Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
‘This is good too,’ said Rupert proudly, patting a
huge dark mahogany dressing table. ‘Excellent quality. Antique. It’ll be murder to get up those stairs, mind. Still, I think I’m fit enough. Did I tell you I’ve joined a new gym? Shall we try after lunch, Perry?’
The boys were beating each other round the head with ancient tennis rackets with half the strings missing.
‘You could get those restrung easily and then the boys could start learning. I’m sure my friend Dorothy’s granddaughter already does toddler tennis. It’s never too early, you know.’
To garner ingredients for Yolande’s lunch, they took her for a walk around the Village.
‘It’s delightful!’ cried Yolande as they stood at the Village pond, the boys throwing handfuls of grain (which cost an extortionate fifty pence a bag, chucking in old bread crusts was strictly forbidden) at the overfed ducks, who showed no interest whatsoever in their bounty. ‘Thank goodness you’re out of that horrible place.’
‘I didn’t mind Neasden, actually,’ said Rosie. All right, it had had its rough edges, but she loved the feeling of so many people from all over the world living so closely together and largely getting on, the way nineteen different languages were spoken by the children at the nursery. The Village, she could see already, wasn’t like that at all. Nearly everyone, apart from the men who served them in the little Sainsbury’s Local was fair-skinned, and the shops all sold elaborate cards and fridge magnets, instead of yam and persimmon.
‘So much better for the boys being here,’ said Yolande, though her words were almost drowned out by a Boeing overhead, coming in to land at Heathrow. ‘Loads more fresh air for them. Now have you thought any more about schools?’
Rosie braced herself. ‘We’ve put Toby’s name on the waiting list for the local primary but it’s full, so we’ll just have to hope a space comes up.’ This had been her main reservation about moving to the area – no school places for September, but Jake and Yolande had overridden her, saying surely a family would move out and, anyway, they were rich enough to send the boys to private schools now.
Rosie couldn’t really get her head around private schools. Her own school had had its grim sides, like the handful of girls who disappeared around GCSE time, whom six months later she bumped into at Cribbs Causeway pushing buggies, but she’d emerged OK. She found the idea of buying a better life for your child strangely repellent, especially when that child was only just four.
‘The private schools round here are excellent. Have you called them yet?’ Yolande persisted.
‘No. I will.’
Suppose they look at me and don’t like what they see? Suppose they see a girl from a cramped flat in St Pauls
‘You should at least take a look. We educated Perry privately and look what an advantage it’s bought him. You can’t entertain these silly notions about fairness when you’re a mother. You want to do what’s best for your children.’
‘Mmm.’ Time to change the subject. ‘Boys!’ she called. ‘Shall we go and find the playground? We’ll be spending a lot of time there.’
‘You haven’t forgotten the party in June?’ Yolande said anxiously. ‘For Fraser?’
‘Of course not.’ Yolande had been planning the party to welcome the prodigal son (briefly) home for months and checked with Rosie at least once a month that it was in the diary. ‘I can’t wait.’
‘The neighbours are all very excited Perry will be there. Tell him to start practising his autograph.’
‘I think he’s already pretty good at that.’
From: [email protected]
So kind of you to host us this weekend. Your house is delightful, as I always knew it would be, and Rupert and I are thrilled for you and Perry. With a few homely touches it will be even nicer. I’d hang those curtains in George’s bedroom.
Don’t forget not to waste too much time before looking at schools – we want our Toby to have the best possible start in life, after all. I know your financial circumstances did make it hard for you to do anything but send him to nursery when he was so little, but let’s try to make it up to him now, shall we?
On which note, Granny was a little bit concerned about his and George’s eating this weekend. I never had any trouble with my three and I do think a firmer line is needed. Tell them I went out with my friend Dorothy yesterday and her little granddaughter, who is only two, ate sweetcorn (half), two roast potatoes, peas and tiny bit of chicken followed by treacle tart. At four thirty p.m. she had a snack of raisins, two crackers, an apple and a beaker of milk. Having said that, she still doesn’t speak in sentences like the boys, or indeed any of my grandchildren, did at this age, but that is not her fault – after all they are exceptionally advanced.
With much love,
PS DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE SCHOOLS.
PPS Tell Perry that Miles Hogan, who was in his year, has just been cast in rep in a Pinter revival in Doncaster. ‘One-nil to the Perrys.’
PPPS PLEASE double-check you haven’t booked anything else for the weekend of our party. Fraser is now saying he may be at a surf competition in Mexico, but ‘the show must go on’ with or without him.
The three-day heatwave that had had everyone talking excitedly about staycations and barbecues was over. Now the grass on the Green was waterlogged. Buggies’ sun screens had been replaced by rain hoods. The skies were light blue and dappled with clouds as Rosie, Toby and George crossed the Green, en-route to the Conifers and the first birthday party of their new lives.
Rosie had been so excited when the boys came running out of Wendy’s, their new nursery school, waving the white envelope.
‘Mummy, Mummy, we’ve been invited to Santos and Michael’s birthday party.’
‘Wow, boys, that’s great. Who are Santos and Michael?’
‘Them,’ said Wendy darkly, standing at the nursery door, gesturing towards two boys in matching blue corduroy knickerbockers and striped shirts with Peter Pan collars being shepherded out of the gates by two nannies. Rosie had been aghast the first time she spotted them, not only because there was a nanny for each child, but also because they were wearing grey uniforms. Had she stepped back into the nineteen thirties?
‘Mmm hmm,’ said Wendy, and then, out of the corner of her mouth, ‘Fertility treatment, obviously.’
Wendy was a very tall Kiwi in her sixties. She wore lots of make-up in shades of coral that matched her tightly permed hair. She almost never smiled and appeared to have no interest in children whatsoever, though she did like to gossip about the parents and in the past three days had already informed Rosie that Isla’s parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce (Rosie had no idea which one Isla was), and that she thought Freddie’s mummy should go easy on the snacks (Rosie had spotted Freddie because he was, indeed, slightly on the chubby side). Who knew what she was telling the other mums about Rosie?
Wendy didn’t appear to like children much either, making her an ideal candidate for running a nursery. So why had Rosie chosen to send her two precious children to such an establishment? Because it was the only nursery within a fifteen-mile radius with vacancies. Call her a bad mother, but Rosie simply wasn’t convinced that if in thirty years’ time her sons lay on the couch of a serious-looking lady with interesting jewellery it would be because of the three hours daily they spent as toddlers playing with Lego at Wendy’s, which had places available, as opposed to the Montessori down the road with ninety-eight children on its waiting list. After all, the boys seemed happy enough there. Wendy didn’t
actually beat them, even if she didn’t smile at them much, and her failings were compensated for by the rest of the staff, who were all cuddly, smiling ladies.
‘It should be quite a party,’ Wendy said. ‘Patrizia and Gary aren’t short of cash. He’s a major hedge-fund manager. She’s a Brazilian heiress.’
‘How … nice.’ Rosie clapped her hands as if she were auditioning for a CBBC presenter job. ‘Come on, children. Home we go!’
‘I’d make sure the boys are looking a bit smarter than usual,’ Wendy said, turning back inside.
Outside the gates, Rosie ripped open the invitation. It was on stiff white card, like a wedding invite, with a multi-coloured, childish raised font.
Santos and Michael
invite Toby and George
to their fourth birthday party!!!
On Saturday at 3 p.m.
See you there!!!!
There was a mobile number for RSVPs. As soon as they were home Rosie sent a text accepting. She was excited. She tried to kid herself it was because the boys were making friends, but really it was because of the potential the party offered her. Now she was a full-time mum she needed to make mum chums to hang out with.
So far she’d been too shy so far to pluck up conversation with any of Wendy’s mums at the gates – not that there were many mums around. Pick-ups seemed to be done mainly by bored-looking nannies (although Santos and Michael’s were the only ones actually in uniform) and au pairs. The couple of mothers she had clocked had looked like illustrations from a
Sunday Times Style
article about mummies, right down to their Acne Pistol boots, as opposed to the exhausted creatures in suits splodged with baby sick that Rosie used to bump into outside Happy Tots in Neasden. But in Neasden everyone was a working mum and the nursery – open from seven a.m. to six p.m. – was their lifeline.
Wendy’s, on the other hand, with its three-hour morning sessions, existed clearly in order to allow mothers a window in which to shop, have facials or torrid sex with the gardener.
Rosie missed her Happy Tots posse. Parvaneh, who’d been her best friend at uni, who’d turned up, living just down the road, who always cracked open the wine during play dates (for them not the children), and Nola, who lived two doors down, whose kids reassuringly always slept even worse, ate worse and behaved worse than Rosie’s – though Nola was moving to the countryside anyway, so wouldn’t have been around for much longer.
They’d forged a lifelong bond, navigating the trenches of early motherhood together. After maternity leave, she hadn’t seen as much of them as she’d have liked but
they were always there for her at weekends when Jake had been away filming or appearing in a fringe play in Lancaster.
They’d gone to the pub to bid Rosie farewell and drunkenly promised stay in touch forever. But they all privately knew they wouldn’t. It was a question of geography. Before Rosie was a mum she had friends all over London. In the evenings and at weekends, they all jumped on tubes and met up in Soho and caught night buses home, but now it would only have been marginally tougher to trek to the South Pole than to cross the capital and back with two small boys, who needed to go to bed at around seven. Rosie’s horizons had narrowed to the surrounding streets and she needed to comb them for buddies. The party would be a start.
So now it was Saturday, ten to three. Two junior science kits had been ineptly wrapped (Rosie hoped the Brazilian heiress would note she’d given both boys a present, rather than measly joint one – an educational yet fun present too, she thought), and the boys were in their only smart trousers, which Rosie had actually ironed – so eager was she to make the right impression.
She was in a gingham sundress with a huge flared skirt that she’d bought for an enormous sum in Selfridges a couple of days before she finished at Tapper-Green, when she was at the height of her
fixation. Rosie wasn’t much of a one for dresses, wasn’t much of a one for fancy clothes generally, let alone hairdos and elaborate make-up – she was too cack-handed to do
any of that properly and, anyway, dolling herself up brought back queasy memories of her own mother doing the same before disappearing all night with whoever the latest boyfriend was. But the Betty Draper dress seemed the kind of thing mums in the Village would wear, though when she put it on she found she moved more carefully than normal and was more reluctant to have the boys wipe their sticky faces against her.
‘Have fun!’ yelled Jake, who was slumped on the sofa watching the cricket, delighted to discover he had the afternoon off.
‘Sure you don’t want to come?’
‘Positive. A load of mums saying “Not on
patio.” No, thanks. I’ll be just fine here, drinking beer on my lonesome ownsome and suffering the Test match.’
The Conifers was a ten-minute walk away on the other side of the Green, surrounded by high whitewashed walls like those of an enlightened Norwegian prison. The gates, with a unicorn crest woven into the metalwork, were decorated with fat silver balloons. They stepped through them on to the drive of a house that made Rosie and Jake’s place look like a cottage and which was jammed with shiny four-by-fours. Little girls in smocked party dresses with little ankle socks and patent Mary Janes. Boys in chinos. All staggering under huge, clearly professionally wrapped parcels. Suddenly the science kits didn’t seem like such a great idea any more.
They climbed the front steps and passed through the
front door, which was being held open by a uniformed maid. Rosie’s stomach lolloped. A maid. She thought she was living in a grand house, but not retainer-style grand. The fact they were going to have to employ a cleaner had been daunting enough for her.
‘Through there,’ the maid said, nodding across the vast hallway – again, it made the Perry’s entrance look like an aeroplane aisle. Ahead of them was a beautiful cantilevered oak staircase rising up to the heavens. To the left were open double doors. George charged through them, Toby held back.
‘No, Mummy! I’m scared!’
‘Nonsense, darling, it’ll be fun!’
Rosie was petrified too. She’d never enjoyed making entrances.
‘No!’ Toby squawked.
‘It’ll be all the children from Wendy’s. All your friends.’
my friends. Everybody hates me.’
Rosie felt as if she’d been pushed into a freezer. This was news. Wendy had said he was settling in well. ‘They
your friends, sweetie,’ she said firmly, and holding tightly on to his hand she led him into the room. It was gigantic with wall-to-wall cream carpets. Two low-slung cowhide sofas sat in the middle around what looked like a chunk of driftwood and the walls were covered in huge abstract splashes. Not a toy or a children’s item in sight, nor a single book. Houses without books always made Rosie uneasy, quite unreasonably. The first things
she’d unpacked had been her own huge collection of paperbacks, even though they looked tatty on Louis and Samantha’s pristine shelves.
In the far corner, a clown was playing a guitar and singing, with a group of children kneeling in front of him, including George. Near the door stood a group of women, all in skinny jeans and floaty tops, some of whom Rosie recognized from the Wendy’s gates. Immediately she knew her gingham dress was all wrong. Cymbals clashed uneasily in her chest. Everyone looked so polished, like furniture in a showroom.
‘Hello,’ said a small lady in jeans (white) and floaty top (sort of scarlet and brown). Her black hair was in a severe Louise Brooks bob. Despite a totally creaseless face, Rosie would have put her at early fifties. ‘I am Patrizia, the twins’ mother. Welcome! And you are … ?’
‘Toby and George’s mum,’ Rosie said, holding out a hand. ‘Rosie. Thank you so much for inviting us – I mean, them. This is Toby,’ she added, indicating the child clinging to her leg.
‘Pleasure, pleasure, welcome to the Village. Love the dress! Giorgio Armani?’
‘No, Giorgio at Asda,’ Rosie quipped.
Patrizia looked puzzled. ‘Wendy told us all about you,’ she said after a second’s hesitation. She looked over Rosie’s shoulder, disappointment flickering in her brown eyes. ‘So, no husband?’
‘Um, I didn’t know he was invited.’
‘But of course, we all wanted to meet him so much.
We’re such fans. “Not on
patio.” ’ Patrizia laughed uproariously, then snapped to attention. ‘You don’t have a drink.’ She waved at another uniformed minion, who approached with a tray of flutes. ‘Champagne?’
‘There are nibbles.’ Patrizia looked around crossly. ‘Where’s that girl gone? I hope you like sushi, we had our friends at Nobu prepare it.’
sushi.’ Though she hated the word ‘nibbles’; it was in the category she reserved for ‘crease’, ‘sassy’ and ‘hubby’. Inwardly Rosie was panicking. It was George’s birthday in July, Toby’s in October, and she’d been thinking along the lines of a few kids coming over to bounce on the trampoline. Was she now expected to host a party complete with sushi chefs? She looked around. ‘I love those paintings.’
‘Saatchi tipped us off about the artist; he’s very hot. Such a shame your husband couldn’t make it.’
‘Yes, well, I’m here!’ Rosie smiled again, as a Chinese-looking woman drifted over.
‘Patrizia, you’re looking so well!’ Air kisses were exchanged. ‘Have you lost weight?’
‘I had lunchtime lipo on Thursday.’ Patrizia sounded as nonchalant as if she were mentioning popping into Boots for shampoo. The two women started talking animatedly about a waiting list for a bag – Patrizia was twenty-seventh, while the other woman was jealous she hadn’t even been able to get a placing. No introductions were made, so Rosie after a second or two standing
twisting her hands, bent down to Toby and said: ‘Shall we go and see what Georgie is doing?’
‘No! Stay here.’
He’d always been like this at toddler groups, refusing to interact with other children, screaming if one of them tried to ‘share’ toys with him and rushing back to Rosie, who, on her one day off from work, would be trying to make polite conversation with a stranger. George on the other hand had no problem mucking in. Right now, he was picking his nose and occasionally prodding the little boy beside him, who was dressed in a fawn pullover and fawn cords. Rosie wagged a finger at him and sat on one of the rock-hard cowhide sofas. She tried to place her champagne flute on the driftwood table, but the surface was too uneven for her to risk it. Toby sat at her feet.
‘The wheels on the bus go round and round,’ sang the clown, whose name badge read Gary Guitar, ‘round and round, round and round.’