The second book in the Curmudgeon Avenue series is on NetGalley during December, here is a free chapter :
Chapter 12: Babycham Barbara.
December had brought tacky tinsel to the windows of Whitefield. Patchouli’s hair was growing back, and in the meantime, Toonan had picked up a Father Christmas hat from one of the pound shops on the precinct, which would remain in situ on Patchouli’s head for the twelve days of Christmas and beyond.
One of Mrs Ali’s sons had been to the cash and carry to stock up his mother’s shop with Christmas goods. She might be the only establishment open when Christmas day arrives, so when I say Christmas goods, I am talking about cigarettes and so on. Not only was Mrs Ali everyone’s emergency angel on Curmudgeon Avenue, she also knew everyone, everything and occasionally, what was going to happen next.
‘Social media I can’t remember which one… now was it Facebook or Twitter? I can’t remember darling’ Mrs Ali was updating her display of ‘crisps that come in cardboard tube’ in her shop when Ricky Ricketts had called in for tobacco and tittle-tattle. In his hand, he had a Christmas card that had been addressed to Harold, the opening of which had caused his mother to hide in the under the stairs cupboard for a couple of days. The worst thing about it was that she was insisting that she is ‘fine’. After years of being in a relationship with Wantha, Ricky knew that when a woman says she is ‘fine’ this is code for ‘You have done something to upset me, usually flirting with another woman, so now I am sulking and imagining slicing your testicles off when you are asleep’. Now, Ricky did not care about Harold but say what you like about Ricky, if something was up with his mother, he would find out why. There is no internet signal in the under-the-stairs cupboard after all and if Ricky needed to borrow some money from Edith, he would need her to be out and about in the other rooms of Curmudgeon Avenue, with full access to internet banking.
‘This Christmas card arrived on the 30th of November. Don’t you think that’s weird sending a card that early? I mean, who is she?’
‘I don’t know darling, Christmas gets earlier each year. That’s why I can’t remember where she was asking if anyone knows Harold Goatshead, because it was a while ago’
‘What like a special group?’
‘Yes, Harold nearly went viral! People were commenting that they had seen him in all destinations, I was worried about that rumour Wantha started about the fraud investigator, so that’s why I commented and told her that Harold is living here, on Curmudgeon Avenue only as a single lodger. I definitely said he was single. You can’t be too careful darling’
‘Oh, yes and you’re naturally nosy too’ Ricky Ricketts said, as though this is a thing.
‘Yes, darling I am, and for that I am grateful, because now I own the most popular shop in Whitefield’ Mrs Ali sat on her favourite chair behind the counter and opened up a packet of dry roasted nuts. ‘Nut?’ She asked Ricky, who took a few of them out of the bag. Mrs Ali noticed his square fingernails with dirt behind them. ‘See you later, love’ Ricky said, making for the door.
‘Oh, before you go, I have seen that smartly dressed handsome man driving his well fancy car up and down Curmudgeon Avenue a few times this week’
‘Don’t tell my mum that!’
‘I can’t darling, she’s in her under-the-stairs cupboard!’ Mrs Ali said.
Back at number one Curmudgeon Avenue, Ricky now had the task of coaxing his mother out of the cupboard, even though she was ‘fine’. He opened the cupboards and started rustling about in them for biscuits, and dry roasted peanuts- more-ish they are. Nothing. Then he took an apple from the bowl, and bit into it as loudly as he possibly could with his stained rectangular teeth. Still Edith did not stir. Having realised that this kind of food stealing activity is usually associated with Harold, he opened the fridge door, and cracked open a can of cheap lager. ‘Ricky? Is that you love’ Edith squeaked from inside the cupboard. Bingo! ‘Yes, mum it’s me. Do you want a cup of tea?’ No answer ‘Harold’s not here… I don’t know where he is’. Ricky said. Edith eventually emerged from under the stairs, her eyes squinting in the sunlight and slightly puffy from the worry (caused by Harold and the Christmas card). She put her mobile phone on the kitchen table. Ricky’s eyes widened. ‘I thought you said there’s no internet signal under the stairs’
‘You can get on Facebook. Thanks for the tea, love, Harold was meant to be taking me Christmas shopping today, but I don’t know where he is.’ Edith sat down and slurped the lukewarm yet stewed cup of tea that Ricky had made for her. ‘Eww’
‘That’s how Grandma used to make it!’ Ricky said. ‘Anyway, I’ve just been talking to Mrs Ali, and it was her that gave this Barbara woman Harold’s new address. I told you it would be nothing’
‘Mrs Ali?’ Edith said in disbelief, those who gossip to you will gossip about you after all.
‘Apparently this Barbara woman was looking for Harold on Facebook, but Mrs Ali said she was worried about that smartly dressed man, also looking for Harold, so she told Barbara he is your single lodger… Noting to worry about’ Ricky said, and Edith gasped a heart choking gasp. Her hand automatically reached for the screen of her phone, to reveal that, since Babycham Barbara had been looking for Harold, Edith, in turn, had been looking for Babycham Barbara. Stalking her open profile behind the mean screen. Ricky took the phone out of his mum’s hand and looked at the profile picture, which revealed the face of a woman that even Wantha would be intimidated by. A self-assured, overly made up face and gigantic breasts. Ricky scrolled down Babycham Barbara’s profile as though it was a top trumps card. Top trumps of cougars that is. Lives in: East Sussex. Work: Lady of Leisure. Relationship status: Widow. Most recent post: ‘Well, if my girls Tuscany and Savannah are off to New York for Christmas, then I’m off to visit an old friend in Manchester. Wish me luck!’
Oh dear Edith, oh dear.
Book available here