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 when we stayed in a posh hotel (only because we had no option) but 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 stops I admired her resolve but I had my doubts about the future of our relationship.
After the holiday I went for a couple of interviews – with Gwynedd Council as a Countryside Ranger and with the National Trust 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 he was right wing in his politics 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 their’s was but I knew it wasn’t that.
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.