By Gil McNeil
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 27, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Purl one . . . But with a little help from her friends, and her beloved Gran, Jo is building a new life for herself by the sea, stitch by stitch. Warm and witty, Knit One Pearl One will delight new readers to the Beach Street series and give the legions of existing fans a chance to visit the British seaside again, without having to worry about the weather.
• • • 1 • • •
I’m a Little Teapot
It’s 6:30 on Wednesday morning, and I’m putting the finishing touches to a tea cozy in duck egg blue while Pearl is busy emptying all the saucepans out of the kitchen cupboard and carefully stacking them in the washing machine. She thinks I don’t know what she’s up to, and is happily humming her favorite nursery rhymes and snippets of hymns and show tunes, which she’s picked up from Gran. She might only be fifteen months old, but it’s amazing how much noise she can make.
“Would you like some breakfast, sweetheart? Juice?”
She ignores me and carries on clattering, moving forward slightly, so her head is hidden inside the cupboard. In Pearl world this renders her invisible; if she can’t see you then you definitely can’t see her. I think she’s hoping I might forget about breakfast; surreptitiously putting things in the washing machine is one of her favorite ways to spend a happy half hour, which means I’ve washed the bloody car keys twice this week. If we were richer, no doubt we’d have one of those enormous black Jeeps which are always clogging up the High Street, and washing the electronic keys to one of those on fast spin would probably get you into the kind of trouble that no amount of four-wheel drive with heated seats could sort out. And at least the hunt for the car keys in the morning is a little bit more interesting, as long as I remember not to put the washing machine on just before we need to leave the house.
I usually spot the bigger stuff, I’m not completely hopeless, even at 6:30 in the sodding morning, but I’m still in trouble for washing one of Archie’s Lego soldiers last week, complete with horse and shield. I’ve also got pretty expert at untangling the coils of pipes when the drain gets blocked, even though I haven’t quite worked out how to undo the nozzle without gallons of water gushing all over the floor before I’ve got the sodding washing-up bowl in the right position. But at least the kitchen floor’s a great deal cleaner than it used to be before Pearl arrived.
Actually, come to think of it that might be why she’s so keen on kitchen appliances, since she was born in a blur of panic and swearing, right here in the kitchen, by the fridge, despite my plans for a nice calm cesarean in the local hospital and a few days’ rest with no small boys jumping on my bed. I remember thinking how shaming it was the floor was so filthy. Not that Bob and Dave seemed to notice when they turned up in their ambulance; they were far too busy trying to unpack their bags and behave like they weren’t desperately hoping the midwife would turn up before we got to what Dave likes to call the tricky bit. He came to her birthday party last October, with his wife, Sandra, and apparently he didn’t stop talking about it for weeks, and to hear him tell it you’d think he was the one who’d given birth clinging to a fridge. Bob popped along too, with a pink rabbit wrapped in Happy Birthday paper, so it was like a little reunion, although without quite as much bad language as the last time we met.
But it all seems so much longer than a year ago; I felt the same way about Jack and Archie, once you’ve got them you can’t imagine a world where they weren’t around. They occupy such a huge space, it’s like you were somehow living a different life. A less crowded and quieter life. Much quieter.
“Mum, I don’t want Shreddies, and Pearly’s putting stuff in the washer again.”
“I know, love, just ignore her, and you don’t have to have Shreddies. There’s Weetabix too.”
He tuts. Archie’s been going in for much more tutting recently. He also appears to have decided to only wear one sock to school today.
“Where’s your other sock?”
He looks at me like I’ve just asked him for a quick summary of quantum physics.
“I hate Weetabix. Why can’t we have proper cereal in the little boxes? Gran always has the little boxes, they’re much better.”
Jack nods. “He’s right, they are.”
Great, so now I’ve got Jack lobbying for Variety Pack enhanced mornings. But at least he’s got both socks on. Although no school sweatshirt.
“Jack, find your sweatshirt, and Archie, you need both socks on for breakfast.”
“Nelly has Variety Packs, she told me.”
“She does not, Archie, she has porridge, Connie told me. They all do.”
Actually Connie said Mark made porridge one morning last week and both Nelly and Marco nearly fainted with shock at being asked to eat something so revolting-looking, even with golden syrup on top. But there’s no way on earth I’m falling for a Variety Packed school run every morning, and I’m not certain honesty is always the best policy with under-tens. I’m sure Connie would agree. Both Nelly and Marco give her what Gran likes to call a run for her money, particularly Nelly, or Antonella, which is what Connie calls her when she’s being annoying. Which is pretty often; just one of the reasons why Connie quickly became my best friend when we moved down here. I’ve noticed before how mums with Lively children tend to gravitate toward each other.
“Why can’t we have Frosties, or Coco Pops?”
I think I’ll ignore this; if I want to see how many ways a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old can leap about with massive sugar highs while I try to get their coats on, I can just give them cans of Coke for breakfast and win the Top Mum award for the entire week.
“Go and find your other sock, Archie, and Jack, find your book bag too please; you took it upstairs last night to do your reading.”
Everyone is glaring at me now. Even Pearl. Time for a spot of positive behavior reinforcement as the experts like to call it; bribery, basically.
“While you’re both finishing getting ready I might have time to grill some bacon, but only if you get a move on.”
They both cheer, which prompts Pearl to pause from stuffing the washing machine with unsuitable objects and clap her hands.
Jack smiles. “Thanks, Mum, and can we have egg too, like Gran makes?”
Perhaps a few grilled mushrooms and possibly a side order of kedgeree? Am I running some kind of bed-and-breakfast operation and nobody has told me? Anyone for kippers?
“No. Just toast, and bacon, if you hurry up. Or Weetabix, if you don’t.”
They sprint for the stairs, followed by Pearl, who will start screaming in about five seconds, when she finds they’ve climbed over the stair gate and she is therefore trapped in the hallway while her brothers are free to roam. Time for me to nip in with a diversionary tactic or we’ll have another school run where she’s red-faced and furious and won’t sit in her buggy without five minutes’ wrestling.
“Can we take the saucepans out of the washer now, love?”
She charges back into the kitchen ready to defend all her painstaking efforts.
As soon as the bacon’s done and I’ve got her into her high chair, she starts singing along to the radio, with her fingers in her ears so she can achieve maximum volume to annoy Jack and Archie but not have to enjoy the full volume herself. She pretty much has two volume settings does my gorgeous girl: Loud and Very Loud. And while her blond curls and dazzling blue eyes make her look like a poster baby for our new life by the seaside, her temper and steely stubborn streak are less enchanting. Especially at 5 a.m.
The phone rings just as I’m pouring juice, and trying to persuade Pearl to keep her bib on.
“I’ve been up since dawn. This motherhood thing’s a total bloody nightmare, isn’t it?”
“The little swine was up three times last night. At least Harry says he was, I went back to sleep.”
Alfred Arthur Williams-Malone arrived seven months ago and has shown no signs of letting up on the nocturnal activity front yet. Ellen wanted to call him Merlin, mainly to annoy her mother, but Harry used his paternal veto, so they settled on Alfred instead, in honor of Harry’s favorite granddad, who used to collect lawn mowers, but endearingly also bought glass jars full of toffees whenever a grandchild was due to visit. They call him Eddie most of the time, or Fast Eddie, since he was born in just over an hour from Ellen reaching hospital and getting into the birthing pool. She didn’t even have time to unpack her bags. And knowing Ellen like I do, I can safely say she’d have had quite a few bags. She’s my best friend, and has been there for me for all my best and worst times, but she definitely doesn’t travel light.
“Oh yes, my heart bleeds. He’s having a lovely time, moaning on about the night shift like he’s the only man in the Western world who gets up at nights to feed his baby.”
“He probably is, Ellen.”
She laughs. “True. But filling the fridge with bottles was a masterstroke, if I say so myself, and I’m so glad we’ve got him on the stuff that comes in tins now. That bloody milking machine made me feel like a prize heifer, way too bovine for me, although it did freak out all the boys at work; there’s something about a breast-feeding woman they just can’t cope with. And the mummy mafia couldn’t guilt-trip me about being back at work because he was still getting the good stuff, I just didn’t have to actually be there. Perfect win-win.”
“Less winning for poor old Harry though?”
“Oh please. One of you has to end up looking like the living dead with a new baby in the house, that’s the rule. And it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me, darling. Besides, so what if he’s a bit tired; nothing most women haven’t been doing for centuries. He says this house-husband thing is against the Geneva convention and we’re breaching his right to sleep or something. He’s thinking of hiring a lawyer.”
“Who’s he going to sue, you or Eddie?”
“Both of us, probably. Like being a freelance cameraman could keep us in wine and roses; he wouldn’t even be able to cover the mortgage. He’s got a job on next week, and by the time I’ve sorted out the child care, and rejigged my studio slots, it’s costing me a bloody fortune. Christ, the things we do to keep our boys happy. Anyway, enough about Planet Boy, how’s my Pearly Princess? Thinking of taking any legal action?”
“Probably. She’s got a major issue with the stair gate at the moment, and I’ve told you, please stop calling her that, it makes me feel like I’m living in my very own remake of Cinderella.”
“I loved that film.”
“Yes, but it’s not so great when you’re the one doing all the sweeping up and cooking, but with no friendly squirrels sewing sequins on your frock.”
“Or birds flying backward and forward twirling ribbons. Don’t forget the birds. I loved that dress, I wanted it so much I was nearly sick.”
“Me too, but less of the Princess please, or God knows what she’s going to insist we call her by the time she’s bigger.”
“Hang on a minute, Ellen. Jack, drink your milk, sweetheart. And Archie, stop doing that, please. Come on, it’s nearly time to go to school.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Giving Pearl the crusts from his toast. They’re always foisting things on her. They treat her like a mini–vacuum cleaner, she’s always trotting round with fists full of mashed-up toast.”
“Handy though, a mini Hoover. I hope Eddie goes in for that when he’s a bit bigger. So what are you up to today then?”
“Creating a fabulous new window display of tea cozies and knitted cakes. I hope. The patterns for the tea cozies are selling really well.”
“They look a lot better than they sound.”
“They’d have to.”
“They make great pincushions.”
“And there are people out there who need special cushions for their pins? It’s a whole new world, isn’t it, darling?”
“You can mock, but they sell really well. Anyway, what’s Britain’s Favorite Broadcaster up to then? Annoying celebrities, having on-air fights with her coanchor?”
“He started it.”
“Yes, but you didn’t have to push him right off his chair.”
“Bastard. He lodged an official complaint you know. I had to go to another meeting with Human bloody Resources. Idiot woman told me that it didn’t set a good example to the younger staff.”
“It is the second time you’ve done it, Ellen.”
“Yes, and it won’t be the last. I told her, if she’s really concerned about good role models for younger staff, she’d better crack on with stopping the boys in senior management shagging young hopefuls and hiring them as their new protégées. Because sooner or later we’re going to get hit with the mother of all sexual harassment suits, and I for one am perfectly prepared to be a witness for the prosecution. She went quite pale, and then I said I needed to go and lactate, and that really finished her off.”
“So have you decided? Weekend away, health spa, but with booze, and proper food, none of that low-carb bollocks? What do you think?”
“I can’t decide.”
“Anything really. It took me nearly half an hour yesterday to decide whether to take my cardigan off.”
“That doesn’t sound good, darling.”
“I know. Something’s happened to my brain in the last few months. When I had Jack and Archie, it was my memory, so I had to write lists for everything.”
“So that’s where you got your addiction to lists from. But I know what you mean, I’m loving those sticky Post-it notes now. I’m on a couple of packs a week, and I’m sticking them everywhere. And you can get them in such fashion-forward colors. It’s brilliant. I stuck one on Harry last night, to remind him to take the rubbish out. So useful. Anyway, what sort of decisions are you wrestling with, anything juicy?”
“Whether to take my cardigan off.”
She laughs. “It can’t be that bad, darling.”
“It bloody is. My head’s so full of the shop and the kids and what we can have for tea the bit where I can make decisions has fallen off, so now I just dither.”
“Postpartum Dithering. I like it.”
“Well I’m glad someone does, because it’s driving me round the bend.”
“A weekend away sounds like just what the doctor ordered.”
“Yes, but it’ll take so long to arrange everything, for the kids and the shop. Why don’t you just come down here for the weekend? I can have Pearl in my room and you can have her room, like last time.”
“Ooh, that’s a good idea. I love my weekends by the seaside, and so does Fast Eddie. He sleeps better, it must be all the sea air. And then we can do the spa thing another time. Perfect. How’s Dovetail?”
“Martin’s fine, thanks, and stop calling him Dovetail, he only told you about dovetail joints that one time, and that was ages ago.”
“When was the last time he told you another fascinating fact about wood?”
“I rest my case.”
“Look, I’ve got to go or we’ll be late for school.”
“Okay, but I’ll call you later, and I want a full report on the state of play with old Dovetail, I’m writing a Post-it note now, to remind myself. I’ll stick it on Eddie; he’s asleep at the moment. So sweet when they’re asleep, aren’t they? I can do the yummy-mummy thing when he’s asleep, it’s just when he’s awake it gets a bit more tricky.”
“Tell me about it.”
Pearl is now throwing small pieces of toast, aided and abetted by her brothers.
I fob her off with a piece of peeled apple while simultaneously overseeing final school uniform checks and grabbing a last cup of tea. She adores pieces of fruit, and she’ll pretty much eat anything as long as you put it in her current favorite plastic bowl. This week it’s the Toy Story one. Last week it was the blue one, with the green stripes. She’ll even eat mango and kiwi along with the usual toddler favorites of strawberries and grapes, whereas I had to practically force fruit into the boys when they were asleep. Although now they’re being outclassed by toddler sister, they’re considering apples and mandarins as possibilities.
I’m drinking tea as we have one of those golden five minutes that make it all worthwhile. Pearl is singing to her piece of apple, doing a little celebratory dance now she’s been released from her high chair, and the boys are joining in, slowly and carefully so they don’t knock her over. It’s moments like this when it all makes sense. Until I realize we’re going to be late and there’s a mad rush to get out of the door.
“Come on, Archie, walk a bit quicker, love.”
“I’m going as quick as I can. Honestly, Mum, it’s boss boss boss with you. All the time.”
It’s only a ten-minute walk across the park to school, or forty-five minutes if Archie is allowed to dawdle.
“I bet I’ll be the first to get to the gates.” I speed up, walking as fast as I can toward the park gates.
Jack and Archie race past me.
Pearl temporarily abandons her battle with her hat in order to bounce in the buggy as an encouragement for me to walk faster. She hates wearing hats, so I’ve knitted her a balaclava for cold January mornings. She tries to get it off but only ends up turning it round, so we often arrive at school with a woolen-faced child. But at least I know she’s warm.
Jack beats Archie to the gates, but only by centimeters, so they’re both calling for a steward’s inquiry as we cross the road, holding the handles of the buggy and walking properly, despite protestations.
“Horrible big liar. Tell him, Mum, lying is terrible, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, Archie, and so is shoving your brother, and Jack, stop it now. It doesn’t matter who won.”
They both look at me like they’ve had yet another glimpse of Planet Mother and found it totally nonsensical.
“Of course it does, Mum. He’s always saying he’s faster than me, and he’s not.”
Pearl is shouting now too, random shouting, just so she doesn’t feel left out. If I’m not careful we’re all going to arrive at school mid-bicker.
“What do you want for tea tonight, Archie?”
“I’d love sausages, Mum, they’re my favorite.”
Time for a little bit of brother bonding I think.
“Okay, well, since you two can’t agree, I’ll choose. I know, macaroni cheese.”
They both start to make being sick noises, which Pearl thinks is marvelous.
“Well choose something, together. Or it’s macaroni.”
They walk slightly ahead, whispering, all disputes temporarily put to one side while they rack their brains to try to come up with a mutually acceptable supper which will also annoy me.
“Can we have roast chicken with crispy potatoes and gravy?”
“Not on a school night, no.”
They both tut, and Pearl relaunches Battle Balaclava.
Connie’s already in the playground, and Jack and Archie run off for a last two minutes’ playtime before the bell goes. She’s looking tired, and I don’t think being four months pregnant is helping; she says this is my fault, because seeing me with Pearl made her go all broody. Although unlike her and Mark, I appear to be missing the husband and father of course. Which was pretty tricky when the news first got round that I was pregnant; half the town seemed to think Martin was the dad, even though we weren’t actually together then. At one point I thought I’d have to put a notice up in the bloody shop window: Martin Is Not the Father, something like that. And Elsie was driving me mad in the shop; not only has she worked with Gran for years before I took over but she’s also Martin’s mum, so it all got pretty fraught. But once I fed the gossip grapevine with a few snippets about an old friend who wasn’t going to be part of our lives, things calmed down, thank God. Not that Daniel is an old friend, but I could hardly say it was a one-off magic moment in Venice with a handsome stranger. People round here don’t really go in for that kind of thing. Especially not if they’re recently widowed. Actually neither do I, widowed or not; it was my first experience of being the kind of woman who has affairs in foreign cities with glamorous photographers. It’s just typical of my luck I ended up pregnant. Although of course now Pearl is here, I realize just how lucky it was. I wouldn’t have missed being her mum for all the world. Even if she won’t wear hats.
“Good morning to you too, Constanza.”
“Sorry, no, it is Annabel Morgan, she is giving us the evil eyes, again.”
“What have we done now?”
“Just being here is enough, I think. Nelly, come, your coat is not done again.”
Nelly races past, ignoring her mother.
Connie’s right, Annabel Morgan is definitely giving us one of her Looks. As president of the PTA and all-round snooter, she’s an enemy you don’t want to make, but that ship sailed quite a while ago for Connie and me. She’s standing with her son, Horrible Harry, who is poking his tongue out at passing children whenever her back is turned. How charming.
I’m still not entirely clear why she dislikes me so intensely but I don’t think my appearing with the occasional VIP has endeared her to my cause. Being Britain’s Favorite Broadcaster does mean people tend to recognize Ellen when she turns up to meet her godsons from school, and my knowing our local film star Diva Grace Harrison is even more annoying, even if I am only her official knitting coach. It’s all put me firmly on Annabel’s do not resuscitate list. And Connie is far too Italian to put up with any nonsense, so she’s definitely on the list too.
The nasty looks have definitely got worse since Pearl arrived; I think I’m meant to be embarrassed about appearing with what she’d definitely call an illegitimate child in my buggy. In fact, as far as she’s concerned all my children are annoying. Archie is in the same class as Horrible Harry, and since Archie’s not one to sidestep anything remotely resembling conflict, they clash pretty frequently, and Archie’s a lot less sophisticated than Harry, so he tends to shove people over rather than going in for a bit of sly nipping when nobody is watching. If Annabel could work out how to get away with it, we’d definitely be subject to a lifetime ban from the PTA.
The kids are lining up now as Mrs. King rings the bell, with help from a rather enthusiastic small boy from the reception class who is trying to lift the bell above his head for maximum ringing. Jack runs over to grab his PE kit, while Pearl tries to undo the straps on her buggy and follow him into school.
“I just hope she’s this keen when she’s actually old enough to go.”
Connie smiles. “Nelly was the same, always trying to be with Marco.”
“You look tired you know, Con. Are you sure you’re not doing too much?”
I think running the pub, and trying to keep up with Nelly and Marco, combined with keeping the new café stocked, might count as too much in anybody’s book.
“I am fine, little rests, all the time, it is driving me crazy. Everyone keeps saying, sit with the feet up, but how can I, if I don’t know everything is being done properly?”
“I know, but—”
“And Mark is telling me yesterday, when this baby comes we will have a little holiday. But he is mad; all I will want is to stay at home, not doing the holiday.”
“Your mum will come over though, won’t she?”
“Yes, but after the baby, and just her, not the whole family. I have told her, there are too many Italians in our house already.”
“How’s it going, with Susanna and Cinzia?”
“Cinzia, okay, she is a good girl; Susanna, not so much.”
“We all love Cinzia, she’s a total treasure.”
- On Sale
- Dec 27, 2011
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Hachette Books