The coco pinchard boxset.., p.86
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.86

           Robert Bryndza

  Mrs Carter (Geography, perpetually exhausted, has five boys) came up behind her.

  “Good God, how did you get hold of one of those?” she asked.

  “Zis is for ma ‘usband. Crème caramel. ‘Is favorit,” Miss Mesere smiled, making space for the cake box in the tiny fridge.

  “Not the cake, the Tracy Island,” Mrs Carter said. “May I?”

  Miss Mesere nodded, and Mrs Carter pulled out the Tracy Island toy, merchandise from Thunderbirds, the TV show for kids.

  “Where the hell did you get it? There’s a huge shortage of these toys!” exclaimed Mrs Carter.

  “A fabulous little toyshop near ze Kings Road,” said Miss Mesere. “French, of course. Monsieur Fauchon, ‘ow do you say? ‘E put one on ze side for me.”

  She plucked the Tracy Island from the envious Mrs Carter’s grip, slid it back in the plastic bag, and sashayed out of the staffroom with a smile.

  “What do you mean, there’s a huge shortage?” I asked.

  “You must have heard, Mrs Pinchard, surely,” said Mrs Carter coming over to our group of chairs. “All the toyshops have sold out of Tracy Islands… You’ve got a little boy, haven’t you?”

  “Yes. Rosencrantz is four,” I said, remembering with horror that he’d already written his Christmas letter, and he’d asked for Tracy Island.

  Mr Gutteridge pulled out a crumpled copy of The Sun, and smoothing it out on the stained coffee table, started to read out loud from an article.

  “‘This year’s must-have Christmas toy is the Tracy Island playset, but toyshops up and down the country have run out. The factory in China, where the toys are made, can’t keep up with demand. However, Blue Peter is coming to the rescue! Tune in at teatime when they’ll be showing parents how to make their own version of Tracy Island using cardboard boxes and empty washing-up liquid bottles,’” he read, adding, “Blimey, what kid would want a homemade one?”

  “I think me and the hubby are going to have to make five. Our boys are all Thunderbirds crazy,” sighed Mrs Carter.

  “Who is this Blue Peter?” asked Miss Rolincova.

  "Blue Peter isn’t a person,” snapped Miss Bruce, peeling a black banana. “It’s a children’s television programme on BBC One…”

  “Surely there must be some Tracy Islands in the shops?” I said desperately.

  “Nope. There are only two moulds in the factory, apparently,” said Mr Gutteridge peering at The Sun. “Sounds like the Chinks have been caught on the hop!"

  "Mr Gutteridge, you can’t say that!” clucked Mrs Carter indulgently.

  Miss Rolincova stood up, brushed the crumbs off her black skirt and left, giving us all an awkward nod.

  Mrs Carter waited till she’d gone, then turned back to our group saying, “She’s making no effort to integrate…”

  “There are plenty of English people who can teach science,” sneered Miss Bruce, a banana string hanging off the corner of her mouth. “Why did the Headmaster have to hire an Eastern European?”

  “I had a cracking night with an Eastern European girl once, she could suck a golf ball through a hose pipe!” said Mr Gutteridge, rolling up his copy of The Sun. Mrs Carter chuckled indulgently.

  I ignored them all and was about to go and phone Daniel when The Ripper came into the staffroom. He was flanked by Miss Marks, the young school secretary, who was holding a stack of plastic buckets. They stopped beside the Christmas tree, and a hush descended.

  “I don’t wish to disturb your lunch, but I do want to remind you all that tomorrow is our Christingle assembly,” he said. “We’re honoured and privileged to have the Lord Mayor of London attending with his Lady Mayoress.”

  There was silence from the unimpressed, mainly socialist staff.

  “And the School Governors,” he continued. “Staff must ensure each student in their class brings an orange to decorate, and explain the significance of the Christingle to them.”

  “Most of my class don’t even know what an orange is, let alone the significance of the bloody Christingle,” I murmured.

  “Did you want to say something, Mrs Pinchard?” asked The Ripper, fixing his cold eyes on me.

  “No, Headmaster,” I said, going bright red.

  “I thought perhaps you were volunteering to help? We need someone to supervise the students with their oranges and candles.”

  “Erm…” I began.

  “Shall I put Mrs Pinchard down for oranges and candle lighting?” asked Miss Marks with a nasty smile.

  “Yes, do, she’s obviously very keen,” said The Ripper. There was an awkward pause. He went on, “Staff will also need to co-ordinate a charity collection for any spare change. I’m confident we can beat last year’s total of ninety-seven pounds.”

  Everyone stared at him. More work before the end of term.

  “Thank you. I’ll leave Miss Marks to assign the charity buckets,” said The Ripper.

  When he’d gone, the staffroom burst back into a noisy chatter.

  “Bad luck, Mrs Pinchard. Let’s hope there isn’t a repeat of last year’s Christingle assembly,” said Mrs Carter.

  “What happened last year?” I asked.

  “Two pupils ended up in hospital with burns. Shelley Martin’s perm went up like the Hindenburg.”

  “And what about the other pupil?” I asked.

  “Dean Lewis spent three weeks in hospital after he tried to light one of his farts. It was like that film, Backdraft,” said Mrs Carter.

  On cue the bell rang, and everyone trooped back to their form rooms.

  I arrived home just after five, exhausted. It was dark and cold, and light was glowing softly against the closed curtains of the living room. When I opened the front door I could hear the end of Newsround. I put my bag down in the hall and poked my head around the living room door. Rosencrantz was sitting atop his favourite beanbag, his tiny legs poking out with his Thunderbirds slippers on.

  ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!’ he shouted, leaping up and grabbing at my legs. He’d left a tiny imprint in the beanbag, like the well in a cake mix where you break the egg. I lifted him up and he kissed my cheeks and gave me a hug.

  “How was school?” I asked.

  “Today I ate all my dinner, even though it was a bit cold… and Melanie Jones was told off for filling up the toilet with loo roll… and we had the rehearsals for the Nativity play. Joseph can’t remember his lines.”

  “But you know all yours?”

  “Of course I know all my lines, Mummy,” he said seriously.

  “And you’ve got your brilliant song. Did you sing it for everyone?”

  “No, Mummy. I only made that up to make you and Daddy laugh. I have to stick to the script. Even if I only have to bring the Frankincense,” he said, rolling his little eyes as if his talents were being squandered as a mere Wise Man.

  “You are going to be the best, wisest Wise Man,” I said.

  “It’s going to be a big production,” he added, like a seasoned pro. “Mrs Masters is lending her four Dulux dogs for the manger scene. They’ve just had their hair cut so they look a bit like camels.”

  “It sounds… interesting,” I said.

  We looked up as Blue Peter started on the television.

  “Mummy! They’re making a Tracy Island on Blue Peter! Am I going to get Tracy Island for Christmas?”

  Bugger, bugger, bollocks, I thought.

  “You posted your letter to Father Christmas?” I asked.

  He nodded furiously. “I licked the stamp and everything!”

  “Then of course you’re going to get Tracy Island for Christmas.” You’re a rotten lying mother, said a voice in my head.

  Rosencrantz did a little jiggle of happiness then climbed back into his dent in the beanbag. On the TV in the corner of the living room, Anthea Turner was dressed in her fluffy Blue Peter jumper and listing all the bits you needed to make a Tracy Island at home. I stood by the door and watched Rosencrantz’s happy little face for a moment, then went through to the kitchen.
  Daniel was sitting at the kitchen table. He looked up and gave me a grin. His mother was standing by the sink in her flowery housecoat.

  “Hello Ethel, I didn’t know you were coming over, again?” I said, trying to keep my voice light.

  “Didn’t know I ‘ad to make an appointment?” she said. She picked up the teapot, swilled it round and tipped cold tealeaves down the sink.

  “Course you don’t, Ethel. You just seem to be in town a lot lately,” I said, kissing Daniel on top of his head.

  “Mum came up to town to get her ears syringed,” he explained.

  “Was it a success? Has it improved your eavesdropping skills?” I asked.

  “Thought I’d pop in see my favourite boys… An’ you, love, of course,” said Ethel.

  We gave each other an insincere smile.

  “How was your day?” I asked Daniel, putting my arm round him.

  “I got the final version of the music score sent off to the pantomime company for Dick Whittington. I hope they like it,” he said.

  “They’ll love it,” I told him.

  “Oh Coco, you got another rejection letter fer one of yer stories,” said Ethel, banging down the teapot on the worktop.

  “Sorry Cokes, I opened it by mistake,” said Daniel. He searched through a pile of bills on the kitchen table and handed me a letter from The People’s Friend magazine. I quickly scanned it, noting it said the short story I’d submitted wasn’t suitable for publication. I’d almost got used to the rejection letters these days. I sighed and tucked it back amongst the pile of bills.

  “What is it they say? Don’t give up yer day job?” asked Ethel.

  ‘Now Mum, Coco’s a wonderful writer, she just hasn’t had her break yet,” said Daniel.

  I pulled the kitchen door shut and fished The Sun out of my bag.

  “Look, forget about that. We need to talk. Have you seen the paper?” I said, smoothing it out on the kitchen table.

  “I know. Poor Princess Diane, splitting up with that Charles,” said Ethel, spooning fresh tealeaves into the pot. “She won’t leave the Royal Family and come out alive.”

  Why is Ethel the only person in the world who calls her Princess Diane?

  “Who’d want to hurt Princess Diana?” I asked.

  “She gave the Queen an Anus Horribilis,” explained Ethel.

  “It’s Annus Horribilis,” I corrected.

  “Well, whatever it is, it sounds painful,” said Ethel. “That Diane should watch ‘er back, tha’s all I’m saying.”

  The kettle clicked off and she poured hot water into the pot. I resisted the urge to press the Diana/Diane debate.

  “Anyway, I’m not talking about Diana. Look!” I said.

  I opened the newspaper and flicked through to the page about Tracy Island. Ethel came over to the table and she and Daniel both peered at the article in silence. Ethel’s lips moved as she read.

  “Blimey,” said Daniel, sitting back and reaching for a cigarette.

  “Coco, iss only a week or so till Christmas! What ‘ave you bin doing for the past two months?” exclaimed Ethel.

  “I’ve been at work! You’ve spent the past two months on the bus up here and back to Catford. You could have jumped off at Hamley’s, Ethel,” I retorted.

  “I’ve been up and down to the ‘ospital with all sorts, Coco. I’ve got a bad back, bad hips…”

  “And there’s all that earwax,” I said.

  “Okay you two,” said Daniel. “Let’s go outside and have a cigarette.”

  “The door’s shut, Danny, the smoke won’t reach little Rosencrantz,” said Ethel.

  “No. We smoke outside, Ethel,” I said.

  We grabbed our coats and reconvened on the terrace. The moon was now up and the lawn had frozen and was glistening in the moonlight.

  “Maybe we can persuade Rosencrantz to like another toy. What about Action Man?” suggested Daniel.

  “We could make a Tracy Island? They were just on Blue Peter, using toilet rolls and margarine tubs,” I began.

  “You can’t give ‘im something made up of all the old shit you’d throw away!’ said Ethel. She had a point.

  There was a knock on the door and Rosencrantz pressed his nose against the glass.

  “Everybody, I just thought up a funny Thunderbirds joke!” he shrilled.

  We stubbed out our cigarettes and came back inside, relishing the warmth from the kitchen.

  “Go on, tell us yer joke, love,” said Ethel.

  Rosencrantz took a deep breath.

  “Why is Parker called Parker?”

  “I don’t know, why is Parker called Parker?” I asked.

  “Cos he’s a good parker!” Rosencrantz cried, grinning with his little row of milk teeth. Ethel and I laughed.

  “Oooh! Tha’s funny!” she said, scooping him up for a cuddle.

  Only Daniel remained confused.

  “Who’s Parker?” he asked.

  “Oh Daddy, you’re a ding-dong dilly noodle,” said Rosencrantz. “Don’t you know anything? Parker is Lady Penelope’s chauffeur in Thunderbirds!”

  Rosencrantz jumped down from Ethel’s arms and started to swan round the kitchen, doing a rather brilliant Lady Penelope voice and jigging gently as if he were suspended from strings.

  “Parker, we appear to have intruders. I think they are going to take my jewels,” he said. “Yes, M’lady, but h’I fink we might be unable to stop ‘em,” he said, switching to an equally good impression of Parker. “EVERYONE! I can’t wait for Christmas Day! Thunderbirds are go, go, GO!” he shouted and ran round the kitchen and back through to the living room.

  Ethel looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

  “Right I’ve gotta be orf,” she said picking up her bag. She saw my despondent face. “Don’t worry Coco, love, we’ll sort something out.”

  “Yeah Cokes, there’s still a few shopping days to go till Christmas,” added Daniel.

  “Danny, be a good lad and walk yer old Mum round to the bus stop,” said Ethel.

  When they’d gone, I cleared away all the bills. Then, pulling out a big pile of marking, I sat down at the kitchen table. When Daniel returned he brought fish and chips, and we ate them on our knees in front of the telly. Every time a silly Christmas advert came on Rosencrantz laughed with his little open mouth half full of chips, and me and Daniel looked at each other nervously.

  “We should sort out the tree and the decorations too,” said Daniel quietly.

  Later on, I’d just put Rosencrantz to bed when the phone rang. It was Ethel.

  “Coco!” she whispered down the line. “I’ve ‘ad a tip-off… About this Tracy Island…”

  I wasn’t sure why she was whispering. She lives alone, and her next-door neighbor, Mrs Roberts, is deaf.

  “Ask Danny if ‘e remembers old Bert ‘oo was in the pidgin fanciers with ‘is dad?” she went on.

  Daniel was coming out of the downstairs toilet with a magazine. I relayed the message and he leant into the receiver.

  “Yeah Mum, I remember Bert,” he said.

  “Well, Bert works for Conway’s Lorries,” continued Ethel. “‘E’s driving a load of them Tracy Islands up from Dover tomorrow morning fer the toyshops. And ‘e’s gonna stop in a lay-by an’ a few are gonna fall off the back of ‘is lorry… You know, cash. No questions.”

  “That sounds illegal, Ethel,” I sniffed.

  “Oh gawd, Coco. Do you want this Tracy Island for Rosencrantz or not?”

  “Of course I do,” I said.

  “Then this is ‘ow we get it.”

  “That’s great, Mum!” said Daniel. “Coco, you can drive, I’ll read the map.”

  “An’ I’ll be the go-between, me an’ Bert go way back,” said Ethel.

  “Hang on. I can’t go to Dover tomorrow,” I protested. “I’ve got to be at work! There’s a special Christingle assembly… We’re on pain of death if we don’t show up.”

  “You know I can’t drive, Coco,” said Daniel.

  ‘You should put yer son first, Coco. Before some bloody school assembly,” added Ethel.

  I suddenly had a vision of Rosencrantz crying on Christmas Day under a presentless Christmas tree.

  “Okay, I’ll sort something out,” I sighed. “What time should we leave tomorrow?”

  “Bert said ‘e’ll be in the lay-by at ‘alf ten, and iss first come first served, so we better make it early,” said Ethel.

  Tuesday 15th December

  I still had some marking to do after we’d eaten our fish and chips. I took it up to bed to do and it was gone midnight when I finished, but I couldn’t sleep. I was worried about phoning in sick for work, the repercussions of missing The Ripper’s Christingle assembly, and Rosencrantz being without a present on Christmas Day. When I finally did sleep, I had a dream he was under the Christmas tree, tearing Christmas paper off a large present with a bow, which turned out to be an empty cornflakes box. He turned it upside down and a lone cornflake fell out onto the carpet. He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Mummy, don’t you love me?”

  I woke suddenly. My heart was pounding and I saw by the glowing digital clock that it was three in the morning. I got up to go to the bathroom, slipped on the pile of exercise books I’d left by the bed, and went crashing forward, hitting my left eye on the brass doorknob. My howl of pain woke Daniel, and he leapt out of bed to find me squatting on the floor, clutching my eye.

  “What is it, love? What did you do?” he asked, flicking on the light.

  “I slipped over on those bloody stupid school books!”

  He peered at my face and tilted my throbbing eye up to the light.

  “The skin isn’t broken, but you might have a shiner come morning,” he said. “Let me get you some ice to put on your eye, and then you should come back to bed.”

  He padded off downstairs and returned with some ice wrapped in a tea towel and two tumblers of whiskey. We climbed into bed and he put his arm round me.

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