New 44 Scotland Street Chapter 49: Scandinavian affairs
The whole point of relieving James of some of his responsibilities for the triplets was to allow him to spend the time so freed working with Big Lou in her coffee bar – a business in which Matthew now had a considerable financial stake.
This suited James, who was a keen and exceptionally talented cook, as well as suiting Matthew, who felt that something had to be done to revitalise the coffee bar and attract a few more customers. Lou herself, of course, was indifferent to that objective. “If people want to come to my coffee bar, that’s up to them,” she said. “I don’t want to be pestering them.”
“It’s not a question of pestering, Lou,” Matthew had explained. “It’s a question of enticing them. If you have a good menu, people will flock to you. There’s quite good footfall going up Dundas Street.”
“Footfall?” asked Lou. “You mean: people walking by – on their ain twa legs?”
Matthew smiled. “Footfall is a technical term that you hear in the retail sector, Lou.”
This brought another snort from Big Lou. “Retail sector? You mean shops, Matthew?”
Matthew grinned. “You’re right, Lou,” he conceded. “There’s a lot of circumlocution around.”
“You mean havering?” Like many Scots words, there was no English word that did quite the work of havering.
Matthew realised that although Lou had acquiesced to the broad shape of the plan – the freshening up of the coffee bar’s décor and the creation of a new menu – she was lukewarm about having James as her new assistant. “He’s just a laddie,” she said.
“We’ll see,” said Matthew, and then, becoming more formal, he added, “And remember, Lou, this place has a management board now, and I’m on it. In fact, I control it – not that I wanted to make much of that, but there you have it.”
Big Lou looked momentarily taken aback, but then she added, “I’m sure he’ll be fine – if he’s what you make him out to be.”
“He is,” Matthew reassured her. “You wait and see, Lou.”
Of course, before James could begin to work at the coffee bar, the new au pair had to be found, and that, Matthew was concerned, could take time. But then Elspeth found herself in the nearby village, West Linton, talking to a member of her National Childbirth Trust Mother and Toddler group. This woman mentioned that she had just visited a friend in the village whose husband, a helicopter pilot, was being sent by his company to Dubai, and would have to leave more or less immediately. His wife and two young children would be moving too, and the husband was keen that they should all go at the same time. They employed, however, an au pair who could not get a work permit in the UAE and who would therefore have to find another job in Scotland, or go elsewhere.
Elspeth asked for details.
“She’s Swedish, I think,” said her friend. “Or maybe Danish. I get these places mixed up. Which is the one at the top?”
“That’s Finland,” said Elspeth. “At the top, on the right. Sweden is in the middle, but it goes quite a way up.”
“This doesn’t go very far up.”
“You mean Denmark then?”
“I think so.”
It had been an unsatisfactory conversation from the geographical point of view, but it promised to be a quick and easy solution to the au pair issue. Having been given the telephone number of the helicopter pilot’s wife, Elspeth called her and was told that the family was already packing up and that Josefine, the young Danish woman who had been with them for four months, would probably leap at the chance of the job of helping with the triplets. “She adores children,” Elspeth was told. “She has them eating out of her hand.”
“And she wants to stay in Scotland?”
“Absolutely. There’s a boyfriend, I believe.” There was then a slight hesitation. “In fact, perhaps more than one.”
“They may be the same boy.”
Again, there was a slight hesitation. Then, “I hope so. But why don’t you come and meet her? She’s in right now, and it would be a great relief to her to know that something’s been fixed up.”
Elspeth lost no time in making her way to the helicopter pilot’s house. This was in a small estate of new houses built just outside West Linton, intended for commuters into Edinburgh.
There, she was at the door by Jenny, the helicopter pilot’s wife, who greeted her warmly, even if she appeared to be flustered.
“I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” she said. “I have to get this place under control and pack up all our things by next Tuesday. Next Tuesday, can you believe it?”
“They haven’t given you much notice,” Elspeth said.
Jenny shrugged. “The man my husband’s replacing out there left them with no warning. He lost his nerve, apparently, refused to take off.”
Elspeth asked whether that was unusual.
“Harry says he’s seen it once. A fixed-wing pilot got out of his seat and said, I just can’t do it.”
“While they were in the air?”
“No. They were still on the ground. But look, come in and meet Josefine. She’s very keen to meet you and to hear about this job. I’ve told her it’s not definite, but I think she’s moved in mentally.”
They went inside, where they found Josefine waiting for them in the living room. Elspeth drew in her breath. The young woman was a grace from Botticelli’s Rite of Spring; there was the same effortless, flowing beauty. But then Elspeth thought, I have triplets in the house, but I also have a husband, and she thought those thoughts, usually unexpressed but often entertained by any wife admitting a young au pair to her house. Men were only human, and there were two men in her household: James, in respect of whom she was surely in loco parentis, and Matthew, in respect of whom she was, in a real sense, in loco uxoris. Just a thought, she thought.
Josefine smiled at her. “I can start tomorrow,” she said, before Elspeth was able to open her mouth. “Or today, if you like.”
Elspeth was not sure how to respond. She needed an au pair, and she needed one quickly. But she knew nothing, or next to nothing about Josefine, and she would have liked to spend at least a few minutes talking to her before taking her on. But even as she wrestled with this dilemma, Josefine asked her, “Doesn’t James live with you? That nice Scottish boy? The one who …” She did not finish. The helicopter pilot had come into the room, looking harassed. His packing up had revealed that something was missing, and he needed to locate it.
Elspeth thought: how does Josefine know James – and how well?