So the next hurdle was for me to meet Tim’s parents. I was a little on edge about this. I was worried about the impression my silver Audi TT would make. I was worried that I might seem what? ordinary, uneducated, mercenary, flash. I’d had to buy a different wardrobe for the visit, country type clothes, and I’d been to very different shops than the ones I usually bought my designer clothes from. I think Tim was similarly on edge. He’d met my parents and knew how different the world I inhabited was from that I was about to enter. I think he was worried his folks would seem cranky and his home tatty.
They lived in North Wales in a small-holding in the hills above Caernarfon. I enjoyed the drive, the scenery was just stunning and Tim entertained me and filled me in about his parents. His Dad had trained as a Civil Engineer and had become very interested in self-sufficiency after working on an eco housing development. He was now an advisor for a company that did installations of solar heating, photoelectric systems, heat exchangers and that sort of thing. His mother was very highly qualified but had decided that it was more important to bring up her children than follow a career. Now the kids had all left home she was happy looking after the small holding – loads of vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately they’d recently become vegans so the chickens, cow and goats had gone. I love animals and would have really liked to have seen the place inhabited by these beasts.
So, I mused, our backgrounds couldn’t be more different. I liked Tim’s down to earth approach to life, his straightforward honest attitude and, of course I fancied him rotten. I tried to imagine what he saw in me. I knew I had a good figure and if I made an effort I could look reasonably attractive (he said very) but in some ways I felt inferior, shallow even. I had had a sheltered life, hadn’t really done anything off my own bat. Because of this I felt inferior in the company of educated or well travelled people. On the other hand I knew I had quite a strong character and was good socially and could hold my own anywhere.
“Turn left here” woke me from my thoughts. At the end of the rough drive I could see a modest stone-built cottage on a hill surrounded by small trees. My first impression was that it was untidy and run down as I’d expected.
“Park here” said Tim pointing to a clearing not far from the cottage which already housed an old tractor, a boat on a trailer covered by a tarpaulin, an old van and a Morris Minor. A lady with shoulder length frizzy grey hair, who I presumed was Tim’s Mum appeared. She had a big smile on her face and dirty hands. She was wearing dungarees and Wellington boots.
“Hi darling, how lovely to see you, and you must be Sophie. You are gorgeous! Excuse my appearance I’ve just been mucking out the hen house now they’ve all gone. Wonderful manure. Anyway welcome to Cwm Dinas.”
“Thanks you, it looks absolutely lovely.”
“We’re absolutely parched, Wendy. Are you coming in or shall I put the kettle on?”
“John’s inside. See if you rouse him enough to make you tea. I’ll be finished very shortly so make me a cuppa too please.”
So he called his Mum and Dad by their Christian names. Inside was as foreign to me as outside. It wasn’t dirty or anything, just kind of scruffy. My face can be read like a book so Tim said,
“I can see your first impressions are well not exactly favourable. They don’t really care about appearance, so long as it works. Come through to the sun room, I expect that is where John will be.”
The sun room was obviously an add-on to the cottage with a wooden floor and polystyrene ceiling. A grey-haired grey-bearded man, who I assumed was John, was sat on a kneeling chair in front of an old desk with a state of the art computer on it. He stopped what he was doing and turned towards us. His hair was almost as long as Tim’s and he had sparkling blue eyes.
“What a wonderful view.” I said as I walked in. It really was. The Menai Straits glistened through the trees in the afternoon sun.
“John, this is Sophie. Sophie this is John, my father. Wendy wondered if you would make us a cup of tea, her too as she said she’s almost done.”
“OK. Yes. Right. Sorry I’m terrible at names. Tell me again.”
“Do sit down, Sophie, and make yourself comfortable. Sophie, Sophie.” He muttered this as he disappeared presumably to make tea.
“My folks are into self sufficiency, so they grow most of their veg and fruit and heat the whole house with just a second hand range. They cook on that too.”
“They both seem very nice and the house is lovely and warm.
“Have you any brothers or sisters?” I ask.
“Yeah. I’ve a sister who’s older than me and married, Teresa. And a brother, Stanley, who is still at school. I think I heard him come in just now. He’ll be very curious and ask you lots of questions.”
“Hello Sophie, do you play games?” Stanley asked as if we’d known each other for ages. He must have been about 13 and looked like a younger version of Tim but with short hair.
“You must be Stanley. I’m Sophie.”
“I know. Well do you?”
“I play tennis and hockey. What do you play?”
“I play rugby but I meant board games, cards, that kind of game.”
“Stanley don’t show off. Behave yourself.” Tim intervened.
“That’s alright.” I said to Tim.
“I like games so hopefully we’ll get round to playing together.” I said to Stanley.
“Great. Is it true your Dad’s a millionaire?”
“Stanley. Behave yourself. We’re going to have a cup of tea then you can show Sophie your pony. You’d like that wouldn’t you Sophie?”
“That’d be lovely. You didn’t mention there was a pony here. What’s it’s name.”
“He’s called Zebra because he’s got a stripe down his nose.”
“What a great name. Different too.”
Tim’s Dad, John, appeared with a tray.
“Do you take milk and sugar, erm, lets see, Susan wasn’t it.”
“John, you’re hopeless, Sophie.”
“I do take milk but not sugar thanks.”
“I’ve made nettle for Wendy, Tim which would like?”
“Normal now please.”
After tea and home made biscuits I was given a guided tour of the estate, which had a paddock with Stanley’s pony, an orchard, a vegetable and soft fruit plot and a small wood. A light drizzle came down before we’d seen it all and we cut the tour short as it started to get heavier.
In the late afternoon we all sat round the pine table in the kitchen area and had a meal of steamed vegetables, all from the veg plot, baked potatoes and a lentil cake. No meat, cheese or eggs but I really enjoyed it. As soon as the dishes had been cleared away, Tim washed up, which impressed me. Then out came the cards – Stanley’s request to play Monopoly was dismissed by both John and Tim, thank goodness. Not my favourite game. We used to play it at home and it seemed to bring out the worst in Dad and my brother, Craig. They both got very competitive and loved to annihilate the losers, usually me or Mum.
Instead we played a kind of whist that they called blob. It was good fun to play but the scoring looked quite complex. Stanley was sent to bed after a few games and the four of us chatted pleasantly for a while, drinking herbal tea, coffee in my case. Tim went out to fetch the bags from the car which had been forgotten and I found out that we’d been put in the same room. I hadn’t known what to expect and felt slightly uneasy, not because of sleeping with Tim, but just because his parents were there. I wasn’t sure where Tim would have been put in Mum’s house, if she were still there. I suppose she would have been asked what I wanted. I felt a strong desire to let Tim make love to me but once the caresses started I froze and had to apologise and tell Tim I couldn’t do it with his parents there. He was very good about it and gave me a lovely gentle goodnight kiss.
After breakfast we finished the tour of the estate, obviously a source of great pride to Wendy. Over herbal tea I found myself alone with John. Tim and Wendy were in the other room. John started on what I later discovered was one of his favourite subjects, energy conservation. Of course, I’d forgotten, he was employed as a consultant. I tried to look interested. He thought it was a very exciting time, something about wind and solar power being as cheap or cheaper than gas or nuclear. He was a subscriber to Greenpeace who were trying to stop some power station being built which would be the most expensive building on earth. Then he wanted to show me something but couldn’t find his glasses. When he eventually found them and put them on he gave himself a dressing down.
“People often don’t wear their glasses out of vanity,” he said. “They think they will look old wearing them. Actually they seem old because they can’t see properly, like me having to find them to read something. Of course the same applies to hearing aids – not that I need them yet. When your hearing deteriorates and you can’t hear what’s going on around you you get cut off. You have to pretend to hear what people are saying and hope the odd nod or shake of the head is the correct response. This really ages you far more than the display of a hearing aid yet people again don’t wear them out of vanity. I keep reminding myself of this when I find myself unable to read something. I’m not even allowed to drive without glasses so I should put them on in the morning when I get up and take them off when I go to bed. By the way I’m not vain, as you can probably tell, I just haven’t got into the habit of putting my glasses on.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to do,” I said weakly.
Fortunately Tim arrived just then and I didn’t have to look at whatever John had wanted to show me. I think he’d forgotten anyway.
“I’m going to take this young lady away I’m afraid,” said Tim. “I’m taking her over to Anglesey for a pub lunch, just the two of us.”
Then he said as we went upstairs to collect our bags, “I thought you might be a bit overwhelmed with it all and maybe missing meat?”
“No I really enjoyed myself and thought your parents absolutely charming.”
“I tried to imagine how the place must have appeared to you, what your first impressions would have been. Difficult for me as I’m so familiar with it all I don’t judge it. I suppose it must seem a bit tatty and very eccentric?”
“No, not at all. I admire what they’re trying to do. If everyone followed their example I don’t suppose global warming would be such a problem.”
We had an average meal in a pub with superb views over the Menai Straits and Snowdonia and then spent some time skimming stones, or in my case trying to skim stones, on the water. Then it was time to drive home, dropping Tim off on the way. He wanted to get some study time in so I wasn’t invited in.
“Yes thanks, Dad. I’ve been to Wales to meet Tim’s folks.
“Tim, Dad, the boy I was with at your 50th.”
“Oh yes. Met his parents did you. Nice house?”
“I liked it but I doubt you would.”
“Well they’re into self-sufficiency so everything is um a bit rustic, untidy, well-used. Not new and flashy.”
I regretted that word as soon as I’d said it and immediately tried to wriggle out of it.
“It’s quite small too.”
Fortunately Dad wasn’t really listening so my rudeness passed him by.
“Where are you tomorrow, love?”
“I’m in the warehouse, learning how to book things in, price them and send them out to the shops.”
“So your training is going alright is it?”
“Yes fine Dad but it’s not easy going into all these places and being the bosses daughter when they know so much more than I do.”
“Well I want you to learn every aspect of the business before you get a proper job here.”
“What have you got in mind for me?”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet. But of course you have some say in all of this.”
I didn’t want to tell Dad that I’d really like out and was thinking of a way of making my exit when Tracey appeared bearing two glass of something and ice and lemon. She offered one to me but I said I was tired and went upstairs.