How to Get the Friends You Want

Contents

1  Dad on Breakfast-time TV and Dennis's Mad Dash

2  A Pair of Misfits and Matching-set Friends

3  Sasha's after School and the Cat that got the Cream

4  Parsnip Pudding and Perfect Happiness (which are two different things)

5  Heavenly Honeybun and the Winning Team

6  Becky's Tombola and Pookie the Pig

7  Dennis the Menace and Too Much Teasing

8  Breathe in and Breathe out

9  Mime-time with Mum and the Emergency Meeting

10  Jess in a Stress and the Other Garden Angel

11  The Great Mistake and the Golden Rule

12  Four Facts about Friends and Making Amends

13  The Tick-list of Fear and the Normal Sunday

14  Young Voices and the Fifth Fact about Friends

15  Truffles on Trees and Buzzy Bees

16  Mrs Mayhew-Carter's Suit and Rory MacAteer's Finger

17  The First Cabbage Cake and the Friends you Want

Chapter 1
Dad on Breakfast-time TV and Dennis's Mad Dash

You know when something exciting happens first thing in the morning and you just can't wait to get to school and tell your friends?

But then your rabbit, Dennis, kicks orange juice all over your big sister's school bag and she gets in a bad mood and says, ‘What friends?'

Well, that's what happened to me the day that Dad got on breakfast-time TV.

It was still dark outside when I woke up but there was a strip of light under the door so I knew someone else was already up. It couldn't be Primrose because she's as sluggish as a sloth first thing in the morning. I read about sloths in Animals of the World. They move so slowly they actually get moss growing on them – true story.

I put my dressing-gown and slippers on and went downstairs. There was no-one in the sitting room, which is on the floor below my and Primrose's bedrooms, so I went on down the next flight of stairs to the kitchen. All the houses in Harbour Row are very tall and thin.

Mum was sitting at the table eating a slice of toast.

‘You're up nice and early,' she said. ‘Well, I suppose it isn't every day a person's dad gets on breakfast-time TV!'

She got up to put some more toast on. ‘I just hope he makes it. You know what he's like.'

One of Dad's favourite mottos is ‘Better late than having to set the alarm,' so the chance of him getting to the studios by seven wasn't high. I was actually half hoping he wouldn't manage it because, under the circumstances, he would almost certainly make a fool of himself if he did.

‘I'd better wake Primrose up,' Mum said, glancing at the clock. ‘She'd hate to miss it.'

She went off upstairs and I gave Dennis a corner of my toast. Rabbits are supposed to like lettuce and leaves but he prefers bread and biscuits. Maybe it's an indoor-rabbit thing.

When Mum came back down she made some tea and we took it upstairs to the sitting room to drink in front of the TV. We shut the stair gate so Dennis couldn't come up. He mostly lives in the kitchen because it's one hundred per cent rabbit-proof, unlike the rest of the house. Dad's made gates across the front and back doors as well as the stairs, to keep him in.

The book says rabbits are fully house-trainable, which is true. What the book doesn't tell you is that your fully-house-trained rabbit is like a chewing-machine. He'll nibble through anything he can get to – furniture, wires, floor-coverings, door frames. He'll even nibble the plaster off the corners of your walls.

It's like those giant ants on David Attenborough that march into your house and munch their way through until there's nothing left but a few sticks and a pile of rubble. I'm not saying Dennis has got that far yet, but he's definitely working on it.

‘Primrose!' Mum yelled up to her again as there still wasn't any sound of movement from her bedroom. ‘It's going to be on any minute!'

There was a crash and a loud groan, followed
by a grumble. A slow th...ump-th...ump on the stairs, and about fifty hours later, Primrose appeared. Her eyes were half-closed and her hair was all over the place.

‘W-what's going on?'

‘Dad's on breakfast-time TV – remember?' said Mum.

‘Oh, yeah,' goes Primrose. ‘Have I got time to get some breakfast?'

‘If you're quick.'

Primrose quick? Fat chance! She staggered down to the kitchen, mumbling and rubbing her eyes. We heard her fumbling around. The programme started with some clips of what was coming up. Dad hadn't only got there in time – he was going to be the first one on the sofa.

Mum called down to Primrose that she'd better hurry up or she would miss it.

‘Our first guest this morning is Dave Pinker, the man behind the “Dear Daphne” page on the Three Towns Gazette. Dave was last night voted Best Agony Aunt of the Year at the prestigious Association of Agony Aunts Annual Presentation Dinner!'

Primrose arrived just in time as the camera panned across to Dad. She had a bowl of cereal in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other. She put the orange juice on the floor by her
feet so she could eat the cereal – once she had geared herself up to it. Like I said, in the mornings Primrose is slo-o-o-o-w.

‘So, Dave,' said the presenter. ‘Congratulations on winning this award. What, would you say, is the secret of being a great agony aunt?'

‘I don't really know,' Dad said, with a modest shrug.

It was true – he didn't have a clue. When Ed first told him he had to do the ‘Dear Daphne' page because the real Daphne had gone missing he was all at sea. ‘I'm a sports reporter,' he complained. ‘I don't do touchy-feely.'

It was a spot of luck for him that Mr Kaminski next door took pity on him and offered to help out. Mr K ended up writing all the answers himself, so that all Dad had to do was check his spellings and stuff because his English isn't very good. Now that Gran had come back to Polgotherick, Dad didn't even have to do that.

‘So would you say it's just something that comes naturally to some people?' asked the presenter. Dad nodded and smiled.

So far, so good, but then...

‘Dave has kindly agreed to take your calls and emails live on air,' said the presenter as the number to call appeared across the bottom of the screen.

‘That's not good,' Primrose said, picking up her spoon.

‘Hmm,' agreed Mum.

The presenter said, ‘While we're waiting for your calls to come in, let's go to some of Dave's fellow agony aunts who we spoke to at last night's dinner.'

They showed some clips of Dad getting his award and the interviewer moving among the tables against a background of flash photography and applause. ‘Is Dave a worthy winner, would you say?'

‘Ooh yes, dear,' said a wrinkly lady in a twinkly tiara who was the agony aunt on the Yorkshire Chronicle.

‘It's lovely to see a young person win for a change,' agreed a woman with pink lips and purple hair.

‘And a man!' a third one chipped in. ‘He's a real breath of fresh air.'

They all agreed that Dad had a surprising sense of humour. ‘He gives such wise and serious advice to his readers, yet when you meet him in the flesh he's always joking around!'

‘Omigod,' groaned Primrose, finally getting her spoon all the way to her mouth.

‘And we've got our first caller!' exclaimed the presenter.

Just at that moment, Dennis appeared, looking like he'd lost a lettuce leaf and found a Rich Tea biscuit. He wasn't usually allowed in the sitting room unless someone was watching him. Primrose must have left the stair gate open, but none of us were about to tear ourselves away from Dad's big moment to put him back in the kitchen.

Dennis sniffed everyone's toes before flopping down in front of the TV. He likes Neighbours best but he isn't that fussy.

‘My name's Sandy and I'm from Stafford,' the caller said.

‘And what's the problem you'd like to put to our award-winning agony aunt?' asked the presenter.

‘My problem is...' She lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Well, it's my husband, see? He's just retired from work and he sits around the house all day long watching TV like a proper old couch potato.'

Dad sighed and nodded in a wise kind of way. ‘Has he always been just a little bit boring?' he asked.

There was a shocked silence from Sandy. Primrose groaned again and took another mouthful of cereal.

Luckily, Dad seemed to realise he was out of his depth and decided to play for time.

‘This really is a tricky problem,' he said to the presenter.

The presenter looked at Dad expectantly. Dad didn't say anything. He just nodded and looked back at the presenter.

‘S-so,' said the presenter, ‘I suppose the advice here would be something like... maybe Sandy and her husband should try to find a new hobby they could both enjoy together?'

‘Absolutely!'

‘Something such as... golf, maybe?'

‘Golf would be excellent,' agreed Dad.

It was a classic example of ‘He who hesitates might get out of doing things' – another of Dad's favourite mottos. He's got hundreds of them.

‘We've got another caller,' said the presenter. ‘This is Baz from Brixton. What's your problem, Baz?'

‘I've been going out with this girl for two years and she keeps banging on about us getting married. I mean, I like her and all that, but getting married is pretty major, am I right?'

Just then, Dennis sat up. His ears swivelled like two antennae. He must have picked up a noise from outside the window. He leapt up in the air and shot round the room like a lunatic, first one way and then the other. Mad dashes round the
room are another thing your fully house-trained rabbit is inclined to do.

Smack! He crashed into Primrose's glass.

Splash! The orange juice sprayed up and came back down all over her new white school bag (which she shouldn't leave lying around).

Primrose went ballistic. I yelled at her to be quiet. ‘I can't hear Dad!'

‘Mum's recording it,' goes Primrose. ‘You can see it later. Look what Dennis has done to my school bag!'

I grabbed Dennis and took him downstairs to wash his feet – he looked like he was wearing orange slippers. Mum got some soapy water to clean up the mess on the carpet. Primrose just sat there mumbling and grumbling. Considering it was her fault for leaving the stair gate open and not moving her glass off the floor when Dennis came bouncing in, that was quite annoying, but when you've got a big sister like Primrose you get used to feeling quite annoyed.

By the time all the orange juice was cleared up, Dad's interview was over and it was some boy and his friend who had found a box of old coins under a tree. Mum put the DVD on Play.

By some miracle, Dad managed to get through another two calls without actually offering any
answers at all, and the only time he tried to make a suggestion it was so wrong the interviewer thought he was joking. I mean, no-one but Dad would think a sensible solution for a caller who didn't like housework was to move when it got too bad.

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