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By Alan Titchmarsh
Simon & Schuster UKCopyright © 2002 Alan Titchmarsh
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There are things you ought to know about Tom Drummond. For a start, he never intended to own a restaurant. Well, half of one. Not that there's anything wrong with owning half a restaurant, but it would be a mistake to assume that he had either an obsessive interest in nutrition or a burning desire to entertain. He had neither. He became the owner of half a restaurant entirely by accident. He'd intended to be a farmer. Or, more accurately, his mother had intended him to be one. Tom himself had long harboured dreams of being a writer, but it's difficult to persuade your single parent that you are working when all you do is gaze out of the window wearing a vacant expression. So partly to please his mother and partly because no other job held any particular appeal, Tom became a farmer. It surprised his mother, and it surprised Tom by being particularly enjoyable.
Now you could argue that looking after sheep on the Sussex Downs isn't exactly on a par with crofting in the Cairngorms, but in spite of their supposedly soft location in the southern half of the country, the rolling slopes above Axbury Minster are often blasted by biting winds in winter. Tom and old Bill Wilding would regularly feel the bite of the baler twine on their knuckles as they doled out the summer-scented hay to the obliged Southdown sheep, and the ice on the duck pond would crack like a pistol shot when broken with the heel of a well-placed welly. But on a good day in June or July the smooth, soft slopes were framed by a fuzz of deep green woodland and clear blue sky, and from dawn till dusk Tom shepherded the sheep, cleared the ditches, made the hay and worked the land with a song in his heart and a spring in his step.
Friends asked him why he did it. Why commit yourself to slave labour for peanuts, you, with your nine O levels and three A levels? He knew why: because it gave him thinking time, dreaming time, time to write in his head. So in spite of the long hours and paltry wages, he was, to use an agricultural term, as happy as a pig in muck.
But the happiness was short-lived. Old Bill Wilding popped his clogs in the dead of winter and the farm came up for sale in spring. After just two years Tom was out of a job and his mother was out of sorts. They took her into a nursing home. For months she deteriorated slowly but steadily and the following summer she departed this life quietly, leaving Tom with a small terraced house, a smaller legacy, a heavy heart and a clean slate.
It was time to write. Unfortunately, as it turned out, it was not the time to publish. After a year of setting down his finely crafted prose on paper only two short stories had appeared in print -- one in a regional newspaper and the other in the Lady. It was a fair way short of the stuff dreams are made on. Tom conceded that it was time to knuckle down. But to what? Over a bowl of soup in a local bistro he scanned the sits-vac column. Its offerings were not immediately attractive: 'Household insurance: experience essential for liaison and telephone support role' or 'Expanding estate agent requires trainee negotiators'. Difficult to work yourself up into a lather about those. He was beginning to consider seriously how he could fulfil the role of 'Deputy matron required for full-time day duty' when he fell into conversation with the chef -- a fair-haired, fresh-faced youth called Peter Jago. Together they bemoaned their respective fates: Tom at a loose end with the remains of a modest legacy, and Peter, with a refreshing lack of anything approaching modesty, desperate to strike out on his own. It was foolhardy, really -- they didn't know one another -- but they pooled their resources and opened a bistro, the Pelican, with Tom running front-of-house and Peter slaving away in his whites over a hot stove.
To everyone's surprise, except Peter's, the venture took off. But then Peter knew his gnocchi from his goulash and Tom, with his easy-going nature, turned out to be a natural host.
So that's how it started. And it didn't end there. Success encouraged the pair to open another bistro, the Albatross, in a nearby village. But with a twist of irony as bitter as an underripe kumquat, it proved to be more appropriately named than either of them could have foreseen. Although they struggled for the best part of five years to make it pay, in the end the seasonality of the business forced them to cut their losses and sell up.
Not that the Albatross was a total failure on other counts: Peter could bestow his culinary expertise on only one establishment so he had taken on a young cook, a dark-haired girl with a lively wit, a quick mind and a smile that could melt a disgruntled diner three tables away.
It melted Tom, too. They had married within the year and Pippa told him, with a warning flash of her nut-brown eyes, that if he thought he was marrying her just for her cooking he had another thing coming. Tom had not taken the plunge on account of his gastronomic predilections; he had married her because he had never been so totally, irrationally and ridiculously in love in his entire life.
Another thing you ought to know is that Tom Drummond had not given much thought to becoming a father, so it came as a bit of a surprise when a few months after they were married Pippa broke it to him that the patter of tiny feet was a short time away. Over the following months, he accustomed himself to the imminent arrival of their offspring.
Tom was not lacking in the intelligence department, being as quick on the uptake as any other average male. Neither was he ignorant of the probable genetic permutations that might befall, so when Natalie Daisy Drummond -- Tally for short -- came into his life on 5 May 1985, it took him just seconds to realize that he had become the father of a daughter, and that from now on his life would not be his own.
Partly funded by the sale of the Albatross and partly by Pippa's late parents' legacy, the Dummond family moved from Tom's mother's tiny terraced house in the centre of town to a converted barn that had been one of Bill Wilding's outbuildings. With an acre of land, it suited them down to the ground. Tally grew up among the buttercups and daisies while her mother raised herbs to supply the bistro and a couple of other local businesses.
If you eavesdropped on conversations at the local shops you would discover the general opinion was that the Drummonds had the perfect lifestyle -- a view tainted with the merest tincture of envy but not an ounce of ill-will.
The Drummonds have lived at Wilding's Barn for sixteen years now, with never a cross word. Well, that's if you don't count the daily spats about the school run, Tom's exasperated complaints about Tally's loud music when he's making yet another attempt at the now legendary first novel, Pippa's regular complaints about the low prices she's paid for fresh herbs, and Tom's occasional questioning of Tally about the men -- or, rather, boys -- in her life.
He tries to keep out of her hair as much as he can, but he does find it difficult.
Copyright (c) Alan Titchmarsh, 2001
Excerpted from Only Dad by Alan Titchmarsh Copyright © 2002 by Alan Titchmarsh. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A charming novel by this author. It was a sensitive, sensible kind of read. A lovely story.Back Cover Blurb:According to their friends, Tom and Pippa Drummond have the perfect existence - an enviable lifestyle, a happy marriage, and a great kid in Tally.A rare summer holiday is planned - an idyllic retreat in the Italian hills. Tom takes time off from running his restaurant, Pippa leaves her herb garden in the charge of a dotty neighbour and Tally takes a break form the two men in her life.Tuscany is everything they hoped it would be - cicadas in the trees, the scent of sage and citrus and suppers under the stars. But their joy is short-lived. Overnight their lives, their circumstances, their very identities are altered, and life will never be the same again.