Rebecca – September 1982
Rebecca’s business was booming. The 80s was an era of promise for professional women and the upwardly mobile. Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister in the UK since 1979 had spawned a culture of women’s careers and ‘having it all’. The expression: ‘loadsamoney’ was coined by a TV comic and fashion was being influenced by the ‘rich bitch’ showiness of American TV shows ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ (jointly referred to as Dysentery by Rebecca and Suzanne).
Rebecca was not about to complain. Women were pouring in to shop at both of her Palmerstone boutiques and she was about to open her third branch in Hampstead. The ranks of her usual well-heeled cliental had been swelled exponentially by the ‘wannabe’s’ who were prepared to spend, spend, spend on their credit cards to get the right look and to be seen in the right label.
Rebecca was somewhat torn as her basic philosophy had always been to encourage her customers to develop their own style, rather than being slaves to fashion. However, she and her family were dependent on the sales generated by her business so she could not afford to be purist. She reviewed her ‘offer’ systematically and objectively and revamped her shops to reflect the new culture without stepping too far from their core market. It worked. Her existing customers were delighted by the new labels: Armani, YSL, Versace, Yohji Yamamoto… and new customers were lured in to shop and persuaded to remain loyal by the outstanding customer service that they received from the Palmerstone team.
Rebecca’s attention to detail and insistence on top-notch service from all her staff was paying off in spades. The Palmerstone ‘family’ was growing and getting stronger by the day; many of the staff having been with her company since she set out in 1974 or not much later as the business had expanded from the original shop in Wimbledon to the Kings Road, Chelsea.
Her manager at the Kings Road shop, Carole had become a good friend. Her staff had expanded and been joined by two ex-colleagues from her days at Liberty. Rebecca was really pleased to have the expertise of Nicky and Juliet on-board and remained grateful to them both for their unstinting support for her when she left Liberty to set up her own venture. They had both been on hand to help her on her first opening night at the Wimbledon shop and had contributed enormously to her first success.
It was the end of a long day. Rebecca had been viewing new collections and starting to buy for Spring Summer 1983. It was a weird time for fashion insiders as they were always at least a season ahead of other consumers. Rebecca got so taken up with forward buying that she often found it difficult to remember what she’s ordered for the previous season. To avoid inconsistencies and lack of continuity in her stock she kept files of drawings and copious notes so that she wouldn’t make expensive mistakes.
Rebecca had returned to the Wimbledon shop and poked her head into the crèche area to check on her boys at around four. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was closing time already. Juliet was cashing up and the other girls were doing a final tidy, straightening hangers, refolding items, rearranging displays all of which looked pretty perfect to an untrained eye. Mindy brought Ty and Roo through from the crèche depositing them with Rebecca with a smile saying to the boys unnecessarily,
‘Tell Mummy what you’ve been doing today.’ Both boys were already launched into competing accounts, their shrill baby voices raised to gain Rebecca’s attention. She grinned happily as she listened to their excited prattle putting all thoughts of fashion and business out of her mind for the day.
Rebecca’s Mini purchased in 1978 as a single woman to accommodate the needs of her growing business had swiftly been re-prioritised as a family car. The back seat was taken up by child seats, and a variety of books and toys were on-hand. Juice and snacks were replenished every day for the inevitable blood sugar crash on the short journey home to Pimlico. Rebecca loaded the boys into the car as she listened to their incessant chatter pleased that they were so happy and well adjusted despite not having a father. Once they were home she knew that they would speed in to see ‘Uncle’ Jack and update him with the day’s events before they embarked on imparting the same information to Zorro and Ziggy who seemed to be as equally receptive as the adults by purring their approval.
Rebecca loved the early evening routine that the Pimlico house had settled in to. She would cook for and feed her sons, their favourites being the inevitable fish fingers, sausages, beans, chicken nuggets and baked potatoes. The boys spent some time talking with Jack who expected and got the full attention of the two small boys. He would ask them in turn questions about their day and listened attentively to their answers in much the same way as Suzanne would recognise as the ‘audiences’ of her childhood. Released from Jack’s study the two would tear about the house in search of or in pursuit of Ziggy and Zorro until they were tired out.
Meanwhile Rebecca would prepare an evening meal for her and Jack. Bath and bedtime stories was her next and favourite duty. The boys all clean and in their pyjamas looked so cute. Roo looked exactly like his absent father, Dylan, which often pulled at Rebecca’s heart strings; Ty their first born, nothing like. He looked much more like her friend Penny’s eldest, Simon. He had remained blonde and blue eyed contrary to predictions, his appearance being a bit of a mystery as both his parents Dylan and Rebecca were dark in hair and skin tone with green and gray eyes respectively.
The different looks of her two sons provided a contrast that multiplied the effect of their individual beauty. They were beyond cute Rebecca thought proudly as her boys finally gave in to the sleep that they’d been fighting for the last half hour. She dawdled for a few minutes watching their rhythmic breathing and admiring the fan of eyelashes across their downy cheeks and the splayed limbs emerging from the sheets she had carefully tucked around them.
Jack and Rebecca were sitting contently after a meal of Shepherd’s Pie followed by cheese and celery. Rebecca was enjoying her glass of red wine as well as the company of Suzanne’s father Jack. They could always make each other smile and each appreciated the other’s abilities. Rebecca was the first to hear the phone ring and hopped up saying,
‘I’ll get it. Probably Annie for you though.’ She sped out to the hall to still the ringing before it disturbed the boys.
‘Becca, it’s Caitlin. I’m coming back to London tomorrow.’
‘Caiti, are you OK?’ Rebecca caught the distress in her friend’s voice.
‘No. Not OK. Everything has gone terribly wrong.’ Her voice was throaty and strained as she fought tears, ‘I have to leave Mario and New York. I’m bringing Charlotte with me and we’re going to live at Pelham Crescent. Can I come and see you as soon as possible?’
‘Of course you can. Whenever. But what’s happened?’
‘I can’t tell you now, I have to go.’ Caitlin’s voice was cut off and Rebecca stood for a moment trying to collect her thoughts. It seemed extraordinary, Caitlin’s fairy tale relationship gone wrong so soon. Although she reflected wryly it had lasted some time longer than her own disastrous marriage. But Mario seemed so besotted with Caitlin not like Dylan pushed into the marriage by Rebecca’s pregnancy and his friend Charles’s well-meaning interference.
Rebecca immediately felt selfish when the thought intruded that it would be great to have Caitlin living nearby. It would be good but not at the expense of Caitlin’s happiness she self reprimanded. Her thoughts went back to the Christmas she had spent with Caitlin in Rome. Her own world was shattered at that time and Caitlin had provided the distraction, comfort and support that Rebecca had needed. Rebecca smiled fondly as she remembered what a true friend in need Caitlin had been. Thoughts of her friend’s apparent distress occupied her mind for the rest of the evening.
Rebecca – September 1982