Local newspaper journalist, Sydney, is like many women. Bored at work, bad hair days, karaoke nights, loving boyfriend and a fabulous best friend. But a huge discovery sends her whole world spiralling downwards and things will never be the same again. She’s lost her job, her boyfriend and, well, everything.
Unlike most women, Sydney’s answer is to resort to binge eating, binge drinking and never leaving her bedroom.
An unexpected job offer comes her way and Sydney leaves London for the tiny village of Bridley to become editor of a countryside magazine, not realising that part of the job means becoming the magazine’s Agony Aunt.
Resolving to make her mark as an editor and to set the problematic lives of Bridley villagers to rights, Sydney uncovers hidden truths, secret loves and the possibility of romance lies in wait behind the counter of her favourite coffee shop.
Is it that easy to turn your life around? Well, maybe not for Sydney …
Today of all days it has to rain. I had my hair all planned. Bone straight like the woman in the perfume advert, the perfume Helena said Leon bought her for her birthday and that she didn’t like. The perfume may not have been up to much but I couldn’t help hoping my unruly hair would be up for the job today. I needed perfection. The perfect look. It only had to last long enough for me to deliver my speech and then my hair could do whatever the hell it liked, the way it usually did.
Helena had told me to relax, things have a way of working themselves out and that I’d look fabulous whatever. Easy for her to say. Not that I’m not knocking Helena, she’s a wonderful best friend and an equally wonderful person but her beauty is as natural as it is perfect. It isn’t jealousy that has me ogling her splendour when she isn’t looking but I’m just so amazed at how effortless it is for her to look stunning. Helena’s hair has the ability to just sit there looking luscious, thick and curly and full of life, even though hair is supposed to be dead. My hair knows it’s dead and doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
I’d seen Helena a lot in the run up to her month long holiday to Brazil because I knew I would miss her like hell. The trip to Brazil was another birthday present from her ever loving, ever rich, fiancé, Leon.
Helena has been a supportive friend since I met her at university, but despite what she said, I knew more than anyone I needed to get up early for the big day and sort my look out.
I blink upwards to the skylight at the cloudy sky, the first in ages since the London heatwave. It’s September, it’s been hot and humid, tempers are short and London has been like the inside of a hot air balloon waiting to explode. They’ve talked about a rainstorm hitting us on the Six O’Clock News all week but so far the rain has kept us guessing. Until last night, that is, when the heavens opened. It had been thundery through the night. Rob slept through it, snoring a symphony of snorts and puffs, as if the storm outside wasn’t enough to keep me awake.
It’s no wonder I’m anxious. I haven’t slept a wink. The rain is drumming a timely rhythm on the glass and I curse the weatherman for his sealing the doom of my hair.
‘You getting up already?’ Rob’s head is under the pillow. As is usual for the summer months Rob isn’t under the sheets. His naked body is in the recovery position, one arm is hanging off the bed, his buttocks facing me.
‘It’s the big one,’ I say to his glutes. ‘I’ve got to start getting ready.’
Rob grunts as I get out of bed. The poor thing must be sick and tired of me going on about the promotion at work. Geoff, the sub-editor gave in his notice and as the most senior of the writers on the newspaper I was sure I’d be promoted into the corner office. Not only that, when I was leaving to go home yesterday, Danielle, my editor, grabbed my arm and told me she needed to talk to me at some stage the next day. It’s Geoff’s leaving do tonight so she obviously has to make the announcement today.
The staff at the local paper total eight and only two people have their own office. Danielle’s office is a proper one with walls, a window and a door. Geoff, whose room is a partitioned section of the main, open plan office is constructed with hardwood and glass but it has it’s own door, so it is a real office to me.
I’ve been at the Kilburn Times, a weekly newspaper, for six years. I progressed from selling ad space for commission to a salaried position writing features. I’m not sure how much longer I can last without going completely mad. I don’t hate my job, I just thought the journalism course I took at night school would have paid off by now and I would have gotten further in my career. My degree in Media Production hadn’t paid off. After university I managed to get a job as a runner in a production company and worked my way up to general dogsbody in the script editor department. I was enjoying it a lot until, as luck would have it, the company closed down. I was out of work for a year. I saw the advert to sell advertising space for the Kilburn Times and applied in desperation. Later came the journalism course, and later still came the need to find a better job in journalism. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pitched articles, features and column ideas to the nationals. I was turned down every time.
Years ago I’d told Rob that if I couldn’t make it onto a national paper by the time I was thirty, I’d leave journalism and become a best selling author instead. Now I’m thirty-one, still at the local
paper and I’ve not come up with one single idea for a best-selling novel. So, if the best I can ever do is become a sub-editor for a weekly, suburban rag then that will have to do.
As I’m carefully de-tangling my hair in the shower, Rob stumbles into the bathroom for a wee. Holding his penis with one hand, propping himself up with the other on the wall above the loo, he takes the longest of slashes and I’m annoyed because the sound of urine is messing with my Chi. I’d convinced myself that if I thought calm thoughts the rain would stop and my hair would behave. All I’d need to do was wave the hair straighteners at it, giving my hair fair warning that I needed results. No odd waves here and there among the smooth bits. Rob washes his hands and yawns. Through the steamy glass door I see him raise a thumb at me which is morning talk for ‘I’m making coffee, are you in?’
‘Yep!’ I shout in case he can’t hear while still in his morning coma. There used to be a time when Rob was all systems go in the morning and we’d end up in the shower together. But just a short time ago, while we were making love in the shower, I slipped on some Herbal Essence shampoo and banged my head on the taps while Rob grazed his back on the shower gel holder. Since then we stopped being sexually active in the morning. In the shower anyway. These days, if we do make love in the mornings it is at weekends only, in our bed. Things are a little routine between us, I must admit, but we’ve been going out for five years, living together for three of those. I’m not complaining about our routines, in fact I find them charming. I love how we read each other like a book. For example Rob knows it’s going to take me the bast part of half an hour to go at my hair with the straighteners so he leaves my coffee on my bedside table as he gets ready for work.
‘Don’t be late,’ he reminds me when I’m almost ready and he is already about to leave. He’s looking immaculate in his suit and tie ready for another day at the solicitor’s office in St Paul’s.
‘I’m there,’ I say. But I’m not there. I still have to find my amber earrings and decide on shoes.
‘What time you home tonight, again?’ he asks from the bedroom door.
‘Late. You know what that lot are like when there’s booze around. I expect Geoff to become extremely loud and rowdy and Rani will probably suggest a nightclub after the bar.’
‘Well, enjoy it and good luck for today.’ Rob scoots back over to the wardrobe mirror where I’m trying to meditate my saddle bags away using body scanning methods so that my trousers fall better. No one in history has ever reduced saddle bags in this way but I’m convinced that it’s working in my mirror. Rob goes to kiss my cheek and I turn my head and offer him the corner next to my ear so he doesn’t ruin my foundation.
‘Thanks darling,’ I say. ‘Don’t wait up. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.’
It’s not my imagination, my inner Chi has stopped the rain and my hair looks fabulous. I can now leave. Shit. Ten minutes late. But Danielle has to drop her son at nursery every morning anyway and doesn’t turn up until at least nine-fifteen. I should make it in time before her if I walk like I’m in the Olympics to the bus stop.
Sub-editor here I come, I think, as I skip my way down from our top floor flat, out of the main door and down the front steps of the house. I’m on my way. In less than a split second a large white van comes screeching up my road. I turn as I hear its wheels on the slicked tarmac and think nothing of it as I hurry myself along to the corner of the road. In no time the white van is about to be parallel to me. I turn to see the driver, a woman with frizzy hair and a scowl. She speeds past me, screeching and lurching. In super fast motion I look from her frizzy hair and scowl to the logo on the van door and then at the huge puddle I’m right alongside. An enormous wave of oily rain and sludge sprays in my direction and I can’t escape it. My raincoat is ruined by black splodges. My shoes are a write off and the tips of my hair are soggy and already starting to revert to blandness. I wave a fist at the driver. Then I close my eyes and take in a long deep breath. I need to find my Chi. Quick. Before I start jumping up and down, crying. There is no time to go back and fix this. Today of all days I must be at my desk working before Danielle gets in.
Rani is the first one to comment on the straggly tips of my hair. She asks if I was going for a new look but I shake my head at her, take off my raincoat and hang it on the coat rack by the door. Mine is the only one there, I notice because somehow the heatwave is back on and the world has gone back to normal. I am the only one in the office who looks like a drowned rat.
‘It doesn’t look bad,’ Rani says. ‘It’s just a bit flat on top and a bit … are you okay?’
I still don’t answer, I’m taking deep breaths and connecting to my Chi for all I’m worth. If I open my mouth to curse the driver of the van I might upset Karma and the promotion won’t come.
‘I’m fine,’ I say on a loud and lengthy exhale.
‘Okay, good. I was just doing coffees and teas for the meeting.’
‘Meeting?’ I ask, baffled. ‘No one mentioned a meeting.’
‘Yes they did. Don’t suppose you would you have heard, anyway. Danielle announced it yesterday morning. More about the changes I should imagine.’
I nod as if I understand. But Rani is right, I do have the tendency to phase out at work. Usually I’m looking for other jobs or surfing the web and taking quizzes. My work has become a walk in the park. Literally. The last feature I wrote was called Fantastic Walks In Our Neighbourhood and I had to walk around several parks and take scenic trails in order to write it. During my research I nearly trod in dog poo and when I sat on a bench for a rest a homeless woman kept pulling her bag away from me. There must be more to life than this, I’d thought at the time. I need a challenge, I’m stagnating. Roll on the promotion.
My hair style of half straight and half crinkly hair is an object of fascination for most people at the meeting and I try to play it cool. I’m staring into Danielle’s mouth as she leads the meeting just waiting for her to make the announcement about the sub-editor post. All I can hear is a lot of blah, blah, blah about the changing climate, cutting back and new ways of keeping up to date. Although I’m only listening for my name it never gets mentioned and suddenly everyone is getting up to leave her office. I screw up my brow and wonder why she didn’t talk about the promotion. Just before we leave Danielle checks that everyone will be at Geoff’s leaving do later. I’m guessing she’ll make the announcement at the restaurant instead. Fair enough. At least I’ll have time to compose myself for the acceptance speech. I’m still feeling a bit flat after being splashed by a puddle.
Back at my desk I call Helena just in case she can make it along to the leaving do.
‘I know it’s a bit of a long shot but I could do with backup,’ I tell her.
‘Sorry, babes. You know, off to Brazil in the morning and there are a ton of things to do. Full body wax. Last minute shopping. Don’t talk to me about packing. And can you believe Leon is taking the company to dinner this evening? Because they have to cope for one month without him it’s a thank you gesture and his way of getting the staff to bond with his stand-in. Guaranteed he’ll be on the phone or Skyping with them for half the holiday.’ She laughs, wishes me luck and blows a kiss down the phone before hanging up. If I know Helena she’ll be taking her laptop to Brazil and working for most of the holiday herself.
Danielle gives nothing away about the promotion all day, not even a hint. There are only three days before Geoff leaves, what is she waiting for? Every time I see her I give an eager smile but it’s as if she’s forgotten about wanting to talk to me and seems to run in the opposite direction when she sees me.
In the tiny kitchen at the back of the open plan office I catch the whiff of damp. It’s coming from me. I hadn’t been able to dry off properly since the van incident. It’s no wonder Danielle keeps avoiding me. I decide to go up to the Kilburn High Road at lunch time. Have a complete wardrobe revamp and spray on a gallon of Daisy Eau de Cologne from the samples in the pharmacy. There are only two boutiques for women on the High Road and a Clarks Outlet Store but I’ll take my chances.
By the time I get back to work I’m in a new pair of power trousers, a white blouse and stilettos. I look every part the sub-editor and I smell like a perfume factory. I pull my hair into a tight pony tail before we make our way to the restaurant and bar for Geoff’s farewell drink. As the evening wears on my lipstick has rubbed away, my pony tail has given me a headache, my feet were killing me and I can’t see Danielle anywhere.
Up at the bar later Rani is Googling night cubs and I’m reapplying my lipstick. Out of nowhere Danielle sidles up to me and smiles.
‘Sydney, how are you?’ she slurs.
‘Good. All good. How are you Danielle? It’s a shame we’re losing Geoff, don’t you think? And can you believe this weather today? Summer is my favourite season. What’s yours?’
Danielle looks flummoxed because who talks about the weather at a time like this and why didn’t I stick to just one question at a time? But it’s almost eleven and if I have to spend one more second trying to sip wine so that my lipstick won’t wear off I’ll go mad.
‘Sydney,’ she says after an interminable pause.
‘Yes, Danielle?’ I grin, happily.
‘The label on your trousers is still attached. £35.99. That’s not bad.’
I look down and try tucking it into the waistband.
‘Thanks, Danielle but didn’t you have something you wanted to tell me?’
‘Oh yes. I was a bit busy today so I didn’t get round to giving you a heads up. As you’re one of the old guard I wanted to let you now about Rebecca.’
‘Yes, I just told Rebecca the sub-editor job is hers if she wants it and she’s letting me know tomorrow. Night-night.’
‘Night-night,’ I say in a voice two tones higher than my usual register. I turn to look at Rebecca who is deep in conversation with Geoff.
‘You coming to the club?’ Rani asks.
‘Wait, what? Look, I just got the news about Rebecca.’
‘Good isn’t it?’
‘Well not really Rani, I was hoping it would be me.’ Rani looks at me as if I have two heads. ‘What?’
‘No offence, Syd but I never for one moment thought you were interested. You’ve got your head in the clouds most of the time and the rest of the time you’re looking for a new job. Danielle’s not stupid. She has noticed.’
It is true. I am always dreaming of something more, something better. I just didn’t realise it showed on the outside that I was unhappy at work. Everyone around me is doing so well. Helena is worth a million plus her fiancé has money growing from a tree somewhere. Rob makes a tidy sum
and he was promoted to junior partner in a career he’d known he wanted for the longest of times. Of course I wanted more. At least the sub-editor job would have been a start.
‘So you coming clubbing or what?’ Rani goes on.
‘No. No, thanks, Rani. I think I’ll give it a miss.’
I leave shortly after going to the toilet and rubbing off my lipstick in disgust. Stuff them all, I think on the way out. I’ll go home and write that best-selling novel I always wanted to write.
Thank you, Rosa Temple
About the author
Rosa Temple is the pseudonym of published author, Fran Clark.
To date, Fran has penned and self published four publications as Rosa Temple; Sleeping With Your Best Friend, Natalie’s Getting Married, Single by Christmas and Sleeping With Your Best Friend.
HQ Digital (Harper Collins) has published three books in Fran’s pseudonym, Rosa Temple. The first was Playing by the Rules in February 2017 followed by Playing Her Cards Right on 28th August 2017 and Playing for Keeps on 12th February 2018.
A mother of two, Fran is married to a musician and recently moved from London to Herefordshire. She spends her days creating characters and story lines while drinking herbal tea and eating chocolate biscuits.
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086Q1Z63N