Enjoy extracts from . . .
A London Affair
Kate expected to spend her first Christmas away from home in the capital, but her friend Ned has other ideas and the gang heads to the coast...
Having set up the bonfire and their Christmas star, the group walked back to the house for supper. Valentina had prepared a spicy stew in London and put it in the oven to heat up while they were at the beach. Ned buttered thick slabs of crusty bread and asked Freddy to open the wine while Kate set the table and lit the candles.
The journey and the walk along the beach had given them all an appetite and they ate with gusto.
Kate thought they were set for an early night, but after the plates had been cleared away Ned stood and made an announcement. “Friends, it is Christmas Eve. Therefore, we must head to the beach, build a great fire and drink to the health of our planet.”
Valentina frowned. “You want us to go outside again in the cold and the dark?”
Ned grasped her gently by the shoulders and kissed her on the tip of her nose. “It will be magical, I promise.” He rubbed his hands together. “However, it might be a little on the nippy side, so grab hats, scarves, boots and bring rugs to sit on.”
Bundled up, the trio dutifully left the warmth of the kitchen and followed Ned back along the path to the beach. He and Valentina carried paraffin lamps to light the way, but the moon was so bright they barely needed them. The landscape was quite different at night: the dunes could have been the edge of a desert range and the wind rustled through the coarse sea grass.
When they reached their Christmas star, Ned stopped and threw out his arms towards the sea. “Enjoy that fragrance, people. There’s nothing like it.” He breathed in deeply, then waved vigorously with both hands.
“Who are you waving at, darling?” asked Valentina. “I can’t see anyone out there.”
“We can’t see them, but there will be people on beaches in Holland and Scandinavia waving back.”
Kate and Freddy tried not to laugh at their eccentric companion.
“Have you done this kind of thing before then, Ned?”
He turned, his eyes crinkling into a smile. “Many times, Frederico.”
“England, India, Thailand – the sea’s the sea, my friend. Now, let’s make fire.” Ned knelt on the ground and lit the bonfire, which soon sprang into life. The others arranged themselves on the rugs and gazed into the flames. After a while, Valentina unpacked the champagne and glasses.
“Don’t open that yet, darling,” said Ned. “We need to dip our feet into the ocean first. Come on – get those boots off and roll up your trousers.”
Groaning quietly, Kate pulled off her boots and double layer of socks and stood on the cold sand, shivering. Freddy hopped over and took her hand. “Come on, Kate. Let’s do it.”
“I’m sorry about this. Ned is a bit bonkers.”
Fred turned towards her and laughed. “Why are you apologising? This is brilliant.”
The tide was in and Ned had already run the short way to the water’s edge with Valentina who had rolled up her skirt to her knees. “Hurry up, you two,” she said, laughing. “We must do this together.”
Freddy and Kate stepped gingerly across the sand, then the four of them walked hand in hand into the inky sea, squealing as icy water lapped over their ankles. Behind them the fire crackled, throwing a flickering red light over Kate’s star, which stood like a beacon on the beach.
They dashed back and forth into the water shrieking and jumping over the waves, then separated so each of them could walk alone in silence. It was a spontaneous moment of contemplation under the moonlight: magical, as Ned had promised. Afterwards they dried their feet, put on their boots and lay on the rugs watching the stars and listening to the rhythmic whooshing of the waves. At midnight, they drank a toast to good times and wished each other happy Christmas.
The moon was high in the sky by the time the bonfire had burned down and all the champagne was drunk. Ned’s body cast a dim shadow on the sand as he stretched and stood. “Friends, I think it’s time for bed.”
Valentina packed up the glasses while Freddy and Kate folded up the rugs. Ned pulled the star sculpture from the sand, balanced it on his shoulder and led them across the dunes to the vicarage.
Rachel embarrasses her daughter . . .
That afternoon she decided to cycle across the village to meet the children off the school bus. Neither of the kids approved of this motherly attention and Charlie quickly jumped on the bike and peddled off leaving Rachel to wait for Alice who took ages getting off the bus because she had to say farewell to all the friends she wouldn’t see for hours.
The bus was owned and managed as a co-operative and the villagers had a strict rota for who was doing the school run. This week it was the turn of Madame Lambert in the morning and Claude le Taxi in the afternoon. It was Claude who now gave them a toot as the bus pulled away. As he drove past, Claude winked and gave Rachel an approving look.
“God, Mum,” said Alice. “I wish you wouldn’t come out to meet us looking like that. It’s so embarrassing.”
“Everyone should have embarrassing parents. It toughens you up for the future,” said Rachel, giving Alice a hug. “You can imagine what I had to put up with from your Granddad.”
As far as Alice was concerned, her grandfather Harold could do no wrong. Sighing dramatically, she wriggled away from her mother’s embrace.
“Anyway,” said Rachel, jogging alongside her to catch up. “What’s wrong with me today? I think I look perfectly respectable.” She looked down at her cotton shirt and trousers, which had barely any paint on them at all.
“Yeh, right. Apart from the fact that everyone can see your underwear.”
“What? Nonsense,” said Rachel, before patting the back of her trousers.
It was only then that she realised that she was wearing her favourite cargo pants, which just happened to have a gaping hole under the left buttock where the fabric had ripped and she had never got round to sewing it up. She blushed inwardly as she realised that Paul Callot would have had a full view of her rear end as he followed her up the stairs to the studio that morning.
“Oh, oops!” Pulling down the waistband she saw that, fortunately, she had put on a pair of flowery pants that morning, so she was decent. She ran a couple of steps to catch up with her daughter, who was striding ahead, and looped her arm through Alice’s.
“It’s okay, I’m wearing my best undies so there’s no harm done. So, tell me about school.”