Chapter Six


Amazing.  I had a date with a stunning, sexy, vivacious girl who was also my bosses’ daughter.  Of course, I thought, everyone will be very envious when they find out.  Sophie must be one of the most desirable single women in the area – good looking, rich and famous.  The downside for me would be that I will suffer a loss of my privacy, and become public property, the subject of store gossip and local news.  What the hell!  I could do with a bit of glamour in my life.  It might be cool to be recognised in the street.  What will my family and friends think?  What will Chakka think?  Would she be pleased for me or jealous?  My mind raced out of control.

Then I came down to earth.  I had to think what sort of date I should take Sophie on.  It couldn’t be too expensive so no posh romantic restaurants.  The cinema would be no good as we wouldn’t have a chance to talk.  Problems, problems, think laterally.  Oh I know we’ll go bowling.  That’d be fun.  Even if she’s crap at it we’ll have a laugh and I could always help her if she’s completely useless.  What about eating though?  I wouldn’t want to eat there.  Oh there’s that little veggie place not too far from the bowling.  We could go there.

I was thinking these thoughts as the train rumbled west towards my folks in North Wales.

It was my little brother, Stanley’s, birthday so I’d decided to make the trip home for the weekend.  This meant a 20 minute walk to Crewe station, catching the train to Bangor and being picked up from the station there.  Unfortunately it was throwing it down as set off and I got soaked before I reached Crewe station.  I bought a soup to warm myself up and a paper to read and I found a seat facing backwards.  I’d forgotten how lovely the railway trip was, overlooking the Dee estuary, past Llandudno, then views down the Menai Straits.  I always enjoyed the Welsh vistas, especially after weeks in Crewe, and wondered if I’d ever be happy living anywhere else.  Even the low clouds and rain streaming down the window didn’t spoil the view.  John came to pick me up in his electric car.  I asked how Stanley him was doing and whether sister, Teresa, was going to put in an appearance over the weekend.

“Oh, I’m not sure about that.  You’ll have to ask your mother.”

That was one of John’s eccentricities – his refusal to have anything to do with any social arrangements.  I was hoping Teresa would be there, preferably on her own, without her new husband, so we could have a real family weekend.  Jock is great, I really enjoy his music but when he gets his guitar out it tends to dominate everything else.  I love a good sing song and I know that makes me sound like an old spoil sport.  Unfortunately Teresa’s often too busy to come home even though she only lives in Aberystwyth and she’s expecting.  I’m not exactly sure when the baby is due but she seems to have been pregnant for ages..

It had stopped raining by the time we arrived and I had largely dried out, not thanks to the car heater which was pathetic.  There was a lovely smell as we entered the house and it felt warm too, very welcoming.

“Hi Wendy,”  as I gave my mother a huge hug.  She was a very touchy, feely person and I always got a warm glow from her hugs.  “What’s the smell?”

“I think that must be Stanley’s birthday cake.”

“Where is the birthday boy?”

“Off with friends, they’ve gone go-cart racing, 6 of them as his birthday treat.”

“Wow that sounds fun.  I’ve always wanted to go there.  Sulk, sulk!   I didn’t know what to buy for his present so I thought I’d just give him money.  I know at his age that’s what I wanted.  What have you done for him?”

“We’ve bought him an adventure summer camp at Plas y Brenin.  They do a bit of everything, canoeing, bouldering, coasteering and so on.  Don’t let on you know though.  It’s a surprise.”

“Wow, lucky boy.  Is he staying there or are you taking him every day?”

“Oh I know it’s not far but we feel he’ll get more out of it if he’s away from home for the 5 days.  Don’t we John?”

“What?  Sorry I wasn’t listening.  I was trying to work out the heat loss through the lounge window in my head.”

“I hope you’re not considering covering it up with layers of bubble wrap like you have in the bathroom.”

“I was thinking about doing just that.  After all you do like the place warm.”

“I also like the view, so no don’t do that.  Anyway it’s spring now and the weather’s starting to get warmer.”

I rang Sophie later that Friday after Stanley had gone to bed but she couldn’t talk and asked me to phone back a half hour later.  I decided to go to bed and phone her from there.  It was lovely lying in bed in the dark just hearing her voice.  We had a very long call and she turned me on with stories of her dressing up for some function tomorrow.  We didn’t get round to arranging what we were going to do on Sunday but I promised I’d call tomorrow at the same time.

The birthday tea next afternoon was a great success – all the usual stuff, sandwiches, cake with 14 candles, ‘happy birthday to you’ song and Theresa arrived just in time.  Afterwards we played a few games, as we always did on such occasions.  John got himself into a bit of a sulk because he lost at the train game and at Rummy Cup.  It was nice to be back in the ambience of my warm family and I felt very lucky.

I was a bit late getting to bed for my promised phone call but Sophie didn’t seem to mind.  I’d been a bit worried about how she would react to my suggestion for our date so I brought that idea up straight away and was really gratified that she really liked it.

Sunday morning dragged a bit although I did persuade Teresa and Jock, who arrived at coffee time, to go for a walk.  Teresa was looking very pregnant but it didn’t seem to affect her as much as it looked as if it should.  She’s always been a coper.  The daffodils lining our drive had just started to wilt and some of the trees were just starting to bud.  Nature is truly remarkable, how did a tree or a daffodil bulb know when to emerge?  They always come out at the right time.  It couldn’t be temperature as it had been a cold March so far and other years we’d had warm springs so presumably it had to be daylight.  This would mean that trees and bulbs can measure the length of days and only decide to emerge when the day length was right for them.  And bulbs are underground?

Jock said he’d not thought of that and yes it was amazing.  Teresa wasn’t really interested in our philosophising and wanted to talk about Wendy and John.  She thought they were getting more and more eccentric as they grow older.  I told her not to worry about it as they both seem in excellent health and happy in themselves and with each other.  I said I was impressed how Wendy had made all these plans  for planting at Cwm Dinas and how amazed I was at how cozy John had made the house by just burning a small amount of wood in the range cooker, which also provided enough hot water for washing and the odd shower and was the sole source for cooking.

Jock agreed with me.

“They’ve always been eccentric,” he said, “and you love them for it.  They only seem more extreme when you haven’t seen them for a while and you’re  in the mind-set of ‘normal’ people.  I think their way of life is great.  It wouldn’t suit me because I like pubs and beer and other consumerist things which they disapprove of but that doesn’t stop me having enormous respect for how they’ve chosen to live.”

“Thanks for that,” I said “I am a bit concerned about their conversion to veganism though.  It just makes them even more out of step with the majority of the rest of us.  Anyway it’s up to them.  So what are you up to these days?  Still in that rock group?”

“No, that sort of fell apart. The drummer left us and I think we’d all had enough.  Things move on.  I’ve a new venture now.  I’m in a gypsy jazz trio with a couple of great musicians – fiddle and bass players.”

“Oh, shame about your rock band.  I really liked it.”

“My new band is exciting and we’re really going places.  I think I prefer the music.  We’re going to France this summer to the Django Rheinhardt Festival to play with the best gypsy jazz bands in the world.  You’ll have to come and see us.”

“Sounds good.  Maybe I could hitch there and camp.  Oh we’d better be getting back,” I said “it’s nearly lunchtime.”

The smell as we walked back in was wonderful and nostalgic, reminded me of all the other meals I’d had on Sundays.  Vegetarian food can be just as delicious as carnivorous food.  I’d tried telling some of my mates back in Crewe that but they all dismissed the idea.  If only they weren’t so narrow minded.  Anyway Wendy had cooked an Italian dish with aubergines, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and a tomato, onion and basil sauce which we had with garlic bread and salad.    She proudly announced that she’d baked the bread and grown the onions and garlic.  She and John had a separate dish without the cheese which looked very bland. She’d also cooked some chips and sausages for Jock who was very unadventurous with his diet.

I was dropped at the station soon after lunch.  I was very excited and, if I’m honest, a little nervous, about my date with Sophie and I wanted to have plenty of time to get ready.  I wasn’t sure what to wear and what I’d thought of as a good idea before, going bowling, seemed a bit odd now even though Sophie had assured me only last night that she loved the idea.  I tried to read my book on the journey home in an attempt to take my mind off it but ended up dozing.