Read an extract from Becky’ newest adventure . . .

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Available now!

About the Author
Sophie Kinsella is an international bestselling writer and former financial journalist. She is the author of many number one bestsellers, including the hugely popular Shopaholic series.
She has also written seven bestselling novels as Madeleine Wickham.
She lives in London with her husband and family.
Visit her website at

Sophie Kinsella’s brilliant new novel

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About the Book
Will travel broaden the mind . . . or loosen the purse strings?
For Rebecca Bloomwood, life is peachy. She has a job on morning TV, her bank manager is actually being nice to her, and when it comes to spending money, her new motto is Buy Only What You Need – and she’s really (sort of) sticking to it. The icing on the brioche is that she’s been offered a chance to work in New York.
New York! The Museum of Modern Art! The Guggenheim! The Metropolitan Opera House! And Becky does mean to go to them all. Honestly. It’s just that it seems silly not to check out a few other places first. Like Saks. And Bloomingdales. And Barneys. And one of those fantastic sample sales where you can get a Prada dress for $10. Or was it $100?
Is Becky too dazzled to care?
Hugest thanks to Linda Evans, Patrick Plonkington-Smythe and all the fabulous Transworld team; and as always to Araminta Whitley, Celia Hayley, Mark Lucas, Nicki Kennedy, Kim Witherspoon and David Forrer.
Special thanks to Susan Kamil, Nita Taublib and all at The Dial Press, who made me so incredibly welcome in New York – and especially Zoe Rice, for a wonderful afternoon of research (shopping and eating chocolate). Also David Stefanou for the Gimlets and Sharyn Soleimani at Barneys who was so kind, and to all the people who have given me ideas, advice and inspiration along the way, in particular Athena Malpas, Lola Bubbosh, Mark Malley, Ana-Maria Mosley, Harrie Evans and all my family. And of course Henry, who has all the best ideas.


Starring the unforgettable Becky Bloomwood


THE SECRET DREAMWORLD OF A SHOPAHOLIC (also published as Confessions of a Shopaholic)
Meet Becky – a journalist who spends all her time telling people how to manage money, and all her leisure time spending it. But the letters from her bank manager are getting harder to ignore. Can she ever escape this dream world, find true love . . . and regain the use of her credit card?

Becky’s life is peachy. Her balance is in the black – well, nearly – and now her boyfriend has asked her to move to New York with him. Can Becky keep the man and the clothes, when there’s so much temptation around every corner?

Becky finally has the perfect job, the perfect man and, at last, the perfect wedding. Or rather, weddings . . . How has Becky ended up with not one, but two big days?

Becky has received some incredible news. She has a long-lost sister! But how will she cope when she realises her sister is not a shopper . . . but a skinflint?

Becky is pregnant! But being Becky, she decides to shop around – for a new, more expensive obstetrician, and unwittingly ends up employing Luke’s ex-girlfriend! How will Becky make it through the longest nine months of her life?

Times are hard, so Becky’s Cutting Back. She has the perfect idea: throw a budget-busting birthday party. But her daughter Minnie can turn the simplest event into chaos. Whose turn will it be to sit on the naughty step?

Becky is in Hollywood! And she has her heart set on a new career – she’s going to be a celebrity stylist. With her best friend Suze, she embarks on the Hollywood insider trail. But somehow, things aren’t quite working out as they hoped . . .

Becky is on a major rescue mission! On a road trip to Las Vegas to help her friends and family, she comes up with her biggest, boldest, most brilliant plan yet! So can she save the day just when they need her most?


Sophie Kinsella’s hilarious, heart-warming standalone novels


Certain she’s going to die in a plane crash, Emma blurts out her deepest, darkest secrets to the sexy stranger next to her. But it’s OK, because she’ll never have to see him again . . . will she?

Samantha works all hours, has no home life and thrives on adrenalin. Then one day it all falls apart. She finds herself a new life as housekeeper in a country house. Will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does, will she want it back?

What if you woke up and your life was perfect? Somehow Lexi’s life has fast-forwarded three years, and she has everything she’s ever wanted – the job, the house, the man. Or does she? What went on in those missing years, and can she cope when she finds out the truth?

Lara has always had an overactive imagination. But even she finds it hard to believe when the ghost of her great aunt Sadie shows up, asking for her help. Is Lara losing her mind? Or could two girls from different times end up helping each other?

First Poppy loses her engagement ring – a priceless heirloom – and then she misplaces her phone. The only alternative seems to be to take a mobile she finds in a bin. Little knowing that she’s picked up another man in the process . . .

Lottie is determined to get married. And Ben seems perfect – they have history, he’s gorgeous and he’s willing to do it now. They’ll iron out their little differences later. All that’s left to do is seal the deal. But their families have different plans . . .


Christmas is approaching, and Ginny is looking forward to the birth of her first baby. It’s a pity her partner Dan is so useless, and she has to keep reminding him where he’s going wrong. She’s enrolled into the most exclusive antenatal class going – and like the other five women in the class, Ginny already knows exactly how she’s going to handle motherhood. Or does she?

OK, don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s simply a question of being organized and staying calm and deciding what exactly I need to take. And then fitting it all neatly into my suitcase. I mean, just how hard can that be?
I step back from my cluttered bed and close my eyes, half hoping that if I wish hard enough, my clothes might magically arrange themselves into a series of neat folded piles. Like in those magazine articles on packing, which tell you how to go on holiday with one cheap sarong and cleverly turn it into six different outfits. (Which I always think is a complete con, because, OK, the sarong costs ten quid, but then they add loads of clothes which cost hundreds, and we’re not supposed to notice.)
But when I open my eyes again, the clutter is all still there. In fact, there seems to be even more of it, as if while my eyes were shut, my clothes have been secretly jumping out of the drawers and running around on my bed. Everywhere I look, all around my room, there are huge great tangled piles of . . . well . . . stuff. Shoes, boots, T-shirts, magazines . . . a Body Shop gift basket that was on sale . . . a Linguaphone Italian course which I must start . . . a facial sauna thingy . . . And, sitting proudly on my dressing table, a fencing mask and sword which I bought yesterday. Only forty quid from a charity shop!
I pick up the sword and experimentally give a little lunge towards my reflection in the mirror. It was a real coincidence, because I’ve been meaning to take up fencing for ages, ever since I read this article about it in the Daily World. Did you know that fencers have better legs than any other sports people? Plus if you’re an expert you can become a stunt double in a film and earn loads of money! So what I’m planning to do is find some fencing lessons nearby, and get really good, which I should think I’ll do quite quickly.
And then – this is my secret little plan – when I’ve got my gold badge, or whatever it is, I’ll write to Catherine Zeta Jones. Because she must need a stunt double, mustn’t she? And why shouldn’t it be me? In fact she’d probably prefer someone British. Maybe she’ll phone back and say she always watches my television appearances on cable, and she’s always wanted to meet me! God, yes. Wouldn’t that be great? We’ll probably really hit it off, and turn out to have the same sense of humour and everything. And then I’ll fly out to her luxury home, and get to meet Michael Douglas and play with the baby. We’ll be all relaxed together like old friends, and some magazine will do a feature on celebrity best friends and have us in it, and maybe they’ll even ask me to be . . .
‘Hi Bex!’ With a jolt, the happy pictures of me laughing with Michael and Catherine vanish from my head, and my brain snaps into focus. Suze my flatmate is wandering into my room, wearing a pair of ancient paisley pyjamas. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks curiously.
‘Nothing!’ I say, hastily putting the fencing sword back. ‘Just . . . you know. Keep fit.’
‘Oh right,’ she says vaguely. ‘So – how’s the packing going?’ She wanders over to my mantelpiece, picks up a lipstick and begins to apply it. Suze always does this in my room – just wanders about picking things up and looking at them and putting them down again. She says she loves the way you never know what you might find, like in a junk shop. Which I’m fairly sure she means in a nice way.
‘It’s going really well,’ I say. ‘I’m just deciding which suitcase to take.’
‘Ooh,’ says Suze turning round, her mouth half bright pink. ‘What about that little cream one? Or your red holdhall?’
‘I thought maybe this one,’ I say, hauling my new acid green shell case out from under the bed. I bought it at the weekend, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
‘Wow!’ says Suze, her eyes widening. ‘Bex! That’s fab! Where did you get it?’
‘Fenwicks,’ I say, grinning broadly. ‘Isn’t it amazing?’
‘It’s the coolest case I’ve ever seen!’ says Suze, running her fingers admiringly over it. ‘So . . . how many suitcases have you got now?’ She glances up at my wardrobe, on which are teetering a brown leather case, a lacquered trunk and three vanity cases.
‘Oh, you know,’ I say, shrugging a little defensively. ‘The normal amount.’
I suppose I have been buying quite a bit of luggage recently. But the thing is, for ages I didn’t have any, just one battered old canvas bag. Then, a few months ago I had an incredible revelation in the middle of Harrods, a bit like St Paul on the road to Mandalay. Luggage. And since then, I’ve been making up for all the lean years.
Besides which, everyone knows good luggage is an investment.
‘I’m just making a cup of tea,’ says Suze. ‘D’you want one?’
‘Ooh, yes please!’ I say. ‘And a KitKat?’ Suze grins.
‘Definitely a KitKat.’
Recently, we had this friend of Suze’s to stay on our sofa – and when he left he gave us this huge box full of a hundred KitKats. Which is such a great thank-you present, but it means all we eat, all day long, is KitKats. Still, as Suze pointed out last night, the quicker we eat them, the quicker they’ll be gone – so in a way, it’s more healthy just to stuff in as many as possible.
Suze ambles out of the room and I turn to my case. Right. Concentrate. Packing. This really shouldn’t take long. All I need is a very basic, pared-down capsule wardrobe for a mini-break in Somerset. I’ve even written out a list, which should make things nice and simple.
Jeans: two pairs. Easy. Scruffy and not quite so scruffy.
Actually, make that three pairs of jeans. I’ve got to take my new Diesel ones, they’re just so cool, even if they are a bit tight. I’ll just wear them for a few hours in the evening or something.
Oh, and my embroidered cutoffs from Oasis, because I haven’t worn them yet. But they don’t really count because they’re practically shorts. And anyway, jeans hardly take up any room, do they?
OK, that’s probably enough jeans. I can always add some more if I need to.
T-shirts: selection. So let’s see. Plain white, obviously. Grey, ditto. Black cropped, black vest (Calvin Klein), other black vest (Warehouse but actually looks nicer), pink sleeveless, pink sparkly, pink—
I stop, halfway through transferring folded T-shirts into my case. This is stupid. How am I supposed to predict which T-shirts I’m going to want to wear? The whole point about T-shirts is you choose them in the morning according to your mood, like crystals, or aromatherapy oils. Imagine if I woke up in the mood for my ‘Elvis is Groovy’ T-shirt and I didn’t have it with me?
You know, I think I’ll just take them all. I mean, a few T-shirts aren’t going to take up much room, are they? I’ll hardly even notice them.
I tip them all into my case and add a couple of cropped bra-tops for luck.
Excellent. This capsule approach is working really well. OK, what’s next?
Ten minutes later, Suze wanders back into the room, holding two mugs of tea and three KitKats to share. (We’ve come to agree that four sticks, frankly, doesn’t do it.)
‘Here you are,’ she says – then gives me a closer look. ‘Bex, are you OK?’
‘I’m fine,’ I say, rather pink in the face. ‘I’m just trying to fold up this gilet a bit smaller.’
I’ve already packed a denim jacket and a leather jacket, but you just can’t count on September weather, can you? I mean, at the moment it’s hot and sunny, but it might well start snowing tomorrow. And what happens if Luke and I go for a really rustic country walk? Besides which, I’ve had this gorgeous Patagonia gilet for ages, and I’ve only worn it once. I try to fold it again, but it slithers out of my hands and onto the floor. God, this reminds me of camping trips with the Brownies, and trying to get my sleeping bag back into its tube.
‘How long are you going for, again?’ asks Suze.
‘Three days.’ I give up trying to squash the gilet into the size of a matchbox, and it springs jauntily back to shape. Feeling slightly discomfited, I sink onto the bed and take a sip of tea. What I don’t understand is, how do other people manage to pack so lightly? You see businesspeople all the time, striding onto planes with only a tiny shoe-box suitcase on wheels and a smug expression. How do they do it? Do they have magic shrinking clothes? Is there some secret way to fold everything up so it fits into a matchbox?
‘Why don’t you take your holdall as well?’ suggests Suze.
‘D’you think?’ I look uncertainly at my overflowing suitcase. Come to think of it, maybe I don’t need three pairs of boots. Or a fur stole.
Then it occurs to me that Suze goes away nearly every weekend, and she only ever takes a tiny squashy bag. ‘Suze, how do you pack? Do you have a system?’
‘I dunno,’ she says vaguely. ‘I suppose I still do what they taught us at Miss Burton’s. You work out an outfit for each occasion – and stick to that.’ She begins to tick off on her fingers. ‘Like . . . journey down, dinner, sitting by the pool, game of tennis . . .’ She looks up. ‘Oh yes, and each garment should be used at least three times.’
God, Suze is a genius. She knows all this kind of stuff. Her parents sent her to Miss Burton’s Academy when she was eighteen, which is some posh place in London where they teach you things like how to talk to a bishop and get out of a sports car in a miniskirt. She knows how to make a rabbit out of chicken wire, too.
Quickly I start to jot some broad headings on a piece of paper. This is much more like it. Much better than randomly stuffing things into a case. This way, I won’t have any superfluous clothes, just the bare minimum.
Outfit 1: Sitting by pool (sunny)
Outfit 2: Sitting by pool (cloudy)
Outfit 3: Sitting by pool (bottom looks huge in morning)
Outfit 4: Sitting by pool (someone else has same swimsuit)
Outfit 5:
In the hall the phone rings, but I barely look up. I can hear Suze talking excitedly – then a moment later she appears in the doorway, her face all pink and pleased.
‘Guess what?’ she says. ‘Guess what?’
‘Box Beautiful have sold out of my frames! They just phoned up to order some more!’
‘Oh Suze! That’s fantastic!’ I shriek.
‘I know!’ She comes running over, and we have a big hug, and sort of dance about, before she realizes she’s holding a cigarette and is about to burn my hair.
The amazing thing is, Suze only started making frames a few months ago – but already, she’s supplying four shops in London, and they’re doing really well! She’s been in loads of magazines, and everything. Which isn’t surprising, because her frames are so cool. Her latest range is in purple tweed, and they come in these gorgeous grey sparkly boxes, all wrapped in bright turquoise tissue paper. (I helped choose the exact colour, by the way.) She’s so successful, she doesn’t even make them all herself any more, but sends off her designs to a little workshop in Kent, and they come back, all made up.
‘So, have you finished working your wardrobe out?’ she says, taking a drag on her cigarette.
‘Yes,’ I say, brandishing my sheet of paper at her. ‘I’ve got it all sorted out. Down to every last pair of socks.’
‘Well done!’
‘And the only thing I need to buy,’ I add casually, ‘is a pair of lilac sandals.’
‘Lilac sandals?’
‘Mmm?’ I look up innocently. ‘Yes. I need some. You know, just a nice cheap little pair to pull a couple of outfits together . . .’
‘Oh right,’ says Suze, and pauses, frowning slightly. ‘Bex . . . weren’t you talking about a pair of lilac sandals last week? Really expensive, from LK Bennett?’
‘Was I?’ I feel myself flush a little. ‘I . . . I don’t remember. Maybe. Anyway—’
‘Bex.’ Suze gives me a suddenly suspicious look. ‘Now tell me the truth. Do you really need a pair of lilac sandals? Or do you just want them?’
‘No!’ I say defensively. ‘I really need them! Look!’
I take out my clothes plan, unfold it, and show it to Suze. I have to say, I’m rather proud of it. It’s quite a complicated flow chart, all boxes and arrows and red asterisks.
‘Wow!’ says Suze. ‘Where did you learn how to do that?’
‘At university,’ I say modestly. I read Business and Accounting for my degree – and it’s amazing how often it comes in handy.
‘What’s this box?’ she asks, pointing at the page.
‘That’s . . .’ I squint at it, trying to remember. ‘I think that’s if we go out to some really smart restaurant and I’ve already worn my Whistles dress the night before.’
‘And this one?’
‘That’s if we go rock-climbing. And this –’ I point to an empty box – ‘is where I need a pair of lilac sandals. If I don’t have them, then this outfit won’t work, and neither will this one . . . and the whole thing will disintegrate. I might as well not bother going.’
Suze is silent for a while, perusing my clothes plan while I bite my lip anxiously and cross my fingers behind my back.
I know this may seem a little unusual. I know most people don’t run every single purchase past their flat-mate. But the fact is, a while ago I kind of made Suze a little promise, which was that I’d let her keep tabs on my shopping. You know. Just keep an eye on things.
Don’t get the wrong idea here. It’s not like I have a shopping problem, or anything. It’s just that a few months ago, I did get into a . . . Well. A very slight money scrape. It was really just a tiny blip – nothing to worry about. But Suze got really freaked out when she found out about it, and said that for my own good, she’d vet all my spending from now on.
And she’s been as good as her word. She’s very strict, actually. Sometimes I’m really quite scared she might say no.
‘I see what you mean,’ she says at last. ‘You haven’t really got a choice, have you?’
‘Exactly,’ I say in relief. I take the plan from her, fold it up and put it into my bag.
‘Hey Bex, is that new?’ says Suze suddenly. She pulls my wardrobe door open and I feel a twinge of nerves. She’s frowning at my lovely new honey-coloured coat, which I smuggled into the flat the other day when she was in the bath.
I mean, obviously I was planning to tell her about it. I just never got around to it.
Please don’t look at the price tag, I think feverishly. Please don’t look at the price tag.
‘Erm . . . yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, it is new. But the thing is . . . I need a good coat, in case I get asked to do an outside broadcast for Morning Coffee.’
‘Is that likely?’ asks Suze, puzzled. ‘I mean, I thought your job was just sitting in the studio, giving financial advice.’
‘Well . . . you never know. It’s always best to be prepared.’
‘I suppose so . . .’ says Suze doubtfully. ‘And what about this top?’ She pulls at a hanger. ‘That’s new, too!’
‘That’s to wear on the show,’ I reply promptly.
‘And this skirt?’
‘For the show.’
‘And these new trousers?’
‘For the—’
‘Bex.’ Suze looks at me with narrowed eyes. ‘How many outfits have you got to wear on the show?’
‘Well – you know,’ I say defensively. ‘I need a few back-ups. I mean, Suze, this is my career we’re talking about. My career.’
‘Yes,’ says Suze eventually. ‘Yes, I suppose it is.’ She reaches for my new red silk jacket. ‘This is nice.’
‘I know,’ I beam. ‘I bought it to wear on my January special!’
‘Have you got a January special?’ says Suze. ‘Ooh, what’s it about?’
‘It’s going to be called Becky’s Fundamental Financial Principles,’ I say, reaching for my lip gloss. ‘It should be really good. Five ten-minute slots, just me!’
‘So – what are your fundamental financial principles?’ asks Suze interestedly.
‘Erm . . . well, I haven’t really got any yet,’ I say, carefully painting my lips. ‘But you know. I’ll make them up a bit nearer the time.’ I snap my lip gloss shut and reach for my jacket. ‘See you later.’
‘OK,’ says Suze. ‘And remember. Just one pair of shoes!’
‘All right! I promise!’
It’s really sweet of Suze to be so concerned about me. But she doesn’t need to be. To be honest, she doesn’t really understand what a changed person I am. OK, I did have a very slight financial crisis earlier this year. In fact, at one point I was in debt by . . . Well. Really quite a lot.
But then I landed my job on Morning Coffee, and everything changed. I turned my life around completely, worked really hard – and paid off all my debts. Yes, I paid them all off! I wrote out cheque after cheque – and cleared every single outstanding credit card, every store card, every scribbled IOU to Suze. (She couldn’t believe it when I presented her with a cheque for several hundred pounds. At first she didn’t want to take it, but then she changed her mind and went out and bought this most amazing sheepskin coat.)
Honestly, paying off those debts was the most wonderful, exhilarating feeling in the world. It was a few months ago now – but I still feel high as I think about it. There’s really nothing to beat being completely and utterly financially solvent, is there?
And just look at me now. I’m a completely different person from the old Becky. I’m a reformed character. I haven’t even got an overdraft!
Well, OK. I have got a bit of an overdraft. But the only reason is, I’ve been taking the long view recently, and investing quite heavily in my career. Luke, my boyfriend, is an entrepreneur. He’s got his own financial PR company and everything. And he said something a few weeks ago which really made sense to me: ‘People who want to make a million borrow a million first.’
Honestly, I must have a naturally entrepreneurial mind, because as soon as he said it, I felt this weird chord of recognition. I even found myself murmuring it aloud. He’s so right. How can you expect to make any money if you don’t spend it first?
So I’ve invested in quite a few outfits to wear on the television – plus a few good haircuts, and quite a few manicures and facials. And a couple of massages. Because everyone knows you can’t perform well if you’re all stressed, can you?
I’ve also invested in a new computer, which cost £2,000 – but is an essential item because guess what? I’m writing a self-help book! Just after I’d become a regular on Morning Coffee, I met these really nice publishers, who took me out to lunch and said I was an inspiration to financially challenged people everywhere. Wasn’t that nice? They paid me £1,000 before I’d even written a word – and I get a lot more when it’s actually published. The book’s going to be called Becky Bloomwood’s Guide to Money. Or possibly Manage Money the Becky Bloomwood Way.
I haven’t quite had time to start writing it yet, but I really think the most important thing is to get the title right, and then the rest will just fall into place. And it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing. I’ve already jotted down loads of ideas about what to wear in the photograph.
So basically, it’s no surprise that I’m a little overdrawn at the moment. But the point is, all that money is out there, working for me. And luckily my bank manager, Derek Smeath, is very sympathetic. He’s a real sweetie, actually. For a long time we didn’t get on at all – which I think was more a communications problem than anything else. But now, I really think he understands where I’m coming from. And the truth is, of course, I’m a lot more sensible than I used to be.
For example, I have a completely different attitude to shopping. My new motto is ‘Buy Only What You Need’. I know, it sounds almost too simple – but it really does work. Before each purchase, I ask myself one question: ‘Do I need this?’ And only if the answer is ‘yes’ do I make the purchase. It’s all just a matter of self-discipline.
So for example, when I get to LK Bennett, I’m incredibly focused and direct. As I walk in, a pair of red boots with high heels catches my eye – but I quickly look away, and head straight for the display of sandals. This is how I shop these days: no pausing, no browsing, no eyeing up other items. Not even that gorgeous new range of sequined pumps over there. I simply go straight to the sandals I want, take them from the rack and say to the assistant,
‘I’d like to have these in a six, please.’
Direct, and to the point. Just buy what you need and nothing else. This is the key to controlled shopping. I’m not even going to glance at those cool pink stilettos, even though they’d match my new Jigsaw cardigan perfectly.
Nor those slingbacks with the glittery heels.
They are nice though, aren’t they? I wonder what they look like on.
Oh God. This is really hard.
What is it about shoes? I mean, I like most kinds of clothes, but a fabulous pair of shoes can just reduce me to jelly. Sometimes, when no-one else is at home, I open my wardrobe and just stare at all my pairs of shoes, like some mad collector. And once I lined them all up on my bed and took a photograph of them. Which might seem a bit weird – but I thought, I’ve got loads of photos of people I don’t really like, so why not take one of something I love?
‘Here you are!’
Thank goodness, the assistant is back with my lilac sandals in a box – and as I see them, my heart gives a little leap. Oh, these are gorgeous. Gorgeous. All delicate and strappy, with a tiny little blackberry by the toe. I fell in love with them as soon as I saw them. They’re a bit expensive – but then, everyone knows you should never skimp on shoes, because you’ll hurt your feet.
I slip my feet into them with a frisson of delight – and oh God, they’re fantastic. My feet suddenly look elegant, and my legs look longer . . . and OK, it’s a tiny bit difficult to walk in them, but that’s probably because the shop floor is all slippery.
‘I’ll take them, please,’ I say, and beam happily at the assistant.
You see, this is the reward for taking such a controlled approach to shopping. When you buy something, you really feel as though you’ve earned it.
We head towards the checkout, and I keep my eyes carefully away from the rack of accessories. In fact, I barely even notice that purple bag with the jet beading. And I’m just reaching into my bag for my purse, congratulating myself on being so single-minded, when the assistant says conversationally, ‘You know, we’ve got these sandals in clementine, as well.’
‘Oh . . . right,’ I say after a pause.
I’m not interested. I’ve got what I came in to buy – and that’s the end of the story. Lilac sandals. Not clementine ones.
‘They’ve just come in,’ she adds, rooting around on the floor. ‘I think they’re going to be even more popular than the lilac.’
‘Really?’ I say, trying to sound as indifferent as I can. ‘Well, I’ll just take these, I think . . .’
‘Here it is!’ she exclaims. ‘I knew there was one around here somewhere.’
And I freeze, as she puts the most exquisite sandal I’ve ever seen onto the counter. It’s a pale, creamy orange colour, with the same strappy shape as the lilac one – but instead of the blackberry, there’s a tiny clementine by the toe.
It’s instant love. I can’t move my eyes away.
‘Would you like to try it?’ says the girl, and I feel a lurch of desire, right to the pit of my stomach.
Just look at it. It’s delicious. It’s the most darling shoe I’ve ever seen. Oh God.
But I don’t need a pair of clementine shoes, do I? I don’t need them.
Come on, Becky. Just. Say. No.
‘Actually . . .’ I swallow hard, trying to get control of my voice. ‘Actually . . .’ God, I can hardly say it. ‘I’ll just take the lilac ones today,’ I manage eventually. ‘Thank you.’
‘OK . . .’ The girl punches a code into the till. ‘That’ll be £89, then. How would you like to pay?’
‘Er . . . Visa card, please,’ I say. I sign the slip, take my bag, and leave the shop, feeling slightly numb.
I did it! I did it! I controlled my desires! I only needed one pair of shoes – and I only bought one. In and out of the shop, completely according to plan. You see, this is what I can do when I really want to. This is the new Becky Bloomwood.
Having been so good, I deserve a little reward, so I go to a coffee shop and sit down outside in the sun with a cappuccino.
I want those clementine shoes, pops into my head as I take the first sip.
Stop. Stop it. Think about . . . something else. Luke. The holiday. Our first ever holiday together. God, I can’t wait.
I’ve been wanting to suggest a holiday ever since Luke and I started to go out, but he works so hard, it would be like asking the Prime Minister to give up running the country for a bit. (Except come to think of it, he does that every summer, doesn’t he? So how come Luke can’t?)
Luke’s so busy, he hasn’t even met my parents yet, which I’m a bit upset about. They asked him over for Sunday lunch, a few weeks ago, and Mum spent ages cooking – or at least, she bought apricot-stuffed loin of pork from Sainsbury’s and a really posh chocolate meringue pudding. But at the last minute he had to cancel because there was a crisis with one of his clients in the Sunday papers. So I had to go on my own – and it was all rather miserable, to be honest. You could tell Mum was really disappointed, but she kept saying brightly, ‘Oh well, it was only a casual arrangement’ – which it wasn’t. He sent her a huge bouquet of flowers the next day to apologize (or at least, Mel, his assistant, did), but it’s not the same, is it?
The worst bit was that our next-door neighbours, Janice and Martin, popped in for a glass of sherry and ‘to meet the famous Luke’, as they put it, and when they found out he wasn’t there, they kept giving me all these pitying looks tinged with smugness, because their son Tom is getting married to his girlfriend Lucy next week. And I have a horrible suspicion that they think I have a crush on him. (Which I don’t – in fact, quite the reverse. But once people believe something like that, it’s completely impossible to convince them otherwise. Oh God. Hideous.)
When I got upset with Luke, he pointed out that I’ve never met his parents, either. But that’s not quite true. I have briefly spoken to his dad and step-mum in a restaurant once, even if it wasn’t my most glittering moment. And anyway, they live in Devon, and Luke’s real mum lives in New York. So I mean, they’re not exactly handy, are they?
Still, we made up – and at least he’s making the effort to come on this little holiday. It was Mel, actually, who suggested the weekend idea. She told me Luke hadn’t had a proper holiday for three years, and maybe he had to be weaned gently on to the idea. So I stopped talking about holidays and started talking about weekends away – and that did the trick! All of a sudden Luke told me to set aside this weekend. He booked the hotel himself and everything. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ll just do nothing but relax and take it easy – and spend some time with each other for a change. Lovely.
I want those clementine shoes.
Stop it. Stop thinking about them.
I take another sip of coffee, lean back and force myself to survey the bustling street. People are striding along, holding bags and chatting, and there’s a girl crossing the road with nice trousers on, which I think come from Nicole Farhi and . . . Oh God.
A middle-aged man in a dark suit is coming along the road towards me, and I recognize him. It’s Derek Smeath, my bank manager.
Oh, and I think he’s seen me.
OK, don’t panic, I instruct myself firmly. There’s no need to panic. Maybe once upon a time I would have been thrown by seeing him. I might have tried to hide behind a menu, or perhaps even run away. But that’s all in the past. These days, Sweetie Smeathie and I have a very honest and amicable relationship.
Still, I find myself shifting my chair slightly further away from my LK Bennett bag, as though it hasn’t got anything to do with me.
‘Hello, Mr Smeath!’ I say brightly as he approaches. ‘How are you?’
‘Very well,’ says Derek Smeath, smiling. ‘And you?’
‘Oh, I’m fine, thanks. Would you . . . would you like a coffee?’ I add politely, gesturing to the empty chair opposite me. I’m not really expecting him to say yes, but to my astonishment he sits down and picks up a menu.
How civilized is this? I’m having coffee with my bank manager at a pavement café! You know, maybe I’ll find a way to work this into my Morning Coffee slot. ‘I myself prefer the informal approach to personal finance,’ I’ll say, smiling warmly into the camera. ‘My own bank manager and I often share a friendly cappuccino as we discuss my current financial strategies . . .’
‘As it happens, Rebecca, I’ve just written a letter to you,’ says Derek Smeath, as a waitress puts an espresso down in front of him. Suddenly his voice is more serious and I feel a small lurch of alarm. Oh God, what have I done now? ‘You and all my customers,’ he adds. ‘To tell you that I’m leaving.’
‘What?’ I put my coffee cup down with a little crash. ‘What do you mean, leaving?’
‘I’m leaving Endwich Bank. I’ve decided to take early retirement.’
‘But . . .’
I stare at him, appalled. Derek Smeath can’t leave Endwich Bank. He can’t leave me in the lurch, just as everything was going so well. I mean, I know we haven’t always exactly seen eye to eye – but recently we’ve developed a really good rapport. He understands me. He understands my overdraft. What am I going to do without him?
‘Aren’t you too young to retire?’ I say, aware of the dismay in my voice. ‘Won’t you get bored?’ He leans back in his chair and takes a sip of espresso.
‘I’m not planning to give up work altogether. But I think there’s a little more to life than looking after people’s bank accounts, don’t you? Fascinating though some of them have been.’
‘Well . . . yes. Yes of course. And I’m glad for you, honestly.’ I shrug, a little embarrassed. ‘But I’ll . . . miss you.’
‘Believe it or not,’ he says, smiling slightly, ‘I think I’ll miss you too, Rebecca. Yours has certainly been one of the most . . . interesting accounts I’ve dealt with.’
He gives me a penetrating look and I feel myself flush slightly. Why does he have to remind me of the past? The point is, that’s all over. I’m a different person now. Surely people should be allowed to turn over new leaves and start again in life?
‘Your career in television seems to be going well,’ he says.
‘I know! It’s so great, isn’t it? And it pays really well,’ I add, a little pointedly.
‘Your income has certainly gone up in recent months,’ he says and puts down his coffee cup. My heart sinks slightly. ‘However . . .’
I knew it. Why does there always have to be a ‘however’? Why can’t he just be pleased for me?
‘However,’ repeats Derek Smeath. ‘Your outgoings have also risen. Substantially. In fact, your overdraft is now higher than it was at the height of your . . . shall we say, your excesses.’
Excesses? That is so mean.
‘You really must make more effort to keep within your overdraft limit,’ he’s saying now. ‘Or, even better, pay it off.’
‘I know,’ I say vaguely. ‘I’m planning to.’
I’ve just spotted a girl on the other side of the road, with an LK Bennett bag. She’s holding a great big bag – with two shoe boxes in it.
If she’s allowed to buy two pairs of shoes, then why aren’t I? What’s the rule that says you can only buy one pair of shoes at a time? I mean, it’s so arbitrary.
‘What about your other finances?’ Derek Smeath is asking. ‘Do you have any store card bills, for example?’
‘No,’ I say with a tinge of smugness. ‘I paid them all off months ago.’
‘And you haven’t spent anything since?’
‘Only bits and pieces. Hardly anything.’
Anyway what’s ninety quid, really? In the greater scheme of things?
‘The reason I’m asking these questions,’ says Derek Smeath, ‘is that I feel I should warn you. The bank is restructuring somewhat, and my successor, John Gavin, may not take quite the same relaxed approach as I have towards your account. I’m not sure you’re aware quite how lenient I have been with you.’
‘Really?’ I say, not really listening.
I mean, suppose I took up smoking. I’d easily spend ninety quid on cigarettes without even thinking about it, wouldn’t I?
In fact, think of all the money I’ve saved by not smoking. Easily enough to afford one little pair of shoes.
‘He’s a very capable man,’ Derek Smeath is saying. ‘But also very . . . rigorous. Not particularly known for his flexibility.’
‘Right,’ I say, nodding absently.
‘I would certainly recommend that you address your overdraft without delay.’ He takes a sip of coffee. ‘And tell me, have you done anything about taking out a pension?’
‘Erm . . . I went to visit that independent adviser you recommended.’
‘And did you fill in any of the forms?’
Unwillingly, I drag my attention back to him.
‘Well, I’m just considering my options,’ I say, and put on my wise, financial-expert look. ‘There’s nothing worse than rushing into the wrong investment, you know. Particularly when it comes to something as important as a pension.’
‘Very true,’ says Derek Smeath. ‘But don’t spend too long considering, will you? Your money won’t save itself.’
‘I know!’ I say and take a sip of cappuccino.
Oh God, now I feel a bit uncomfortable. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I should put £90 into a pension fund instead of buying another pair of shoes.
But on the other hand – what good is a pension fund of £90? That’s not exactly going to keep me in my old age, is it? Ninety measly quid. And by the time I’m old, the world will probably have blown up, or something.
Whereas a pair of shoes is tangible, it’s there in your hand . . .
Oh, sod it. I’m going to get them.
‘Mr Smeath, I have to go,’ I say abruptly, putting down my cup. ‘There’s something I have to . . . do.’
Now I’ve decided, I have to get back there as quickly as possible. I pick up my carrier bag and drop a fiver on the table. ‘Lovely to see you. And good luck in your retirement.’
‘Best of luck to you too, Rebecca,’ says Derek Smeath, smiling kindly at me. ‘But do remember what I’ve said. John Gavin won’t indulge you in the way that I have. So just . . . watch your step, won’t you?’
‘I will!’ I say brightly.
And without quite running, I’m off down the street, as quick as I can, back to LK Bennett.
OK, so perhaps strictly speaking I didn’t need to buy a pair of clementine shoes. They weren’t exactly essential. But what occurred to me while I was trying them on was, I haven’t actually broken my new rule. Because the point is, I will need them.
After all, I will need new shoes at some point, won’t I? Everyone needs shoes. And surely it’s far more prudent to stock up now in a style I really like than to wait until my last pair wears out and then find nothing nice in the shops. It’s only sensible. It’s like . . . hedging my future position in the shoe market.
As I come out of LK Bennett, happily grasping my two shiny new bags, there’s a warm, happy glow all around me. I’m not in the mood for going home, so I decide to pop across the street to Gifts and Goodies. This is one of the shops that stocks Suze’s frames and I have a little habit of going in whenever I pass, just to see if anyone’s buying one.
I push the door open with a ping, and smile at the assistant, who looks up. This is such a lovely shop. It’s warm and scented, and full of gorgeous things like chrome wire racks and glass etched coasters. I sidle past a shelf of pale mauve leather notebooks, and look up – and there they are! Three purple tweed photo frames, made by Suze! I still get a thrill, every time I see them.
Oh my God! I feel a zing of excitement. There’s a customer standing there – and she’s holding one. She’s actually holding one!
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never actually seen anyone buying one of Suze’s frames. I mean, I know people must buy them, because they keep selling out – but I’ve never seen it happen. God, this is exciting!
I walk quietly forward just as the customer turns the frame over. She frowns at the price, and my heart gives a little flurry.
‘That’s a really beautiful photo frame,’ I say casually. ‘Really unusual.’
‘Yes,’ she says, and puts it back down on the shelf.
No! I think in dismay. Pick it up again!
‘It’s so difficult to find a nice frame these days,’ I say conversationally. ‘Don’t you think? When you find one, you should just . . . buy it! Before someone else gets it.’
‘I suppose so,’ says the customer, picking up a paper-weight and frowning at that, too.
Now she’s walking away. What can I do?
‘Well, I think I’ll get one,’ I say distinctly, and pick it up. ‘It’ll make a perfect present. For a man, or a woman . . . I mean, everyone needs photograph frames, don’t they?’
The customer doesn’t seem to be taking any notice. But never mind, when she sees me buying it, maybe she’ll rethink.
I hurry to the checkout, and the woman behind the till smiles at me. I think she’s the shop owner, because I’ve seen her interviewing staff and talking to suppliers. (Not that I come in here very often, it’s just coincidence or something.)
‘Hello again,’ she says. ‘You really like these frames, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I say loudly. ‘And such fantastic value!’ But the customer’s looking at a glass decanter, and not even listening.
‘How many of them have you bought, now? It must be about . . . twenty?’
What? My attention snaps back to the shop owner. What’s she saying?
‘Or even thirty?’
I stare at her in shock. Has she been monitoring me, every time I’ve been in here? Isn’t that against the law?
‘Quite a collection!’ she adds pleasantly, as she wraps it up in tissue paper.
I’ve got to say something, or she’ll get the idea that it’s me buying all Suze’s frames instead of the general public. Which is ridiculous. I ask you, thirty! I’ve only bought about . . . four. Five, maybe.
‘I haven’t got that many!’ I say hurriedly. ‘I should think you’ve been mixing me up with . . . other people. And I didn’t just come in to buy a frame!’ I laugh gaily to show what a ludicrous idea that is. ‘I actually wanted some of . . . these, too.’ I grab randomly at some big carved wooden letters in a nearby basket, and hand them to her. She smiles, and starts laying them out on tissue paper one by one.
‘P . . . T . . . R . . . R.’
She stops, and looks at the letters puzzledly. ‘Were you trying to make “Peter”?’
Oh for God’s sake. Does there always have to be a reason to buy things?
‘Erm . . . yes,’ I say. ‘For my . . . my godson. He’s three.’
‘Lovely! Here we are then. Two Es, and take away the R . . .’
She’s looking at me kindly, as if I’m a complete halfwit. Which I suppose is fair enough, since I can’t spell ‘Peter’ and it’s the name of my own godson.
‘That’ll be . . . £48,’ she says, as I reach for my purse. ‘You know, if you spend £50, you get a free scented candle.’
‘Really?’ I look up with interest. I could do with a nice scented candle. And for the sake of two pounds . . .
‘I’m sure I could find something . . .’ I say, looking vaguely round the shop.
‘Spell out the rest of your godson’s name in wooden letters,’ suggests the shop owner helpfully. ‘What’s his surname?’
‘Um, Wilson,’ I say without thinking.
‘Wilson.’ And to my horror, she begins to root around in the basket. ‘W . . . L . . . here’s an O . . .’
‘Actually,’ I say quickly, ‘actually, better not. Because . . . because . . . his parents are divorcing and he might be going to change his surname.’
‘Really?’ says the shop owner, and pulls a sympathetic face as she drops the letters back in. ‘How awful. Is it an acrimonious split, then?’
‘Yes,’ I say, looking around the shop for something else to buy. ‘Very. His . . . his mother ran off with the gardener.’