The coco pinchard boxset.., p.85
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.85

           Robert Bryndza
‘It’s supposed to be like this,’ said Mum, yanking it back down.

  ‘Oh yes,’ said Mrs. Pinchard noticing Yvonne. ‘The fashion these days!’ Dad helped Meryl and Ethel out of their winter coats. Meryl seemed very agitated and barely said hello.

  ‘Oooh, ’ere iss very nice,’ said Ethel taking off her headscarf and leaning in to peer up between the bannisters. ‘’Ave you got the upstairs or the downstairs?’

  ‘The whole house belongs to us!’ said Mum, horrified that Ethel might think we only rented – and only part of the house at that. She pulled a face at Yvonne and pulled her into the kitchen. I was left to take everyone into the dining room.

  ‘Did you find a parking space?’ I asked.

  ‘What? Oh yeah, yeah…’ said Mrs. Pinchard. A look passed between her Meryl and Daniel, but I didn’t get a chance to press them further because Mum appeared and banged her little gong.

  ‘Christmas lunch is served,’ she said.

  ‘Ooh iss just like them Rank films! You got a man in a loincloth ’oo can do that again!’ said Mrs. Pinchard, cackling.

  The table was laid out beautifully. I was put between Kenneth and Daniel, and opposite me, Ethel and Meryl were squashed in beside Adrian and Yvonne. Meryl muttered something in Mrs. Pinchard’s ear and made as if to get up but Ethel hissed,

  ‘Sit down… Ooh the grub smells lovely!’ she added loudly, pulling the ring off her napkin and tucking it into the neck of her blouse. Meryl reluctantly did the same and so did Daniel. Dad came through with the turkey steaming on a huge platter. Yvonne followed with the plates, and Mum rolled in the hostess trolley and began to unload everything onto the table. There was an awesome amount of food. I saw a look shoot between Mum and Yvonne when they saw how my guests were wearing their napkins.

  Mrs. Pinchard livened up the proceedings, cutting through the formal atmosphere and encouraging everyone to pull their crackers, put on the silly hats and read out the jokes. My mother was not happy with this. Halfway through another knock knock joke the front doorbell rang.

  ‘Get that would you, Karen?’ said Mum. When I opened the front door the Simon Le Bon guy was standing angrily on the doorstep in his orange scarf.

  ‘Who are you?’ he demanded.

  ‘Karen,’ I said. ‘Who the hell are you?’

  ‘Chris,’ said the boy pacing up and down and staring past me into the hallway. ‘Is Kenneth in there?’

  ‘Yes. Why do you want to know?’

  ‘I don’t know anymore,’ he said dramatically. ‘I thought I was someone special… Now he’s here. With you.’

  ‘What?’ I said.

  ‘Oh I’m not going to give you the satisfaction. Go and enjoy your romantic Christmas lunch.’

  ‘What are you talking about?’

  ‘Ask Kenneth!’ shrilled Chris and with a flick of his scarf he turned on his heel and marched off down the steps. I closed the door, confused.

  ‘Who was that?’ asked Mum when I came back in.

  ‘This really odd chap. He said he knew you, Kenneth, his name’s Chris. He was the one peering over the fence earlier.’

  Kenneth choked on his sprouts.

  ‘Chris? Chris Cheshire? Blond, about this high?’ he asked coughing.

  ‘I suppose so,’ I said.

  ‘That’s Lord Cheshire’s son,’ said Yvonne proudly whacking Kenneth on the back. ‘Lord Cheshire who owns the napkin empire… He’s a friend of Kenneth’s. A very good friend. In fact, Kenneth has been to Cheshire Hall no less than three times!’

  ‘Oh Karen, can you see who Kenneth is friends with?’ said Mum. She then turned to Daniel’s mum who slurping mashed swede off her desert spoon.

  ‘So. Mrs. Pinchard,’ she said baring her teeth and going in for the kill. ‘Where do you work?’

  ‘I’m a cleaner, at Catford Police station, and call me Ethel,’ she said chewing.

  ‘Oh a cleaner,’ said Mum. ‘Well I suppose someone has to do it.’

  ‘Yeah. It can be a mucky job,’ she said oblivious to the sarcasm. ‘Do you know, we ’ad a couple of lads in for GBH the night before last. Lary as you like. The filthy buggers went on dirty protest! Urgh. You should’ve seen it… Ooh – that reminds me, Meryl love. You left that yule log in a carrier bag in the hall.’

  Meryl jumped up and practically ran out. There was silence, just the sound of knives and forks on china.

  ‘’Ere, Adrian, iss come to me now. I knew I recognised you,’ said Mrs. Pinchard fixing her gaze on him.

  ‘Ooh, I love a mystery,’ he grinned.

  ‘Actual Bodily Harm weren’t it? You were mixed up in that Millwall business last month. I cleaned out the cell they put you in.’

  Adrian’s face dropped.

  ‘What? Oh, no that wasn’t me.’

  ‘Yes! You and yer mate got arrested for peeing in a post box after the match. Then you slapped that copper round the chops.’

  Mum and Dad looked at Adrian in dismay.

  ‘It must be someone else, Mrs. Pinchard, you sound like you don’t come north of the river often,’ said Mum nervously.

  ‘No ’e came south, I never forget a face,’ said Mrs. Pinchard pointing at Adrian with a roasted parsnip.

  ‘Well, ha ha, it was just a silly thing that got out of hand at a football match,’ said Adrian.

  ‘You smacked a copper in the gob, that ’aint just silly. When’s your court date?’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  We all froze at the table.

  ‘OOOH! You’re such a thug!’ screamed Yvonne suddenly out of character. ‘I knew people would find out! You’re strutting around the place like Lord Muck with your bloody cigars!’ She threw her napkin down and left the room in tears. Adrian jumped up.

  ‘Thank you very much!’ hissed Adrian and followed Yvonne.

  ‘What? I’m not the one ’oo did in that copper,’ said Mrs. Pinchard to the horrified table. ‘Nice lad ’e is too…’

  At that moment we heard a scream from Yvonne.

  ‘Oh Bill, do you think Adrian’s attacking Yvonne?’ asked Mum in horror. We all jumped up and rushed into the hall. The front door was open and, bizarrely, Meryl was staggering in under the weight of John Paul Belmondo, the Christmas turkey. His huge wings were flapping as she tried to keep hold of him. Yvonne was screaming in terror.

  ‘What the bloody ’ell are you doin’ Meryl!’ shouted Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘He was scratching the upholstery of my car!’ she said apologetically. ‘Will someone help me carry him through to the back garden!’

  ‘What in God’s name?’ said Mum.

  ‘We found ’im ’alfway up the Old Kent Road, I couldn’t leave ’im! I thought ’e’d be alright in the car while we ’ad lunch!’ said Mrs. Pinchard. ‘It were Coco ’oo lost ’im in the first place!’ she added.

  Meryl lost her grip on John Paul and he jumped out of her arms and into the hall. Yvonne screamed in terror and Adrian kicked out at him. John Paul quite rightly got upset and started to hiss and spit with his wings flapping. They scarpered into the dining room, the angry turkey half running half flying after them.

  We followed and found Yvonne and Adrian standing at the far end of the dining table. John Paul Belmondo was on the table with his impressive wingspan fully deployed, beak down and advancing towards them knocking over glasses. Yvonne’s lipsticked mouth was stretched wide in horror and then John Paul charged forward and they all disappeared under the table.

  ‘I won’t take this!’ shouted a voice. We turned to find Chris, the Simon Le Bon guy standing in the dining room doorway. He must have come in through the open front door.

  ‘I love you Kenneth Rosebury,’ he shrilled. ‘I deserve to eat Christmas lunch with you. I refuse to be a dirty secret! Let’s stop creeping around. Let’s be out and proud!’

  No-one took much notice as there were terrible sounds coming from under the dining table.

  ‘My mother’s being attacked by an eagle!’ shouted Kenneth.

  ‘It’s a bloody turkey you prat!’ sh
outed Mrs. Pinchard as Chris dived under the table and managed to wrangle John Paul just enough so that Yvonne and Adrian could escape.

  An hour later I was standing on the doorstep with Daniel and Chris. Meryl and Ethel had managed to sedate John Paul with a teaspoon of cooking sherry and get him back into the car.

  He was sitting apologetically on the back seat, his eyes sad once more. I said goodbye to Meryl and she got in the driver’s side.

  ‘We’ll take ’im back ’ome, get ’im settled in the yard. Thanks for lunch love,’ said Mrs. Pinchard. ‘Ooh I forgot to give these to your mum, she’ll think I’ve got no manners!’ She handed me some tinned fruit and pickled walnuts. I was lost for words as she waved goodbye and they drove off with John Paul Belmondo’s head poking out of the back window.

  Mum and Dad had taken Yvonne and Adrian to the casualty department at Guy’s and St.Thomas’s Hospital. I think it was mostly for shock. They emerged fairly unscathed and the only thing that would require stitches was Yvonne’s Nicole Farhi cashmere sweater.

  As we walked up to the front door Kenneth was leaving.

  ‘Stay away from me,’ he shouted and ran past us without a word of goodbye. Chris was in tears so I asked him to stay for a bit.

  ‘I’m sorry I barged in and ruined your Christmas day,’ said Chris as we all sat by the fire with the rest of the champagne.

  ‘I think it had already gone down the pan when the turkey went on the rampage,’ I grinned.

  ‘And when my mum outed your friend’s father as a police beater,’ added Daniel.

  ‘And then you outed their son as… well you outed him. It was far more interesting than our normal Christmas,’ I said, and we all burst out laughing.

  ‘I don’t know if he’ll ever speak to me again,’ said Chris. ‘I love him.’

  ‘You could do so much better than Kenneth Rosebury,’ I said. ‘Anyway, he’s up at university in Keele, I take it you live in London?’

  ‘Yeah. My parents just bought me a cottage by Regent’s Park… Where I’m going to die alone!’ he added mournfully.

  ‘Well I’m here,’ I said kindly. ‘And you really impressed me with how you wrestled with John Paul Belmondo.’

  ‘Really?’ he said, wiping the tears off his face.

  ‘Yeah, your hair didn’t move.’

  ‘Aquanet hairspray. I swear by it. Look, here’s my phone number,’ he said handing me a card. ‘I hope you’ll ring me, Coco.’

  Chris left when the champagne ran out. He invited us to a club in the West End but we promised we’d do it some other time. It had started to snow again when we came back inside. I surveyed the mess in the dining room. I went to pick up a broken plate but Daniel put his hand over mine.

  ‘They’ll be gone hours at the hospital.’

  ‘Yes they will,’ I said. ‘Here, I haven’t had my Christmas present from you yet.’

  We went and sat by the fire again and swapped gifts. I’d bought him the new Kate Bush record Hounds of Love which he was thrilled with. He then handed me a little box. I opened it and nestled inside was a silver chain.

  ‘Oh Daniel, it’s beautiful,’ I cried. He lifted up my hair and gently fastened it around my neck.

  ‘I want to be with you always Coco,’ he said. ‘And every year we’re together I want to buy you a beautiful piece of jewellery.’

  Well that was it. If I wasn’t hopelessly in love with him before, I was now. We cuddled up together by the fire as the dusk fell and snow drifted softly past the window.

  ‘Will you marry me Coco?’ he whispered quietly in my ear. I closed my eyes, lay my head against his chest and felt his strong heart beating.

  ‘Yes Daniel,’ I said. ‘Yes, I’ll marry you…’


  A big thanks to Peta Nightingale and Araminta Whitley at LAW for their huge enthusiasm and support for me and Coco Pinchard. To my mother-in-law Vierka who is just brilliant - and nothing like Ethel. For Ján who gave me the time, space and support to write, I couldn’t have done it without you. Team Bryndza rules!

  And lastly to my readers. The popularity of Coco thus far has been down to you reading and talking about my books. Word of mouth really works. Thank you.

  Coco Pinchard’s Must-Have Toy Story

  For Ján, with who I’m lucky enough to celebrate Christmas twice each year!

  December 1992

  Monday 14th December

  I was late to work this morning. I’m the teacher who lives the closest to school, so that made it even more embarrassing.

  When I opened the door to my form room, the Headmaster, Mr Sutcliffe, was behind my desk taking registration. This was bad. He never sets foot in a classroom. I waited nervously at the back until he’d finished calling the register.

  "And Mrs Pinchard," he said, looking up at me with his cold blue eyes.

  “Present,” I said, automatically. “I mean, thank you Headmaster. I’m now here, obviously.”

  I scurried to the front of the class, under the smirking gaze of thirty-two fourteen-year-olds. Mr Sutcliffe’s first name is Peter, which has earned him the nickname ‘The Ripper’.

  “I’m terribly sorry I’m late, Headmaster," I said, unwinding my scarf and setting down my bag. He was silent: he expected me to make my excuses in front of the kids. “It’s been a rather disorganised morning,” I added, lowering my voice.

  “How, exactly?” he asked, sitting back in my chair.

  The reason I was late was because Rosencrantz had been showing us extracts from his forthcoming primary school Nativity play at the breakfast table. He’d even made up a song and performed it standing on his chair, accompanied by me and Daniel tapping our cutlery enthusiastically against a bowl and an empty milk bottle:

  I’m the bestest and wisest man,

  Ten times better than Peter Pan,

  I’ve got lots of Frankincense,

  I got it on offer for fifty pence,

  Is that Jesus in his pram?

  He looks like a lump of boiled ham!

  Most mornings I have to leave the house as Rosencrantz is eating his breakfast. It kills me to think what silliness and fun I’ve missed out on. I just couldn’t miss his little Wise Man song, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Daniel and I were crying with laughter.

  I realised The Ripper was still staring at me, waiting for an answer, along with the kids in my class.

  “My road was closed off by the police. No one was allowed out,” I lied. He cocked his head, waiting to hear more. I went on, “I don’t know why they closed it, perhaps it was a gas leak, or a drug raid… or a prostitution ring…” The kids began to snigger. “Not that I live in that kind of area, of course, Headmaster. Or that I would be involved in a prostitution ring. I’ve barely enough time to finish all my marking!” I joked.

  The kids laughed. The Ripper’s mouth was now set in a grim line.

  “SILENCE!” he yelled.

  The kids were instantly still and quiet. A vein was throbbing in his temple.

  “Mrs Pinchard,” he said, in a dangerously low tone, “I was walking past your form room and your class was running wild. Someone was exposing their bare bottom, and pressing it against the glass partition. Unfortunately I was unable to identify the culprit.” I bit my lip, suppressing the urge to laugh. He went on, “You should have phoned the school secretary and informed me you wouldn’t be here to take registration. Don’t ever do that again.”

  I shivered as he rose and left with the register. When he’d gone, my class had a field day.

  “Uuummmm, Miss. You’re so in trouble!” said Kelly Roffey, swinging back on her chair.

  “Did you see that vein throbbing, Miss? He was really pissed off,” said Damian Grange.

  “I’m not surprised. Now, who was it who flashed their bum at the Headmaster?” I asked.

  “It was Damian, Miss,” said Kelly Roffey.

  “Prove it,” said Damian.

  “Miss, Damian’s arse has seven pimples… get him to drop his tr
ousers and you’ll see,” said Kelly Roffey.

  “No one is dropping their trousers, now quiet,” I snapped.

  I wasn’t surprised that Damian was the culprit. I was surprised, however, that Kelly Roffey could count to seven.

  I can’t quite believe I’ve ended up as an English teacher. I thought it would be fun. I thought I’d spend all day discussing my favourite literature. But the truth is, working at St Duke’s Comprehensive is mostly crowd control. I don’t know how to inspire a load of petulant teenagers.

  “Quiet,” I said, wiping the blackboard. “Now, for homework, I asked you to read the first two chapters of A Christmas Carol.”

  They all groaned and pulled out their books.

  “What were your first impressions of Mr Scrooge? What is he like as a character?” I asked.

  Blank faces stared back at me.

  “Come on, this is A Christmas Carol. We’ve all heard the phrase to be a Scrooge…”

  “Miss? My copy’s got pages missing,” said Kelly Roffey. “It says nothing about Bob Cratchit being a frog.”

  “That’s The Muppet Christmas Carol,” I sighed.

  “Oh. Is the book different?” asked Kelly, sincerely.

  The class broke down into catcalls and laughter.

  At lunchtime I collapsed into an armchair in the staffroom. A half bald Christmas tree was balanced on a plastic crate by the door, swaying woozily as teachers rushed past to get in the queue for the tea urn. The curtains were clamped shut against the grey winter sky. Under the window opposite me sat three teachers eating their sandwiches: Miss Bruce (Maths, longest-serving staff member), Mr Gutteridge (Humanities, stinks of wee and coffee) and Miss Rolincova (Science, a new teacher like me, but unlike me she’s from Slovakia and incredibly beautiful). She caught me staring at her, and I quickly looked away.

  The dreary silence was broken by Miss Mesere, the French teacher. Elegant and always beautifully dressed, she sashayed past us all in a tight red skirt and jacket, her sleek dark hair swept back in a bun. She exists on a different plane to the rest of us. Her husband is minted, an investment banker I think, and she teaches French to keep busy. She was carrying a posh cake box from Patisserie Valerie, and a plastic bag with a boxed Tracy Island toy poking out of the top. She put the plastic bag down and opened the fridge.

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