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About the Author
Gil McNeil is the author of the bestselling The Only Boy for Me, Stand By Your Man, In The Wee Small Hours and most recently Divas Don't Knit. The Only Boy For Me has been made into a major ITV prime-time drama starring Helen Baxendale and was broadcast in 2007. Gil McNeil has edited five collections of stories with Sarah Brown, and is Director of the charity PiggyBankKids, which supports projects that create opportunities for children. She lives in Kent with her son and comes from a long line of champion knitters.
Read an Excerpt
Notes from a Small Kitchen
Monday morning. All my good intentions of making organic porridge and enjoying a serene breakfast go right out the window when I wake up and discover it's ten twenty. I leap out of bed screaming, and bang my foot on the wardrobe. Limp into the kitchen to find it's four am. Charlie must have been playing with my alarm clock. Again. I stagger back to bed, and reset the clock to avoid having a heart attack next time I look at it.
When I wake up again it's seven fifteen, but it still feels like I need eight hours more sleep and my foot is throbbing. A very ugly half-hour follows where Charlie darkly mutters from underneath his duvet that his human rights are being violated and he must be allowed to sleep. I finally get him downstairs, still in his pyjamas, and offer half an hour of cartoons if he eats his breakfast. He agrees, settles down on the sofa and then promptly refuses to eat.
'Darling, stop being silly, you know you have to eat breakfast, and cereal is good for you. It's a school day and you need a proper breakfast.'
'A proper breakfast has bacon in it, or sausage. Why do we never have sausages for breakfast? James has sausages.'
'I'm sure some mornings James just has cereal.'
'No he doesn't. He always has sausages. He has them in his lunchbox too. Why can't I have sausages in my lunchbox? I hate turkey sandwiches. I think it's cruel to turkeys.'
'Well,sausages aren't exactly kind to animals, you know.'
'Yes they are. They make them out of old animals who have come to the end of their natural lifes, but turkeys are young and could have babies and everything. But they get chopped up before they get a chance.'
'Look, just get on with it, or I'm going to get really cross.'
'Being horrible isn't nice you know, Mummy.'
'No, and neither is being very annoying in the mornings. Now hurry up, or we'll be late. You need to eat your cereal. Now.'
'I don't need to eat it, I don't want to eat it, it looks like sick.'
Thankfully a diversion is caused by the new postman, Dave, creeping up the drive looking tentative because last week Charlie ran out to greet him wearing only a pair of pants and a Superman cloak. Dave tried to join in the fun, and asked him if he could fly. Whereupon Charlie shot up the tree in the front garden and began his countdown to blast-off, leaving poor Dave to hurl his post on the ground and run around the bottom of the tree with his arms outstretched, looking desperate. It took me ten minutes to get Charlie out of the tree, by which time he was half frozen. I don't know why the postmen round here insist on operating on a first-name basis, but they do. All part of friendly village life, I suppose. Charlie leaps up and down at the window like a manic clockwork toy until Dave is safely back in his van and reversing at speed. He then eats his cereal having forgotten our earlier battle, and only manages to spill about half a gallon of milk on to the living-room carpet.
We are now on the verge of being really late so I forgo the pleasure of watching him take fifteen minutes to put on a pair of socks and dress him myself.
'I can do it myself, you know.'
'Yes I know, but we're in a rush, darling, and I like helping you.'
'Yes, but don't tuck my vest in so tight; boys don't have their vests tucked in you know.'
'Of course they do, or they would get cold tummies.'
'No, they don't. James never has his vest tucked in.'
I decide, not for the first time, that I hate James, who is constantly, quoted as an expert witness in all domestic disputes. Finally we are heading for the car, with bookbag, lunchbox and swimming kit. While I am trying to lock the back door and not drop his lunchbox, Charlie disappears to see the rabbits, Buzz and Woody, in their hutch in the back garden.
'Hello, how are you this morning?' This is greeted with silence, and the sound of lots of scuffling.
'Mummy, the rabbits are doing sex. If they're both boys, does that mean they're gay?'
I can't cope with this line of conversation so early in the morning.
'Of course not, they're just playing.'
Then I panic about sexual stereotypes and add, 'And anyway, it would be fine if they were gay,' whilst firmly grasping the hood of his anorak and pulling him up the path.
Charlie looks horrified.
'No it would not. I want them to have babies; it would be lovely to have baby rabbits. We could start a farm and anyway I don't want gay rabbits, I want proper ones. Get off my hood, you're strangling me!'
I launch into my very realistic impression of the mad policeman in Withnail and I, repeating 'Get in the car, get in the car' in a high-pitched nasal scream.
Our milkman, Ted, picks the perfect moment, as ever, to arrive, block the drive with his float and start wittering on about being late again with a sarcastic grin on his face. I manage to overcome a strong desire to punch him in the mouth, as, apart from the legal implications, getting milk delivered when you live in the country is no joke. His round covers about three hundred miles and he sometimes doesn't arrive until teatime. I shove Charlie into the car, and smile with what I know is a mad fixed grin. Ted Sensibly beats a hasty retreat to his float. We then follow him up the lane at three miles an hour, stopping while he delivers to two houses before we get to a part wide enough to pass him. I then accelerate rather more than I meant to, and Charlie is pressed back into his seat by a G force similar to that usually only experienced by fighter pilots. Half thrilled and half terrified, Charlie begins a lecture on road safety.
'If a hedgehog had been crossing the road it would have stood no chance, hedgehogs can't run, you know. You should be more careful.'
'Hedgehogs don't come out in the daytime, darling. Calm down.'
'An ill hedgehog might be awake; it might have had a nightmare and be going for a walk, you just don't know.'
'I do know, and we didn't run over a hedgehog. Look, we're nearly at school now, so everything's fine.'
It's crucial that we don't begin an argument just as we reach the school gates, or getting him out of the car will be a major challenge.
'I promise I'll drive nice and slowly on the way home, and if I find any hedgehogs recovering from nightmares I'll take them home and give them a drink.'
Charlie is not sure, but leans towards being mollified by this until he remembers bloody Blue Peter and their dire warnings about never giving milk to hedgehogs or they blow up. He begins a long list of instructions on what I should do with various kinds of wildlife which I might find wandering along the lanes of Kent in need of help. He's just reached pandas and how vital it is to find a fresh supply of bamboo shoots, when he spots that James is just arriving. The wildlife-in-peril lecture is promptly abandoned and they trot off into school together quite happily.
The school building is over two hundred years old, and two of the teachers, including Charlie's Miss Pike, have been there for so long that they taught some of the parents of the current pupils. It's not exactly cutting edge but there's a lovely relaxed atmosphere which counts for a lot when you're six. I do sometimes worry that Charlie is not receiving the broadest of educations: the school's idea of being multi-ethnic is asking the children to bring in leeks for St David's Day. But one of the main reasons I moved out of London was so that Charlie could go to a little village school like I did, instead of the huge local primary that he was destined for. I went on the Parents' Tour and got lost twice. And the strains of living in London were starting to take their toll. The nightly parking battle was getting too much for me, and I was starting to fantasise about leaving work early so I could park in my road rather than six streets away.
After countless weekends of driving round the villages of Kent seeing a succession of dreary bungalows and chucking sweets at Charlie to try to keep him quiet, we ended up in Marhurst, just outside Whitstable. It's a small house, one of four, down a tiny lane just off the village green, with an apple tree in the front garden. It only grows miniature crab apples, but I didn't know that at the time. The village has a shop and a pub, and is only about half an hour away from Mum and Dad. We've got three bedrooms and a huge playroom for Charlie, for well under half what it would have cost in London. We can now go for walks in the woods rather than trudging through parks dodging joggers and mad cyclists. It's not exactly Cider with Rosie, but it's as close as you can get to it and still be able to drive to London. I stand watching the children file into their classrooms, hopping and skipping about, and realise, not for the first time, that I truly cannot imagine anything worse than being a teacher of Mixed Infants. Just as I'm getting back into the car I spot James's mother, Kate, who looks as shattered as I am, and we agree to meet later for coffee.
Get home to face a huge pile of ironing, which I ignore, washing-up ditto. I manage to avoid the temptation of collapsing in front of daytime telly by going upstairs to the spare bedroom which I use as my office, and starting on my accounts. I begin fiddling about with spreadsheets, and manage to press some secret command which turns one spreadsheet into four separate ones all in a new jumbled-up order. I cannot get the bloody thing back to normal, so give up in disgust and go downstairs to eat biscuits. Realise I'm now late for coffee, and race off, repeating my earlier stunt by accelerating with great force and nearly flattening the cat from next door.
I arrive at Kate's cottage to find her in wellington boots in the kitchen bailing out the washing machine which has sloshed gallons of water all over the floor. I help her mop up, and she pours two gin and tonics. I'm secretly rather shocked by this, but completely understand when she points out that the washing machine collapsing is the least of her worries. James is sticking to his sausage-only diet, which means she has to buy hugely expensive organic sausages to avoid him having an intake of God knows what in cheap commercial ones. Her daughter Phoebe has gone vegetarian and wants to pierce her tongue, but as she's only eight Kate is refusing. And her ex-husband Phil has stopped paying maintenance because his girlfriend has just had a baby, and she's used all his credit cards to buy designer baby gear so the bank has frozen his account.
Luckily Kate's parents are fabulously wealthy and keep chucking huge sums of money at her. They hated Phil. But, as Kate points out, this only means that her mother keeps reminding her of what a major mistake she made. She's recently taken to holding dinner parties where all her ghastly County friends bring their unmarried sons to introduce to Kate. The last one was so dull she fell asleep during dinner, and her mother was so furious that she woke her up by dripping hot candle wax on her hand whilst pretending to collect up the coffee cups.
'So, how was lunch with your mother yesterday?'
'Absolutely bloody, if you must know. God, she's really getting worse. She spent half an hour banging on at Phoebe about the dangers of being a vegetarian. She told her she'd get rickets and have bandy legs if she didn't eat beef. But when I told James not to flick carrots at the dogs, she told me to leave him alone and stop being such a terrible bully. And then to cap it all my Aunt Marjorie turned up for tea.'
'Yes. She had a lovely time, actually, giving me a long lecture on how terrible one-parent families are. Honestly, I nearly hit her. Bloody old bat, but if you defend yourself you end up sounding like a harpy.'
'I know. When we registered at the doctor's the woman on reception threw a total fit because I left the Father's Details blank on the form. She gave me a long speech about how Doctor might need to know in an emergency. When I asked what kind of emergency would require contacting a man who's never clapped eyes on Charlie, she got really incensed and began a whole new speech about Young Women Today. She was really starting to enjoy herself when that nice one came out from the back, you know, the one with short grey hair and glasses.'
'Oh yes, she's lovely.'
'Well, she said, "What seems to be the problem?" and Mrs Hitler began going into one again. The waiting-room was full of people listening in, having a marvellous time. I was just about to slap her, and claim I thought she was having some sort of fit, when the nice one said, "That's quite enough, Mavis," and then turned to me and said, "I'm so sorry about that, she's just started on the hormones and I don't think they've got the dosage quite right yet."'
'Oh, how brilliant.'
'Yes, it was rather.'
'But you see what I mean. Nobody goes up to women like my Aunt Marjorie and says, "Look, you loathe your husband and all you really care about is money, so don't have kids, just stick with dogs. At least you can put them in kennels when the novelty wears off instead of sending them to boarding school." My cousin George is a complete basket case because of that bloody woman, but nobody would dare tell her she was a selfish old bag who should never have had children in the first place.'
'No, I don't suppose they would.'
'Fackers.' This is a sign Kate is really agitated. She actually means to say 'fuckers', but it just comes out like this. She also says 'super' a great deal, and 'jolly good'. And if you fall down the stairs and slice the top off your head she is quite likely to say, 'Oh, what bad luck.' But despite her disconcerting tendency to lapse into a caricature out of Horse and Hound, she's my best friend in the village. We were thrown together when Charlie and James became friends, ferrying them backwards and forwards for tea, and agreeing what our line was on vital questions like bedtime because if James is allowed to stay up late to watch a special programme, you can bet your life Charlie will insist on the same. But we became real friends when we discovered a mutual passion for fags and gin.
'You think you've got problems. At least you married Phil before you had kids. I have to explain how come I've got Charlie, but no divorce, and no hint of a long-standing partner anywhere. Am I a tragic victim of fate like a scullery maid out of a Catherine Cookson novel, or a lesbian who got lucky with the turkey baster?'
'Yes, I suppose so. It's so bloody unfair. You know, I reckon my two would be better off if it had been a DIY job. I mean, Charlie seems so settled, he's never seen his dad so he doesn't feel rejected, whereas my two feel like they've been dumped, just like me.'
And with this she starts to cry.
'Oh, Kate, don't. I know it's tough, but you love them and you put up with Phil's crap so they still get to see him. They'll be fine, I know they will.'
'Yes I know. But it's just not fair. It's not their fault but somehow they think it is. It's such hard work, and it never ends. And then you get some old bag telling you you're a monster.'
'I think they're jealous.'
'Well, think about it. If you spent your life with some boring old bugger who treats you like a doormat, wouldn't you get a bit narky with women who just miss out on all that and get on with having lovely babies?'
'Well, yes, a bit, I suppose. But what about Roger and Sally? They seem really happy.'
'I know. One day our princes will come. But until then I'm fine, you're fine, the kids are fine, and that's what really matters.'
'God, Annie, you sound like one of those bloody therapy people.'
'OK, try this. Stop whining and make some coffee.'
'OK. Do you want Hobnobs?'
'What a stupid question.'
We drink coffee and eat a whole packet of Hobnobs. I tell Kate about the impact of James and his sausages on my morning, which cheers her up a bit, and soon we're laughing, chain-smoking and planning an evening out soon. We decide on the local pub because at least we can walk home. But we agree to limit our consumption of booze as last time we ended up singing along to the karaoke machine only to discover that the pub doesn't actually have a karaoke machine and it was meant to be background music. We suddenly spot that it's nearly half past one and we both have huge lists of things to do, so I race off to do the shopping, desperately hoping one gin does not count as drunk driving.
I ponder on the usual single-parenting dilemmas during the drive to the supermarket: Will Charlie grow up to be a crack-cocaine dealer due to his tragic lack of a male role model? And what is wrong with me that I don't have a husband lurking somewhere in the background, at least paying child support if not actually playing happy families? How come I managed to end up with Adam, who was so keen on not becoming a father that he chose to emigrate shortly after I discovered I was pregnant? Actually we'd only just got back together again after a five-year gap, during which time he'd married someone else. He turned up out of the blue one night, and said he was getting a divorce. Apparently she was boring, and I was the one he loved. He had huge shoulders and bright-blue eyes. He was also fond of telling long stories which didn't really have endings, but you can't have everything. A few weeks later it turned out that I was the one who was boring, and she was the one he loved. She'd lost two stone and got a new haircut, they had a grand reunion and I lay about weeping.
They were happily settling back into Mr and Mrs Land, when I rang with my thrilling news. He said they'd agreed they weren't having kids, and he didn't want one popping up now, thank you very much. And then he got a new job in Toronto. Facker, as Kate would say. But at least he didn't bugger about pretending to be interested and then never turning up. I truly think I'd stab anybody who did that to Charlie. And once I got over the initial shock of finding myself going solo, it worked out fine. My sister Lizzie was great, and her partner Matt offered to have a crack at the male-role-model thing because I went on about it so much: he even offered to buy an electric drill if I thought it would help. Mum and Dad were pretty thrown by it at first, but ended up being very reassuring, and Mum spent hours knitting. My friend Leila opened a platinum account at Baby Gap, and then the sheer magic and terror of being pregnant took over, and I spent so long worrying that the baby would have flippers, or hate me on sight, that I stopped obsessing about Adam and started obsessing about scans and due dates instead.
I even dragooned my poor sister into coming to NCT classes with me, and they all thought we were a lesbian couple for the first few weeks and nobody would sit next to us. Lizzie thought it was hysterical, and kept putting her arm round me. The newspapers seemed to be full of articles saying that children from single-parent families are doomed; but then I read a brilliant piece which said if you took out poverty as a factor and compared like with like then children from single-parent families actually do slightly better than their two-parent counterparts. That cheered me up for weeks. And at least I earn enough to support us both. Working as a freelance producer in advertising does guarantee me a healthy income, and I can do a lot of work from home, even if it gets a bit frantic at times. God knows how I'd cope trying to live on benefits.
I'm still sporadically haunted by the idea that somewhere out there is a perfect dad for my boy, who would teach him to play football and do things with wood. But so far he doesn't seem bothered. He hates football, and seems perfectly happy with Lego. I've shown him photographs of Adam, but he only glanced at them and then asked if we could watch a Star Wars video. I do get really jealous of women with perfect loving partners who cook and can entertain under-fives for hours with horse impressions. But I know that for every one of them there are at least six women whose partners rarely make it home before bedtime, and can be heard at weekends shouting, 'Christ. Can't you get him to stop doing that.' I must try to remember this next time I'm feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. In other words, tonight.
Safeway's is hateful full of ghastly people going round and round saying, 'That's only forty-three pence in Asda.' Why don't they all bugger off to Asda then and get out of my way? As usual I've forgotten my list so I trot round trying to visualise what is in the fridge and remember what vital bit of bathroom kit we've just run out of. Get home to find we now have seven packs of Flora. But no coffee. I'll have to go to the village shop on the way to school, so I can avoid taking Charlie in on the way home. I can't face entering a heated debate, yet again, as to why holding your finger over the 8 does not mean an 18 video magically turns into a 1, and is therefore suitable for rental.
Arrive at school to find the other parents are ahead of me, yet again, and the line of parked cars stretches almost to the other side of the village. I park and jog back to the school, and I'm still clinging on to the fence trying to breathe normally when the doors open and all the kids rush out trailing their bags. There's no sign of Charlie's class, but then I remember they've gone swimming which means that the coach could arrive at any time during the next hour and a half depending on the mood of the driver. It's pointless to stagger back to the car as I know from bitter experience that just as I sit down the coach will whizz past, and I'll fail to catch up with it in time to stop Charlie getting off and looking bereft when he can't see me. So I stand freezing in the playground with all the other mothers, and a couple of dads.
One of the dads is an Older Father, a regular. He's very genial and on the parish council, so he's made a huge fuss of by all the mothers trying to stop their neighbours getting planning permission to build extensions. The other father is young and not a regular, and is also wearing a suit, so he's left to stand on his own in the furthest corner of the playground. One woman spent half a term stuck there in exquisite clothing, until she switched to jumpers and jeans like the rest of us and was asked to join the zigzag rota. She now stands at the gate longing for someone to park on the yellow zigzags painted on the road, so she can rush over and stick a rude leaflet under their windscreen wipers.
Where you stand in the playground can be vital. Too close to Mrs Harrison-Black and her gang, and you'll be down on a list to bake a coffee sponge before you know it. And standing in a playground trying to flog slices of your rather flat cake to people who can make much nicer cake themselves, thank you very much, is no fun. I slide into my usual place, skulking by the bushes, with Kate and Sally. Sally, mother of William, who is Difficult, and Rosie, who is Not, points out that Mrs Harrison-Black is lurking by the gate with her clipboard and so we go on red alert.
Mrs Harrison-Black is a large woman, chairman of the PTA, and formidable. She usually wears blouses tucked into pleated skirts with elasticated waists, which make her look like she's sitting on top of a smallish marquee. Her sidekick, Mrs Jenkins, the treasurer, has taken to dressing in a similar manner. They have matching padded waistcoats, and both drive Volvo estates with 'I slow down for horses' stickers in the back window. I've always thought those stickers should actually say 'I slow down for horses but speed up for ramblers', since invariably this is what they do. A determined-looking mother who does cooking with Year 3 (Hell. Grey pizza, burnt fingers and it takes hours to scrape the dough off the floor) is making a beeline for us, and we are madly avoiding making eye contact and trying to think up watertight excuses when the coach miraculously appears.
Excerpted from THE ONLY BOY FOR ME by Gil Mcneil. Copyright © 2001 by Gil McNeil. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The author's writing style and characters are truely entertaining. I found myself laughing outloud. I had already read 2 other books by the author and searched to find this earlier work. It was equally entertaining. I'm looking forward to new releases.
The interactions between mother & child were charmingly Brittish but I didn't care for the style of writing. It was written in a diary style that moved the story along much to fast. Charlie is so witty and charming that at times it's difficult to see that this single mom is raising a self indulgent brat who shows little respect for her. Although she believes that she is always doing what's best for Charlie she is actually teaching him that her life belongs only to him. It's a sad commentary on how children are being trained to think they are the center of the universe only to find out that adult life is much different. How will this boy grow into a man that will value his mother and other women in his lifetime? This book was a bloody mess.
I couldn't put this book down. It was witty, funny and so true to life. As women, we've all been there, done that. Highly recommended. The chatty style reminded me of Bridget Jones' Diary.
It has been a long time since i had a book that made me laugh out loud. As soon as i finished the book i picked it up and read it again. I took it to my roomate to read and she was skeptical at first so i told her that she only has to read the first 2 pages and if it did not make her laugh she did not have to read it. she finished the book the same day. This is definatley one i recommend
I think the best part of the book is the boy that is on the cover. He is really cool. Everything else was ok.
Awhile back I wrote a post about how you can't win a contest if you don't enter. Well I entered a Tweet contest and as a result received a free book. Despite the fact that one of my personal philosophies is that there are far too many book and far too little time, I can't think of any thriftier type of entertainment than sitting down with a good book. And if it's free, so much the thriftier. As it turned out, the book I was sent was charming and well written, and definitely worth the price of returning a Tweet. The review follows: The Only Boy for Me Gil McNeil Page count: 276 Publisher: Bloomsbury If Gil McNeil were a singer I would call her pitch perfect. The Only Boy for Me is the story of Annie Baker and her son Charlie's life in a small village. Annie is a single mom (the Dad took off) who cans never for the life of her find the correct sausage rolls and Charlie is her little "under-tens" boy. A film producer in London, Annie decided to leave the city to give her son a chance to grow up in the country. She still commutes to London on the days that filming takes place. This of course, leads to a split personality of sorts as she tries to distance her professional life from that of being a mommy who picks her son up from school and tries to make him cakes like the one in the bakery. Things get complicated when during a film production Mack MacDonald, from the advertising agency representing the client enters the picture. Annie must now add one more ball to her juggling act. In the spirit of Bridget Jones' Diary what results is a continuous witty and insightful monologue from Annie that will have you literally laughing out loud. McNeil captures perfectly the frustrations of wanting to be a professional worker and a perfect mom with the reality that sometimes we just want the little darlings to keep quiet. Perfectly paced, the story draws you in and holds you until it inspiring ending. Gil McNeil is a consultant at Brunswick Art International and works with Sarah Brown on Piggybank Kids, a non-profit venture which organizes a range of voluntary projects for charities, to support their fundraising efforts. She lives in Kent with her son. McNeil has also written Divas Don't Knit and Needles and Pearls. On a scale of 1 -5 with 5 being the highest, I'd give this book a 5. It makes for a fabulous, funny, summer read. The Only Boy for Me is available at amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com