Sample Chapters: PRESS ATTENTION



Chapter 1. The Bank Job

There I was, sitting face to face with Mr Gittings, the pudgy, dough faced, bank manager from my local branch of National & Westminster.
After a brief glance at the computer screen, Mr Gittings peered at me from over his wire-rimmed, pink tinted spectacles, and informed me that my requested loan had not met with the computers approval.
“Oh, dear, well, Mr Gittings, as it seems that you're not the one in charge here, could you please ask the computer, if it would like to reconsider. My business enterprise is in need of no more than a minimal investment of, say, four-thousand pounds. A paltry sum, I would have thought, for the National & Westminster to rustle up in order to assist one of its most loyal and valued customers.”
“I'm sorry, Ms Pettigrew, but, according to the computer, the numbers just don't add up.”
“That can't be so, Mr Gittings, numbers always add up, it's what they do, and it's what computers do, they can add anything up.”
Mr Gittings then slowly, and pointedly, removed his glasses, and I could see, from his beady currants for eyes, that this was a man devoid of compassion and understanding.
“Let me put it another way, Ms Pettigrew, your business enterprise, which consists of one small dress shop, seems to be haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate, and a four-thousand pound cash injection, isn't going to stem the flow.”
“Actually, Mr Gittings, that is a very astute observation on your part. Four-thousand pounds simply isn't enough, is it? Now, eight-thousand, well, that would make a real difference. Speculate to accumulate, that's what they always say, you're absolutely right! National & Westminster needs to lend me at least eight, if my boutique, Tres a La Mode, is going to really get off the ground and show a sizeable profit, as I'm sure it will, should the money be forthcoming. See if your computer can add that up, ask it, what's four times two.”
“Tres a la what'? Ms Pettigrew”
“Oh, that's the new name for my shop. You see, I've recently been to London and I've come back full of all sorts of new ideas. I've seen what's hip and happening right now up in the great metropolis, it's time to update, not just the name, but the clothes I sell, and the shops decor. That's what it's all about Mr Gittings, having a keen eye for what's, 'on-trend', and I've got a very keen eye. It's a matter of faith in my ability, something only a shrewd individual such as yourself would perceive. Don't be a slave to technology Mr, Gittings, wield some power. Don't let the robots take over.”
At this point in the proceedings, Mr Gittings simply stood up, declared our meeting over, and ushered me towards the door of his stuffy little cubicle of an office.
“A pleasure to see you, Ms Pettigrew,” he lied, adding that he
was already late for a staff meeting, one which should have taken place over five minutes ago.
As my presence had hardly graced his office for less than, what felt like, a matter of seconds, I suggested to Mr Gittings that he really ought to consider employing a better secretary.
“You could hardly have been in a staff meeting, whilst also attending a scheduled conference with a valued customer, now could you?” I remarked, before flouncing out through the door with as much dignity as I could muster.
Then I felt a parting shot was in order.
“Oh, and take it from one who knows, pink tinted glasses, really Mr Gittings, you're not Bono and they scream, 'mid-life crisis!' Horn rimmed would suit you better.”

After tapping out the numbers on the fancy new gadget mum had had affixed to her front door, I stood in the hallway and announced my arrival.
She was busy painting away in her studio, and I'm not sure my unscheduled interruption was all that welcome.
No matter, after pouring us both a large gin and tonic, mum was ready to hear my barrage of verbal complaints.
Which, amongst many others, included the financial state of the nation, bloody Brexit, bastard bank managers, my waning fortunes, and how stale the Chelsea bun I'd bought, that very morning, from the local bakery, had been.
“I tell you mother, I knew I was in for a bad day from that point on.” 
After I finished my long-winded gripe, mum topped up our gins and pondered my predicament.
Initially, and most generously, she offered some financial assistance.
I knew she was now earning an extremely good income from her paintings and would be only too happy to transfer some money into my account, however, foolish pride made me push the offer aside.
It was my fashion business, I had built it up from nothing, single-handed, and I was damn well going to build it all right back up again.
“Well, the money is there, Eva, should you change your mind,” she said, and then suggesting that maybe having a sale would be a good idea.  “Church Street is rather off the beaten track, you need to think of something that will encourage more people to veer off in your direction.”
“A sale, would be neither a novel, nor advisable idea,” I retorted rather testily (I was still in an irritable frame of mind after my brief encounter with the Gittings). “Tres a La Mode is an exclusive boutique, not some cheap throwaway fashion store. The clothes I sell are quality, and people know that because they are expensive.”
“Well, maybe they are TOO expensive, Eva. Have you thought of that? We are going through difficult economic times! All this endless talk of a hard Brexit, mass evacuation by European nationals and the rush to stockpile toilet rolls, it's left us all feeling very unstable.”
“Of course, we are always struggling with a lack of funding down here in Penswithian mother, but there's still plenty of wealthy people in London.”
“Well, that's the trouble, isn't it, Eva, they're in the city and not down here where your shop is,” she quipped.
“I beg to differ,” I retorted, “they may work and mainly live in the city, but Cornwall has become a very desirable and popular holiday, stroke, mini-break, destination. That's what it said in the Sunday Times anyway. Apparently, it's up there with Tuscany and the Dordogne. Lots of celebrities have second homes down here now. That couple off that daytime telly show, you know, old whatstheirnames, anyway, they've got a house in Helston, and the comedian that was in that sitcom I can't now remember the name of, well, she's got a farm out near Pendeen, or somewhere. Spats says that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin from Coldplay came down to Cornwall and stayed out at St. Buryus just before their conscious uncoupling.”
“Well, it's hardly surprising then that they uncoupled,” scoffed mum, “fancy taking your wife on holiday to St. Buryus, it's the back of beyond! One pub, a church, and a spattering of old cottages. Not famed for its friendliness to strangers either! With their money, they could have gone anywhere they liked, a lovely tropical island, or some such place. I wouldn't be surprised if it hadn't rained all the time either. They were probably holed up for days in one of those tiny damp holiday cottages that are always furnished with worn out old nineteen seventies furniture. Hardly conducive to a happy holiday or romantic break, is it?”
At this point, I suggested that we returned to the all-important matter in hand.
“It's not just Londoners and celebrities that have a higher than average income, I reminded her. Don't forget, even down here, there are some professions that assure a very reasonable standard of living. Take dentists and vets for instance, people's teeth will continue to rot and pets will inevitably fall ill or die. A vet charges fifty pounds or more just for giving your cat a lethal injection, and that takes seconds, if the animal's not ready to be put down, you're potentially looking at an operation that could cost thousands. Don't even get me started on dentists. I don't believe I even needed those fillings, and what's the point of a hygienist? They just nag you incessantly about flossing.”
“I know what you mean, Eva, I spent over five hundred pounds on our lovely old Persian, Mauritius, and then she was put down in the end anyway. I think they knew all along she was a hopeless case. The vet just wanted to maximize the bill before the cats inevitable, and quite foreseeable, demise. After all the money I spent at that clinic, you would have thought they could have thrown in the lethal for free.”
“Anyway,” I interrupted, “once again, we digress from the subject at hand. I know an article in the local paper would help. It's just that I need to come up with something exciting for them to write about.”
“Have a promotional evening of sorts, like a cheese and wine event or something, That should bring a few people in, and probably get you a short piece in the press.”
That was mum's next ill-thought-out proposal.
“I'm sure it would, I agreed, all the local free-loaders and alcoholics would be heading down to, Tres a La Mode, in their droves. You just don't go around offering free wine and food down here in Penswithian, there isn't the right mentality for it. All and sundry would simply come in, chuck as much booze down their throats as possible, then head off to the nearest pub, probably sloshing wine on the clothing and treading Caerphilly into the carpet, on their way out.”
“What about getting your sister Tiffany's twins down from London for a visit. Then, get the press to send someone around to photograph the girls outside your shop. They really are becoming quite famous on that clubbing circuit. Hardly a week goes by when there isn't some sort of twin-related news in the tabloids. Who would have thought it?”
“Not me, I certainly wouldn't have, I must say, and I'm not sure, famous, is quite the right word, notorious is a more apt description for the sort of coverage they tend to generate. Still, that would have been great publicity, and the twins promised to come down and make a big hoo-ha about visiting the boutique when they are next in town. The trouble is, now that they're on the fame ladder there doesn't seem to be time for much else, least of all family. So, who knows, they could be down in a couple of weeks, or we might not see them for six months. You can't even speak to the girls directly any more. The last time I telephoned, my call was immediately diverted to their agent, who informed me that my nieces were fully booked practically every minute of every day for the foreseeable future. Even poor Tiffany rarely hears from them. Still, as I reminded her, at least you know where they are and what they're up to, all you need to do is pop down to the local newsagents and you're bound to see some coverage of their latest exploits splattered all over the front covers. Though I felt duty bound, should she have missed the story, to warn Tiffs that her girls are reportedly hanging around a lot with all those rather unsavoury rapper types at the moment, Most of whom, have been dragged up in the ghettos of New York, where it's all about gang violence and marking your territory by leaving trainers hanging from telephone wires.” 
“That's the trouble though, Eva, girls always go for the bad boys. I had a real crush on Alvin Stardust in the seventies. 'My coo ca choo', was his best song. That tight leather shirt and trousers really suited him. Oh, and those black gloves he wore! The sultry enticing way he looked into the camera as if he was talking to you and no one else. I should have held out for someone like that, instead of marrying your father. The twins ought to make the most of their fame and enjoy themselves, and you know, being a disc jockey is a highly regarded profession these days. Take that Fat Boy something or other, he earns an absolute fortune going to clubs and playing his records.”
I couldn't help but scoff.
“What on earth do you know about the clubbing scene, or DJ's, and it's, 'Fat Boy Slim', for goodness sake.”
“Whether he is a fat slim boy, or a fat boy getting slim, is neither here nor there. The names rather silly when you think about it, a complete contradiction in terms. Also, don't forget, the twins are women breaking into a largely male-dominated profession. You have to admire them for that.”
Again, I could see that the conversation was losing its intended thread.
If we were going to end up discussing equal rights and the suffragette's (one of her favourite subjects), then I'd be here all night. I needed to get back home and update Spats on the outcome of my meeting with the Gitting's man.
“I just wanted some money for a facelift, that's all,” I said to mum, as I made for the door.
“Now that's ludicrous Eva, and I completely withdraw my offer of a loan if you're going to spend it on unnecessary surgery. You've got a perfectly good jawline, it's only when you put on weight that it tends to look slack. That old guy up the road, you know, the one that's got a crush on you, well, he said, just the other day, 'your Eva could have been a fashion model if she had been a bit taller'.”
I honestly despair of that woman at times, was she being deliberately obtuse?
“I meant for the shop, a refurbishment, for Christ's sake!”
However, her final remark had got me thinking.
“Fashion model,” now mum, that's a rather novel idea! That would bring some money in.”
Mum looked worried.
“I don't wish to be harsh, Eva, the old guy did say, could have been, as in, the past tense. I'm afraid the chance of a modelling contract at your age is most unlikely. Mind you, there are those catalogues that use older women for their frumpier clothes and body shaping underwear.”
“For goodness sake, I'm not talking about me!” I was forced to explain. “I meant, models, as in, catwalk models, a fashion show. If I put on a fashion show I would be almost certain to secure an entire half, or maybe, even, a whole page, in the local paper. There would be lots of great pictures too. Don't you see, it's perfect. Excellent free publicity, AND, I'll make some money out of it.”
“You've never put on a fashion show, Eva,” mum reminded me, unnecessarily. “Where do you even begin? I'm sure it's not as easy as you think.”
I felt obliged to present my credentials as a very good organiser of events.
“People have often praised my talents at putting on a show,” I reminded her. “Remember when I had that Elvis themed party? Nearly everyone said that they had had a really good time. It wasn't as easy to organise as you might imagine. Finding a venue, arranging a buffet, as well as buying a karaoke machine and life-size cardboard Elvis on eBay, it was no mean feat, I can tell you. Once I set my mind to something, I give it my all, and this is going to be the best damn fashion show this old seaside town has ever seen!”
Feeling quite exhilarated and all fired up, I left my mother's house and hurried home to relay my new plan of action to Spats.

Chapter 3. The Crap Woman


There was no time to be wasted, so a few days after my lunch with Flo, Zoe and Jackie, I telephoned the Ganja to inquire about rates and availability.
The fee to hire the entire theatre, both upstairs and downstairs, was considerably more than I had expected. We would need the theatre on the day of the show for the final dress rehearsal. I played the fundraising card and questioned whether some sort of a concession on cost might be considered.
I could quite clearly hear the tone of disdain in the woman's voice at the other end of the phone.
“Fundraising fashion show,” she snorted. “I'm not sure that the Ganja is really the best place to hold your event. We're more of a theatre, people come here to see Pinter and Shakespeare, poetry readings and musical recitals, that sort of thing. You might be better off contacting one of the local hotels to see if they would offer the use of their entrance foyer or something.”
Margery Lillycrap was her name, and she had just succeeded in rubbing me up the wrong way, an unwise move.
“I beg to differ, Mrs Crap,” I replied. “I believe the Ganja is just the place for the sort of theatrical and stunning show I have in mind. This will be no ordinary fashion show, mark my words, and I don't doubt that the theatre will be packed to the gunnels on the big night.”
“It's not Crap,” she snapped back, “it's Lillycrap.”
“Well, I'm delighted that we can be on first name terms Lilly, you can call me Eva rather than Ms Pettigrew if you wish. Anyway, I'm sure the Arts Council would prefer that the Ganja was put to good use rather than left empty and devoid of any sort of entertainment for weeks on end, as it seems to have been of late. Is Friday the twentieth of April available?”
Margery seemed to have taken an unfathomable dislike to the whole idea of my show and was intent on being difficult, insisting that she would need time to consider my proposal and perhaps put the matter in front of the Arts and Actors committee.
“Time is of the essence,” I went on to explain. “There is a great deal to organise, especially the publicity. The sooner we get the publicity bandwagon rolling, the better, and advertising the date will, of course, be crucial. I'm thinking press, radio and even local television coverage. It would look very community and Arts Council spirited if I could mention that your little theatre had supported us and offered some sort of financial assistance, as in, a cheaper hire fee due to the fundraising nature of the event. We are raising money here for cruelly treated and abused children and cats,” I reminded her. “Surely that's what it's all about. If I was you Mrs Crap, sorry, Lilly, I would feel a lot more secure in my job if I wasn't sitting in an empty theatre half the week. One that's losing money hand over fist and under permanent threat of closure. I believe that the local Penswithian's will be far more enthusiastic about heading out to a fashion show for the evening than being offered the option of watching some tired old Shakespeare play. Quite frankly, in my opinion, Shakespeare is overrated and we're all thoroughly bored of Romeo. No one enjoys a performance of 'A Midsummer's Nights Dream' except those actually in it. It's a ludicrous play in which one of the main characters is called Bottom and is half ass. As far as Pinter goes, if your general public feels the need to watch awkward social situations unfold, they can just go and spend Christmas with their in-laws, and don't even get me started on performance art. When did actual entertainment become such an issue? Don't let's lose sight of your own personal crusade either. I'm not sure that the locals will be so ready to sign the 'Save Our Ganja' petition next time if they realise that it's just become a venue for a select, self-indulgent, few. You have to remember, it's all about bums on seats, money in the coffers, and I don't doubt that you will make a tidy profit on the bar at the after show party.”
Worn down by my long-winded, though clever and persuasive, argument, Margery agreed to halve the hire fee and agreed to pencil in a date.
Although she did insist that we could only have the Saturday night and not the Friday.
“I'm pretty sure we have someone coming to do a reading of a translated version of Kafka's letters to his father on that Friday, followed by an interpretation through the medium of dance, of Metamorphosis. I could be wrong, Kafka could be the Thursday. Whatever, if you require a confirmed date of availability right now, then it's going to have to be Saturday, as I don't have my diary to hand and my personal assistant is off today.”
I had guessed, fairly early on in our conversation, that Margery was the kind of jobs-worth that would want to wield her authority and for this reason I had deliberately asked for the Friday night, knowing full well she would be cantankerous and say that Friday was not available. I had wanted the Saturday evening spot all along, so was absolutely delighted.
“You must understand Ms Pettiness...”
Touché, I thought.
“You must understand, we do have overheads, building maintenance, staff wages. Obviously, you will expect to have someone serving behind the bar on the night, and our in-house technical expert must be on hand at all times for health and safety reasons.”
This too was an added bonus. I hadn't as yet considered the necessity for a technician. We would need lighting, music, a microphone, all sorts of technical tweaking. It had been a good mornings work. We had the time, the place, and an odd job man.
“It's been a pleasure to talk to you Lilly,” I lied. “I'm glad we managed to come to this mutually beneficial agreement.”
“It's been a real experience talking to you too Ms Pettiness, and hearing your views on Shakespeare and his lack of popularity have been most enlightening. I shall be passing them on throughout many dinner parties to come, no doubt inducing the long silent pauses for which Mr Harold Pinter's plays are so famed.”
At lunchtime, I hurried around to mums to inform her of developments.
“Well, Eva, that's a start. Now you need to sort out your collection and find the models.”
“That shouldn't be too hard,” I explained, “I have attractive women coming in and out of, Tres a La Mode, all the time.”
She wanted to know what the average age group of the models would be.
“You don't want them all to be too young, a bunch of gangly skinny teenagers who lack the required deportment will not do the clothes justice. Get real women with real bodies who possess some level of maturity and sophistication. Women in their late twenties, early thirties, even throw in a forty-year-old maybe. Make sure they have some curves. In fact, you would do well to choose at least one model that's more your average size fourteen, or maybe even a sixteen, to make the larger lady feel included. Show that you're not fattist. Have a short one too.”
“Everyone knows that clothes hang better on taller women,” I said. “It's just a fact. If you think that I am going to go out of my way to find some size sixteen, forty-year-old, five-foot model to thunder down the runway, you're very much mistaken.”
“You're being ridiculous Eva. I just meant, show some variation so that your audience feel that they can relate to the women up on stage and visualise themselves in the clothes.”
I realised that she had made a fair point. However, they would still need to exude some glamour. Women want to look at attractive women and imagine that, with the right hair and outfit, they too could look that good.
Then I had another brilliant idea.
“What about having some men in it that the girls can play up to and flirt with, that would give the show a little edge?”
“You don't have men's clothing in your shop Eva, and let me tell you, no one is going to want to look at men in dresses!”
“No,” I explained (though I knew she was really just trying to wind me up), “we use the men as props. Have them bring the models on and then hang around on the sidelines to provide some eye candy for the women in the audience. Just three or four, that's all, but really great looking.”
Mum thought that this was an excellent idea.
“Yes, Eva, have them in uniforms or something, maybe military. You wouldn't want them dressed as policeman though, that wouldn't be so sexy. Well, not unless they were dressed as American policemen.”
“Fireman, that's the uniform I thought would play out best,” I said. “No woman, absolutely, no woman, can resist a fireman. They have to be tall, fit, muscular and strong. Firemen sacrifice their lives to drag people and pets from burning buildings. If that's not sexy, I don't know what is. I'll never forget that scene in 'Backdraft' when Kurt Russell emerges from the flames with a rescued baby in his arms. I wonder if I could find anyone that looks like Kurt Russell in Penswithian? Probably not.”
“How many models do you think you will need Eva?”
“Good question. I've given it quite a lot of thought and have decided on about eight. If I send that many models out in rotation, they will each have enough time to change into their second outfit before it's their turn to be back on stage. As far as male escorts go, probably about four.”
“Will Spats be one?”
“Spats was keen to be the compare, the perfect role for him,” I explained, “and much as I love his rather weighty proportions, I don't think he would work out as an escort for the models.”
“What about your Gordon? He's a lovely looking young man. I know he's living in London now, but he could always come down for the weekend, couldn't he?”
I couldn't see my son Gordon taking to the idea of being in a fashion show at all. Gordon is the introverted type who's interests lie almost exclusively in his obsession with computer programming.
“Maybe some of the female models will have attractive boyfriends or brothers that could be in on the act. Anyway, I shall just have to start recruiting and take it from there.”
“What about your brother Seb's, Eva?” Maybe Seb's and Cynthia. I'm sure they would love to be involved, given the opportunity.”
She was right. I hadn't considered having my brother in the show. Seb's was a good dancer and Cynthia was a great looking girl. The problem with this idea was that they lived in Dorset.
Still, maybe we could persuade them both to come down for a weekend break.
Everything was falling into place.