Marcus, a 12-year-old boy, is puzzled by adults. He has moved to London with his mother, Fiona, after his parents split up, and he watches his mother go through one relationship after another. Marcus knows that his mother is sad because she often cries, but he is unsure of the actual reason. He hopes that it is to do with boyfriends and he thinks that as she is pretty and nice, and sometimes even funny, she should eventually meet somebody who will make her happy. At the start of the novel, Marcus and his mother have only been in London for a few weeks.
We next meet Will Freeman, and see life through his eyes. His view is extremely child-like, and as the chapter opens Will is in the process of completing a questionnaire in a magazine to see how cool he is. For example, for sleeping with a woman he did not know very well during the past three months he awards himself five points. Will only has money because his father found a gap in the market and wrote a famous Christmas song years earlier. It means that Will never needs to find a job. Will thinks of his recent visit to his friends, John and Christine, who have two children. Their house is in a terrible mess, with toys and clutter everywhere and Will wonders how anybody can live like that. Since he has plenty of money, he reasons that he will never be in that situation. Will thinks back to when he was going out with a woman called Jessica; they used to go out clubbing with John and Christine before any children came along. Will and Jessica split up because she wanted a more serious relationship. They still meet up sometimes and Jessica shows him photos of her children. She also tells him that he is wasting his life.
Marcus hates his new school. At breakfast, his mother notices how quiet he is and tells him that he will get used to it, so Marcus nods and smiles at her; he reasons that all difficult things become easier after a while, as they did after his dad left. He arrives at school and goes straight to his form room where he feels safer than in the corridors. Sometimes, Marcus has a tune in his head and he cannot help letting it just slip out – this happened the previous day at school and everybody laughed at him. The lessons begin and Marcus has double Maths, which he likes and is good at. Then he arranges to join the computer club. However, in English the discussion is about which characters in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest are mad. The teacher is young and nervous and wants the class to like her, so she uses Marcus to score an easy victory – she refers to the way he sang for no reason in the lesson the day before. Marcus hates her for this. He understands that she is feeling vulnerable and has picked on him, the one person in the room who is even more vulnerable than she is. This shows his mature understanding of human nature.
Will meets a woman called Angie in a record shop. He obtains her phone number and a date for dinner. At dinner, Angie tells Will that she has children, which makes him want to run away. However, he stays and points out that he has never been out with a mother before. She tells him that a lot of single mothers end up hating men. Will begins to see an opportunity here, and figures that if single mothers really think that
all men are bastards, then he is going to prove that it is not true. He thinks that single mothers are more grateful to a man who is kind to them and their children and are therefore more loving. One night, in an Indian restaurant, Angie tells Will that the relationship is over. For Will, this break-up is wonderful – for once he can watch a woman cry without feeling responsible! He decides to begin his career of going out with single mothers, with all the benefits of being a family man, and none of the drawbacks.