In The Sack With Another Author

IN THE SACK…with Lynda Renham

The lovely author Mandy Baggot had me in the sack. Not literally you understand. It was very pleasurable I have to say, until I saw it in print. So here it is. Mandy Baggot writes strong contemporary romance and characters you’ll fall in love with. You can check her out here 

What a great idea though to sneak a look inside women’s handbags. I’m sure if you know me, the contents of mine won’t surprise you too much.

Lynda Renham has been writing for as long as she can remember and had her first work published in a magazine at age nine and has continued writing in various forms since. She has had several poems published as well as articles in numerous magazines and newspapers. Recently she has taken part in radio discussions on the BBC.

She has studied literature and creative writing and has a blog on her web page: http://www.renham.co.uk

Lynda lives with her second husband and cat in Oxfordshire, England. She is Associate Editor for the online magazine The Scavenger and contributor to many others. When not writing Lynda can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook.

BLURB

On arriving home after a friend’s posh wedding, launderette worker Harriet finds her life irrevocably changed as she discovers her flat ransacked and her boyfriend missing. In a matter of hours she is harassed by East End gangsters and upper crust aristocrats. Accepting an offer she can’t refuse, Harriet, against her better judgment becomes the fiancée of the wealthy Hamilton Lancaster, with dire consequences. What she had not bargained on was meeting Doctor Brice Edmunds.

The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties is Lynda Renham’s funniest novel so far. A cocktail of misunderstandings, three unlikely gangsters, a monkey and a demented cat make this novel a hysterical read. Follow Harriet’s adventure where every attempt to get out of trouble puts her deeper in it.

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THE SACK

This one is my favourite. I purchased it in Cambodia about three years ago during my first visit. It is hand made. I found it in a little back street. I didn’t pay that much for it but it has been hard wearing. I use it practically every day. It has been back to Cambodia with me as well as Egypt and other countries. I love this bag because it is different. I like unique bags. It has several little compartments inside and the top has a firm zip. I adore it. I mostly love it because it comes from a country that means a lot to me. It evokes memories.

WHAT’S IN THE SACK?

My bag contents can be somewhat embarrassing to say the least. Even I was astonished when I looked at them. So here we go.

The recent novel I am reading, which is Sophie McKenzie’s ‘Close My Eyes’ which is brilliant. It certainly has me gripped.

A writing pad which I jot down novel ideas in.

Hairbrush and comb.

Blackberry Z10 phone

Pack of tissues.

Purse

For some odd reason a sick bag from my recent flight to Cambodia. No idea how that got in there.

A pink glass case which holds my sunglasses (two pairs) All bought from Primark.

A small bag with painkillers and other pills deemed essential such as Imodium and migraine tablets

A photo taken of the children in the orphanage I visit in Cambodia

Reading glasses in a lovely glass case given to me by my friend.

Pen

Make up. Bobbi Brown Blusher powder and lipstick.

Small fan mirror

Earphones

Bottle of Issey Miyake perfume

Bottle of Rodial, Dragon Blood moisturiser, which I carry everywhere.

Tube of 4head.

Scrunchy

Last but not least a spare pair of undies, well you never know do

Cow Cart fun…Yeehaa!

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When I arrived for my Cow Cart experience here in Cambodia and they handed me the special hat and scarf that goes with the whole experience,  I, of course, immediately felt like Karen Blixen and had to fight back the words, ‘I once had a house in Arfrika.’ Although I would very much like to one day say ‘I once had a house in Siem Reap’

I love this country so passionately that to leave it in a few days will cause me the same physical pain it always produces. I laugh so much here. Not only with family but with the Cambodian people too, who are just fabulous. I’m lucky to have family living here but even so it is easy to make friends here and there are some wonderful places to stay which do not charge the earth.

The Cow Cart experience alone was hysterical. A wonderful enterprise set up by Cambodian students. What a great idea. As we prepared in my step son’s flat to leave, the rain just fell down. From the window we could see the children running out into the downpour to enjoy the monsoon while all we could think was, ‘It would piss down now wouldn’t it?’ Typical Brits off to do a Cow Cart ride through the heart of Cambodia in a monsoon, made me smile.  Every time I choose to do something unusual here, a monsoon comes. Memories of my Bamboo train experience came flooding back and I immediately turned to Andrew who I saw had a rain mac. Why is it he always comes  prepared?

‘They have some at Apsara market,’ says my daughter in law, helpfully.

Apsara market is the equivalent to the local coop, in case you were wondering.

I look at Andrew pleadingly. Well, I don’t have any head covering or a jacket at least he has a rain mac already. He gives me that despairing look, tells me to stop scratching my bites (of which I have thousands, at least it feels like thousands)

‘Okay, I’ll go and get one,’ he says.

Ten minutes later he returns with a bright pink rain mac. I don’t like to complain. I look at my daughter in law.

‘I hope this isn’t like a pink rag to a cow,’ I say, which sets her off laughing hysterically before we even leave.

The Tuk tuk has arrived and we all climb in. Within seconds I am scratching like mad. The plastic from the rain mac is making me so hot that every bite I have goes insane.

‘Stop scratching,’ says Andrew.

‘Take an anti-histamine,’ says my stepson. I don’t like to say I have well overdosed on anti-histamines now.

The tuk tuk ride to the farm where we are to meet the cow cart is pleasant and the rain stops. But just because the rain has stopped doesn’t mean it won’t start again and of course just thirty minutes of a monsoon means everywhere is flooded. The tuk tuk stops suddenly.

‘You walk,’ says the driver.

Of course we have no idea where we actually have to walk to, but the frightening conclusion we come to is that is must be the only dirt road that we can see which is now water is logged. I’m wearing sandals so the thought of negotiating this dirt track is not terribly appealing. But of course we do it, arriving at the Cow Cart village with muddy feet but very dry bodies, if not itchy (in my case). We are shown our carts and wonder of wonders the sun comes out. Our adventure begins. If you ever do visit Cambodia and I can’t recommend it enough, you will never regret it. I never want to return home but if you do then you must do the cow cart experience for an experience it truly is. If you are anything like us you will have great fun. In our case because the weather was so bad one of our cow carts couldn’t get down the dirt track but no one told us this. At least if they did we didn’t fully understand it. So when all five of us tried to climb into one cart you can imagine the fear in our eyes.Image

‘You do two hour trip?’ the girl asked.

God, I’ll be scratching myself to bits, I think, and in these cramped conditions I won’t have to worry about DVT on the flight home, I’ll most likely get it on the cow cart. Not to mention my daughter in law who was already complaining about cramp in her foot where I was sitting on it. I had visions of them amputating it after two hours of this. Off we go, or should I say off we bumped. Twice we nearly lost Andrew, not to mention my womb and my stepson’s hat. We giggled so much that I’m surprised we didn’t all fall off. A few minutes later we arrive to where another cow cart waits and we all sigh with relief. We will have one each. We alight and wander off to the rice wine making factory, picture below.

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and just make it before the rain pours again.

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 Obviously we all had a good swig of the wine first. Believe me I felt we needed it. A Cow Cart experience may be better slightly pissed I thought.  But then Cook luck set in and soon the sun began to shine and we climbed into our separate carts. This is no easy feat let me tell you, especially after a glass of rice wine, or should I say plastic mug. First we have to jump up into the cart backwards. I barely do things that well when I am going forward so you can imagine me trying to jump up backwards onto a cow cart, then again maybe you don’t want to imagine it… Once I’m up I have to dangle my legs over and remove my sandals so the mud doesn’t dirty the cart. Finally, one big heave backwards and I am as intimate with the cow cart driver as one can be. Andrew then follows and I push my legs down the side of him and off we go with bump and a strange noise from the driver. I seriously thought the guy had a bad case of wind until I realised his odd burping sounds were instructions to the cows. I don’t know what I imagined this trip would be like but I have to say it was an experience of a lifetime and the beauty of Cambodia is breath taking. There was one scary moment when a bike got in our way and we had to veer into the water. But amazingly the cart stayed upright. We stopped at a crematorium and Monastery and had a break for a drink (this time water) before travelling through the villages and countryside. Once the cart tried to leave without me almost sending me sprawling into the mud as I was about to jump on, much to Andrew’s amusement. As it got late we went to where the families fish and have family time. It was the most intimate I have been with the Cambodian people in all my visits here. Our two hour trip lasted much longer and by the time we got back to the farm I could barely feel my bum. But it was worth every minute as you can see.

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We thanked our Cow Cart hosts and paid and were taken back down the dirt road to meet our Tuk Tuk driver who was going to drive us back  to my stepson’s apartment. The journey was like tuk tuk Grand Prix. We were thrown all over the place. Meanwhile James my stepson is asking,

‘Do you want a takeaway Indian when we get back?’

‘Yes,’ I say in a shaky voice as we go over a huge bump and my handbag jumps up and whacks me in the chin.

‘The usual butter chicken,’ he asks, obviously more used to bumpy tuk tuks than me.

I grab the loose handle hanging from the top of the tuk tuk as we bounce around a corner and I almost slide out. My daughter in law laughs hysterically as James asks do we want poppadum’s.

‘Why are you asking me this now?’ I ask scrambling to grab my camera before it smashes to the floor as we take a corner on one wheel (a tuk tuk only has two)

‘I know what you women are like.  I may not get your attention later.’

Like he’s getting it now. I say this to him only to have him fall about laughing. Or maybe he just fell about because the tuk tuk went over another bump.

I ask you, men!

Go to Cambodia and go on a Cow Cart and preferably get a tuk tuk home like ours. Life is fun, and here you can have the best fun of your life. Enjoy the smiling people for they are the best company ever.
You can find The Cow Cart experience here Facebook here.

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Giving is receiving

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When someone takes the time to write a piece about my books I am thrilled. When they offer to feature my lovely orphan kids in Cambodia I am even more thrilled. So I am reprinting it here. The lady who wrote the article is Kathryn Brown and she has written a very good romantic comedy herself called Bednobs and Batchelors. You can buy it on Amazon.

I am currently in Cambodia. A place so close to my heart, that even throwing up seems worth it.

The last few days here have been busy. Last night we went to a nice hotel and watched Apsara dancing, which is beautiful.

Two days ago I visited my sponsored child at The Children’s Sanctuary and you can read more about them here. I am at my happiest here. We tried on the donated clothes I brought with me and played pass the parcel, danced, and generally had fun.

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I met with my Cambodian friends for dinner and shopping and of course we went to the circus.

A Cambodian circus is like no other. I urge you to check out the You Tube video here.

Enjoy Cambodia with me.

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You can read Kathryn’s piece here. Please do.

The Smiing People

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We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia at 6.30 and it was already dark. Our journey had been better than previous ones. But long flights are taking their toll on me now and after 18 hours of flying it was enough. But as soon as I stepped on Cambodian soil my spirit lifted. It is hard to say what it is about this country but I have yet to meet someone not touched by the place and its people. What I was aware of, having been here during rainy season in the past, was that it would be wet. But I had not anticipated the devastation and deaths the flooding had caused. Our tuk tuk waded through flooded roads, where people were struggling back with their wares. Children were splashing about happily in the deep waters and waving to us. As always the Cambodian people are accepting their lot. There is no complaining here. No one cares if you are the height of fashion, whether you are rich or poor. These are people rich in good karma, they are cheerful in the face of hopelessness. They have hope when there is no hope and they are the smiling people. They will offer you food when they barely have enough to go around for their own family.

I’m thrilled to be back. To visit my sponsored child Pesai tomorrow is a highlight for me. Where we will play pass the parcel and I know I will have them squeal with delight at the clothes I have brought. They will try them on immediately and thank me with such gratitude that it will bring tears to my ears. These are children that have avoided hand foot and mouth disease, dengue fever, near starvation and loss of family. They will give me food, drink and hugs.  

Today was spent catching up with family and phoning friends and of course photographing the people I love so much.

Monsoons are predicted in the next few days and having lost my Nikon in a previous one several years ago I think I may just leave it at home.

Here are some picturess of a country that is so beautiful that it is impossible not to be moved.

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Flashing the Milkman…What Next?

I’m beginning to wonder if there is a pill I can take. Just a little pill to stop me doing the crazy things I do. If you know me, then you’ll know the sort of things I mean. It’s not going to stop on its own it seems.

First thing this morning I flashed the milkman. Not deliberately, obviously. Milk and yogurt are important in our house but not so much that I’d exchange my body for them. I imagine after this morning the milkman would decline anyway.  I’d opened the door to throw a parcel outside (too long to go into) I seriously wasn’t expecting anyone to be standing on the front porch was I? So it seemed not such a bad idea to throw on a baggy cardigan which of course gapped right open the minute I bent down. Giving the milkman an eyeful. Fortunately, I didn’t blind him.

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Not me, I hasten to add.

 

But this has got to stop. Only a few weeks ago I was trying on some new tops that had come by mail order. I’d just thrown on a see through one, forgetting I wasn’t wearing a bra when my neighbour phoned to ask if I knew why the power had gone off and did I think it was connected to the men working at the local school. Being the good neighbour that I am, I offered to go and ask them. So off I go, totally forgetting the see through blouse and lack of bra. No wonder they conducted the whole conversation staring at my breasts.

I don’t just spend my life flashing my tits you understand. I also do other crazy things like leaving my handbag in shopping trolleys and driving home. I’ve also got confused and tried to get out of hospital car parks using the entrance ticket and have been known to crash the whole system.

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I’ve taken calls from obscene phone callers and apologised that I couldn’t talk to them because I’m too busy. As you’ve guessed they’ve phoned back right away.

I need therapy or something…

I also wear clothes with the labels in them much to the irritation of my friends. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know. It’s got something to do with this idea in my head that the item may need to go back to the shop. Friends are always tucking them in and tutting at me.

I always carry a spare pair of undies in my bag (clean of course).

My house is squeaky clean while my car looks like a bomb has hit it. I have a car radio that turns itself off every fifteen minutes and I refuse to get it repaired. It sort of fits me. I’m eccentric is all, right?

I leave the house locking the front door, but leaving the back door wide open…

Is there a pill? Or is it men in white coats I need?

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Dancing with glee…

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I’m so thrilled to be in the humour chart in the US. It is something I never expected to achieve. I always felt quite sure that my British humour would never really appeal to the American market. I am so pleased to be proven wrong and that all my novels are now in the Amazon chart there.

The novels are doing well and the next step is to hope someone contacts us about turning them into films. If you have read my books and enjoyed them do contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

To celebrate the release of the paperback of ‘The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties’ my first two novels ‘Croissants and Jam’ and ‘Coconuts and Wonderbras’ are being sold on Kindle at a bargain price of 77p. This is for a limited time only.

Here’s a taster of ‘Croissants and Jam’ and further down ‘Coconuts and Wonderbras’

You can purchase them here

Chapter One     

   Don’t you just hate weddings? Well, maybe you don’t. Generally I don’t either but when it is your own wedding things just get so stressful. Jesus, I feel like I am having my nineteenth nervous breakdown. I mean, there is the dress nightmare for a start. I can’t even look at a Hobnob, without everyone going into a massive panic and screaming, ‘you will never squeeze into the dress if you eat that’, while removing the offending Hobnob and plonking a Ryvita into my hand. I mean, seriously, like one Hobnob will make that much difference. This is, of course, bearing in mind I am a size ten and if I say so myself, with an enviable figure. So, it comes to something when I am denied the basic human right of a Hobnob. Anyway, back to weddings, or at least my wedding. There are just so many what ifs when it comes to weddings. You know, what if he isn’t the right one? What if after the wedding you find that sharing a duvet is just too big a sacrifice? Worst of all, what if the second thoughts you are having are for real and you ignore them? I find myself spending the mornings worrying about the big day and the afternoons worrying if it is all a big mistake. I can’t decide if the terrible churning in my stomach is simply wedding nerves or if I am really having serious doubts. So I decide to visit my mother a few hours before my flight. Not the best decision of my life. The front door is flung open and before I can say ‘hello’, Candice mounts me dramatically and I fall backward, pulling the seam on my new Yves Saint Laurent blouse on the coat rack and landing with a thud on the new shag pile carpet. Don’t you just hate bloody dogs?

         ‘Shit. Damn animal, get the hell off me, you monster.’ I attempt to push her back with my hand but only encounter her cold wet nose. The house is stiflingly hot and I feel myself perspiring. I swear a sauna is cooler than my mother’s house.

         ‘Darling, I thought you were coming for lunch.’ My mother’s voice somewhere beyond the great hound that is licking me to death.

         ‘Candy, down now,’ commands my dad, who shuffles into the hall, wearing his gardening gloves and carrying a knee rest. His old gardening trousers are scuffed at the knees, and there is a contented look on his face.

         ‘Hello darling.’

         ‘Dad, can you get this bloody monster off me. God almighty, this dog is so over-the-top affectionate,’ I puff as I battle to get up. The smell of freshly baked cake reaches my grateful nostrils. I feel so emotionally exhausted from all my wedding worries that even fighting off a dog arouses a chocolate craving.

         ‘Language please, Bels,’ scolds my mother, who emerges from the kitchen decked top to bottom in Boden Country Casuals and smelling of Estee Launder White Linen and Elnett hair spray. I scramble to my feet.

         ‘What? I didn’t swear and ooh that’s nice,’ I say stroking her cashmere cardigan.

         ‘I heard you say S-H-I-T and B-L-O-O-D-Y,’ she says, spelling out the words.

         ‘Oh Mum, come on really.’

She sighs. I hug her, and she enfolds me within her bosom. Her perfume is decidedly comforting. My old-fashioned mum who has never sworn in her life, drinks only sherry on a Friday and wouldn’t know Germaine Greer if she fell over her. But, ask my mum about fashion and she is a guru. Her wardrobe is an absolute delight.

         ‘Come along, I have made a lemon drizzle cake for you. Take Candy out, Julian. Bels and I need to talk, and do change that hideous jumper.’ We both give the offending jumper a sizable dirty look. I slyly turn down the central heating thermostat as I pass. I watch as Dad raises his eyebrows. I smile and give him a conspirator’s wink. He gives me a quick bear hug.

         ‘It is lovely to see you Annabel. Right, come on Candy, we have our orders,’ obeys Dad, shaking a lead. Candice bounces towards him while I exit to the kitchen. The door slams and Mum pushes me into a chair at the table. I check my blouse and see the damage is not as bad as I had imagined, thank goodness.

         ‘Why didn’t you get a chihuahua? I thought that was what you wanted. That dog is huge, I hate it,’ I say checking my skirt for hairs.

         ‘Candice is a loving dog, and hate is a very strong word. Now, come on, tell me everything that is on your mind.’

I watch as she places a large slab of lemon drizzle cake onto a plate, followed by a smaller piece of fruit cake. I take a deep breath. Christ, where to start. What exactly is on my mind? I am living every woman’s dream. My job is fantastic. Okay, so I am almost thirty, but I am features editor at Versity, the top fashion magazine. I have even managed to combine my wedding trip to Rome with a fashion show in the city. I mean, some of the world’s top models are on my wedding guest list, just how cool is that. My future husband is handsome, spectacularly rich and exceptionally kind. What more could a girl ask for? Okay, a Hobnob right now would be nice, or even a simple digestive, but generally though, life is pretty good. And it would be even better if I didn’t have these terrible second thoughts.

         ‘God Mum, is it too quick?’ I blurt out.

She hands me the cake which I put to one side.

         ‘Mum, you know I can’t eat cake, I have to get into my dress,’ I protest somewhat feebly.

         ‘Oh a small piece won’t hurt darling,’ she says confidently, clicking on the kettle.

She cuts an even larger piece for herself. I take a bite of the lemon drizzle and savour the tangy lemon sponge, quickly following it with a chunk of still warm fruit cake.

         ‘Darling, you are thirty, how can it be too quick? I was actually starting to wonder if you were, well you know, batting for the other side,’ she says sheepishly.

I choke on a raisin.

         ‘Why would you think that?’ I ask shocked.

         ‘Well, you work with all those women models and… Well, you only have to watch films to know what happens. Anyway…’

She places a mug of tea beside the cake and I wrinkle my nose.

         ‘Oh Mum, can I have proper tea?’

         ‘Green tea is proper tea,’ she says, looking insulted.

         ‘Oh I thought it was that elderflower stuff,’ I say, relieved. The elderflower stuff tastes like a combination of coconut and cat’s piss.

         ‘This cake is divine, Mother.’

         ‘Do you think it would be healthier if it were made with wholegrain flour?’

I shrug. I’ve never baked a cake in my life but I feel sure that somehow it would not taste half as good made with wholegrain flour. My mother, the middle-aged health-food addict. Last year my parents went to Tibet and Mum returned with strange tinkling bells and even stranger ideas. Tetley tea bags were replaced with weird herbal ones and my mother started an enlightenment group called ‘Touch the Spot’, which I always thought sounded more like a mutual masturbation group, but I knew better than to say anything. She meets with fifteen other weirdoes once a month where they meditate, burn incense and share together and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if marijuana were involved somewhere.

         ‘I can’t seem to get that elderflower tea anymore,’ she says thoughtfully. ‘Jane said, she thinks you can buy it in Harrods. Maybe you can get me some. Anyway, seven months is not too soon, and Simon is ideal for you. And who gets to have a fairy-tale wedding in Rome? Oh dear, I still think I should wear Stella McCartney for the ceremony, what do you think? I mean, the Dior is nice but I think I should be more with it as mother of the bride. Kat said, you know, our cleaner, that the bride’s mother is the second most important person at the wedding. By the way, did I tell you her boyfriend is going blind?’

I yawn, my mother, the archetypal do-gooder.

         ‘Yes, you did Mother,’ I say feigning interest.

She nods and her face brightens.

         ‘And the fund-raising thing we are doing with Waitrose?’

I nod emphatically.

         ‘Surely, though, that would be Simon wouldn’t it?’ I say thoughtfully.

She looks confused.

         ‘What would be Simon, darling?’

         ‘The second most important person at the wedding, wouldn’t that be the groom?’

         ‘Ah, good point. I must tell Kat… her boyfriend…’

         ‘Mum,’ I snap.

Christ, does anyone care about me and my future? Jesus, I have known the guy for seven freaking months, he could be a closet alcoholic for all I know. Then there are his parents, oh shit.

         ‘I have not even met his parents yet, I mean they could be like something out of the fuckers,’ I say, feeling decidedly depressed.

         ‘What?’

         ‘God sorry, I meant the Fockers. God, I am so stressed.’ Waves of exhaustion seem to engulf me.

         ‘Well, I am sorry Annabel. Even stress is no excuse for the ‘F’ word. Now, listen to me. In a few hours you are flying to Rome to meet your in-laws, by the way I meant to tell you, I have been learning Italian.’

Clearly delighted, she reaches behind me to the large oak dresser and grabs a book. Oh for goodness sake, am I under some silly illusion that my mother wanted to discuss my future? I indulgently swallow another chunk of lemon drizzle and gulp down some tea.

         ‘Look, I have been using this, with a CD. But, anyway, the good thing is I will be able to converse with your mother-in-law. I have been practising on your father.’

I sigh and wipe my hands on a piece of kitchen towel. What a waste of time this is. Any minute now I will hear how my heavily pregnant sister is making a big sacrifice by getting on an aeroplane.

         ‘Mum, she may be Italian but she lived in England up until a year ago. I have already told you this. They live in Rome now because they retired. She speaks perfect English.’

         ‘Yes, but she is Italian and we must make an effort, I mean your sister Alex…’

Here it comes.

         ‘Heavily pregnant as she is, Alex is still making the effort to come to your wedding. I just hope, I really do, that she will be okay. What with you being thirty and not married, Alex almost forty and finally pregnant and I thank God every day for that, it makes me realise we just can’t be picky Bels.’

I play with my cake.

         ‘I’m not picky. I just don’t want to make a mistake. I mean, even the getting married in Rome thing, I just feel you know, kind of bullied. Surely, I shouldn’t feel like that,’ I say dipping into the biscuit barrel.

She nods knowingly.

         ‘Have you been meditating like I told you?’

Oh God.

         ‘But, what if he is not Mr Right, Mum?’ I ask, feeling that churning again.

She clutches her breast.

         ‘Oh Annabel, tell me, tell me, how this cannot be Mr Right? Huh? A man running his own law firm…’

         ‘His father’s law firm,’ I correct.

         ‘His father’s, his, whatever, it is all the same thing. It is family. Oh and how you met, so romantic,’ she says dreamily.         

It was?

         ‘On a boat, it’s romantic, it was fate.’

         ‘I had far too much to drink Mother. I almost fell into the Thames, along with my phone, and it was more sordid than romantic. Okay, he rescued me, kind of, if you call yanking me back by my skirt rescuing me.’

I have found a Hobnob and feel decidedly better. I guess she has a point though, I mean, let’s face it, just how much longer can I wait for Mr Right? After all, Simon feels like Mr Right, I think. How do you know when it is Mr Right anyway? If I leave it much longer I’ll be so old and wrinkled and all the Mr Rights will have been spoken for. Yes Mum knows best, I must stop being picky, but hell this is the rest of my life. My Blackberry shrills and I yank it out of my bag, it is flashing Kaz, my assistant, best friend and courier for my wedding dress. Oh God, something must have happened to the dress.

         ‘Oh no, what’s happened, did you spill wine on it or something? I swear I will cut out your heart and sell it to Satanists. You haven’t ripped it have you?’

Mum gasps and Kaz whistles.

         ‘Geez Bels, thanks for that vote of confidence. You are evil do you know that? Actually, I was just phoning to let you know the dress is on its way to Rome. Are you still at your mum’s? Christ Bels, get to the airport. Love you and see you in two days.’

I throw the phone into my bag and hug my mother.

         ‘I’ve got to go Mum. Off to get married to Mr Right. Thanks for the chat, I feel loads better.’

The hell I did.

         ‘See you in Rome,’ I call back with a wave.

Rome here I come, and I just hope you’re ready for me because I certainly am not ready for you.

Coconuts and Wonderbras

Chapter One

Don’t you just hate diets? Well maybe you don’t. You’re probably one of those people who never need to go on a diet. Generally I couldn’t care less about dieting, but now that I am on a diet it is a completely different matter. After struggling to zip up my best pair of jeans this morning, and painfully pinching my naval in the process, I’ve decided it’s time for drastic action. The problem is I keep changing my mind about which diet to be on. I never realised there was so much dieting paraphernalia. You know the kind of thing, watching everything you eat, counting calories or counting points, measuring food in those colourful measuring pots and trying to get as much out of them as you can. Not to mention those embarrassing weekly weigh-ins. Then there is the awful food. Eating salads instead of proper food and making your own vegetable soup. Talking of soup, I did try the Cabbage Soup diet. It seemed so easy, but the stink in my kitchen and the amount of time I spent in the loo put me off that one. Then, of course, there are the wonderful diets. Chef-made meals diet, homemade meals diet, and tiny portion diet, eat all you like diet, not to mention the low carb or high carb diet. I rather liked the sound of the ‘Ducan’ diet, but I seemed to end up with the ‘Ducant’ diet.

Then there are the marvellous magazine articles with headings like ‘Eat Yourself Slim’. Oh yes, I like the sound of that. You can choose whether to diet online or offline, or you could just have a milkshake and forget about food altogether. It’s all so confusing. And why do we do it? I don’t know why you do it, but I’m doing it to keep the man in my life because I am sure my boyfriend is seeing someone else, and the someone else is far skinnier than me. I know, of course, I should be doing it for myself. But, starting a diet three weeks before Christmas is not only very bad timing but sheer stupidity. I’m Libby by the way, and I like to think of myself as slightly curvy rather than fat, although some days I must admit to feeling huge. My best friend Issy is blessed with a metabolism that allows her to eat anything, and I could gladly kill her. I only have to think marshmallow and I look like one. She, on the other hand, is one of those women who can polish off a plate of fish and chips with a bread roll on the side and still manage to lose a pound. However, it doesn’t seem to improve her temperament.

‘Sod off.’

It’s Saturday night and three weeks before Christmas and Issy, somewhat inebriated, shares some Christmas spirit with the carol singers outside my cottage. I am mortified and tell her so. After all, you just don’t tell the Salvation Army to sling their hook do you, especially when they are singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

‘That’s my bloody point. If they are the Salvation Army then I’ll eat my Christmas hat. And if they are going to sing outside your front door they should at least sing carols. Since when has Onward Christian Soldiers been a carol? Hark, I do believe they have now turned into Mariah Carey,’ she says scathingly.

Embarrassed beyond belief, I attempt to inject some Christmas cheer by offering mulled wine and homemade mince pies. After all, one of us should show some Christmas spirit, especially to the Salvation Army. I open the door to be met by three youths and a ghetto blaster. They hungrily devour my offerings while I stand shivering. Honestly, it’s Christmas, what happened to goodwill to all men? I love Christmas, and the lovely warm cosy feeling you get at this time of the year. I also adore Christmas shopping and the crowds, and I happen to love those garish houses that seem to be hopelessly devoured by Christmas lights and huge reindeers. Oh yes, Christmas isn’t really Christmas without all that tacky stuff. And I like carol singers, real carol singers, that is. I am more than happy to give them my mince pies but fake carol singers are something else.

‘Now you can sod off. I don’t want to hear this rubbish. If you have to play rubbish at least play sodding traditional rubbish, then go and find your mince pies somewhere else,’ Issy, queen of tact, shouts from the living room.

The three youths and ghetto blaster trudge off into the snow. I return gratefully to the warm living room, where Issy is breathing fire down the phone to some poor assistant at Domino Pizza.

‘I know it is Christmas. What has that got to do with the price of cod? We ordered it over an hour ago, or are you telling me that you have to deliver to Santa and his reindeers first?’

‘Price of fish,’ I correct under my breath.

‘What the bollocks.’

Issy, my best friend and women’s journalist agony aunt, likes to say bollocks a lot. Frankly, she is a crap agony aunt and the last person I would ask advice from. If you feel depressed she is likely to agree that jumping off a cliff is the best option. Issy spends bucket loads on clothes and cosmetics, and always emerges from a dress shop looking like a million dollars, whereas I come out feeling like I have spent a million dollars but never looking it. I can never grow fingernails like Issy, and when I do, her bright purple nail polish makes me look more like a witch than tantalising seductress. Issy is confident where I am not and oh yes, she is slim. Like I have said, I am just a little bit fat. Did I say a little bit? Okay, a slight correction needed. A fair bit fat I suppose would be nearer the truth. Although, Issy assures me I am nowhere near as fat as I think. Okay, I am one stone ten pounds over my normal weight, or 10.88 kilograms overweight to be precise. Whichever way you convert it I still come out fat. So, what the arsing head and hole has possessed me to eat a Domino’s pizza you’re thinking. Well, it is almost Christmas, and I am convinced my boyfriend, Toby, is seeing someone else. Of course, I have no real evidence for this belief except he seems to smell very sweetly of Lancôme Trésor perfume these days. I can’t exactly confront him with that can I? After all, he is a highly respected journalist who writes not only for our local rag here in Fross but also for The Political Times, which means he works with lots of women, many of whom I am sure wear Trésor. I can’t very well accuse him of sleeping with all of them can I? The thing is, they are all slim and trendy whereas I am neither. Don’t you just hate the word ‘trendy’? In fact, according to him these women are bloody perfect, whereas I am just bloody useless. Not that Toby has ever told me that I am useless. I just feel I am. So, a few weeks before Christmas I have decided it is time to do something drastic about the weight problem. I need to turn myself into a slim, trendy and somewhat perfect woman by Christmas Eve. I decide to call in Issy for diet advice. She suggests we discuss it over a Domino pizza and a bottle of wine. Good start. Like I said, I should never take advice from Issy.

‘Obviously you should diet darling, after all, no one likes a fat person, not that you are terribly fat, but don’t do it for that little fart Toby, and stop baking sodding cakes. Nigella Lawson you’re not!’

As you can see, Issy is as tactful as a sledgehammer. Although I have to agree, I am probably more Delia Smith than Nigella Lawson. I love baking cakes you see. Cupcakes, fairy cakes, fruit cakes, Christmas cakes, sponge cakes, you name it and I bake it. Toby loves my cakes. His favourite is my Victoria sandwich and I have made one for him today along with the mince pies and sausage rolls for the office. The problem is my hobby does tend to end up touching my lips and of course lands on my hips resulting in an insult from Toby’s lips… Have you gained more weight Libby? Your hips look bigger, and that dress used to look nicer on you.

So, after exhausting every slimming pill on the market and still managing to eat like a horse I have decided drastic measures are needed.

‘A gastric band, have you gone insane? Do you really think that little sod is worth it?’ Issy gasps when I voice my plan.

I actually think the little sod is worth it.

‘I’m thinking it would be beneficial to my health and besides…’

‘Bloody hell Libs, you could die under the knife, or even worse, have your spine severed.’

Yes, that is my kind of luck.

‘Isn’t that one and the same thing?’

‘What?’

‘If they sever my spine, I will die won’t I?’

‘Whatever, anyway they’re bound to perforate something. It’s par for the course.’

‘It’s unlikely.’

‘God, you do think the little shit is worth it don’t you?’

I’m wondering how many more derogatory words Issy will find to describe Toby before the evening is over. I am actually thinking the little shit/sod/fart is actually worth it, although I don’t imagine anyone else would think so. I sometimes even wonder why I think so.

‘Right now, the little fart/sod/shit is the only boyfriend I have,’ I moan.

‘And that’s the way it will stay if your spine is severed.’

The truth is I’m not very confident, and even less so when it comes to men. I was so flattered when Toby asked me out a year ago. He is good looking, successful and confident. I can’t imagine what he saw in me.

With raised eyebrows, Issy says I should dump the little bugger.

‘Stop thinking you can’t find anyone better,’ she sighs.

With perfect timing the Domino Pizza man rings the doorbell, and I am saved from admitting that I really don’t want to dump the little bugger and that I actually do love him. I have to wonder how much I love him, however, when five minutes later I am stuffing myself full of ‘Chilli Surprise’ deep pan pizza and potato wedges, not to mention the garlic bread. I am proud to say that when Issy opens a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert I actually do reign myself in. After all, there is the Christmas party tomorrow night, and I will doubtless eat heaps. Maybe I should start the diet after the party. Yes, that’s the best thing. I’ll start my diet on Monday. I’ll make the party my final indulgence. After all, publishers lay on fab parties, and Hobsons are no exception. Did I mention that I work for a publishing house? I probably didn’t. I work as an agent at Randal and Hobson’s publishing house aka Hobnobs. Not that I have anyone famous on my account but I live in hope. My real ambition is to be a journalist like Toby, and although I have written tons of stuff, I just can’t get anyone to actually read it. Toby says it is pretty amateurish, but I’m sure with practice I could get better. I actually have this crazy idea that maybe tomorrow night, at the party, I could propose to Toby. Yes, you heard me, propose. I am twenty-nine after all and I really should get married. I know one shouldn’t rush into marriage just because one is almost thirty, but can you imagine still being on the shelf in your thirties? Oh God, it is enough to make me reach for the Ben and Jerry’s. Well, I have already eaten the pizza so let’s face it the damage has been done.

‘Oh, I really can’t face the thought of being single for another year and Toby is so lovely, he makes me feel…’ I say with my mouth full of ice cream.

Issy leans towards me and grabs the spoon.

‘Makes you feel sick I shouldn’t wonder,’ she hiccups. ‘He certainly has that effect on me.’

‘Special. He makes me feel special,’ I say lamely, knowing full well that he doesn’t.

‘Oh please. By the way, did you hear that radio interview with the luscious Alex Bryant? Oh, that voice. He trashed Toby’s article on the Cambodian uprising unmercifully,’ she says gleefully. ‘But what a dreamboat. Talk about fabalicious. Did you see him on the Morning Show? He’s just back from America and has signed with a publisher here. Wouldn’t it be fab if you had him as a client? He is as close to an Adonis as any man can be. Imagine working twenty-four-seven with him. I bet he has a penis so large that…’

‘Issy, please, I have just eaten,’ I snap and try to get the image of a huge penis out of my head.

‘Anyway, I’m not in the least interested in the Oh look at me, I’m an ex-SAS super hero, call me when the world needs saving arsehole. I thought that radio interview was pathetic as it happens,’ I say scathingly. ‘He is so arrogant, I’m so glad we didn’t sign him last year. That is the second time he has trashed Toby’s work.’

‘He is ultra-gorgeous though, you have to admit that.’

‘I wouldn’t even know what he looks like.’

‘You’re the only woman who doesn’t then,’ she scoffs, flouncing off to the bathroom.

I take the opportunity to see if Toby has sent me a text. Disappointedly I throw my Blackberry back into my bag and clear the dishes.

‘Bastard,’ slurs Issy sneaking up behind me. ‘He hasn’t texted you has he?’

‘He’s probably busy at work,’ I mumble, splashing soapy water over the plates and crashing them onto the drainer.

‘Where is Toby taking you for New Year’s Eve?’ she asks, taking a tea towel from a drawer.

‘Not sure. I have mentioned the party at the Glass Dome. It seems everyone is going there this year.’

‘I’ve promised myself I will only go if I have someone special to go with,’ she sighs.

She throws down the tea towel and gleefully hands me an envelope tied with a red ribbon.

‘This will cheer you up. Happy Christmas,’ she says nodding excitedly.

‘But it isn’t Christmas for three weeks. Blimey, you’re organised.’

I turn the envelope around in my hands and then place it beside my row of cookery books.

‘I’ll stick it on the tree as soon as it goes up.’

‘No,’ blurts Issy retrieving the envelope and sending a Gordon Ramsay cook book flying. ‘You have to open it now.’

‘Can you please mind Gordon. He is the closest thing I have to male company most days.’

She rolls her eyes and thrusts the envelope at me. I raise my eyebrows. Aren’t you just highly distrustful of presents that have to be opened weeks before Christmas?

‘Why?’ I ask suspiciously.

‘Because you have to use it by the end of next week,’ she sighs.

Ah, one of Issy’s second-hand presents. I open the envelope with trepidation. Please don’t let it be anything life affirming or God forbid, dangerous. I am still quivering from the hand-me-down bungee jump that she gave me for my birthday. Please let it be a cookery lesson or something equally as safe.

‘A makeover and photo shoot!’

‘It expires next Friday,’ she cries delightedly. ‘I’ve had the thing hanging around for a year, and then I thought of you. I really don’t need it, but you do, and I thought it would be a great present.’

Bloody cheek, what does she mean I need it? I try not to look crestfallen.

‘Come on; we are going to Madam Zigana’s after all.’ She throws my coat and gloves at me.

Oh no, not the psychic. I had hoped that the pizza and the Ben and Jerry’s would have made her forget all about that.

‘I can’t hobnob with the dead. I have nothing suitable to wear, and anyway Toby might phone and I would hate to miss his call,’ I protest.

‘God, you’re starting to obsess. Come on, grab a shroud and let’s go.’

‘But it’s snowing,’ I complain.

‘Grab a fur shroud then. Come on. She is doing a Christmas special and you are getting so maudlin these days, verging on depressing in fact.’

A Christmas special… God, it sounds more harrowing by the minute. I think a hand-me-down bungee jump would be less vexing. I would much rather snuggle up with a mug of hot chocolate and dream about Mr Right.