They are walking along the seafront, restricted to a gentle amble by Marge’s presence. It’s a bracing October day, sunny and bright, but with icy gusts of wind that bring tears to their eyes. Because Penny is so behind schedule, and because Martin and Victoria are concerned about inconveniencing everyone with their visit, Martin has insisted on taking everyone out for lunch.
The seafront seems timeless and the light somehow cinematographic. Penny is repeatedly experiencing a strange sensation, part déjà vu, part time travel, every time she glances over at Martin, so stiff and upstanding and 1960s in his suit and his long overcoat.
Though she has managed to extricate Sander from The Jumper, she can’t help but notice, following Max’s remarks, the shocking contrast between the two families’ wardrobes. And despite her best efforts, she can’t help but feel an unwelcome pique of resentment that they can’t afford nicer things. Martin’s suit alone must have cost five-hundred pounds – perhaps a lot more – and Vicky’s Comme des Garçons brogues have got to have cost another four.
Bertie and Max, as always when together, have regressed to childhood and are racing around and running along walls, and after the first half a mile, even Chloe forgets to sulk and joins in.
Sander and Martin, discussing the rugby, stride ahead, while the sisters walk either side of their mother, grabbing her arms whenever a gust of wind threatens to sweep her away.
“It’s good to see the children getting on,” Marge says.
“It is,” Penny agrees, smiling at the sight.
“Chloe so rarely smiles these days,” Marge adds.
“Oh, she’s not so bad. She’s a bit of a sulker maybe,” Penny admits. “But she’ll grow out of it.”
“You put up with too much of her nonsense,” Marge says. “Don’t you think, Vicky?”
“I don’t know,” Victoria says, diplomatically. “Girls are different, I think.”
“She’s thirteen, Mum,” Penny says. “That’s just what thirteen-year-old girls are like, I’m afraid.”
“Only if you let them be like that.”
“Nope,” Penny says, definitively. “They’re exactly like that whether you let them or not.”
By the time they reach V.C. Jones, an unassuming little fish and chip restaurant with Formica tables and piled-up cans of Fanta, Marge, who insisted on walking, is exhausted, and everyone is suffering from the cold.
“Ooh, this’ll be lovely,” Penny says as they push into the steamy interior. “I haven’t had fish and chips for months.”
“We’d have fish and chips every day if we lived here,” Bertie says.
“I’m not sure about every day,” Victoria replies. “We might get a bit fat otherwise.”
“We never eat out,” Penny confides to her sister as they shuck their coats.
Once the orders have been placed and everyone is seated, Martin claps his hands together. “Well, this is great, isn’t it?” he enthuses. “I love these traditional places. So real!”
Penny sees that Marge, seated opposite, rolls her eyes and has to restrain a smirk.
“So, Sander and I were talking,” Martin continues. “How do you feel about us all going to Spain next summer?”
“Spain?” Penny says, shooting a frown in Sander’s direction. “I don’t think we can afford to go to Spain.”
“It wouldn’t need to be expensive, apparently,” Sander says sounding vaguely apologetic.
“I’ve been wanting to do a bit of the Santiago de Compostela route for years,” Martin explains. “It would be fun if we could all do it together, don’t you think?”
“Yes, that could be fun,” Penny says, thinking that going anywhere is a financial impossibility, yet understanding Sander’s need to play along. This not-being-able-to-keep-up with the Joneses thing can get embarrassing.
“You and I haven’t been on holiday together since Paris,” Victoria says, smiling at her sister.
“Wow!” Penny replies. “Paris!”
“Surely you’ve been away since then,” Marge says. “You were in your twenties, weren’t you?”
“Not together, we haven’t,” Victoria says. “And yes, I was twenty three, I think.” Addressing Penny, she adds, “We had fun in Paris, didn’t we?”
“Um!” Penny replies, nodding, even as she remembers Victoria’s Gestapo-like grip on the holiday and their constant arguments about whom to trust and whom (according to Victoria) to run away from. It is not mere accident that they haven’t holidayed together since.
“I think it’s a lovely idea,” Marge declares.
“Sounds lame to me,” Chloe murmurs.
“Oh well, that’s that then,” Max jibes. “Call everything off. Chloe’s not keen.”
“I love a bit of proper sunshine,” Marge says.
Martin pulls a face. He runs a finger inside his shirt collar. He suddenly looks uncomfortable. “Actually, Marge,” he says, “I think you might want to sit this one out. Camino de Santiago is a pilgrims’ route. It’s, well, it’s a walking holiday.”
“So, fit as you undoubtedly are, I’m not sure you’ll be up to it, I’m afraid. We’re talking between fifty and a hundred miles in a week.”
“A hundred miles walking?” Victoria says.
“A hundred miles?” Bertie repeats.
Penny, the only other person present who truly loves to walk, is suddenly wondering if there isn’t some way by which they could afford this holiday after all. “Where do you stay, then?” she asks.
“In the albergues,” Martin says. “They’re like youth hostels.”
“So they’re pretty cheap, then?”
“Oh absolutely. A fiver a night or something. Per person, of course. Some of them you actually pay whatever you want. You just make a donation.”
“Hostels?” Victoria says. “This is sounding less and less like my kind of holiday, dear.”
“It’ll be fun,” Martin insists. “You’ll see. And we’ll all come back as fit as fiddles.”
“I don’t see why you have to choose the only holiday that I can’t come on,” Marge says.
“There are quite a few holidays you couldn’t go on, Gran,” Max tells her. “Paragliding, mountain climbing…”
“Bungee jumping,” Bertie contributes. “Crossing a desert on a motorbike?”
“Now you’re just being silly. What I mean is…” Marge starts. But then, thankfully, the waitress arrives with the first of their meals, interrupting that thought.
After lunch, as they are walking home, Bertie, Max and Chloe detour via the amusement arcade – Martin has slipped them a tenner – and Victoria and Martin, complaining about the cold while looking like an advert for a rom-com, stride ahead, leaving Penny and Sander to coax Marge homewards.
“I wish we’d taken them somewhere nicer,” Victoria says, once they’re out of earshot. “When Pen got all excited about eating out, it made me feel a bit stingy.”
“I know,” Martin says. “Me too. Perhaps we could all go out again this evening?”
“It’s difficult,” Victoria says. “You have to be careful not to put Penny’s nose out of joint.”
“I know,” Martin says. “But, it’ll be fine. Leave it to me.”
“And I expect Penny’s got stuff in,” Victoria adds. “The fridge looked pretty full, though most of that is probably past the sell-by date knowing my sister.”
“We’ll find somewhere nice,” Martin says. “Treat them. It’ll be lovely.”
“If only Sander would get a job,” Victoria says glancing back to check that they are a good distance away. “It’s really not fair on Pen.”
“No,” Martin agrees. “No, it’s tough for her, isn’t it. And what do you think about the holiday? Will they come? Sander seemed keen.”
“I think you should have asked me first, is what I think.”
“Because you’re not keen?”
“Me? In a youth hostel? Come on.”
“Plus, Penny and Sander will never go. Firstly they can’t afford it and secondly they can’t organise a visit to the corner shop without drama, let alone a trip along some pilgrims’ path in Spain.”
“I can organise it,” Martin says. “It’ll be fun. And we’ll all come back fit and tanned.”
“I don’t think you’re listening to me,” Victoria says, squeezing Martin’s arm. “It’s not happening.”
Martin pulls a face.
“You can go,” Victoria says. “I’m not stopping you. I’m just speaking for myself.”
“Maybe I’ll just go with Bertie then,” Martin says. “It might do us good to do something together. Just the two of us. He’s getting distant. And sulky. Like Chloe, really.”
“Bertie’s not like Chloe at all!”
“He barely gives me the time of day these days,” Martin says.
“I think it’s like Penny said, dear. He’s just that age.”
END OF SAMPLE #8
Let the Light Shine will be published on the 30th September
in Kindle, Paperback and Audiobook formats.
Order your copy here: