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Chapter 6 – Victoria & The Christmas Wee

12 Jan

20120112-161319.jpgVictoria grabbed a huge warm chunk of bread from the basket, buttered it thick, and dunked it into her delicious Ham Hock and Lentil soup. Auntie Mary was an incredible cook and Victoria was slightly tipsy and starving.

‘And after the meeting we met Claire who is like honestly, the size of a house. I mean she’s enormous!’ Victoria had been thoroughly detailing her first day with her Aunt, Uncle and cousin. ‘I don’t mean to be mean, but like I was quite stunned, you know? Biggest loser styles, man. She’s well fat.’

Her Uncle laughed heartily, filling her glass for the third time in 10 minutes. He was a retired accountant; short and slim with a perfect beer belly and a spray of white hair around his ears. These days he liked to play golf in Spain, eat blue cheese and drink very fine red wine, indeed. And, say ‘indeed’ after everything.

‘I don’t like it when you kids use the word ‘well’ in that way.’ Her Aunt murmured in her very soft Australian accent.

‘Anyway, she’s amazingly efficient. She’s not like Sophie – she’s calm and super organised. I’m going to learn soooo much from her. She gave me lots of work to do, that I’m responsible for, and Tom is going to show me how everything works. Tom’s really nice, sort of handsome, although I think he might be gay. It’s hard to tell unless they sound all gay, you know. And tomorrow we’re going to the Salon to meet the woman – and Sophie says that we’ll recast her staff if we need to.’

‘See, May,’ her Uncle started, ‘I told you it’s all fake. The Xfactor is the same, you know. They decide who will win right at the beginning. No point making all those phone calls this year – promise? Simon Cowell is no idiot.’

Victoria stared briefly at her Uncle, then deciding to ignore she kept going. ‘They will still work there Uncle Gerry, and anyway, it’s about the relationships, not the salon. It’s like Pineapple Dance Studios meets Vice magazine.’

‘Never heard of either.’’ declared her very straight, non-drinking cousin. Christian was a handsome, strapping lad – a rower – working his way through final year at college. He had plans to go to medical school in Nottingham. Christ was he ever dull. And so disapproving of everything Victoria did.

‘Oh I’m so excited.’ Victoria beamed at everyone, eyeing her uncle for another refill.

‘I can see that.’ her aunt smiled at her. ‘Your Mum called, by the way. They’re coming up for Sunday lunch and she wants you to bring your new man.’

Victoria stopped for a moment. She was ready to introduce James to her parents, but after last time…

‘Arghhh’ Victoria put her spoon down and rolled her eyes in the most dramatic fashion.

‘Come on now.’ Her aunt grinned, clearing the soup away and laying down an enormous block of Montgomery cheddar with water crackers and date chutney. Victoria instantly put on 3 pounds. ‘He can’t be any worse than The Last One, Vicky’

The Last One, Bryn, was was a tattooed, bong-smoker who had turned up at her parents place one Boxing Day, hungover as hell in a Cypress Hill t-shirt with jeans hanging halfway down his butt. The plan was for the two of them to meet friends at the pub, but her father had other ideas. It was rare for him to have male company around Christmas, so dressed like it was summer and with the heating set to full, he sat poor Bryn down with a few dozen beers to watch the Boxing Day test.

The poor slip of a creature had no chance of keeping up and had passed out on the couch. Around midnight he had woken up in a confused, still drunk, sweaty, half asleep haze and taken a wee on the Christmas tree. The result was a short circuiting of the power and ruining the remaining wrapped presents – including a cashmere scarf, paperback and a kindle. And perhaps worse, Victoria’s young sister Ivy had witnessed it all.

The story of Bryn had become one of those awful family anecdotes rolled out at every birthday, Christmas, Easter, wedding and funeral, and Victoria had resolved NEVER to introduce a boyfriend to her father ever again.

‘No, god.. no, please.’ Victoria protested.

‘Come on, darling. It would do your Mum good to see you happy.’

Victoria winced. She knew her Aunt was right. She would have to introduce them, but there would have to be a lot of prepping on both sides before hand.

‘Alright. I’ll ask him. But he’s probably busy with a gig or something.’ Victoria stuffed a huge wedge of cheese in her mouth, feeling instantly guilty and full of self loathing.

‘I’ll move the plant-pots outside.’ Christian snickered to himself.

Her Uncle was staring intently at Victoria and leaned across the table….

‘Did I ever tell you about the time I met you Grandfather?’ He had, several times, but Victoria sat back and laughed like it was the first. Her Aunt cleared away the table as Christian washed the dishes – chipping in bits of the story that Uncle Gerry missed.

It was Waverley, Australia, 1984. Uncle Gerry had been working on the deregulation of the banking system in Canberra, and had met her Aunt on a business trip up to Sydney.

‘They just got the dollar coin,’ Aunt May chimed in. ‘Your Uncle left one for me on the table and they weren’t even released yet.’

‘Your Aunt was a waitress at an Italian restaurant.’

Victoria knew every part of the story. She imagined the Australian sun on their faces, and the sepia tones of the beach front veranda, as the crashing of waves against rocks fought to drown out the hungry, agitated gulls.

She inhaled the pungent, intoxicating scent of frangepani, fried fish and chips with vinegar and the salty taste of sea spray in the warm air.

She pictured her old Australian Grandfather scowling as this soft young Englishman announced his plans to take his only daughter back to England. She imagined the sweat on his lip, the gentle pain in his heart, and the crisp right hook to Uncle Gerry’s face. Victoria looked across at him proudly rubbing his scar while Aunt May kissed his forehead.

Things had worked out. And she could only hope her Christmas wee story would one day be replaced by what ever happened this Sunday lunch when her parents met her James. This. Sunday. Lunch. Shit.

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Chapter 3 – Victoria & Her James

13 Dec

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Victoria had been seeing him for just over 4 months. James Warner-Hughes, 23 from Surrey. Father a surgeon, mother a physiotherapist. 2 brothers (older) living quietly in Kensington, and of course, the family holiday home in Tuscany.

He was stunningly handsome and had an awesome job as blog editor at a small indie record label in Camden. Achingly – painfully – hip, his tiny frame accentuated by the smallest, tightest pair of red jeans Victoria had ever seen. He was never without his bowler hat, fags or slightly awkward swagger. He drank whiskey, discussed politics and played in an experimental band consisting of a light show, turn-tables and a violin player called ‘Tryst’. Sometimes he wore glitter on his face.

The last time she saw him, they met in London Fields, he was already a little bit drunk, but she had her big news to share and planned to play catch up ASAP. And there he was, speaking with his university friend Tom. Hands flying about, gesticulating in that Cambridge educated way he did – all liberal (but inadvertently Tory) opinions and sexy arrogance.

‘Darling.’ He kissed her forehead as she arrived outside the Cat and Mutton. ‘How is my darling?’

All around were swarms of fashionable young twenty-somethings, pints in hand, reveling in the very slightly-warmer-than-fucking-freezing spring evening. The girls were intimidatingly beautiful, all vintage fashion with huge fake furs, thick fringes and red lipstick. Victoria couldn’t keep up with fashion that didn’t talk to her with specifics – precise direction – from the pages of a glossy weekly. She relied heavily on the whats hot/what’s not section of Grazia rather than the pages of French Vogue. And she hated the smell of vintage clothing, and the girls who wore it – they just looked so …. dirty.

She beamed at James, her heart and head swimming with warm, pure joy and love. And filthy horn, of course.

‘I got the job!’. She was so happy, she might burst.

‘Awesome darling. Just awesome. We MUST celebrate!’ ‘You know Tom, right, but have you met James? He works at Vice.’

‘You’re both called James?’ Victoria laughed, noting they both sported the same pencil moustache.

‘Yes,’ her James replied and without a hint of jest, ‘luckily the similarity ends there.’ He reached for his wallet.

‘Oh, I’ll get it. I feel like bubbly anyway. Can I get you a drink?’

‘A pint would be great, thank you.’ the other James smiled warmly, then sucked back on his rolly cigarette.

‘Thanks babes, you’re the best.’ Her James kissed her again. ‘Peroni please.’

Victoria didn’t feel comfortable letting him spend money on her. Despite his families incredible wealth, he was earning so very little at the magazine, and he was always to grateful to her for helping out where she could.

Back outside, she could feel the chill seeping into her bones.

Her James had a small group around him now, she stood quietly and insecure, as they discussed a band she’d never heard of, all the while her James’ arm firmly fixed around her waist.

‘So, what do you do?’ She asked Helen, the only other girl in the circle. Helen had a big mane of blonde hair, and the sharpest fringe she ever saw. Her make up was as bold and blunt as her personality. She terrified Victoria with all her edges. Her edgy edginess.

‘I have a cupcakes and handmade underwear stall on the market here. I’m setting up a small business. It’s called ‘C-Cups and Cakes’.’ Helen smiled. ‘And you?’

‘I work in television,’ Victoria replied joyously. Helen looked slightly bemused.

‘Oh nice.’ Before quickly adding, ‘I don’t really watch television. We have one in our flat – but it’s only really for watching films.’

‘Oh good’. Victoria giggled. ‘You won’t miss Twilight 3.’

Helen raised the corners of her mouth ever so slightly. Victoria had met girls like her before – and they were not the kind, homely types you’d expect from someone with a fondness of peach frosting. They were the new generation of entrepreneurs. She had a personal brand. A collection of vintage jewelry. She dated 30 year olds. She smelled like mothballs. She looked down on girls like Victoria. Her James quickly chimed in from nowhere –

‘Victoria wants to make documentaries, she just got her first step in that direction’

‘Oh,’ Helen looked very interested, ‘really, where are you working then?’

‘Bear Productions’ Victoria said meekly.

‘I’ve never heard of it – what have they made?’

‘Um.. Pirate Island.’ Victoria blushed, ‘I mean, they do kinda shit tele really, but it’s just a start- you know?’

‘I can imagine.’ She exhaled smoke just slightly shy of Victoria’s face, ‘I mean, I can’t really imagine working for someone else….’

‘Just a stepping stone, eh Vic?’ James was looking slightly protective.

‘Well, yes – but still, it’s a good place to start.’ She turned back to Helen ‘I would love to run a sweet little stall in the east end, though. Must be such a fun thing to do.’

‘Well, yes.’ Said Helen. Anger.

‘And.. ‘ continue Victoria, ‘you know, good luck with that.’

She turned to the duet of James’ – ‘Drink, chaps?’

Chapter 1 – Victoria & The First Day

10 Dec

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It was her first day. She had preened, plucked, smoothed, curled then smoothed again. Her bedroom floor (her aunt’s lounge) was like a top shop change room at rush hour, despite the fact she had carefully laid out her outfit from the night before. The outfit she had spent her most of her last two hundred quid on, and the last two hours perfecting with accessories galore (the only thing that separates man from the beasts, her friend Charlie used to say). She tiptoed over the mess and scribbled hastily on a post it note ‘Sorry about the mess, love V.’

She pulled her beige rip-off Burberry trench on and stopped one last time to look into the mirror. Perfect. She looked a just perfect mix of creative and professional. Fashionable but practical. She was trendy and put together, but had that wonderful air of effortlessness she thought as she added a forth bracelet.

Out she skipped into the wonderful spring morning, the world at her feet, 24 pounds in her wallet, fresh pink lipstick, her ipod set to full volume and headed out to catch the train into London, and eventually, she dreamed, her new, amazing, incredible, worthy role as junior production assistant at Bear Productions Ltd, subsidiary of Stargaze Productions part of some parent company from Spain who made feminine hygiene products. The glamour was overwhelming.

She filed in through the turnstiles, elbow to elbow with other professionals. Middle aged men with suits reading the metro or the Daily Mail. Girls with big blond manes, tight suits and heels wearing too much make up texting on Blackberrys. Creative plus forties blokes with greying hair, dark leather shoes, jeans and hip jackets reading The Guardian on their ipads (some in a flat cap hiding the balding they were not quite ready to accept). Return-to-work mothers, practical but uncool, in sneakers, stockings and dark pencil skirts looking endlessly stressed as they recounted the exit procedure at home to recall if the iron was off.

Leaning casually against the doors, listening to music and dreaming of the life that lay ahead, Victoria pictured her day. Beaming producers welcoming her into the team as jealous interns asked her if she would like a cup of tea. She smiled.

Last year when she had graduated she sent an email in large red font to the Managing Director, Ian Langley of Bear. It read simply ‘I’m a great idea that isn’t working’ and had a link to her Linkedin page, complete with a photo of her from a hen night in Brighton last summer.

At around 9pm that evening she had gotten an email back which read ‘Cll my assistant Penny to set up a quick call and we can tlk.’

She thought he sounded wonderfully busy with the all that bad grammer and initiated the contact with Penny right away. Everything after that happened so quickly. After a five minute call she was handed to someone called Sophia, the senior producer, who asked for her CV and what her ‘career plans’ were. Victoria knew the answer to that immediately.

‘One day, I want to make factual documentaries’’ she declared.

‘Not fictional ones, then?’

‘No, definitely factual.’ Victoria missed the joke.

Okay, we need someone to coordinate the post on scripted reality show’ Sophie said with the matter of fact air of someone who had been doing it for years. Victoria noted the disinterest in her voice and became instantly envious that she was not that experienced, tired, old and bored.

‘l’m happy to do anything’ declared Victoria once again.

‘Okay, well come her Monday at 10:00am, ask for me at reception. Its the big grey building with a massive Pirate statue in the window. Try not to be late as we are crazy busy. We’ll do a 1 month trial, with no promises. Got that?’

‘Thank you so much,’ She gushed, ‘really, I’m so grateful. See you on Monday.’

‘Okay, take care Vanessa – oh I’m so sorry, Victoria.’ Sophie stammered slightly, ‘Sorry, I have a cousin… ‘

Victoria felt the train slow as it pulled into Waterloo and her excitement was uncontainable. First, she would order a Latte from Costa coffee, and perhaps a croissant. She wondered what would look the most professional. A fruit cup? What she wanted was a bacon sandwich and was delighted to discover it was London’s breakfast of choice ‘on-the-run’. Ooooh, with a runny egg. Life was grand.