The coco pinchard boxset.., p.62
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.62

           Robert Bryndza
 

  On Wednesday they attended a charity benefit for adults with alopecia. This time a little more of Angie was on display, (a whole ear plus side of mouth with cigarette). Regina Battenberg had decided to forgo her usual gold turban, and wore her hair down. She could be seen in the pictures fluffing it up for the cameras, whilst the bald people with alopecia looked on jealously.

  On Thursday both Regina and Angie got a free iPad. I’m not sure what the event was, but they were pictured side-by-side with an iPad each. On the screen was an image of the cover for Winetime.

  Last night Regina and Angie dined together at The Ivy. Regina had tweeted a paparazzi photo, taken as they were leaving the restaurant. She is striking a pose on the pavement in her gold turban and black cloak, whilst Angie is in the background with a fag in the corner of her mouth trying to pull Pippin away from humping the doorman’s leg. Regina had written,

  @ReginaB Just had scrummy dinner with my agent, Angela Lansbury. #Beasties

  I think she’d meant to write #besties … but maybe not. My book launch is only a month away.

  Tuesday 20th March

  It’s all very fraught, there is still no rent from Tabitha, Adam is starting another week of job interviews, my twenty-two-week ultrasound scan is looming, and my book? Who knows what is going on there. Adam keeps saying Try not to get stressed. But when has this ever succeeded in working for a stressed person?

  I woke up this morning as Adam was adjusting his tie in the bedroom mirror.

  ‘Morning beautiful,’ he said picking up his phone and keys from the dresser.

  ‘I’ve got a good feeling about today,’ he said. ‘I’m through to the fifth round for this job.’

  ‘How many rounds are there?’ I asked.

  ‘Twelve,’ said Adam. He kissed me, cuddled Rocco and went off. I came downstairs, fed Rocco and made some decaf coffee. Then my phone jingled, it was a text from Chris.

  Dad’s Funeral is Thursday. Have arranged 4 car 2 pick U up. Mum & Rebecca had a terrible argument about the flowers, M slapped R so hard there is still a handprint 2 days later. Only Dad knew how to make them get along. I’m missing him like mad - Chris x

  I texted him back,

  Need 2 talk? I’m here whenever you need me Cx

  Then he said,

  No time. Being Lord Cheshire is a full time job. Don’t know how my Dad did it all and stayed sane - speak soon, Chris x

  I put my phone down and then the oddest thing happened. I really missed my mother… which is not a feeling I’ve had in years.

  My mother was judgemental and pushy and drove me crazy. She’d have known how to deal with Tabitha and my scan and Angie though… and if she’d approved of Adam (which I doubt) she’d have known how to get him into a good job. I bet she’d even have been brilliant on Twitter. She had a very cruel, but very funny sense of humour. I thought of all the things she never knew about me, and all the things she never got to do, and I was gripped with an urge to see her.

  I met Rosencrantz an hour later at the entrance to Kensal Green Cemetery. He was wearing black jeans, a winter jacket, and he looked a little tired. He gave his cigarette a last puff, and ground it out with one of his winter boots, the red embers flaring up for a moment against the dark earth. He gave me a big kiss on the cheek, and put his arm around me as we walked along the gravel path, past scores of wonky gravestones.

  ‘Where is she?’ he asked, after a moment.

  ‘By the trees over there.’

  We carried on walking, our shoes crunching on gravel.

  ‘I’ve never known what to call her.’ said Rosencrantz.

  ‘It’s okay. You never knew her,’ I said. ‘She died a few days before I found out I was pregnant with you… I think she would have wanted to be called ‘Grandma’.’

  ‘Not, Nan?’ he said.

  ‘No. Ethel is Nan.’

  ‘Did they ever meet?’

  ‘Far too many times,’ I laughed. The long path between the endless gravestones rose up then dropped, and there she was. Evelyn Willoughby. The black marble headstone had weathered in the twenty-three years since she’d died. The little basket of silk flowers that Adam had insisted on putting there six months ago, were now faded. I lay the bunch of red roses I’d bought beside the marble slab, then pulled out a tissue and wiped off the film of dirt.

  ‘What was she like?’ asked Rosencrantz. I decided to be diplomatic.

  ‘I think she was always trying to be good enough… My dad, your granddad, was from a well-off family, and they didn’t approve of her.’

  ‘Didn’t she like Dad?’

  I shook my head. ‘She wanted me to marry someone else.’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘The son of friends of theirs, posh friends of theirs.’

  ‘Why didn’t you?’

  ‘I was crazy about your father. Hard to believe now.’

  ‘What was this posh guy called?’ asked Rosencrantz.

  ‘Kenneth.’

  ‘And did this Kenneth guy love you?’

  ‘No. He loved someone else too.’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘Chris,’ I said softly.

  ‘What? Chris, our Chris?’ asked Rosencrantz, shocked.

  I nodded.

  ‘Jeez. What happened?’

  ‘Kenneth’s mother made him marry a girl, and he broke Chris’s heart. Of course Kenneth was in denial about being gay, but he carried on meeting guys in secret, and he contracted HIV.’

  ‘That’s awful,’ said Rosencrantz.

  ‘It was 1987 and, well, he didn’t live long. When Kenneth’s parents found out, they disowned him, his wife filed for divorce, and my bloody mother took their side. It was Chris who looked after Kenneth until he died.’

  ‘Is that why you didn’t talk to her for years?’

  ‘Yes… and then suddenly she died.’ We stood in silence for a few minutes. Tears rolled down both of our faces.

  ‘And now I’ve got this baby, and I’m the same age as she was when she died, and… and I’m scared.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Oh well, nothing I can do about things now,’ I said.

  ‘Mum, it’s all going to be okay,’ said Rosencrantz.

  ‘Is it?’ His face was full of love, and youth and hope.

  ‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘I’m here for you.’

  ‘The lesson I learned from all this, is that when you told me you were gay, I knew it would never be a problem, and if anyone else had a problem, they wouldn’t be welcome.’

  ‘Luckily no one did.’ Rosencrantz grinned. ‘So where is Grandpa?’

  ‘I think he would have liked being called Granddad,’ I said. ‘His ashes are scattered around her headstone. It was a heart attack, shortly after she died. I think he died of a broken heart. He couldn’t live without her. All he wanted was her, but she spent most of her life trying to be something she wasn’t.’

  We stayed and had a good cry, which made me feel miles better, and we then made our way back out of the cemetery. Rosencrantz pulled a hip flask out of his pocket and took a long slug.

  ‘Since when do you have a hip flask?’ I asked.

  ‘Since I’ve got a really important audition, for a big theatre tour… For nerves,’ he explained.

  ‘Okay, well good luck love,’ I said. He gave me hug and went off to the bus stop. I went in the opposite direction to the train station. When I got home I decided that, as a pregnant woman, I should start napping.

  Wednesday 21st March

  Adam is getting desperate for someone to hire him, and I think this might be coming across in his interviews. He talked last night about getting a bar job, and I told him absolutely not. I’d never see him, and who can bring up a baby in London on one bar wage? I went on Twitter and saw that the Angie-Regina Battenberg love-in continues. Angie is now re-tweeting everything Regina tweets. Six boss-eyed selfies in a row of Regina with Pippin, and a picture of the Japanese language edition of Winetime. I tweeted to Angie:

  @AngieLangford Remember me? It’s @Coco
Pinchard… I’ve got a book out in 3 weeks!

  I waited ten minutes for an answer, but she ignored it, then re-tweeted Regina again. They are sending Regina to Africa to do a report on clean drinking water for Comic Relief! Has the world gone mad? Despite myself I clicked on the link.

  A few minutes later I heard a coo- ee and Ethel let herself in (another spare key?) she came into the living room and I quickly wiped my eyes.

  ‘Alright love? Feelin’ emotional?’

  ‘Yes,’ I said. She came round and started reading off the screen.

  ‘Little Amina ’as to walk twenty miles a day to the well to get clean water… Gawd, you think ’er parents would move a bit closer!’

  ‘Ethel!’ I said the tears rolling down my face.

  ‘Well ’oo lives that far away from a bloody well when you’ve got no taps?’

  ‘Maybe they can’t move?’

  ‘Iss not as if they’ve got a mortgage. They just untie the goats, pack up the tent, bob’s your uncle…’

  She put her hand on my shoulder, ‘Come on love, you can’t get sucked into those charity ads.’

  ‘It’s not the advert.’

  ‘Then what?’

  ‘Everything. I thought Angie was my friend, I’ve got my twenty-two week scan coming up, Adam can’t find a job, we sold our car for 5p, the old prostitute round the corner owes us five weeks’ rent… and I’m failing in everything. ’

  ‘There there love,’ she said, giving me a hug. ‘What?’ she said after a minute. ‘A prostitute owes you money?’

  I told Ethel all about Tabitha. When I’d finished she grabbed her handbag and left saying, ‘Don’t you worry love, I’ll sort it out.’

  Half an hour later, Ethel returned with an envelope containing all the rent Tabitha owes. I couldn’t believe it.

  ‘She usually does a bank transfer,’ I said counting out the fifty pound notes.

  ‘She ’ad ’alf of this in ’er bra,’ said Ethel.

  ‘How did you get it?’

  ‘I put the fear of God up ’er,’ said Ethel.

  I was very impressed. Tabitha seems a rather godless woman, and in the space of twenty minutes, Ethel had managed to convince her of His existence, the consequences of His wrath and five weeks’ back rent in cash. When Adam got home he was stunned.

  ‘How did she do it?’ he said.

  ‘She can be very scary,’ I said. ‘When she worked as a cleaner at Catford police station, they used to threaten to set her on problem prisoners.’

  ‘Very funny,’ he said.

  ‘I’m serious. They landed many a confession using Ethel and her mop and bucket.’

  Thursday 22nd March

  Marika phoned this morning.

  ‘Should I bring Milan to the funeral?’ she asked.

  ‘Why wouldn’t you bring him?’ I replied.

  ‘Well, I’ve brought so many different boyfriends to so many different events…’

  ‘I wouldn’t call Lord Cheshire’s funeral an event.’

  ‘You know what I mean. There’ve been weddings, and christenings, opening nights, and launches. Each time I brought someone different. You remember Lady Cheshire called me the revolving door girl at Chris’s sister’s wedding.’

  ‘Wasn’t that because you did get stuck in the revolving door?’

  ‘I know, but there was a mean metaphor in that name, I could see it in her eyes…’ she said.

  ‘Okay, well how are things going with Milan?’ I asked.

  ‘He wants to put my name on his mortgage.’

  ‘That’s brilliant.’

  ‘Is it? The stakes are just getting higher and higher, he keeps being nice to me. It doesn’t stop. I can’t find a flaw, which means when I do find one, I’ll be in so deep it will devastate me.’

  ‘Marika, how are you feeling lately?’ I asked.

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘When you see Milan, how do you feel?’

  ‘My heart starts beating fast, and I get overwhelmed and flustered. Warm inside. Content. I feel complete. I’m excited to see him again, even if he just takes the rubbish out…’

  ‘It sounds like you’re in love.’

  ‘What? No…’ There was a long pause. ‘So what are you wearing to the funeral?’ she asked.

  ‘I don’t know, something black and tent-like, maybe a tent… So you’re going to bring Milan, the man you have all the symptoms of love for, but don’t actually love?’

  ‘I’m not in love! Yeah, maybe I’ll bring him. And you?’

  ‘I’m bringing Adam. It would look odd if I didn’t.

  ‘No, how are you, silly?’

  ‘As well as can be expected. Filling up with anxiety, and baby.’

  ‘Ring me whenever, I’m here for you,’ she said.

  ‘And I’m here for you too. And call the doctor if you have any more of those terrible symptoms of being in love!’

  ‘I’m not in love,’ she said, but she didn’t sound too sure.

  Friday 23rd March

  A Daimler arrived to pick us up and take us to Rochester Cathedral for Lord Cheshire’s funeral. Adam, Rosencrantz and Oscar, being lucky to be born male, had pulled on their black suits and looked wonderful. I seemed to be dividing and multiplying in all the wrong places. I wished I’d got my act together and shopped for maternity wear. I had managed to unearth a black elasticated A-line skirt (last worn when I worked as a teacher and we had a ‘Victorian Evening’) but it was still tight. My shoulders seemed to have broadened, so I had to wear the rest of my Victorian Evening costume of a white pleated blouse and black jacket. I toyed with wearing the little round frilly hat too, but I would have looked like a Queen Victoria impersonator.

  When we got to Catford, Ethel was waiting outside her nursing home, dressed beautifully in a black dress nipped in at the waist, high heels and black hat with a small lace veil.

  ‘You look elegant Nan,’ said Rosencrantz. ‘Where did you get your outfit?’

  ‘Enid Catchfly,’ she said.

  ‘Have you made a new friend?’ asked Adam.

  ‘No she died, poor cow. Superbug finished ’er orf.’

  ‘She left you her clothes?’ I asked.

  ‘No, ’er family took them all to the charity shop. I followed in a taxi… She ’ad some lovely stuff. When you’re thinner love you should try ’em on.’

  I know, for once, Ethel was being nice, but it felt like a total drive-by. I was too big for even dead old ladies’ hand-me-downs. No one batted an eyelid. They changed the subject, chatting on about ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ whilst I sat in the corner. Fat.

  Our car pulled up outside Rochester Cathedral. Streams of people dressed in black were moving across the courtyard to the entrance. Chris cut a forlorn figure by the steps, giving out the order of service with the family solicitor Mr Spencer. His blond hair was now a sombre Just For Men shade of brown and parted to one side. His earring now the tiniest gold stud, and to see him dressed in a morning suit with no quirks was startling. He looked, middle aged. Marika and Milan were waiting outside with Meryl and Tony, Daniel and Jennifer. As we entered the cathedral, solemn organ music played. Lord Cheshire lay in an open casket at the front, a bizarre waxwork of himself. He looked like he was just having a snooze. I felt weirdly obscene, attending a funeral in my condition.

  ‘Do I look really pregnant?’ I whispered to Ethel as we made our way down the aisle.

  ‘No, love you just look fat,’ she said patting my hand.

  The Cathedral was filling up, and we didn’t find a free pew until we’d nearly reached the front. I let Ethel in first. An elegant older lady was sitting alone at the end, and she shuffled up to make room. She lifted up her order of service, and underneath was a muffler made from a dead stoat.

  ‘Jesus Christ!’ shrieked Ethel and walloped it with her handbag. There was a hush as the well-dressed people in the pews around us turned away in disgust. The elegant lady grabbed at her muffler in horror.

  ‘Ethel! Have you no
manners? This is a funeral,’ said Jennifer leaning across everyone. We all froze in shock. A woman publicly chastising her mother-in-law is a brave act, but a girlfriend? Throw into the mix that this is Ethel, the ultimate monster-in-law. If Jennifer hadn’t had her card marked before, it certainly was now. We took our seats as the last of the mourners filed in. Finally Lady Edwina entered, with Rebecca and Chris’s other sister Sofia. Lady Edwina and Sofia seemed to be supporting Rebecca who could barely walk with grief. Chris followed and looked back, giving us all a weak smile as he took his seat at the front.

  The funeral was a rather dry corporate affair as various captains of industry gave us their take on Lord Cheshire’s business acumen. The only nice part was when Chris gave a lovely speech about his father, what a generous man he had been, and how he hopes he can do his memory justice. Just as he finished, he was heckled by Rebecca, who shouted,

  ‘Yeah, we can’t all have a penis…’

  We realised she wasn’t being supported in her grief when she’d arrived. She was completely plastered. Lady Edwina ignored her and stared stoically ahead.

  When we had the opportunity to take communion, the boys didn’t want to go, so I went up with Meryl, Ethel and Jennifer. I could see Ethel was still stewing. When we reached the priest, Jennifer kneeled first to take the wafer.

  ‘The body of Christ,’ said the priest, and went to place the wafer on her tongue but Ethel put her hand over his saying,

  ‘Sorry yer worship. ’Ow many Weight Watchers’ points is a communion wafer?’

  Jennifer looked stunned.

  ‘Ummm. Madam, this is the body of Christ,’ said the priest who looked just as surprised.

  ‘It must ’ave a calorie count though?’ went on Ethel. ‘’Cos this one ’ere, well, you can see she struggles with ’er weight. She’s the kind of girl, once she pops, she can’t stop…’

  The line for communion wafers was backing up, and people were craning their necks to see what the hold-up was.

 

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