Coco pinchards big fat t.., p.7
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       Coco Pinchard's Big Fat Tipsy Wedding: A Funny Feel-Good Romantic Comedy, p.7

           Robert Bryndza
 

  'I think I'm going to make her a cup of tea and pop in some Valium when she's not looking,’ he said wearily. ‘She hasn't slept in days you know... This bloody Sandringham Christmas. I just wanted to sit under the tree with Wilfred and watch his face as he opened his prezzies.’

  I don't usually have much time for Tony, but I felt very sorry for him. He wished me a Merry Christmas and put down the phone. I joined Marika and Rocco downstairs for egg on toast and little milks. I told her about my antics at Angie’s Christmas party.

  ‘Jeez Cokes,I knew you’d gone out dating too soon,’ she said. ‘But even a normal person would struggle to create that much drama. Still every cloud has a sliver lining.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘ At least you know Xavier would be good in the bedroom department.’

  ‘He’s not going to be in any department,’ I said. I then went on to say I was having second thoughts about spending Christmas alone.

  ‘You’ve got Rocco,’ said Marika. The fluff, sat on the floor beside me gave a little indignant bark.

  ‘I know,’ I said picking him up. ‘But what if we just get lonely and depressed? The snow has melted, it’s just grey old London outside again, and I can’t face putting up any decorations.’

  ‘Well, you could come with me to Slovakia?’ said Marika.

  ‘What about Rocco?’

  ‘Bring him too, get him a puppy passport and we can drive. You’ve got that new car you never drive, let’s use it.’

  Tuesday 21st December 22.21

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  I have been running round today sorting out Rocco’s puppy passport. This morning I went to Marylebone Train station and tried to figure out how I would get him to sit still in the instant photo booth. I screwed the seat round until it was as high as possible, but Rocco is so tiny that only the very fluff atop his head was in the frame. The seat was also too smooth for him, and his big furry paws kept sliding off. In the end, I had to twist it to its lowest setting and crouch with Rocco balanced on my head. Try as I might I couldn't keep him still and press the button to take the photo.

  Just as I was about to give up the curtain was pulled open. Xavier looked through the gap.

  'Oops sorry,' he said and quickly pulled it shut. After a moment, his voice came through the curtain,

  ‘Is that you Coco?’

  ‘Um… Yes,’ I said. He opened it again, and looked at me with Rocco balanced on my head, his face broke into a grin.

  'This is for a Puppy Passport,' I said, going red. 'He won't keep still and the stool isn't high enough.'

  Xavier offered to help by squatting down with us either side of the stool in the booth, and we made a little platform for Rocco with our upturned hands. Xavier then used his nose to press the button. He was so kind and funny and I didn't mind in the least being squashed up against him in the photo booth. Whilst we waited for the pictures to be developed, he had a cuddle with Rocco.

  'He likes you,’ I said. As Rocco licked his hand.

  'You managed to get him off the little milks?'

  'Not yet, he refuses to eat anything else. He clamps his mouth shut.' Xavier rummaged around and pulled some little coffee biscuits out of his jeans.

  'Can I try?'

  'Sure,' I said.

  He offered one to Rocco. The little shit gave a woof of excitement took it obediently and wolfed down another four in quick succession! I was mortified.

  'Little dogs are actors, they like to play to the crowd,' said Xavier kindly.

  ‘No you must think I’m this crazy woman who jumps you at parties and tells lies about her dog’s diet for attention… both of which aren’t true… The thing is, I got dumped a few weeks back and it threw me, and everything has seemed to unravel since.’

  Xavier went to say something but the photos shot out of the machine into the little slot. They were perfect. Little Rocco was sat almost floating mid-air and looking directly into the camera.

  'Thank you,' I said. 'I couldn't have done it without you.'

  ‘Coco,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to explain yourself to me. You’re lovely. I’m sorry about the other night, I got carried away, I didn’t mean to scare you with my… well…’

  ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ I said.

  ‘Going home to my parents in Portsmouth. I’m just renewing my Student Rail Card, hence the photo booth.’

  ’Student Railcard? That makes me feel old,’ I said.

  ‘Mature student!’

  We paused and smiled at each other.

  ‘Look. Maybe we could walk our dogs sometime?’ he said. ‘Just dog walking, no pressure.’ He gave me a card with his phone number on.

  As he walked off, I admired him; all six foot of him. Rocco barked, bringing me out of my thoughts and reminding me we had more to do. We got to the vet around four and she didn't stop laughing for a full five minutes. All I needed was a photo of Rocco - any photo, it didn't need to be an official passport photo from a photo booth.

  We got it on the spot, filled in a stamped, I felt so proud of him with his own passport.

  When we got home in the dark, it was snowing again, harder, and the temperature was dropping. I'm so excited about going now, I just hope the weather doesn't spoil it for us. The motorways above London are closed; so far, the South looks okay. There was a strange slurring message from Meryl on my answer phone, something about a fifty pence coin talking to her. I called back but the phone rang out.

  I'm pleased to hear that you’re having fun at the Ice Hotel in Lapland and that there is plenty of Schnapps. Have you met anyone noteworthy to share your thermal sleeping bag with?

  Wednesday 22nd December 06.11

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  Tony just rang to say that Meryl had to be sectioned in the early hours of this morning! He found her outside at 3am disinfecting the driveway in her dressing gown. When he asked her to come back inside, she tried to suffocate him by stuffing a dishcloth down his throat screaming,

  ‘The Queen is coming for Christmas!’

  She hasn't slept in four days trying to get everything prepared for the Sandringham Christmas, and the lack of sleep made her hallucinate. She flushed all the money from her purse down the toilet because she thought the Queen’s head was talking, criticising her skills as a hostess. She’s been sedated in the Psychiatric Unit at Milton Keynes General Hospital and kept under observation. Tony said that his sister and Daniel had already arrived and they are helping with Wilfred. Meryl can't have any visitors for a few days. I asked if there was anything I could do. Tony cleared his throat and then said tentatively,

  ‘Well… Yes there is something you could do Coco.’

  ‘What is it, anything?’ I said.

  ‘If you could give Ethel her Christmas lunch I'd be most grateful. What with everything that’s happened and the M25 being closed southbound with the snow, I don't think I can get to her.’

  There was a crashing silence. Alarms were going off in my brain.

  ‘Oh… um…’ I said. Then Daniel came on the line,

  ‘Hi Cokes, I know we haven’t spoken in a while, but, please,' he begged. 'I know mum drives you crazy but this is a unique situation.'

  'I know it is,’ I said.

  'All the residents in her sheltered housing have gone to their families for Christmas. There won't be a Warden on duty. I don't like the idea of her all alone; it’s a very rough area. What if looters break in looking for presents?'

  ‘I’m supposed to be…’

  ‘Supposed to be what?’

  ’Nothing,’ I said with a heavy heart. ‘Tell Ethel she can come here.’

  ‘Thank you. Thank you. I owe you big time. Merry Christmas Cokes,’ he said.

  'Yeah. Merry Christmas,' I said and put the phone down.

  Shit.

  Wednesday 22nd December 08.44

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  I thought about palming Ethel off on Rosencrantz, but
he is working, and on Christmas Day has been invited to Oscar’s house in The Cotswolds. He sounded excited, so I didn’t mention the Ethel situation.

  I took a deep breath and phoned Marika.

  ‘Why don’t you bring Ethel with us?’ she said without missing a beat.

  ‘I wasn’t expecting you to say that!’

  ‘It’s no problem. I’ll call my mum to make up the camp bed.'

  'Hang on Marika,’ I said. ‘Think carefully about what you’re suggesting. Dragging that old bag of bones across Europe for your family Christmas.’

  There was a silence.

  'I think it could be good,' she said.

  'How? This is Ethel.'

  'She could be a much-needed distraction.’

  'From what? Fun?'

  ‘No, a much-needed distraction for my Mother, she'll go into entertaining overdrive and she won't question me too much…’ There was another long pause.

  'Coco. I just quit my job,' she said.

  ‘What? As a teacher?!’

  ‘What other job do I do?’

  'What are you going to do?' I said. 'You just got a mortgage and the teachers pension scheme is final salary.’

  'Okay you’re not helping. I don't know what I’m going to do,' she said. 'What I do know is I can't be a teacher anymore. More importantly, my mother can’t know about it until I work out a solution.’

  'What happened?' I said.

  'It all went wrong when I slept with that OFSTED Inspector.’

  'Well, to be fair you didn't know he was going to be inspecting your school, he was just a bloke in a bar.'

  'Exactly, but the Headmistress is blaming me for the school getting a bad result. Then on the last day of term, I put a movie on for the students. Ghost, with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze,'

  'That’s a nice film,’ I said.

  'Yes… During the pottery wheel scene the Headmistress stormed into the classroom, and turned it off saying it was pornographic. She then accused me, in front of the students, of being depraved with loose morals.'

  'Don't you teach seventeen year olds?'

  ‘Something inside me snapped. I told her to stick her job up her fat fanny and I stormed out.'

  'What did the kids do?'

  'I heard them clapping and cheering as I walked out of the fire exit. I then got in my car and drove home.’

  ‘I’m so sorry hun,’ I said.

  ‘I just want a nice Christmas Coco,' she said. 'My mother is like a mind reader. Having you and Ethel there will distract her, please.’ I paused to think.

  ‘If bringing Ethel will give you a nice Christmas, then fine, but I’ve warned you.’

  I am cursing myself for answering Tony’s phone call this morning. If I’d just kept my phone off for a few hours, I’d have been away with Marika and home free.

  Wednesday 22nd December 15.47

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  I picked up Marika at ten, then we drove on to The Aspidistra Sheltered Housing in Catford. Ethel was waiting outside in the blizzard. Marika jumped out and helped her in beside me.

  'Ello sweethearts,' she said. ‘And little Rocco too… Thanks Marika love for ‘avin me, and you Coco for drivin’ ’

  I exchanged a glance with Marika, she seemed to be on her best behaviour.

  ‘Ooh, I like yer car Coco, what is it?’ said Ethel.

  ‘A Land Cruiser,’ I said.

  ‘Must ave set you back a few bob,’ she said stroking the leather seat as Marika helped her with the seatbelt. ‘To think you could buy this from writing your books!’

  I rolled my eyes; twelve seconds was all it took for the first barbed comment.

  ‘Sorry to hear about Meryl,’ said Marika changing the subject.

  ‘Oh she’s overdone it again,' said Ethel dismissively. 'I used to ‘ave to sedate ‘er meself when she was little an she wouldn’t stop cleaning ‘er Doll’s House. A little nip of brandy in ‘er rice pudding used to do it.’

  I drove off into the snow.

  ‘Ooh!’ said Ethel. ‘Ooh what was that?’

  ‘I just put the heated seat on for you,’ I said.

  ‘Thank gawd for that. I thought I’d pissed meself!’ she cackled. Her laugh was like ragged fingernails being dragged down a blackboard.

  We crept along the motorway, which was reduced to a whirling white mass, and got to the Channel Tunnel car train at 3pm. We're just in a line of traffic waiting to drive up the ramp. Nevertheless, we are all in good spirits and Christmas in another country has an air of excitement about it. Maybe, just maybe this trip could be fun after all.

  Thursday 23rd December 10.44

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  We’re just on the outskirts of Bratislava. When we emerged from the Channel tunnel I took the first leg, driving through France and Belgium. Marika swapped in lay-by outside Frankfurt, and drove until around seven this morning when we crossed the border into Slovakia. Ethel has been strangely quiet. I think she's a little intimidated by it all. I'm not sure if she’s really been abroad much. I know she went to the Isle of Wight in 1973.

  We stopped for breakfast in a swanky modern Mc Donald's in Bratislava.

  ‘Iss my treat girls!’ said Ethel. ‘Ave whatever you want- ooh- and see if they've got Tetley,’ said Ethel.

  Marika spoke in Slovak to the girl behind the counter, who shook her head. In a practised move, Ethel pulled a teabag from her handbag and asked Marika to get her some hot water.

  'She's clever that Marika,' said Ethel. 'Can you speak anything foreign?'

  ‘I’m quite good in French,’ I said.

  'When I got evacuated up north we only learned things like how to make flaky pastry.'

  ‘Marika can't make flaky pastry,’ I said.

  'But she can buy it pre-made,' said Ethel regretfully. 'Gawd I wish I could do it all again.'

  After we’d demolished our Mc Breakfasts, Marika went off to the loo and Ethel asked me how much twenty-two euros was in pounds.

  ‘There’s not a lot of difference now,’ I said. ‘It’s about twenty quid.’

  ‘Twenty quid? I just spent twenty quid!’ she spluttered. ‘She can’t ‘alf put it away,’ she said poking Marika’s Egg Mc Muffin and Hash Brown wrappers.

  ‘You said to order whatever we wanted?’

  ‘That was before I knew it was daylight robbery! Twenty quid for breakfast! My mother bought ‘er first two-up-two-down in Catford for thirty-five quid, and she still ‘ad change left over for a mangle.’

  ‘That was in nineteen twenty-four,’ I said. But Ethel carried on ranting.

  ‘Bloody foreigners. And I thought that dog of yours only drank UHT milk?’ Rocco had polished off three hash browns and a sausage patty with a hungry little bark of excitement.

  ‘Why did you offer to buy us all breakfast then?’ I said.

  ‘I thought Mc Donald’s in the Eastern bloc would be reasonable. Didn’t that power station blowing up make it a cheap ‘oliday destination?’

  ‘That was Chernobyl, in the Ukraine.’ I said.

  ‘Twenty bloody quid,’ moaned Ethel. Just then Marika came back.

  ‘Ello love,’ smiled Ethel. ‘Ave you ‘ad enough to eat? Can I get you anything else?’

  ‘No, thanks,’ said Marika. ‘That was great.’

  ‘It was a pleasure,’ grinned Ethel. ‘Now you must excuse me I need to go spend a penny.’

  ‘Well, don’t spend too many,’ I said. Ethel gave me a look and shuffled off to the ladies.

  ‘She’s being nice isn’t she?’ said Marika.

  Me and Rocco just looked at each other.

  Thursday 23rd December 17.12

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  Marika's mother lives in a smart three-bed flat in Nitra. It’s a beautiful town, we drove past a medieval castle high on a hill; and there were breathtaking views of a snow covered mountain called Zobor. As we pulled into the car park, we saw her building was encased in black and white striped plasti
c, a flurry of wind rippled up inside causing a loud crackling.

  ‘Is that some kind of Slovakian Christmas decoration?’ said Ethel as we unloaded our suitcases.

  ‘No. It’s Slovakian builders, they’re insulating the building,’ said Marika.

  We were welcomed so warmly into the flat, by Marika’s mother Blazena, a huge matronly woman with a halo of curly black hair. I hadn't met Marika's stepfather Fero, who is very short, round, bald and in his sixties. He lumbered out of the bedroom drinking a bottle of beer with his shirt off. Blazena went mad shooing him back inside. Fero backed away muttering and shut the door.

  'She's telling him to get dressed properly to meet the fine English ladies,' said Marika. I looked at myself and Ethel in our crumpled clothes. She made it sound like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith had arrived to stay.

  Blazena gave us rib-cracking hugs, she then stared at Marika, narrowing her eyes for a moment. I thought she might guess Marika had quit her job, but she was distracted by Fero, now wearing a shirt but still with the bottle of beer. She grabbed it off him and ushered us all into the living room.

  It was warm and beautifully decorated. The tree was covered in an exquisite set of fairy lights, the bulbs were hand painted in pale colours and cast a magical hue against the white walls. I counted seven statues of Jesus, three had tinsel adorning his crown of thorns and the biggest one on top of the television was wearing a Santa hat. Blazena sat us at a long dining table and we were given hot chicken soup, followed by roast duck, potatoes and cabbage; it was all delicious, even little Rocco was given a small bowl of duck liver that he wolfed down and then fell asleep under the Christmas tree.

 
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