The coco pinchard boxset.., p.71
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.71

           Robert Bryndza
 

  We drove down and met Chris at Cheshire Hall. It was a sunny spring day and everything was bursting into bud and flower. We’d left London very early, and as we passed through the gates of the Hall, a low mist was clinging to the green fields. We parked on the gravel outside the huge front door and rang the bell. A ruggedly handsome guy opened the door.

  ‘Mr and Mrs Rickard?’ he said.

  ‘We’re here to see Chris, Lord Cheshire,’ said Adam. He led us through the hall and indicated the drawing room.

  ‘Chris will be with you shortly,’ he said. My attention was so drawn to him that I narrowly missed walking into a pillar.

  ‘Eyes ahead baby-momma,’ said Adam, just stopping me. I blushed and hurried into the drawing room. Adam was laughing.

  ‘Shut up. With my bump, my balance is off.’

  ‘That’s what it is…’

  The large living room looked a lot more like it belonged to Chris. He’d brought his television and DVD’s were piled messily around. He had some photos dotted about in frames; there was one of Chris, Sophia and Rebecca taken when they were very small. They were standing in a field with their father. Chris was sitting on his shoulders grinning with two front teeth missing. In the background Lady Edwina could be seen with the gamekeeper, loading a shotgun.

  There was another of me, Chris and Marika on a long-ago singles holiday to Tenerife. We look so young with wild-hair and grinning lobster faces. And there was one I’d never seen before of Chris and Kenneth, together on a very windy Brighton sea front.

  ‘Oh my god. I’m sorry I’m late you two,’ said Chris bursting in. ‘I didn’t want to leave you waiting for me.’

  We all hugged.

  ‘What’s with the handsome guy opening the door?’ said Adam. ‘Coco almost dented our son on a pillar!’

  ‘My mother took all the staff with her when she moved to the Lodge. I had to hire a new housekeeper. I thought he might as well be nice to look at. Do you want some tea?’

  ‘No, let’s see this land,’ I said.

  ‘I can’t believe you’re thinking of doing this,’ said Chris excitedly.

  ‘Neither can we!’ Adam grinned.

  We piled into an ancient Landrover and Chris drove across the gravel driveway, straight onto the fields surrounding Cheshire Hall. The sun was now up and it was a beautiful day. We bumped and jolted along for a while and then came to a gate. Adam jumped out to open it, and we emerged onto a country lane. We drove along for a few minutes through a tunnel of trees until we came to another gate. On it was a fading orange sign with a phone number for bookings. Adam did the honours again, and we drove down a muddy track. It was overgrown in places and brambles squeaked against the paintwork of the car. We whooshed through a deep section of waterlogged mud, then the trees cleared and there was a house. It wasn’t huge and was quite plain brick with a pitched roof; it backed onto the woods which looked pretty impenetrable, but the front garden! It had a large expanse of manicured lawn, ending in a low wire fence. Beyond was a breathtaking view. Miles and miles of Kent countryside flowed away. At the base of the wire fence were fields of wild flowers and trees, a lake and in the distance hills were sparsely covered with farmhouses. Squares of yellow rapeseed interrupted the green of the hills, and a herd of deer moved fluidly in the distance. We got out of the car. Chris saw us with our mouths open.

  ‘The view goes on for miles,’ I said.

  ‘It’s not all for sale Cokes,’ grinned Chris. ‘It’s just those six fields, the lake, two fields round the other side, the old vineyard up the hill, and a small strip of woodland behind the house. The farm has been here for years; it’s got its own borehole for water.’

  ‘Borehole?’ said Adam.

  ‘Yes,’ said Chris.

  ‘There’s well water?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Drinkable?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Chris.

  ‘Awesome!’ said Adam. Chris gave me a look.

  ‘The house does have taps and running water.’

  ‘Let’s see the house,’ I said. Adam was already thrilled with a well. I was still unsure and needed to see more.

  The house was a weathered red brick. The single-glazed windows were old. The front door had an old wooden frame with a giant sheet of frosted glass. Chris rummaged around for the key and realised he’d left it in the Landrover.

  ‘All you need is to wrap a jumper round your hand and put your fist through the glass,’ I said when he’d gone off to get it.

  ‘Shhh,’ said Adam.

  ‘Well it’s not very secure,’ I said. Chris came back and we grinned. He got the door open and pushed against a pile of free newspapers and junk mail.

  ‘It’s good to know the post comes,’ said Adam. ‘And look there’s a pizza delivery service.’

  ‘Dominoes can be convinced to come out this far, but the pizza tends to be a bit cold…’ Chris’s voice trailed off. It was chilly and a bit musty as we walked into the hallway. Dust swirled in the sunlight. To the left was a bare living room with two huge sofas and windows looking out onto the garden and view. There was a freezing cold downstairs toilet, which Chris hastily flushed. Further down was a clean kitchen with a microwave, fridge and oven. All were old and had a dog-eared instruction book attached to them with a piece of string. The bedrooms upstairs had low beds on spindly little legs and candlewick bed-spreads, Formica wardrobes and pictures of sunsets and boats. We walked round in silence. Chris could see my dismay.

  ‘It’s been rented out as a holiday home for the past fifteen years, and hasn’t had anything done to it… It really is beautiful round here… BT and Sky say they can put Internet in.’

  ‘That’s nice of them,’ I said. I could tell Chris was torn between making a sale and being a friend. I squeezed his hand.

  ‘How much land is there?’ I asked.

  ‘There’s the house and forty acres, including some out-buildings and the lake…’

  There was a silence.

  ‘Can you swim in the lake?’ asked Adam. ‘We could teach the baby to swim.’

  ‘There’s an awful lot of shopping trolleys which would need clearing out first,’ said Chris. ‘On the upside you now have to put a token in the trolley in the local Lidl, so there shouldn’t be many more dumped...’

  The kitchen had a back door, another sheet of glass just inviting burglars and rapists to ram their way in, which led directly onto a patio covered in thick moss. An orchard of apple and pear trees was dotted about amongst the overgrown lawn.

  ‘So where is the borehole?’ asked Adam.

  ‘I’m not sure,’ said Chris. ‘Let’s see the rest.’

  We got back in the Landrover and he drove us around the forty acres. Half of the fields had been ploughed and were rented out to a local farmer for crops. A big chunk was classed as a deer park and a huge field next to the house had row after row of straggling grape vines.

  We finished by pulling up to a field with a crumbling barn. Next to it was a round brick building with a pointy roof like an upside down funnel. The very top bit of the funnel was bent over to one side.

  ‘What’s that?’ I asked.

  ‘I don’t know. I used to think it was the place where they made witches hats,’ said Chris.

  ‘It’s an oast house. For drying hops…’ said Adam dreamily.

  I looked at Chris.

  ‘Wow… An oast house,’ repeated Adam. He walked over and managed to get the big old wooden door open. We followed. Inside the round walls were red brick, and we could see straight up to the inside of the pointy spout high above. The internal floors had all collapsed leaving an enormous hole. There was a remaining bit of floor forming a ledge, on which sat a big fat crow. It twitched its head, cawed, leapt off its ledge, swooping down at us and then back up. I screamed which made it flap even more. Chris screamed and lurched towards the door. He tripped over a pile of floorboards and landed with a crunch.

  Adam just stood staring up, his arms by his sides, the sunlight illumina
ting his gorgeous face.

  ‘There would have been three levels,’ he said dreamily. ‘The hops would be picked and laid on the floor boards, and you see there in the corner, that’s where the fire would be lit.’ He pointed to a rusting forge in the corner.

  ‘Adam!’

  ‘Sure, sorry…’ he came over to Chris who was now mopping at a bloody hole in his trousers. The Crow settled back to one of the top rafters and was watching us, satisfied.

  ‘Bloody witches’ hat house,’ said Chris.

  ‘Come on, let’s go,’ I said. We came out into the sunshine. Adam wanted to know where the borehole was and we figured it must be back at the house. His enthusiasm seemed to be growing by the minute, but the little I had was waning fast. We drove round for another hour, looking.

  ‘So do we know what a borehole looks like?’ I’d had to go and pee in the bushes twice, the second time I’d been stung by a nettle in a sensitive place.

  ‘It’s a hole in the ground,’ said Adam peering out of the window at the fields whipping by.

  ‘Ooh, it’s Roger!’ said Chris. ‘He’s the groundsman, he’ll know.’

  An old man in a flat cap and tweed suit was up ahead, riding along on a bicycle far too small for him. Chris pulled to a stop.

  ‘Afternoon Master Chris,’ said the groundsman gliding up to Chris’s window.

  Master Chris, mouthed Adam.

  ‘Hello Roger, we’re looking for the borehole, could you help us?’

  ‘Is that the Slater borehole or the Krays borehole?’ asked Roger.

  ‘I don’t know. It’s the nearest borehole to Strangeways Farm.’

  ‘Oh that’d be The Krays borehole. It’s right behind the house.’

  ‘Thanks Roger. These are my friends, Coco and Adam, they’re looking to buy the farm.’

  ‘How do,’ said Roger touching his cap. We said hello.

  ‘Be careful up the vineyards around September time. Lots of local kids hang about, they strip the vines like locusts… I fell asleep one time and, when I woke up I couldn’t see or chew…’

  ‘What did they do to you?’ I asked.

  ‘Stole the glasses off me face and the teeth out of my mouth,’ he said.

  ‘Thanks Roger, we’ll bear that in mind,’ said Chris. He wound up the window and we drove off.

  ‘He doesn’t wear glasses,’ I said.

  ‘Mum sent him for laser therapy last year, she’s very fond of him. Does everything round here.’

  We bumped and jolted our way back up to the house. I was cold, hungry and my privates were still stinging. Adam leapt out, and so did Chris. What is it with men and mysterious holes? I followed them to the back of the house, where they were scraping grass away, uncovering a round wooden lid. Adam pulled it off and we peered down, down, down where there was a little circle of water reflecting the sun. He noticed a faded blue rope, and with help of Chris they started to pull at it, bringing up metres of slack until a black plastic bucket emerged. It was full of clear water. Adam scooped some up with his hand and drank.

  ‘Coco,’ he said turning to me with a huge dripping grin. ‘This is it. Taste it!’

  ‘I’m not drinking that,’ I said. Chris gingerly put his hand in and tried the water.

  ‘Oh my god! That’s divine. Pure sweet water.’

  I put my hand in the bucket and scooped out some of the cold water. It was delicious. You think water is the grim diet option usually, tap water having nothing going for it, but this was something else, sweet and light.

  ‘It’s lovely, but we’re not going to trek up here to fill the kettle,’ I said. Adam grabbed me and planted a huge kiss on my mouth.

  ‘No. Beer. Beer is all about the water, just as much as the hops,’ he said with a light in his eyes. ‘With the right marketing, this could be a huge success! Imagine it, beautiful bottles, a delicious amber coloured bitter, sweet and full-bodied, a niche product. You could write about the farm on our website, a blog, we could dry hops the traditional way in the oast house.’

  He stared at me.

  ‘Oh my God you’ve made me want to drink bitter for the first time ever!’ said Chris, a committed gin and tonic drinker.

  ‘Ok, let’s consider things,’ was all I could say.

  Adam jabbered with Chris all the way back to Cheshire Hall about the history of the land. He asked if any historical battles had taken place where the farm stands.

  ‘Well there was a huge hoo-ha when they wanted to build a Tesco on Hawkins meadow.’

  ‘No, no, surely the battle of Hastings might have stopped or gone through the land?’

  ‘I think there’s something in the Domesday Book, we’ll have to check.’

  ‘Is there a Kindle edition of the Domesday book?’ asked Adam grabbing at my bag.

  ‘No, now just calm down,’ I said. But Adam was so excited. We said goodbye to Chris and I promised we would phone him.

  ‘Are you really going to do this Cokes?’ said Chris.

  ‘I don’t know…’

  Adam drove us home and talked about his plans; he has so many plans.

  ‘Coco. I’m going to find us the best mix of ingredients and make the most stunning beer and we’re going to be so rich and happy!’

  I didn’t know what to say.

  We got home around lunchtime. A stench of sour beer hit us the minute we came through the front door. Beer was dripping off the bannisters and walls, and clung to the ceiling in ripe brown drops. We came upstairs and saw the airing cupboard door was hanging half off its hinges. The window opposite the airing cupboard had been blown out, glass was everywhere. The forty-litre container was over the fence, bobbing around in the Cohen’s pond. Also strewn across the lawn were all Adam’s underpants, my big knickers and bras.

  ‘Shit,’ said Adam. ‘Now we won’t get to taste it.’

  ‘Are you kidding? I shouted. ‘Look at this mess! We’ve got no window, the house is drenched and… all my bras are dirty!’

  I craned my head out of the window. Our laundry continued down the alleyway. There was even one of my bras hanging off Mr Cohen’s digital weather station. A pink lacy one. I looked at Adam.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’ll fix this… You’re still going to let me have my own brewery though?’

  I made Adam go and get the plastic container and all our underwear from the Cohen’s garden. I hid inside attempting to clean off the thin wet film of beer that seemed to cover everything.

  He came back half an hour later with the forty-litre container full of our soaking wet pants.

  ‘Mr Cohen thinks the underwire of your bra has interrupted the sensitive instruments of his weather station. He says since your bra covered the sensors it shows a warm front throughout London,’ said Adam.

  ‘You’re joking?’

  ‘I wish I were. They now think we’re both officially mad.’

  Adam found some planks of wood from the back of the garage and nailed them over the window.

  Thursday 24th May

  On top of working at the bar, Adam has cleaned the house from top to bottom removing the thin film of beer, ordered a new window, (coming tomorrow which coincides well with payday), set a new batch of beer brewing (with a promise it won’t explode) and discovered the Domesday book online.

  ‘Look at this Cokes,’ he said as we sat at the breakfast bar with our coffee. ‘There’s a Domesday website where you can click on each county in England and see information about towns and villages going back 900 years.’

  He turned the laptop round to face me.

  ‘Look, Strangeways Farm is here, spelt ‘Strangewayes Farme’’ said Adam. ‘The Domesday book traces it back to the year 1068.’ He clicked on the screen and started to read,

  ‘The medieval owners were, Ralph FitzBobold and Hugh de Bruffe, they got the land from the Bishop of Bayeux. It’s classed as one Church, three mills, a fishery with thirty eels, two beehives, and one wild mare. Isn’t it amazing?’

  ‘Ralph and Hugh, they so sound
like a couple,’ I said. ‘And what about that wild mare, do you think she was their fag hag?’

  ‘Coco, be serious, I’m thinking about the branding for our micro brewery. People love this stuff, listen to this,’

  He opened a glossy brochure for the Pickled Peacock microbrewery and read,

  ‘Our land can be traced back to the year seven hundred AD, and is mentioned in the Domesday book, when King Alfred the Great stopped over-night on his way to Calais to rest and empty his latrines…’

  ‘So an old King pitched a tent there and dumped his raw sewage, and because of this they can charge a premium for their ale?’

  ‘Yup. It was the raw sewage of a King… Our edge Coco, would be the oast house. The Pickled Peacock Brewery have to dry their hops mechanically, what if our beer was completely traditional?’

  I could see the potential… I was just worried about making the house habitable for a baby.

  ‘We need to get this house valued,’ said Adam getting up to leave for work. ‘Could you phone an estate agent today?’

  ‘This soon?’

  ‘We need to know love,’ he said kissing me on top of the head. When he’d gone I clicked about on the internet and found a nice looking estate agent called Bonham & Sons. I phoned and booked for someone to come out and see the house. It only took two minutes, but my hands were shaking when I came off the phone.

  Moments later midwife Justine rang.

  ‘Morning Coco! How are you?’ she asked. ‘I’m just reminding you we have your twenty-eight-week appointment tomorrow and I need your birth plan. Just a side of A4, so we can tailor your birth experience.’

  I don’t remember having a birth plan with Rosencrantz. In fact his birth has receded into the mists of time. I just remember the terrible green paint on the delivery room wall. I remember not wanting Ethel there, but she came anyway and kept poking her head round the door with a lit Benson & Hedges saying,

  ‘Psst! Danny! Is she crowning yet, or have I got time to watch the rest of Emmerdale Farm in the TV lounge?’

  And Daniel, who insisted on sitting between my legs with the doctor, popped his head up and said, ‘Has Mum got time to watch the rest of Emmerdale Farm?’ Then a huge contraction rolled over me and I kicked him in the nose.

 

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