Chapter 8

SOPHIE

It was two months since we’d started going out together everything was still cool.  Tim had finished with college and was more available so we saw each other every night, sometimes staying at his place and sometimes staying at mine.

Tim seemed a bit lost after his exams and I was worried that he might go back to Wales permanently.  He said there was no way he could live with his parents again but I wasn’t sure he’d want to stay in Crewe.  I suggested that we could go on holiday together imagining the sort of holiday I used to go on with Rob – a luxury hotel in a nice resort where we could sunbathe, swim, wander round the shops, eat at posh restaurants – that sort of thing. That was the kind of holiday I used to go on with Mum and Dad as well. I enjoyed those times, lazing around, being pampered, reading. Sometimes I’d get a bit bored or fed up but that was usually because of the company.

Tim said there was no way he could afford that kind of holiday and anyway it wasn’t his kind of thing – although how he knew that since he’d never been on one. He wanted to go camping but I said that was definitely a no no.  We both got a bit heated about it and I was started to wonder what our future would be if we couldn’t even decide on a holiday together.  Tim said he wanted to take me out of my comfort zone and ’expand my horizons’ which peed me off.  I knew I had lead a sheltered life but I didn’t want him rubbing my nose in it.  Eventually we came to a compromise, I agreed to go cycle touring in Devon so long as we were staying in bed and breakfast places. Tim got this map from his Dad, John, with cycle routes on it. Apparently there’s a National Cycle Network run by a charity called Sustrans, which John is a member of. There’s a popular route running from Plymouth to Ilfracombe which Tim chose for us to.  I insisted on booking the stopovers after Tim had let me know where we would be stopping each night.  I had to ignore the really nice hotels though out of consideration for Tim’s finances.

I’d forgotten I even had a bike. I must’ve been given one one Christmas or birthday when I was a teenager. Anyway there it was tucked away in one of the garages and Fred, the chauffeur/handyman, got it out, polished and serviced it for me. I tried it out up and down our drive and it was quite fun, although my bum was sore. Tim said I needed to buy a set of bags, panniers I think they’re called, to carry my clothes in and he came with me to the cycle shop to make sure I bought the right ones. We also bought some rather dishy cycle clothes so I’d look the part and the shorts had padded bottoms in to cushion the bum. Apparently Tim already had all the gear as he’d been cycle touring before with Gordon.

It was daunting but exciting as well and I couldn’t believe I was going to have to squeeze all my holiday clothes into such small bags. We booked train tickets, down to Plymouth and back from Barnstaple. I didn’t even dare suggest we went first class. I would have willingly paid the difference but I knew Tim would never accept that so second class it was. Apparently you have to book your bikes on at the same time as trains only have space for a few but it doesn’t cost anything. Tim put an App on my iPhone – he can’t afford one himself – which has satnav on the cycle routes so we shouldn’t get lost.

We met at Crewe station. Tim cycled there and I was taken in one of the work’s vans by Fred. Tim had given instructions of what to pack and I’d followed them to the letter, just squeezing one or two luxury items in extra. I’d clean knickers for every day, one change of cycle top – apparently you can rinse them out and dry them in the shower overnight – waterproofs, two sets of evening clothes, including shoes and a sponge bag. Tim had practical things, like a puncture repair kit, spare inner tubes, cycle lock and tools. His cycle clothes weren’t like mine. He’d said he couldn’t afford to buy any. He had the padded shorts but everything else looked like his normal clothes. He still looked lovely though but I wished he’d taken up my offer of buying him some stuff. It’ll have to wait until his birthday now.

We had to use the lift to get down to the platform and then when the train arrived we had to look out for bicycle signs on one set of carriage doors as there’s only one place on the train where we could store the bikes. We had to get off at Birmingham, take our bikes up and down in lifts between platforms to catch the Plymouth train. This was quite challenging as the bikes were heavy.  It wasn’t easy getting them on and off the trains either and I was already beginning to have doubts about the whole enterprise.  When we arrived in Plymouth we put the postcode of the friends  of Tim’s parents where we were spending the first night into my phone to get directions. Cycling to get there was awful, lots of traffic noise, cars going very close to us and very steep hills. I had to get off and push a couple of times and we both dismounted at roundabouts. Tim was very good. He kept behind me and when I got off to push so did he but it was a very challenging first ride.

The friends were about the same age as Wendy and John and made us welcome. The house was huge, an Edwardian semi they said, and decorated beautifully, in a tasteful way. David was a retired doctor and his wife Carol a retired nurse. After showing us to our room, and I was pleased we were sharing and it was a double bed, we were given tea in the sitting room. David was interested in the route Tim had planed for us and offered to take us to the start of the cycle trail. Apparently one of their sons and his partner were cyclists so David had a cycle rack that fitted to the back of his car. I was thrilled as I really didn’t want to experience Plymouth traffic again the next day.  The men went out to attach the rack to the car whilst I helped Carol prepare our dinner. That’s not strictly true. I watched Carol working whilst we chatted.

When the men came in we sat in the study and were given gin and tonics with cashew nuts and crisps. There was talk of experiences the three of them had shared, talk of Tim’s parents, John and Wendy, and I just sat and listened feeling like a spare part. Yet the more I learnt of Tim and his family the nicer they all seemed. After a lovely dinner we chatted for a bit then watched the news and went to bed. Tim wanted to make love but I had the usual reservations that I experienced whenever I was in a strange place. I didn’t want Carol to have to deal with stained sheets and anyway I thought the bed might creak. So we just kissed and cuddled.

Next morning after a full English cooked breakfast we packed everything back into our panniers. It was raining and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to make a fuss in front of David and Carol but I didn’t want to get wet either. The men put the bikes on the rack at the back of the car while I helped Carol stack the dishwasher. Not that I was much use at that either as I didn’t normally do domestics. Fortunately the rain eased off as we drove to the start of the cycle route and I was pleased I hadn’t said anything.

The bikes were unloaded off the rack and the panniers taken out of the boot and then David drove off and we were on our own. Tim busied himself putting the panniers on his bike. I felt strange, sort of alone and a little lost.

“I’ll show you how to do this this time,” said Tim, I thought a little impatiently, like he didn’t understand how odd I felt. “Next time you can do it for yourself or we’ll take twice as long to get ready as we should.”

I did watch but I didn’t think I’d ever get the idea. I’d never had to do menial tasks and I was not sure I wanted to start then.

“You OK?”

“Yes, fine. I’m just a little apprehensive, that’s all.”

“Well we’re ready now so put your helmet on and lets go.”

The route was lovely, by a river, through woods and no cars. Apparently it was an old railway line. It was hard work and my bum was sore even with my padded shorts but I didn’t want to moan so I said how much I was enjoying it even though I could only think of my last holiday with Rob, lying by the pool sunning myself with a cold drink just to hand.

“I’m hungry and we don’t have any food with us.”

“Not far to Yelverton. We can have lunch there.”

When we did get there I wanted to go to the pub but Tim said it would be too expensive so we bought some sandwiches and a can and found somewhere to sit out. It started to drizzle again so I insisted we have a coffee in the pub even though I could tell Tim didn’t want to. I made sure I paid for it. The shower passed and we set off again. Tim was his usual attentive self and kept asking if I was OK. I just smiled my wan smile and said I was fine. I think he could sense I was struggling.

We got to Tavistock about 5 o’clock. I was utterly exhausted. I think Tim knew I wasn’t happy and I had no trouble persuading him to stay in the Tavistock House Hotel instead of the dull-looking b & b I’d booked us in. We had a lovely room and after a soak in the bath I felt like a new woman. I drank rather a lot before and during dinner but I wanted to make sure I enjoyed this bit if I had to suffer the other part.

The rest of the holiday was similar. Tim and I had a couple of rows because I always wanted to do what I was used to, stay in the best places and eat in the up-market restaurants and he didn’t want to and couldn’t afford to.  “We could have gone on an all inclusive package holiday to Mallorca for less than what this is costing,” I said, “and that would have been enjoyable.”

“It’s only expensive because you insist on the priciest option all the time,” he countered. “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to pay off my credit card.”

“You don’t have to,” I replied, “I’ll transfer enough to cover it into your account.”

“You certainly won’t. I’m not going to be a kept man. You can’t buy me you know.”

That hurt.  “I’m not trying to buy you. I’m pleased you aren’t after my money. You just have to realise though that I’m used to luxury and I don’t like slumming it and if that means it’s costing you I want to pay you back. That’s not buying you. It just means we can be together, do things together that we both enjoy.”

“OK then, I want £1,000 into my bank by this time tomorrow,” he joked. “Come here and lets have a cuddle.”

We did stay in a b & b one night and it wasn’t too bad. In fact it was the best breakfast of the holiday. And he did accept £250 towards his credit card and conveniently forgot that I’d paid up front for most of the overnight stops. The cycling part got better and I have to confess I loved shooting down hills at speed. I was far less cautious than Tim who always was miles behind me on the downhill sections. We made Ilfracombe on the north coast of Devon which means we‘d cycled the whole of the Devon Coast to Coast.  I was proud of that and realised that actually I had enjoyed myself, that I’d been on an adventure and achieved something I could be proud of. 

After spending the night in a run down hotel there we had to retrace our steps back to Barnstaple as there are no trains from Ilfracombe.  The train journey back was over 5 hours and involved two changes but faithful Fred was there to meet me and even offered to drop Tim back at his house. He refused.

It did become apparent on this holiday that we are very different and I think we’re both going to have to do some adjusting if we’re going to make it as a couple. I’ve always thought I wanted to be ordinary, always rejected the way of life my dad has brought me up into but it’s not going to be as easy to change as I thought. I’m used to my kind of life now.  Fortunately I fancy Tim something rotten and that’s my motivation.

TIM

I have mixed feelings about our relationship after our cycling holiday.  It was obvious Sophie was out of her comfort zone except the one night (at her insistence) when we stayed in a posh hotel yet she didn’t bottle it.

I tried to explain to her why I enjoyed cycling holidays:

  • the sense of adventure when you set off after breakfast; 
  • the wonder of the Victorian engineers as one cycles over an old rail viaduct or under a magnificent bridge; 
  • the exhilaration of speeding downhill; 
  • the stunning views of the lovely countryside; 
  • the joy of finding an unusual place to stop for coffee/lunch; and 
  • the sense of achievement having successfully cycled all that way and arriving at that day’s destination. 

 

I think she just felt out of her depth, that her bum hurt, her legs hurt, and that it was just an endurance test.  So my entreaties fell on deaf ears.  She moaned a bit and that eroded my enjoyment as I so wanted her to take to it.  To give Sophie her due she didn’t give up – she never said she wanted to pull out of the trip and she did manage a smile at our coffee/lunch stops.  She was thrilled that she had achieved the whole route but I’m sure she would have been happier in Magaluf. I admired her resolve but I had my doubts about the future of our relationship just because of our different expectations. 

After the holiday I went for a couple of interviews – with Gwynedd Council as a Countryside Ranger and with the National Trust as a Ranger in the Brecon Beacons but neither of them offered me a job.  Although my pride was dented I wasn’t really surprised because I wasn’t passionately interested in either of the positions I’d applied for.  I wasn’t sure I was conventional enough to become a civil servant or a little cog in a big organisation, because even though I’d be out in the fresh air much of the time, I wouldn’t have a free hand to do what I thought was important.  I was left wondering what sort of job would suit me.  When I wasn’t searching for jobs – and very few were advertised – I spent the rest of the time kicking my heels at home getting more and more depressed.  After a couple of weeks I decided to see if Cannon Pet Supplies would take me back as a stop-gap measure.  I felt a bit awkward about this now I was dating the bosses daughter but not awkward enough for it to stop me.  They welcomed me back and put me in the booking-in department at Crewe where Sophie had been working when we first got together.  One of the permanent staff, Geoff, was going for two weeks holiday.  And when he got back his fellow worker, Tom, was taking his break.  So I had at least 4 week’s wages to look forward to.  As I was earning again I didn’t have to go through the indignity of proving to the Job Centre that I was applying for jobs in order to get their measly allowance.

Over this period I became better acquainted with David, Sophie’s father, as I spent quite a number of evenings at their house.  He was very friendly and down to earth.  He hadn’t had much education but seemed, nevertheless, to be quite well read and was interested in many topics.  I enjoyed his company but as his politics were right wing in I had to be careful what I said on certain topics.  I wasn’t prepared to allow some of his more extreme ideas to go unchallenged but I had to do it in a non-confrontational way.  Also he was more liberal in practice than his stated beliefs.  For instance he employed more disabled staff in his business than he was required to do by law and he was known for the help he gave to his Polish and other Eastern European staff in their disputes with the immigration authorities.  He said he would vote for Brexit even though he employed lots of foreign workers.  I gently challenged his decision because, as he said, the immigrants weren’t afraid of work like most of his British staff.  

“Eighteen-year old white lads are about as much use as a sick headache,” he said, “not like the Poles or even the Indians or Bangladeshis who seem to have been brought up properly and understand discipline.”

“What do you think should happen to the East Europeans if we’ve leave the EU?” I asked mischievously.

“Difficult question,” he replied. “But we certainly don’t want more of these immigrants, they’re flooding the country, destroying our way of life and filling our schools with their children.”

I wanted to point out the illogicality of his argument; on one hand the immigrant youngsters were better brought up than British children yet he wanted to preserve the ‘British’ way of life.  Instead I said tactfully that overpopulation and mass communication had made immigration a worldwide problem.  People from warring, corrupt and poor nations could see they could have a better life for themselves and their families in the richer nations with stable, less corrupt governments and so they wanted to move there.  And with regard to the EU immigrants that had brought the UK prosperity as generally they were young and hard working.  

He said he could see my point but I couldn’t get him to agree that Brexit was a bad idea.

Then there were his views on capitalism.  He couldn’t seem to see that it wasn’t OK to have people in poverty, living out of food banks.  He’d just quote Darwin – “survival of the fittest.”

“I started from humble beginnings, left school at 15 with no financial support from my family.  Instead of sitting on my backside waiting for state handouts I worked.  I did anything to earn money, anything legal that is.  I worked delivering coal, for a dairy, labouring on building sites before I got into the pet business.  OK I was lucky there that Ken, the owner of Ken’s Pet Supplies, was near retiring age when I started working for them and that he had no children to hand the business onto.  Everyone needs a little luck sometime in their life.”

“I hope you don’t mind me asking but how did you manage to buy Ken out?”

“I don’t mind at all son,” he said.  (I hated him calling me that.  There was no way I was going to call him Dad.) “I got a small loan from the bank and Ken agreed to a 5-year repayment plan for the balance.  It was a fair deal.”

“And then you made enough profit to acquire more outlets?”

“Yes but my God I had to work for it.  You can’t get where I am without hard work.”

So although I didn’t always agree with him I did find that I liked and respected him.  However I found it hard to imagine a conversation between him and either of my parents.  It wasn’t that John and Wendy didn’t work hard, they did, it was just that their priorities were so different.  David’s seemed to be about making money and then enjoying it, at the same time showing everyone how successful he was with his expensive possessions and lavish lifestyle.   I couldn’t exactly describe what my parent’s were but I knew they wasn’t any of those.

David did drink excessively and when he was obviously the worse for wear I did my best to avoid him.  He wasn’t aggressive or anything like that, just a bit overbearing and he could be very indiscrete.  He once told me he had a mistress in New York who had the body of an angel and who would do anything for him and he wasn’t too flattering about Sophie’s mother either.  On those occasions I would quickly either try to change the subject or make some excuse and absent myself.  I didn’t say anything to Sophie but I could sense that she didn’t approve of her father’s drinking habits and I think she suspected he wasn’t faithful to Tracey.  Aside from that she seemed pleased that David and I got on as well as we did.  She’d told me how he had always been very cutting about her previous boyfriends.

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