’s luggage or backpack. Even better, sometimes readers send me photographs of my books up the top of mountains or on cruise ships or even on sunloungers by the pool. It’s lovely to know that you’re sharing that time with me.
Whether you take me somewhere exotic or whether you’re in the back garden with me, I really hope that you can just take some time to sit back in the sunshine, relax, have a lovely read with maybe a glass of something chilled and recharge your batteries.
Wishing everyone a lovely summer!
Love Carole xx
P.S. Wear sunscreen!
Also by Carole Matthews
Let’s Meet on Platform 8
A Whiff of Scandal
More to Life than This
For Better, For Worse
A Minor Indiscretion
A Compromising Position
The Sweetest Taboo
With or Without You
You Drive Me Crazy
Welcome to the Real World
The Chocolate Lovers’ Club
The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet
It’s a Kind of Magic
All You Need is Love
The Difference a Day Makes
That Loving Feeling
It’s Now or Never
The Only Way is Up
Wrapped up in You
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Carole Matthews
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
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EXCLUSIVE Excerpt from With Love at Christmas
To my dear friend and long-time hairdresser, Sue, who has gone far, far too soon.
You’ll be missed more than words can say, lovely lady.
Susan Margaret MacGregor Perry
27 March 1955 – 20 July 2011
‘Two cod and chips?’ I look up from the counter.
‘Yes please, love.’ The man gives me a welcome smile.
It’s lunchtime, Friday, and we should be busier than this. Much busier. There’s been a steady trickle, but the usual queue at Live and Let Fry has been noticeably missing for some weeks now, maybe even months. I dish out the chips, golden and hot, and top them with two cod, freshly cooked, with crisp batter sizzling.
‘Just as they are,’ the customer says. He’s licking his lips already. It’s certainly not Phil’s fish and chips that are putting off the customers.
Wrapping them in white paper, I hand over his package and with a spring in his step, the customer leaves.
Phil Preston, my boss and fish-fryer extraordinaire, looks at his watch. ‘How many have been in today, Nell?’
‘Not many.’ I give a sympathetic grimace. A handful at best.
‘The cold weather normally brings in people in droves.’ Phil rubs his hands together even though it’s as warm as always in here.
As well as the takeaway counter, we also have a small eat-in café too, which is normally very popular. Today, there are just two people enjoying their lunch. Jenny, my co-worker, who is the waitress today, has spent most of her time flicking through Heat magazine.
‘I could stand outside and waft some chips about,’ Jenny offers helpfully as she drags her attention away from the latest celebrity dramas.
‘It’s going to take a bit more than that.’ Phil shakes his head. ‘We can’t keep blaming everything on the credit crunch.’
‘What about up-selling?’ Jen continues. ‘Like they do in coffee shops. Do you want a pie with that? Mushy peas? Pickled egg? Gherkin?’
We all laugh.
‘You have that down to a fine art, Jen,’ I tell her.
‘I’m going to try it tonight,’ she insists. ‘You watch me.’
Pinching a chip from the warmer, I nibble it absently. I’ve worked at the chippy now for well over a year. I do shifts at lunchtime – twelve until two – and then I’m back again in the evening – six through to ten. It means that my boyfriend, Olly, and I can share childcare for our daughter, Petal. I’m not saying it’s easy – we could probably both get jobs in the circus with the amount of juggling we have to do to get through the week – but needs must. We’re not alone in having to keep a
‘What am I going to do?’ Phil asks, running his hand through his hair. ‘This is getting dire.’
The unspoken thought is that if it goes on like this then he won’t need to keep on so many staff. It’s probably only because Jenny, our other colleague, Constance, and I have been here for so long and the fact that we all get on so well that Phil hasn’t let one or more of us go before now. It’s a worrying time.
I look round at the café. The tables are glossy orange pine, the walls are painted peach and there’s a flowery border at waist-height that’s curling up in more places than it’s stuck to the wall. ‘It does look a bit tired in here, Phil,’ I venture. ‘If you don’t mind me saying.’
‘You think so?’
‘You’re a bloke,’ I remind him. ‘You never notice these things.’
‘It is a bit of an eighties throwback look,’ Jenny adds.
‘Really?’ Phil looks round as if he’s seeing the café with new eyes. ‘I’m useless with a paintbrush. I could get a decorator in to give us a quote if you think it needs a spruce up.’
‘They call it a makeover these days, Phil. It probably wouldn’t hurt,’ I say. It’s fair to say that it’s been a long time since Phil spent any money on the interior of this place.
Phil tuts. ‘What do reckon it would cost? Cash is the one thing I haven’t got to splash about.’
‘Give me some money,’ I say before my brain has fully engaged. ‘I’ll do it for you.’
‘You said yourself that you can’t afford to bring in the pros. I could do it a lot cheaper. We can all muck in to help. After all, it’s our jobs that are on the line if this place sinks.’
‘I’m a great decorator,’ I protest before he lays out his objections. ‘You’ve been to my house.’
‘I know. It’s… what’s the word?’
‘Unique,’ I supply, ‘and fun. And all my own work.’ My living room has pink candy-stripe wallpaper with matching spotty chairs. I sanded and stained the floorboards myself and whizzed up some cushions that look like big cupcakes. ‘We could do something like that here. Jazz the place up.’
Phil brightens. ‘You think so?’
I shrug. ‘Why not? I’ll make a mood board tonight.’
‘Mood board?’ Jenny and Phil exchange a puzzled look.
‘I can start tomorrow after we close up.’
Now Phil looks surprised – and not a little terrified.
‘No time like the present.’
‘I’m not doing anything tomorrow night – more’s the pity,’ Jenny offers.
She is currently man-free – a fairly rare occurrence. My friend is a curvy brunette with ample comely charms and, as such, is a big hit with the gentlemen. Though cads and bounders feature heavily on the menu and none of them ever stay around for long.
‘I’m not exactly a dab hand with a paintbrush,’ she admits, ‘but I can do labouring and make tea.’
‘Sounds good to me,’ I say.
We both look at Phil expectantly.
‘I’m not doing anything either,’ he confesses with a shrug. Phil is in his early sixties, I would think, and his wife left him about five years ago for a younger man who’s been giving her the runaround ever since. He doesn’t get out much unless we drag him to the pub or for a pizza. Live and Let Fry is pretty much his life. But he looks good for his age. Dapper, you could say. He’s a bit portly due to his largely chip-based diet, and we all tease him about his hair being a bit thin on top. But bald isn’t a bad thing now, is it? Jenny is always trying to fix him up with sundry women, but he doesn’t seem very interested. I think secretly he’s probably worried that he’d end up with someone just like Jenny. And she’s way too much woman for him to handle.
Phil purses his lips in thought. ‘How much do you think it would cost?’
‘No idea.’ I normally have to beg, steal or borrow paint if the decorating urge comes upon me, so I’m somewhat out of touch with B&Q’s current price list. Most of our house is painted with leftover half-tins purloined from my parents’ garage and all mixed together. I’m thinking that Phil might want a slightly more upmarket approach than this. ‘But say you stump up three hundred pounds and see what we can get with that?’ I know that paint’s expensive now – what isn’t? – but the café is only small. ‘If we start on Saturday night, we could work all day Sunday and be open for business again on Monday.’
Phil looks a bit teary. ‘Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a little treasure, Nell McNamara?’
‘All the time,’ I say, lightly batting the compliment away before Phil gets into full blub-mode and starts me off too.
‘You lot might get on my nerves most of the time,’ he jokes, ‘but you’re all like family to me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’
‘If we don’t get some more customers through the doors you might well be finding out,’ I remind him. And I, for one, need this job. So if it means spending my precious weekend slapping a bit of paint on, then that works for me.
As always when we shut up the chippy, I take great pleasure in liberating my long blonde bob from beneath my utilitarian cap, and then I always steal ten minutes for myself and walk a circuitous route home, passing my favourite shop. Today, the crackle of autumn is in the air and I enjoy being outside, breathing in the scent of coffee that drifts from a dozen different cafés that I pass.
We live in the small market town of Hitchin, in the heart of the beautiful county of Hertfordshire. It’s a nice enough place to live, though I’m sure some of its charms have been lost on me after living here for so many years. You take things like that for granted, don’t you? I think if you came here as a visitor you’d love it, but for me, well, it’s just where I live. You don’t really stop to look around and think how fab it is.
My love, Olly Meyers, and I were both born and brought up here and sometimes I think we should move somewhere more obviously cool, more creative, like Brighton or… well, wherever else is more happening. Petal would like it by the sea too. Though this place isn’t exactly a cultural desert when it comes to style. There are some trendy independent boutiques selling weird, wacky and wonderful stuff which I love. Olly and I are both mad keen fans of the sixties – music, films, clothes – and one thing I can say about Hitchin is that we’re well served here when it comes to our passion.
There’s a great market that has been here since time began. I get a lot of clothes cheaply from the vintage stall that’s always there, and the rest I run up on my trusty sewing machine. There are also a couple of fantastic haberdashery stalls that are brilliant for picking up cheap ribbons, buttons and the like. Olly’s favourite pit stop is the second-hand record stall and we have a mountain of vinyl in our spare room. There’s a scooter shop run by one of Olly’s mates – my dearly beloved’s other obsession – and a couple of great retro lifestyle shops that keep us supplied with cheap furnishings.
The chippy is located in one of the small shopping arcades that radiate off from the Market Place. It might be Victorian – I have no idea – but it’s decorated with pretty ironwork and has an arched glass roof. Marvellous for pigeons to settle in, but it’s quaint and full of character. The place isn’t without its fair share of the unsightly 1960s carbuncles that most English towns now harbour, but there’s actually a lot of the centre that’s managed to survive untrammelled by council insanity.
I wander away from the Market Place, turning from the rash of chain stores and down through the old part of town where the shops are in small alleys, still packed tightly together in quaint, timbered buildings, all higgledy-piggledy. This is where my favourite shop is tucked away. Betty the Bag La
The Betty in question isn’t an ageing lady with a blue rinse as her name might suggest. This Betty is young and trendy. She’s even smaller than me and I’m not exactly an Amazonian woman. My mum bought me a school blazer with ‘room to grow’ when I was eleven and it was still way too big for me when I hit sixteen. My mother was clearly overly optimistic about the size I would eventually attain. Betty has her immaculately straightened hair dyed white, whereas mine is a golden blonde and is often tied up so someone doesn’t enjoy a portion of it with their chips. Betty is probably about twenty-five, I’m fast approaching thirty: it’s fair to say that I’m hideously jealous of her. Fancy having your own shop! Oh, I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven.
Clearly Betty paid attention at school and did her homework and went on to do ‘good things’. I stared out of the window and daydreamed and wondered how much better our uniform would have been if it wasn’t fashioned from nylon and had been in luscious shades of pink instead of bottle-green. I lost my homework on the way home, hung round with boys in the park and, so, never amounted to much. I wanted to learn – I really did – I just didn’t want to learn about Pythagoras’s Theorem or Ox-bow lakes or the Tolpuddle Martyrs. I wanted to learn about ‘interesting’ things, even though I had no clue what they might be. I just know that I felt like a very square peg in a very round hole. So I left school at sixteen, ignoring my parents’ despairing pleas and cries of ‘university!’, and drifted. I worked in Tesco and a shoe shop and a dozen other dead-end jobs before I rocked up at Live and Let Fry. Some days I wish I’d tried harder. Some days I love my work. Let’s face it, how many jobs come with free chips?
Betty also runs with the London crowd, whereas I married young and settled down. She ‘knows’ people in the ‘know’. I know no one. If I get another turn at life, I think I’d like to come back as Betty.
This afternoon, Betty the Bag Lady is open for business. The shop has been here for about a year and in my humble opinion, it’s a welcome addition to the Hitchin shopping experience. At night, when I’ve finished my shift and the shop is closed, I actually press my nose against the window and dream of things that might have been.
Summer Daydreams by Carole Matthews / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes