I'd always told myself that Mum and I had done all right on our own over the years. Better, even, than all right. We were way closer than some of my friends were with their parents. But every now and then I wished Mum had a husband to look after her. This was one of those moments. For support. For help. For another person to talk to. She could hardly discuss the appointment with Bertie.
'Well, will you let me know when you get the letter and I'll come with you? Where will it be?' I asked.
'Oh there's no need, darling. You've got work. Don't fuss.'
'Don't be silly, obviously I'm coming. I work for a magazine, not MI6.
No one will mind if I take a few hours off.' 'What about Peregrine?'
'OK. If you're sure, that would be lovely. The appointment will be at St Thomas'.'
'Good, that's sorted,' I said, trying to sound confident, as if the scan was a routine check-up and there was nothing to worry about. 'Now let's have a sniff of those prawns.'
By Friday afternoon, I had six posh babies and their scan pictures. Where the hell were another four going to come from? My phone vibrated beside my keyboard and a text popped up from Bill, an old friend who always threw a dinner party at the end of the first week of January to celebrate the fact the most cheerless week of the year was over.
Come over any time from 7! X
I looked back at my screen full of baby scans. Jesus. A baby. That seemed a long way off. I hadn't had a proper boyfriend since university when I went out with a law student called Harry for a year, but then Harry decided to move to Dubai and I cried for about a week before my best friend, Lex, told me I needed to 'get back out there'. My love life, ever since, had been drier than a Weetabix. The odd date, the odd fumble, the odd shag which I'd get overexcited about before realizing that, actually, the shag had been terrible and what was I getting so overexcited about anyway?
Last year, I'd had sex twice, both times with a Norwegian banker called Fred who I met through a mutual friend at a picnic in Green Park in the summer. If you can call several bottles of rose and some olives from M&S a picnic. Lex and I drank so much wine that we decided to pee under a low- hanging tree in the park as it got dark. This had apparently impressed Fred, who moved to sit closer to me when Lex and I returned to the circle.
We'd all ended up in the Tiki bar of the London Hilton on Park Lane, where Fred ordered me a drink which came served in a coconut. He'd lunged in the car park and then I'd waited until I was safely inside my cab home before wiping off the wetness around my mouth with the back of my hand. We'd gone on a couple of dates and I'd slept with him on both those dates possibly a mistake and then he'd gone quiet. After a week, I texted him breezily asking if he was around for a drink. He replied a few days later.
Oh, sorry been travelling so much for work and not sure that's going to change any time soon. F
'F for fucking nobody, that's who,' said Lex, loyally, when I told her.
So, that, for me, was the total of last year's romantic adventures. Depressing. Other people seemed to have sex all the time. And yet here I was, sitting in my office like an asexual plant, hunting for scan pictures, evidence that other people had had sex.
I squinted through the window up the alleyway towards Notting Hill Gate. It was the kind of grey January day that couldn't be bothered to get properly light, when people hurried along pavements with their shoulders hunched, as if warding off the gloom.
Whatever. It would be six o'clock soon and I could escape it all for Bill's flat and a delicious glass of wine. Or several delicious glasses of wine, if I was honest.
At one second past six, I left the office, winding my way through the hordes of tourists at Notting Hill Gate Tube station. They were dribbling along at that special tourist pace which makes you want to kick them all in the shins. Then, emerging at Brixton, I walked to the corner shop at the end of Bill's street to buy wine. And a big bag of Kettle Chips. 'Let's go mad, it's Friday, isn't it?' I said to the man behind the till, who ignored me.
Bill lived in the ground-floor flat on a street of white terraced houses. He'd bought it while working as a programmer at Google, though he'd left them recently to concentrate on developing an app for the NHS. Something to do with making appointments. Bill said that it was putting his nerd skills to good use, finally. He'd never tried to hide his dorkiness. It was one of the reasons we became friends at a party when we were teenagers.