The Learning CurveBy: Melissa Nathan
To all at Tetherdown Primary School, especially Annie Ashraf for allowing me into her classroom, being so generous with her time and energy, being so perceptive, intelligent and kind, and for being nothing like my old primary school teachers.
Also to Deborah Nathan, for giving me invaluable insights into the world of top City finance, even with a bad knee. And Joshua Nathan for his invaluable details into the world of an eleven-year-old boy, with two good knees.
My heartfelt thanks, as ever, go to Alison Jones for all her plans.
And also to my wonderful agent, Maggie Phillips. I still can’t get over that she wants to represent me.
And, of course, my enormous thanks go to the fantastic editor, Kate Elton, who is happiness and professionalism on legs. (Really long ones.)
And all at Random House, especially the spectacular Rina Gill, Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, Ron Beard and Rob Waddington.
I am in the unusual position of knowing that this book will, in all probability, be published posthumously. And so please indulge me in a rather unusual set of acknowledgements. First, to my wonderful parents. You have given me a life suffused with love, support and friendship. I have been lucky enough to see eye to eye with you both and look up to you at the same time. You are two of my best friends. Please never feel that I have had a hard life. I have had thirty-seven wonderful years and I’m grateful to you both for giving me that. I am happy and at peace.
To Jeremy. It turned out that our dynamic was to be that of doctor and patient. I never would have chosen it to be that way, but there it was. You were always there for me, from the first phone call I made when I was nineteen, telling you I’d found a lump, right through to – and beyond – the night you stayed in hospital with me, sleeping on an inflatable lilo on the floor when I had my first mastectomy, some seventeen years later. You have been everything a brother could have been and more. Thank you.
My wonderful Andrew. I respect you as much as I love you, and that is saying something. You, of all people I know, will get through this. After all, you’ve got through nearly twelve years of marriage with me and that’s no easy feat. I have been so lucky to know you. You have been my steady rock, my gentle giant, my best friend, my everything. I wish you a happy life, full of love and joy.
And my amazing Sammy. I wanted to know you for longer, my love, but it wasn’t to be. Still, at only three years old, you have already left an imprint on my heart that will go with me, wherever it is I’m going. Motherhood made my life worthwhile. And you gave me that. What does a mother wish for her son? I wish you happiness. You have a wonderful daddy and a family who adores you. Go into the world knowing that while you were everything to your mother, you won’t have to deal with an annoying woman who can’t stop kissing you when you’re fifteen. I will be in the sky, kissing you from afar.
NICKY HOBBS’S BEDROOM was dark and silent. The smooth planes of her wardrobe doors and matching bedside table revealed nothing of their contents. In the middle of her tidy room, in the middle of her tidy bed, lay Nicky Hobbs, tidily. Her body was almost completely still, apart from her eyelids, which fluttered like butterfly wings, tremulously hinting at the dream-world evolving beneath them. For there, the distant sound of church bells lifted towards her as if on a silken breeze, while she lay heavy with dreams in the empty barn. Suddenly Pierre, the farmhand, was silhouetted in the open door, his pitchfork sharp against the cerise sky. He stared at her and then, slowly, started to approach with a languorous stealth which whispered of oiled hips.
Then he turned into Rob. ‘Hello, Nickers!’ he said and winked. And she was wide awake.
One hand landed, bang! on her alarm clock, and the distant church bells, which she now realised had sounded suspiciously like an alarm clock, gave way to silence. Her other hand lost no time in pulling off her duvet, for Nicky Hobbs was not one to waste time. She knew that getting out of bed in the mornings, like many things in life, was much worse in the premeditation than in the actual fact. Like homework. Or doing your hair in the mornings. Or visiting your sister. (The only exception – and there was usually one exception to any rule – was going on a blind date. In her experience, the anticipation was usually the best bit.) So the only thing was to get on with it, and before you knew it the worst was over.
After a quick shower, she strode across the polished floor to her bedroom wardrobe, opened the door and scrutinised herself in the full-length mirror, with the same mindset one might adopt when marking an essay. An essay that, at first sight, gives a good impression with its neat handwriting, but on closer inspection reveals a cavalier attitude to grammar. At first sight, her young, curvy figure looked good even in a shabby old towel; and her heart-shaped face was winning. But, on closer inspection, she could not avoid the facts: her Cupid’s-bow lips were dry, her skin was so pale that she looked like she was in the process of vanishing, and the only quality shining out from her eyes was potential. And then, of course, there was her hair. She stared at the copper coils which radiated from her head like an advert for headache pills. She nodded her head up and down just to see the coils go ‘boing’. (For even in moments of despair, Nicky Hobbs could always see the funny side of life, and there was little funnier than her hair going ‘boing’.) She allowed herself one large sigh. Oh! To be able to flick sleek locks across her shoulder and feel the weight of them against her back!