I thought I would give you a little taster of ‘Fudge Berries and Frog’s Knickers’ after realising I hadn’t done so.
It was a stressful 2014 and my memory isn’t all it used to be. But here it is. Enjoy.
Don’t you just hate surprises? Maybe you don’t and generally I don’t either but when the surprise is your darling Daddy appearing on the tele surrounded by policemen, trust me it’s the kind of surprise you don’t need. I’m used to seeing my father on the tele. I’m just not used to seeing him wearing handcuffs. Armani yes, but handcuffs no. I stare bleary eyed at the silent television screen.
‘That’s your father isn’t it?’ mumbles Chelsea while trying not to crack her face mask. ‘Are those handcuffs?’
I wipe the cucumber juice from my eyes and blink. Yes that’s Daddy all right. That’s his side parting, and his Gucci tie. That’s my Daddy, my knight in shining Armani. The handcuffs aren’t his of course, at least he wasn’t wearing them the last time I saw him. And they don’t look designer. Daddy wouldn’t be seen dead wearing anything but designer, at least not by choice.
‘Can you turn the sound up Bonita?’ I ask, trying to ignore the churning in my stomach and the pounding of my heart. After all, it isn’t every day you see your father in handcuffs is it? Well maybe you do but I certainly don’t. Even the moaning whales in the background are doing nothing to calm my nerves, whale music that is, not real whales. I know this is an exclusive health club but whale singing while you have your toenails done is pushing it a bit isn’t it? Bonita turns from my Dior Vernis toenails and presses the remote. The voice of the newsreader reaches me and I feel my blood turn cold.
‘This is a shocking blow for the government. Minister for Family, Sir Rupert Wellesley, is seen leaving Westminster police station a few minutes ago and what a shock to his constituency. Sir Rupert Wellesley charged with fraud …’
Fraud? Never mind the shock to his constituency what about the shock to his bloody daughter?
‘Fudge berries,’ Chelsea squeals.
Chelsea, my best friend, who says fudge berries an awful lot and spends a great deal of time stating the bloody obvious.
I try to stand but the toe separators make it almost impossible. I waddle to the tinsel-decorated TV screen like a penguin. My numbed brain thinks that if I get a closer look I may find the Armani belongs to someone else, but no, that’s Daddy all right. My phone starts to flash and bleep, and Bonita looks at it fearfully as if it will blow up at any moment. I grab it and silence the ringing.
‘It’s me,’ cries my hysterical mother. ‘Will this affect my allowance?’
Never mind her allowance what about my allowance?
‘I’m not surprised,’ she continues without waiting for me to reply. ‘Minister for family that’s a laugh. When was he ever interested in the family? If he’d spent more time with his family and less time helping those on death road we would still be together.’
‘Death row,’ I correct, feeling like I’m on it myself right now.
‘He wouldn’t change your nappy. Do you remember that?’
Considering I was only three months old I’d be amazed if I could.
‘I remember like it was yesterday. He was too busy saving those on the row,’ she continues. ‘He’s always been big on human rights. What about our human rights I used to say. It comes to something when you can’t change your daughter’s nappy.’
Why we’re talking about nappies at a time like this I have no idea. I’m thirty two years old and I can assure you I don’t wear them now.
‘I had a nanny?’ I say.
‘I said to him once, let them all die.’
‘Death road inmates, of course.’
Bonita switches channels and there’s Daddy, again, again and again. I swear his side parting moves more to the left with each channel change. He’s looking more like Hitler by the minute. His Faberge watch twinkles under the light of the flashing cameras. Three words come from the broadcaster and I feel sure my heart stops.
‘Bank account frozen.’
Bonita looks as shell shocked as me. I expect she’s afraid I won’t be able to pay her. I’m afraid I won’t be able to pay her. How long does it take a bank account to freeze over? Quicker than hell I imagine. I pop a Lindt chocolate truffle and relax as the flavour explodes in my mouth. Thank God for truffles. They really do make everything easier to bear.
‘I have to go,’ I tell my Mother. ‘I’m at the salon getting everything gelled.’
‘Enjoy it. It may well be your last gelling. Good God Poppy, just think. You may actually have to get a job,’ she says, and I can almost see her satisfied smug.
Is she insane, I’ve never had a job in my life.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I scoff. ‘I’m getting married in six weeks. Roddy has pots of money.’
‘Ha,’ she laughs mirthlessly. ‘He won’t want you now. He only wants your money darling. He may have pots but the way he spends it he’ll be lucky if he has one left to piss in.’
‘We won’t get any sympathy you know that don’t you? I’ll tell you where you’ll find sympathy, right between shit and syphilis in the dictionary. God knows what I’ll do. I’m fifty six for goodness sake.’
‘You’re fifty seven,’ I correct.
‘Are you sure?’
‘That makes it even worse then. Trust your father to get found out four weeks before the holidays. He’ll be happy to know his ruined my Christmas. I need a large G and T.’
You and me both but I don’t think Bonita serves booze. Mother begins to cry and now it’s my turn to sigh.
‘I have to go. I’m sure it’s all a big mistake,’ I say.
Please God, let it all be a big mistake.
‘Yes, of course,’ scoffs Mummy. ‘People are always mistakenly arrested for fraud aren’t they? You’ll be saying it’s a case of mistaken identity next.’
If only it was. I hang up and watch my phone vibrate across the table as text after text are received.
‘Fudge berries,’ says a stunned Chelsea for the second time. ‘This is mind-blowingly awful isn’t it Truffles?’
Ah yes, I should mention my nickname is Truffles, the chocolate variety that is, not the mushroom, and if you saw the number of them that I eat, chocolate truffles that is, not mushrooms then you’d understand how I got that name. I’m the truffle queen. I know every single truffle in existence and I also know the best truffle to buy. Right now I could do with a truck load of them. I pick up my ringing phone.
‘Poppy Wellesley speaking,’ I say, wishing for the first time in my life that I wasn’t.
‘Martha Clegg here,’ says a clipped voice.
‘Mrs Clegg, I haven’t forgotten our meeting tomorrow for Help the War Victims.’
‘I’m not one to judge Miss Wellesley, as you know.’
‘But there are some that do. I’m sure you’ll agree that until this situation is resolved it would be better if you stepped down from the committee.’
‘We wouldn’t want those poor disabled lads to think they were getting illegal money, would we?’
‘The money has been donated it didn’t come from my father,’ I argue.
Oh God, was that admitting my father’s money is illegal?
‘Yes but it would be tainted, wouldn’t it? I’ll announce your decision to the board this afternoon.’
But I haven’t made a decision.
‘Yes but …’
The phone goes dead. She’s cut me off along with Daddy. I fish my American Express from my Hermes handbag. Bonita tries to behave nonchalantly and reaches for it in slow motion, but her fingers are twitching. She pretends to admire my handbag.
‘I would so love a herpes one day,’ she says passionately.
I somehow think she is alone in that one.
‘There’s always someone willing, I’m sure,’ I say wincing.
‘Hermes,’ corrects Chelsea through tight lips. ‘It’s Hermes, not herpes.’
‘Take the usual tip,’ I say. I cross my newly painted fingernails in the hope that the card isn’t declined. I’ve never had a declined card. I’m not sure I’d know what to do. There is a tense moment as Bonita pushes the card into the machine and a small bead of perspiration forms on my forehead. I scratch at my neck nervously and I hear Chelsea utter fudge berries for the umpteenth time.
‘Your skin is erupting,’ she says with a grimace taking two steps back as if I’ve suddenly become radioactive. I throw myself at a mirror and gasp. I’ve got tiny red spots all over my neck. The ghastly rash is rapidly spreading down my arm.
‘I used the same products,’ stammers Bonita, frantically punching buttons on the card machine.
‘It must be the stress. God knows I’m amazed you didn’t have a heart attack. That was quite a shock,’ says Chelsea, stepping further away from me.
Bugger, I’m dining with Roddy’s family this evening I can’t have him seeing me like this. Okay, don’t panic. Just breathe. I take three gasping breaths and give up.
‘I think you’re hyperventilating,’ says Chelsea. ‘You’re looking a bit blue now.’
‘Do you need a brown paper bag,’ offers Bonita.
If this rash gets much worse I may well do. But right now I just need that buggery transaction to go through.
‘It’s travelling up your neck and into your face,’ Chelsea announces. She’s like Alistair Stewart on breaking news.
‘I need antihistamines,’ I say anxiously, feeling sure my tongue is now swelling. Oh God, I’m going to have anaphylactic shock. I’ll elbow Daddy off the telly with news of my own. Socialite daughter of disgraced MP dies after swallowing tongue. I really had hoped for a more glamourous death. I rub ferociously at my arm.
‘Surely that only happens if you have an allergic reaction to something,’ says a wise Chelsea.
‘I’m allergic to being poor,’ I say miserably. ‘I need a chemist.’
I head for the door grabbing my truffles as I go.
‘Card went through,’ says a relieved Bonita.
‘I’m coming,’ says Chelsea, grabbing her fur coat.
I stare at her. She looks like a furry cucumber.
‘You’re still wearing your mask.’
‘Oh cripes,’ she groans and rushes back to Bonita.
I scratch my neck and nervously peer in the mirror again. Oh no. It’s spreading up my neck and little red spots are now sprouting on my chin. I look like a strawberry. Losing my money is turning me into Frankenstein’s daughter. Oh God, this is disastrous. How could Daddy do such a thing? We burst out of the beauty salon and onto the cold streets of Belgravia, swinging our Hermes and Chanel handbags. We pass bustling Christmas shoppers trundling along with their packages. I’d forgotten it was Christmas. The awful realisation that I may be spectacularly poor after being spectacularly rich somehow pushed Christmas onto the back burner. Chelsea peeks at my face and makes a huge effort not to look horrified.
‘Is it spreading?’ I ask.
‘No, not really,’ she lies, pulling up the collar on her fake fur. ‘At least you’re not blue anymore.’
That’s comforting. I feel sure I am getting strange looks. Chelsea phones her driver after deciding it might not be a bad idea to see a doctor, which clearly means it is spreading. I dive into Chelsea’s Rolls and we hurry to Harley Street.
‘It’s a nervous reaction,’ says the doctor.
‘I’ve had a shock,’ I say.
‘A terrible shock,’ echoes Chelsea. Specks of avocado champagne face mask evident on her chin.
Well I have haven’t I? Daddy’s been arrested and my allowance will be frozen along with his bank account. I’m Poppy Wellesley, I can’t possibly be frozen. I’m rich, In fact I am very rich, that is I was very rich. I’ve no idea how not to be rich. I have only rich friends, why would I want anything other than rich friends? I live in a penthouse in Belgravia. We have a country estate in Oxfordshire. We’re the privileged. I am the daughter of Sir Rupert Wellesley, multi-millionaire and MP for Belgravia and now a crook if you believe the news. My fiancé is one of the richest men in the country; at least his family are which amounts to the same thing. I’m to be married in a few weeks. Royals will be attending. It will be the socialite wedding of the year. I do my grocery shop at Harrods. Oh buggery. Please let this be a bad dream.
‘I need it to be gone by six,’ I say.
He looks at the clock on his consulting room wall.
‘Can’t be done,’ he says casually.
‘What?’ I cry. ‘But you have to. I can’t let my fiancé see me like this. What if I pay you double?’
What am I saying? I don’t even know if I have enough to pay him single.
‘She has a Valentino wedding dress,’ says Chelsea.
Is she suggesting I use that as part payment? We both look at her. You’d never think she went to a Swiss finishing school would you?
‘What’s my wedding dress got to do with it?’ I ask.
‘Just saying,’ she mumbles.
‘I’m afraid even a Valentino dress cannot work miracles,’ says the heartless doctor.
‘Can’t you give me an injection or something?’
‘Yes, of course, what kind of injection would you like?’
This is ridiculous.
‘This is Harley Street,’ I huff. ‘Give me an injection that will shift the rash by six.’
‘Unfortunately even Harley Street can’t turn water into wine.’
‘She doesn’t want you to perform miracles, we just want some cream to get rid of it by six,’ grumbles Chelsea.
‘That would be a miracle,’ he says.
‘I’m seeing my fiancé.’
The doctor shakes his head.
‘I’m sorry. I can only suggest you calm down. Try meditation and deep breathing.’
Meditation? Deep breathing? Is the man off his trolley? I haven’t got time for josh sticks and chanting. I’m barely shallow breathing at the moment, forget the deep breathing.
‘Let’s get a second opinion,’ says Chelsea, flinging her faux fur around her shoulders, scattering speculums and specimen bottles in her wake. We sweep out of the consulting room in disgust and visit three more doctors who also tell me there is nothing they can do in time for my dinner with Roddy. I leave the last doctor doped up on Valium, me that is, not the doctor.
‘If you’re calm then it’s bound to disappear,’ says Chelsea comfortingly.
I nod in agreement. I’m already feeling calmer by virtue of the Valium. Then my phone rings and the familiar ringtone sends a chill through my bones. It’s Jeremy, Daddy’s financial adviser.
‘We’re up the creek without a paddle I’m afraid. Are you free for a spot of lunch?’ he asks.
‘Ooh,’ I mumble in my drug induced stupor.
‘I’ve booked a table at The Ivy.’
Can I afford The Ivy?
‘Can you be there for two? That gives you an hour.’
‘I’m meeting Roddy at six,’ I say.
‘Ah yes, Roddy.’
What does that mean?
‘It won’t take long,’ he says.
That’s not a good sign. I pop another Valium and tell myself things can only get better.
‘Is he guilty?’ Shout the paparazzi.
I don my Alain Mikli sunglasses, pull up the collar of my coat to hide my neck, and wait for my driver, Eddie, to open the door for me.
‘I’ll be back in an hour,’ Eddie says in his Essex accent.
‘I’ll phone if I need you earlier.’
My stomach churns as I climb from the Bentley. There are flashes all around me and security staff from The Ivy rush forward to shelter me from the cameras.
‘Have you seen your father? Did you know he was on the fiddle?’ shouts a photographer, flashing at me for all he’s worth, with his camera obviously, although if he had flashed anything else I doubt I’d have noticed. I’m so doped up. I trip entering the restaurant and picture tomorrow’s headlines: Socialite daughter of disgraced MP arrives stoned at celeb’s favourite restaurant.
I allow the maître d’hôtel to take my coat and then check my reflection in the mirror. God, I look stoned too. The rash, thank heavens, has stopped at my chin and I’d managed to cover it with Touche Éclat. My newly highlighted blonde hair is shiny and I’m wearing it loose to cover my neck. My blue eyes are sparkling, if just a little vacant, and I’d applied the minimum amount of make-up as I didn’t want to aggravate the rash. I look rather good for someone who’s been frozen. Jeremy jumps from his seat knocking over a glass in his nervousness. He pecks me on the cheek and sits back down.
‘Frightful business,’ he mumbles.
A waiter rushes forward and pulls out a chair for me.
‘Good afternoon Miss Wellesley,’ he says with a smile. ‘How are you today?’
As poor as a church mouse it seems.
‘I’m fine thank you,’ I lie.
‘I’ve ordered your favourite. I hope that’s okay,’ says Jeremy, fiddling with his cutlery.
I struggle to recall my favourite.
‘Roasted Devonshire Chicken,’ he reminds me and gestures to the waiter.
‘A bottle of Quincy, Sauvignon Blanc,’ he orders.
‘Just water for me,’ I say, feeling certain my head will flop onto the table any second. If I have the wine on top of the Valium there is a good chance the whole of me will flop to the floor in a heap. Jeremy peers at my neck and frowns.
‘What’s going on there,’ he says pointing.
I push his hand down.
‘Don’t point,’ I hiss. ‘I’ve erupted. I think it’s the stress.’
‘Nasty business,’ he says, studying my neck.
‘I know. It’s spreading everywhere.’
‘I was talking about your father.’
Oh yes, that’s a nasty business too. I nod miserably.
‘Up the creek without a paddle,’ he repeats.
‘Yes quite,’ I say, taking a gulp from his wine glass.
‘Up the creek without a paddle and facing a pack of sharks,’ he continues.
Never mind the paddle, what about my money?
The waiter places the chicken in front of us and I feel myself gag.
‘Frightful business indeed,’ Jeremy repeats. ‘They’ve frozen the bank accounts I’m afraid. I’m not going to sugar coat it Poppy. There’s no money. I won’t be making any transfers to your account for the foreseeable future.’
He knows how to break the news gently does Jeremy. I swallow and scratch my thigh. God, don’t tell me the rash has gone to my legs. I throw back the rest of his wine and glance at the chicken.
‘Don’t worry, it’s on your father’s account, the last of the expenses. Think of it as your last supper so to speak,’ he laughs.
I’m glad someone’s laughing.
‘You’ll have to make some cut backs,’ he says, slicing through his broccoli.
‘Cut backs?’ I repeat dumbly.
He leans towards me across the table.
‘Sir Rupert’s pleading not guilty. It could drag on for months.’
I stare at him.
‘Of course,’ I say, ‘It’s clearly a mistake.’
The waiter tops up his glass and I take another gulp.
‘Of course,’ he agrees.
I push the chicken around my plate. We are silent for a time and all that can be heard is the chatter of other diners and the irritating sound of Christmas music playing in the background.
‘What am I going to do?’ I say finally. ‘I’ve got to pay my driver and there are the staff salaries…’
He holds his hand up.
‘I don’t know Poppy. I only know that there’ll be nothing going into your account. Your American Express will be stopped. As for the apartment, well …’
He gestures to the wine waiter to top up his glass.
‘Are you sure you don’t want one?’ he asks.
I shake my head.
‘I’m taking Valium,’ I mumble.
‘I thought you looked a bit out of it.’
He points at my chicken.
‘Aren’t you going to eat that?’
I shake my head and push the plate towards him.
‘The flat belongs to your father. He has it down as a second home, on expenses. You will have to get out as soon as you can Poppy.’
I fight back the urge to cry. He looks at me uncomfortably and takes my hand.
‘They’re some shares I can trade. That should tide you over for a bit and maybe …’ he hesitates. ‘Maybe you can sell some things?’
I stare at him appalled.
‘You expect me to go to a pawn shop?’ I say.
‘Of course not, obviously I’ll get someone to go for you.’
Obviously. I’m not handing over my jewels to just anyone if that’s what he’s thinking. I wouldn’t even trust them with my Mother. Anyway, many of them were given to me by Roddy. Remembering Roddy and I feel calmer. I pick at a piece of bread.
‘I’m getting married in a few weeks, so everything will be okay. Daddy’s already paid for the dress and…’
‘What does Roddy say about all this?’ he asks, beckoning for the dessert menu. God, he can certainly eat. It’s good to know that my calamity hasn’t affected his appetite.
‘I haven’t spoken to him,’ I say. ‘But I know he’ll be supportive.’
He nods and I look down at my sapphire and diamond engagement ring and feel a warmth of security.
‘Nice piece you did for that glossy,’ says Jeremy.
I smile. Roddy and I have been together for nine months. We are the socialite couple. Only last month we did a special spread for Hello Magazine on our forthcoming wedding. I’ve known Roddy since I was a child; I always knew I’d marry him. We have the same circle of friends and share the same interests. Fortunately for me Roddy has pots of money so he won’t care if I don’t have any for a while. After all, I can’t be poor forever. Let’s face it I don’t know how to be poor. I fiddle with my napkin and ask the inevitable question.
‘Did he do it?’
Jeremy orders a caramel chocolate pot and raises his eyebrows.
‘Don’t you want dessert?’ he asks.
I shake my head. I can’t eat a thing, I really can’t.
‘Truffles?’ he asks.
‘No, I couldn’t.’
‘Blimey you are taking it badly. Well, the claims are outrageous, clearly ridiculous. That’s the line we’re taking and if you’re asked that’s all you need to say,’ he grabs his wine glass before I can reach it.
I debate whether to take another Valium and decide my veins have enough drugs and alcohol pumping through them. This is the rich life all right, drugs booze and fraud, not forgetting Hello Magazine. Hells bells, I hope they still cover the wedding. I’d really look the poor relation if I don’t have my wedding photos in Hello Magazine.
‘Your father is at his Oxfordshire estate, but I wouldn’t recommend going there. The press are having a heyday.’
‘He’s not in prison?’ I say relieved.
Jeremy looks at me and laughs.
‘Good Lord no. Sir Rupert in prison, don’t be silly. He’s on remand. Do you want a coffee? You look like you need one.’
I shake my head.
‘I need to go home. I’m seeing Roddy at six.’
I go to stand up and a waiter rushes to pull my chair back.
‘Right,’ says Jeremy.’ ‘Lovely lunch, ghastly subject but good to see you and I’m sure all will be fine. You’ll keep your glad rags and all that.’
He forces a laugh which doesn’t fill me with any confidence. The maître d’hôtel checks the front of the restaurant and beckons to the doorman.
‘Good day Miss Wellesley. We look forward to seeing you again soon.’
I glance back into the Ivy. An awful premonition that I will not step over the threshold again washes over me. How stupid is that? I’m marrying Roddy aren’t I? Everything will be all right.
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