Here is my review of a book recently published by one of my favourite British politicians: Caroline Lucas. Caroline was the Green Party’s single Member of Parliament in the last administration, which ended last week, ready for a general election to create a new one on May 7. The title is inspired by the quaint British parliamentary custom, one of many, because the Brits love their tradition, whereby Members of Parliament when debating in the ‘House’ (of Commons) never refer to each by name, or indeed speak directly to each other, but direct their speech to ‘Mr Speaker’ (who doesn’t; he or she is simply the person in charge of the proceedings), referring to a fellow-MP, if they need to, in the third person as the ‘Honourable Member’. Or, if the person is a member of the government, as the ‘Right Honourable Member.’ Or, if the MP referred to is in the same party as the person speaking, as ‘my Honourable Friend.’
But the last time around, Caroline Lucas had no fellow-Greens supporting her in Parliament, and so the book title is a wry comment on the fact that she had no ‘Honourable Friends. Hopefully, the next time she might have one or two.
To state the blindingly obvious, any book written by a politician will be judged on two levels: for the political stance of said politician, with which you will generally agree or disagree; and simply as a good read. Well let me say straight off that I’m a member of the Green Party, and therefore predisposed to sympathise, largely, with Caroline Lucas’s views. So let’s get any accusations of ‘well he would say that, wouldn’t he’ out of the way and talk about Honourable Friends? as a book.
I found this a fascinating insight of an independent, non-big party politician into the weird and wonderful (and sometimes just plain ridiculous) workings of the British so-called Mother of Parliaments, written with wit, great perceptiveness and sometimes anger. With the benefit of an insider’s view, Ms Lucas paints a vivid picture of the workings of our often-maligned legislature.
She exposes many of the absurdities of this uniquely British cross between a serious parliament and a taxpayer-subsidised, champagne-and-canape gentlemen’s club (and they are mainly men in suits), such as the antiquated, time-consuming voting procedure of the division bell calling Honourable Members to vote from wherever they happen to be in or around the premises, in eight minutes flat, to be sometimes physically pushed by their party whips into the Aye or No lobbies, there to be manually counted (electronic voting has yet to arrive in the British parliament, apparently), and often having little idea of what they’re voting for.
Or the blatant unfairness of the Private Members’ Bills, which are discussed on Friday afternoons when the Commons is particularly empty, but require the backing of a hundred MPs and are usually ‘talked out’ (filibustered until they run out of time) if the Government dislikes the proposal. Or the quaint Ruritanian provision of ribbons in the member’s cloakroom upon which to hang one’s sword. (Yes, seriously!)
But absurdities and unfairness aside (and taking it as read that Parliament is often a bastion of the Establishment), Ms Lucas fiercely defends the institution and considers it a great privilege to work there representing her constituents, whilst making her own humble suggestions for improvement. Of course she discusses Green policy, which extends far beyond care for the environment and concerns about climate change (why wouldn’t she?), but she avoids using her book too much as a soapbox.
One reviewer has bemoaned the fact that Ms Lucas says comparatively little about herself – that there could have been more ‘human interest’ (although she does recount her experiences of being arrested at an anti-fracking demo). But this is not that sort of book. It’s not a narcissistic ‘celeb’ offering. I think she gets it just about right. As she’d be the first to insist, this isn’t a portrait of Caroline Lucas. It’s a fascinating, fly-on-wall glimpse of the hidebound-by-tradition British parliament and one – albeit radical and progressive – politician’s vision of a better society.
As she says in her summing up, ‘We all have selfish impulses, but politics should not pander to these. Politics should encourage us to be our best.’
I like that. If, whatever your political leaning, you think that the British political establishment needs a good kick up its fat complacent backside, do read this book. I thoroughly recommend it.
The book is available as hardback or digitally at Amazon and other outlets.
And now, having nothing whatever to do with Honourable Friends?, here is chapter ten of my novel Secret Shame. If you would like to begin reading from the start, click here. It begins at the end of the main post.
On the twenty-ninth of June, four months and ten days after her fifteenth birthday, at four minutes past five in the afternoon in Liverpool Women’s Hospital, an exhausted, sweaty Stacey summoned the strength from somewhere for one final, red-faced, teeth-gritted push and expelled her equally red-faced daughter into the world.
‘Well done!’ Julie and Sue the midwife exclaimed simultaneously, looking at each other and laughing. But the laughing in Julie’s case was that of huge relief too.
Sue expertly snipped and tied off the cord, slapped gently to induce a howl and laid the grimacing, blinking baby briefly on Stacey’s chest, as her arms went eagerly around her. ‘There you are, Lovie!’ Julie enthused, feeling tearful. ‘Aren’t you a clever girl then?’
But Stacey was too speechless with wonder to reply. The pain already forgotten, she could only gaze in amazement and euphoria as the hormones washed through her body. Julie noticed immediately, although the head was wet and a little bloody, the unmistakable smudge of red hair. Her heart did a small lurch of recognition.
Sue looked on, feeling the usual warm tingle. She always liked this bit: the rapturous look on the mum’s face (and usually the dad’s too) as they welcomed the wailing little scrap of humankind into their lives. It really made her job worthwhile. Even when, as in this case, the mother herself was still a child. But then the baby was still a baby after all, and this was what her job was all about. The mother could be fifteen or fifty; age was neither here nor there. And this juvenile mum looked genuinely pleased with what she’d just produced. The rather younger-than-the-average grandmother did too.
She was still busy down below though. ‘Give me another push now, darling,’ she coaxed, as she eased the placenta away and dropped it into the waste. That done, she whisked the still-naked baby away from Stacey and onto the scales and announced and noted down the weight. ‘Three-point-four kilos,’ She announced proudly, as if personally responsible.
‘What’s that in old money?’ Julie asked.
Sue smiled indulgently. She almost always got asked that. Why did the British still insist on expressing babies’ weights in imperial? Conversion to metric had happened years ago. ‘Seven pounds eight ounces,’ she translated, glancing at the scale again. She cleaned and wrapped the baby, after giving her a quick once-over (she looked fine), and took her back to Stacey.
Sue said what she always said to her mums, but she always meant it. ‘She’s absolutely beautiful, Mum.’
‘Yes, she is, sure enough,’ Julie agreed fervently, her eyes glistening.
Derek came in the evening, at the regular visiting time. He looked pleased, Julie was relieved and happy to see. But then his attitude had mellowed over the months of Stacey’s pregnancy, particularly the final ones. He’d become as solicitous of her as she’d barrelled ever more impossibly (although she was as tall as her mum now, but that wasn’t saying a lot) as he had been over her when she’d carried Emma and Darren.
In fact he was beaming from ear to ear as he walked into the four-bed room which currently had two other occupants and their newborn, surrounded by their doting, smiling next-of-kin. Derek planted a kiss on Julie’s mouth and another on Stacey’s cheek. ‘You okay, Lovie?’ he enquired.
Stacey smiled. ‘Yeah, thanks, Dad. Apart from knackered and a bit sore.’
Derek stroked her hair, fondly. ‘Yes, well, you’ve been a bit busy, haven’t you!’
‘Yeah, you can say that again.’
He looked back at Julie, who was holding the baby, taking in his granddaughter for the first time. His gasped, surprised. ‘Bloody hell, it looks like there’s going to be another carrot top in the family!’ He grinned wickedly at Julie.
Julie mock-scowled at the teasing and then laughed. ‘Sure it’s the Irish coming out in her, so it is.’ But then the grin left her face; she gazed at her granddaughter through a momentary veil of sadness.
Derek didn’t notice the shift. ‘So, it’s still to be Chloe then, is it, Stace?’
They’d known the sex since the second scan; Stacey had wanted to know what it was going to be and she and Julie, with some input from Emma (which they’d largely ignored because her suggestions had been ridiculous), had spent many hours discussing names, going through Emily, Sophie, Lucy, Bethany and many others before settling on Chloe.
Stacey grinned, tiredly. ‘Well, not so sure now. We think maybe something like Amber would be better, because of her hair.’
Julie came out of her trance. ‘Yes, I think that’s a lovely name, don’t you, Derek?’
He laughed. ‘I dunno, I’m only a man; what do I know about such things?’
‘Well, that’s what we think, anyway,’ Julie said, closing the topic.
Travelling home afterwards, Julie flopped against the headrest and sighed deeply. ‘Well I’m glad that’s all over, anyway.’
Derek glanced across. ‘Yeah; it’s been a long day, that’s for sure.’
It certainly had. Stacey’s anxious knocking on their bedroom door at five-thirty in the morning, saying she was getting really sharp abdominal pains now and then. The call to the hospital, who’d said to time them, and when they became frequent enough to get Stacey there, by ambulance if necessary. Derek had said he couldn’t possibly go into work, and had phoned in to get the day off. There were no really pressing enquiries going on at the moment, so it hadn’t been a problem.
Then Derek driving them in; Stacey wide-eyed with apprehension and screwing up her face as each contraction gripped. Of course there’d been no point in him waiting around, with Julie there to give all necessary support, so he’d left them to it, gently hugging Stacey and telling her not to worry, it would be fine. Besides which, he had to go and collect Irene (with whom Julie had stayed in touch and fondly regarded pretty much as a mother), who might be needed for child-minding duties later if he found himself having to return to hospital.
‘How did she do?’ Derek asked; his eyes back on the road.
‘Oh, fine, really, better than I thought she would, so.’ Julie smiled. ‘But then, she has the body of a woman after all, so she’d have been able to manage the physical side of things all right, even if she is mentally still a kid. And the midwife was brilliant, so she was. Really kind and understanding.’
‘Um; but it’s still a hell of a thing for kid to go through, isn’t it?’ Derek murmured. He paused. ‘I’m glad you were there for her. Another woman who really understands has got to be much better than a useless man. I’d have been hopeless.’
Julie touched his hand briefly. ‘No you wouldn’t, Love. You did okay for our other two.’
Back home, Irene, who had a meal keeping warm in the oven for them, plagued with questions. How was Stacey? Thank God it was all over for her, the little love. And the baby? Was she all right? Did she look like her mum? She couldn’t wait to see her, she said, wistfully, dropping heavy hints. Irene, still the sweet, sentimental old dear she’d always been, had put aside any disapproval she might have had of Stacey’s situation. As far as she was concerned, a baby was a baby was a baby. They were all wonderful, in her eyes.
Two days later (the hospital wanted to keep Stacey a little longer than normal because of her age), and having got another twenty-four hours leave, Derek took Stacey and the baby home, having first collected Irene again and brought her to Wentworth Way. She’d hinted again, when he’d delivered her back home after the birth, that she’d love to see the baby, and he’d had to acquiesce. But then he had a soft spot for Irene too, remembering old times.
There was great excitement in the Hawkins household when they arrived, particularly on the part of Emma but hardly any less from Irene. The bedroom rearrangements had already happened. In a slight modification of Julie’s original idea, Darren had moved in with Emma. Well, Julie had reasoned, he was only six and Emma at eight was still well shy of puberty, so they could share for six months or so, until the baby was past the stage of interrupting her mother’s sleep. To begin with, Stacey would really need a room to herself. She and Emma could double up later.
Derek had insisted on once more redecorating the nursery room, reverting to appropriate pink after it had been blue for Darren, and Luke’s baby fund, which he’d been assiduously paying into, had been raided to buy a cot. Other paraphernalia had been bought by Derek, and his mother, who had got over her initial horror that her step-granddaughter was having a child and had, like grannies traditionally do, knitted a wardrobe of tiny clothes.
As she had been over Darren, Emma was thrilled at the arrival of a baby. She took it completely in her stride that this one wasn’t another sister that her mum had produced but, weirdly, had come from Stacey. She couldn’t quite understand how that could be, and Stacey hadn’t enlightened her. Emma could barely contain her excitement (and neither could Irene) when Stacey carried the soft, fascinating bundle into the house and sank onto the sofa as she quickly crowded in to look.
She was wide-eyed with wonder as she gazed at the tiny being, and almost ecstatic when she sat beside Stacey and was allowed to very carefully hold her niece. That had been a difficult concept, niece, to grasp too. Surely, only grown-ups, like Uncle John and Auntie Lindsey, and Auntie Maeve and Uncle Tony, and those other mysterious brothers and sisters of Mummy’s who lived in Ireland (most of whom she’d never met); only they could be aunts and uncles and have nieces, couldn’t they? It was all very puzzling. Not that she cared though, really. It was thrilling, having a baby in the house, and definitely something to impress her friends at school with, although one or two of them did have baby brothers or sisters, it was true.
In the afternoon Derek’s parents visited. Frank had retired from making Land Rovers at Halewood the previous October, so his time was now his own (and he was really making the most of it). But Doreen had badgered him to leave his allotment for once and drive her over to see her great-granddaughter. Doreen sat on the sofa with a cup of tea and two rich tea biscuits (nothing too sweet, because of her diet) to hand on the coffee table and had her turn holding the baby, cradling her in the crook of her pale blue cardiganned arm. Derek, his dad and Darren disappeared outside to discuss crime and early potatoes, and then kick a football around with the bored six-year old, leaving the upper three generations of females to talk babies. Emma, noticing the arrival of her granddad’s car, forsook Katy, to whom she’d been boasting about being an auntie, and came home to join the women, fascinated by it all.
Doreen had quite forgotten her original shock when Derek had first told her of her impending great-grandmother-hood and the embarrassment, in her turn, of having to admit to her friends of a teenage pregnancy in the family. Now, though, she was as pleased as Punch. She’d gone past tut-tutting and smugly telling herself that it was only Derek’s stepdaughter who had got herself into trouble, not one of his own (although Emma was far too young yet, and besides, she’d never do such a thing anyway, even if she were old enough).
‘Hello then, little Chloe,’ she cooed, stroking a soft cheek with the flat of her right fingernail.
Irene, who was still present and thoroughly enjoying her day out, looked puzzled.
‘No, it’s “Amber”, Gran,’ Stacey corrected, beating Julie to it.
Doreen looked a little taken aback. ‘Oh, I thought you said it was going to be “Chloe”?’
‘Yes it was,’ Julie put in, eager to join the conversation, ‘but Stacey changed her mind. Because of the hair.’
‘Well yes, it is very striking,’ Doreen said. ‘Looks as though it’ll be just like yours, Julie.’
‘Yes, looks like it,’ Julie agreed.
‘Why “Amber” though?’ Doreen was puzzled.
‘Well, it’s what they often call red-haired girls nowadays. So Stacey reckons. Because amber’s that sort of colour.’
‘Oh, is it? Well I’ll take Stacey’s word for it,’ Doreen conceded. ‘What is it, anyway?’
‘What, amber? It’s a precious stone, isn’t it?’ Julie wasn’t sure either. ‘You see it used in jewellery, don’t you? Like Jade?’
‘No, I think it’s ancient fossilised resin, actually.’ Stacey finally managed to get a word in.
‘Well I thought Chloe was a really nice name, anyway.’ Doreen insisted, ignoring that fascinating information. ‘Nice and old-fashioned. Not like some of the silly names they give children nowadays.’
Stacey and Julie exchanged glances. Julie rolled her eyes. Doreen, engrossed in the baby, apparently didn’t notice.
‘Yes, but Amber’s nice too,’ Irene ventured, loyally.
The conversation, mostly three-way (involving Julie, Irene and Doreen) drifted leisurely on. Doreen prattled tactlessly about it being a right turn up for the books, finding herself a great-grandmother at the age of sixty-three and wondered if Stacey was still seeing the baby’s father and whether he was taking any interest and whether the two of them might get married, one day. Julie bit her tongue, as Stacey blushed and frowned and gnawed her lip, and wished she’d just shut up.
Derek and Frank reappeared in search of tea, which Derek made. Frank began to half-heartedly but all the same hopefully suggest something a little stronger with which to wet the baby’s head but then thought better of it. He knew his son was a stickler about drink-driving. The women were still talking babies, comparing notes and memories. At half-past four little Amber began to grizzle, quite vociferously. Julie knew the signs and suggested that she was probably in need of a feed. Frank, embarrassed by the prospect of witnessing breastfeeding and anxious to get back to his gardening, announced that they really ought to be going. Doreen sent him a venomous look, reluctantly handed the baby to Julie and they took their leave.
Derek, Julie and Stacey breathed a collective, secret, sigh of relief.
There was another visitation in the evening, after dinner. Julie had rung and given Maeve the glad tidings of the birth the evening it happened, after returning home with Derek, and Maeve now rang to say that she and her girls were dying to see the baby. Julie was a little uncertain about Stacey suffering yet more people on her first day back home, but then Maeve was her sister after all and she couldn’t really refuse.
Derek didn’t particularly fancy another female-dominated gathering either, and offered, firmly and brooking no refusal, to run Irene home. Irene sighed, planted a kiss on the top of Stacey’s head, as if she were still five years old, said, ‘Now take care, Darling,’ and took her reluctant leave too.
Twenty minutes later Maeve, Trixie and Samantha (but no Tony) arrived. Clearly, Tony was keeping well out of things. Having her own car, though, Maeve didn’t have to rely on him. Yet more tea was brewed, and another packet of biscuits opened. Trixie was around Emma’s age and Samantha two years older, and they were equally fascinated both by the baby, and in Sam’s case, by the vaguely wicked idea of her cousin actually having one, without a boyfriend or anything, in the first place.
Of course, they all wanted to hold the long-suffering Amber too. Again her hair was an immediate subject of conversation. Maeve opined that, obviously, the Brennan genes must be dominant and were coming through, and thought that the baby definitely looked like Stacey apart from hair colour, blithely disregarding that there were three other immediate family influences in play: Stacey’s disappeared biological father and the two parents of Luke too.
‘Yes,’ Maeve said, as they watched Stacey feeding Amber yet again, ‘the red hair certainly figured a lot in our family, didn’t it, Julie? There’s yourself and our Siobhan and our Patrick.’
‘Sure it did,’ Julie agreed, feeling that twinge in her chest again, wishing she would change the subject.
‘But at least there’s not so much prejudice about it nowadays, but then we’re more enlightened now, so,’ Maeve opined, sounding just a little sanctimonious. She looked at Stacey. ‘She’s a grand little girl though, sure enough. Even if you didn’t quite intend to have her just yet.’
Julie seethed inwardly, wishing her sister would shove off too. Yes, go on, rub it in! Of course you and your girls would never get caught out like this, would you? Just give Samantha five more years or so though and see if she turns out more of a handful than you expect!
‘But still,’ Maeve wittered blithely on, It’s certainly not the end of the world, is it? Your life doesn’t have to end right now, just because of this. And I know you’ll give Stacey plenty of support, Julie.’
‘Yes I will,’ Julie replied through gritted teeth. ‘I’ve had plenty of experience, after all.’
Stacey had finished feeding the baby. Or at least Amber had finished; she seemed to have dropped off to sleep. Stacey looked as though she were about to as well, Julie thought. It had been a pretty long and tiring day for her, it being her first back home, after all. Julie got up to take the baby from her, glancing at the time display on the stereo system. It showed ten minutes past nine. She put the baby up to her shoulder, patting the tiny back to wind her, and resumed her place in her armchair.
She decided to be firm. ‘Well I really think Stacey ought to be getting to bed. I expect she was awake early this morning in hospital.’ She looked at Stacey. ‘Are you tired, Lovie? You certainly look it.’
Stacey sent her a grateful smile and nod. ‘Yeah, I am a bit.’
‘And you’ll probably be up more than once during the night,’ Julie added, to reinforce the unsubtle hint. ‘I should have an early one, if I were you.’
Surprisingly, Maeve agreed. ‘Yes, your mam’s right. Get some sleep; you’re going to need all you can get, believe me!’
Stacey looked at the baby now lying in Julie’s arms. ‘Erm, should I be changin’ her, or somethin?’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Julie reassured, ‘I’ll sort her out. You go up and have a nice bath, perhaps, then get yourself into bed. I’ll bring you up some Horlicks in a bit. Catch a few hours’ sleep.
Stacey got up. ‘Okay, I will.’ She smiled tiredly. ‘At least there isn’t school in the morning, anyway!’ she joked. She turned to Maeve and her cousins. ‘Sorry to be unsociable, Auntie Maeve, and you two, but I am pretty tired. See you then; see you guys.’
They exchanged Goodnights and Stacey left them. Maeve watched her go. She looked at Julie, knowingly; grinned. ‘You’re really loving this, aren’t you?’
‘All this baby stuff. You always did.’
Julie looked down at the sleeping, now rather smelly infant. ‘Well, yes, but I’m just supporting Stacey. Somebody’s got to!’
Maeve was getting on her nerves again. She sent a silent prayer of thanks for the presence of Trixie and Samantha. At least she was being spared an irritating moral lecture from her elder sister.
‘Yeah, of course you have,’ Maeve said, patronisingly. ‘Rather you than me though. I don’t want to go through all that again. I prefer them when they get to about eight.’ She darted a mischievous look at Trixie, who smirked back.
Maeve bestirred herself. ‘Right, we’d best leave you to sort out stinky-poo here then. Come on, you two. We’ll come and see Amber again soon.’
The next day there was yet another visit. In the morning, Julie suddenly remembered, guiltily, that she hadn’t contacted Cathy with the news. Her friend (they’d become surprisingly close of late) knew that the birth was imminent – Julie had said so during their last phone conversation – and would be wondering how things were going. Luke might be too, for that matter. And he certainly had a right to be kept in the picture, as he was co-operating in the maintenance scheme, turning up faithfully every Friday evening to stand shyly on the doorstep and hand over the money. Cathy sounded a little peeved when Julie told her the birth had happened three days previously, and Julie, embarrassed, rushed to apologise and invite her visit.
Cathy immediately brightened. Yes, of course she’d love to see the baby, and so would Liam, her husband. Then she paused, sounding embarrassed in her turn. Would it be all right if Luke came too? She knew that her son and Stacey no longer saw each other, and perhaps that was for the best, but Luke was showing interest in the proceedings, judging by the way he often wondered aloud how things were going when he returned from his money delivery. And apart from that, he was the father, after all and it was his right. Okay, the situation shouldn’t have happened, but it had; there was no use in crying over spilled milk and surely it was good to encourage the lad to engage?
Julie could only agree (although she wasn’t sure what Derek would feel about it) and said she’d put it to Stacey. Yes, of course Luke had a right to see the baby, but Stacey might want to avoid seeing him and disappear when they came. But when Julie put the proposition to her after coming off the phone, Stacey simply muttered, expressionlessly, ‘It’s okay, I’m cool with that.’
The three of them arrived after lunch, as it was a Saturday and none were at work. Julie answered the bell chimes from the hall. She looked them over as they stood at the open front door: Cathy looking excited, Liam looking expectant and Luke, in his eternal denim, looking nervous, as if he’d really rather be somewhere else. She led them into the lounge and sat them down; Cathy beside Stacey, who was at the end of the sofa holding the baby, with Luke on her other side. Stacey and Luke exchanged embarrassed ‘Hi’s but otherwise avoided eye-contact; it was the first time they’d met throughout the pregnancy.
Liam, who was in his early fifties and balding to a grey monkish pate above his friendly, open face, was tall and pot-bellied (due, Julie imagined, secretly amused, to a fondness for the Guiness), took an armchair. Or perhaps that was just her believing the British stereotype. It was the typical tall-husband-short wife thing, at any rate: he’d towered over short, rotund Cathy by a good fifteen inches when they stood side-by-side. There was an even greater disparity than between herself and Derek. She could see where Luke got his long gangly frame from.
Julie established their refreshment preferences, Liam asking, hopefully, if there was any of the hard stuff on offer, to which Derek replied, on cue, that they didn’t normally keep it in the house. He disappeared into the kitchen to put the kettle on, leaving Julie to entertain the guests.
Cathy’s eyes went straight to her granddaughter. Stacey, used to the routine now, asked if she’d like to hold her. Cathy didn’t need asking twice, and took the little bundle from Stacey with alacrity. ‘Ah, come to your granny, you little sweetie,’ she cooed.
Immediately, of course, she remarked on the red hair. Julie had been expecting it, and the follow-up, and it quickly came. ‘It looks like it’ll be just like yours, Julie,’ Cathy said, sounding a little disappointed, probably because the baby didn’t seem to take after herself.
‘And like mine used to be, before I lost it and the rest went grey, sure,’ Liam put in, grinning.
‘Yes, well there was a lot of it about in Sligo, I seem to remember,’ Julie teased. She watched Luke’s reaction to Amber. He did seem genuinely taken, judging by the way he was looking at her. Indeed he seemed transfixed, unable to take his eyes off her. There were indecipherable emotions flitting across his face. What were they? Genuine interest? Or only polite interest? Pleasure? Love, even? But then he hadn’t been there at the crucial moment: the birth, sure, so obviously there couldn’t be the usual paternal bonding. But then again, did you necessarily have to witness it? After all, adoptive parents didn’t have that. Perhaps they acquired it through some other type of alchemy though.
Cathy, like Irene before her, sat making the most of the new-baby experience too, stroking the tiny cheeks as the baby gazed up at her through unfocused pale blue eyes. Julie waited for what must surely be inevitable: the remark from Cathy that she was far too young to be a grandma. But it didn’t come. Cathy, it seemed, was more sensitive than Doreen.
After a few minutes Cathy wanted to drink her tea. She began to reach forward awkwardly to the coffee table for her mug but then thought better of it, as she was holding such a precious bundle. She looked at her son. ‘Do you want to hold her for a minute, Luke?’ she asked, before remembering the etiquette and glancing at Stacey ‘. . . erm, is that alright, Loov?’
‘Yeah, fine, cool,’ Stacey grinned.
Without asking him, Cathy handed Amber into Luke’s hastily arranged arms, laying her in his lap. ‘It’s okay, don’t look so worried,’ she reassured, ‘she’s not that fragile!’
Luke looked down at his tiny charge, a smile playing on his lips. Aping his mother, he stroked the miniscule cheeks too.
‘So what do you think of your daughter, Luke?’ Julie asked gently, as Cathy reached for her tea.
Luke was beaming now. ‘She’s great,’ he enthused. He looked across at Stacey; quite the proud parent. ‘Yeah, she’s beautiful; really fine. Don’t you reckon?’
‘Yeah,’ Stacey answered, ‘Pure fine.’