We had a terrific time on our honeymoon in Sri Lanka although I wondered if Sophie wasn’t a bit distant as I felt our sex life wasn’t as passionate as it had been. We swam a lot and we were quite adventurous as well. We hired a car and driver and went inland to Pandy and Nuwara Eliya, where we stayed in a beautiful but rather tired old colonial hotel. I even managed to get Sophie out for a few hours on traditional sailing boat, known as a Oruwa. This is like a hollowed out tree trunk with the sides built up and an outrigger to stabilise it. There isn’t a fixed bow or stern so the boat moves either way. The sails have to kept wet to make them efficient and the boatman does this by throwing buckets of seawater at them.
After we returned from our honeymoon we moved into the bungalow that came with my nursery business which had been done up whilst we were away. I had been living there for a few months already but Sophie said it needed money spending on it before she was prepared to live there. It had a completely new kitchen and two new bathrooms and the whole house had been redecorated. All our wedding presents had been installed by David and Tracey and the place looked very smart. Sophie was pleased but said she would have to personalise it up before it would seem like home. I was more preoccupied with the nursery itself and left Sophie happily making it how she wanted it.
Ronnie and June, the previous owners of the nursery, had agreed to look after the business whilst we were on our honeymoon as their wedding present to us. Part of the deal when I purchased their business was that they would come in two days a week for the first month to enable me to find my feet and learn how to run it. I think they were pleased that it was going to continue and wanted me to make a success of it. The figures that I was given before I bought the business showed that recently they had only just been breaking even. I wasn’t concerned though as I considered they let things slide as they hadn’t had the energy to keep innovating which is necessary to keep a business profitable.
I did learn a lot from them – where to buy plants, what quantities of each plant to buy, what profit margins I could put on different ones, when to discount stock that was getting close to the sell by date, how best to display the stock and lots of other minor things. However I could see that the business needed to be brought up-to-date and made more efficient. Ronnie and June still used an old fashioned till and did the accounts longhand in a cash book and without a proper stock system they seemed to run out of their best lines regularly. I wanted to change that and bought an integrated till/stock system, a bit similar to the one I had seen at Cannon Pet Supplies, so that as each item was sold it was automatically taken out of the stock.
The next thing I instigated was a planting schedule. Wendy had offered to grow stuff at Cwm Dinas and between us we worked out the kind of plants that could be successfully grown in the North Wales climate. Wendy was enthusiastic. I suppose just growing stuff for the family had become routine and wasn’t a challenge anymore and the farmers’ market outlet hadn’t been a huge success. The main problem she had was the rabbits but she roped John in to design and build a rabbit-proof enclosure. She also persuaded him to build some shelves for the poly tunnel so that she could bulk-grow little trays of lettuce, herbs, brassicas and peas and beans for sale. Of course it was too late in the season for these for that year but she did some experimental trays anyway.
Sophie was also very helpful. The training she had had courtesy of her father meant she understood the whole process of retail from purchase through to sale and she helped me set up the systems so that both the stock and the finances were handled in tandem. Ronnie just didn’t get it. I think he thought the new system was a complete waste of money – ‘could have bought a lot of plants instead.’
It was my first Christmas as a married man. I really wanted to spend it at home – by that I mean my parents home – as I have almost all my life but I knew I had a new family and that Sophie would want me with her. Surprisingly David and Tracey decided to go away from 20th December until after the New Year so Sophie was happy to come to Wales with me and I really wanted her to feel part of my lovely family. I was hoping Teresa and Jock would come too as then it would be more fun and Wendy would be forced to cook something other than nut roasts.
A few days before we were due there Craig invited me to a daytime Christmas lunch at a local snooker club that he belonged to. It was an all male affair and Sophie warned me that it would be a big drinking session. Apparently Craig has organised events like this for the past couple of years. The lads he invites, his friends, are sons of rich local businessmen like himself. I knew it wouldn’t be my scene but I understood why I’d been invited and felt obliged to go. It was busy at the nursery – we were doing well selling Christmas trees, Christmas cactus and poinsettia plants – which made it difficult for me. I’d left a student from my old college in charge and had to hope he could cope. Sophie was busy at her work with the Christmas rush so unable to help.
Sophie agreed to drop me off at the club and I decided I’d get a taxi back. There were a few lads there when I got there. The club had 4 full-sized billiard tables, one of which was occupied with 4 men playing in pairs. The others were at the bar, drinking lager. There was no real ale on tap but they did have some good bottled beers from one of the local microbreweries. I tried to buy a round but was told there was a tab. Apparently whoever lost at a game of spoof that was played later was going to have to settle the whole drinks bill.
Craig asked me to partner him on one of the other tables. Although I had played a lot of pool I was a little nervous as I had not played on a full-sized table before and I knew Craig was very competitive. I’d had a couple of beers by then and actually played better than I expected and we won the first game. We were halfway through the second one when we were called up for dinner. I’d already seized up the company and made sure to sit between two of the quietest lads, one who was the son of an owner of a famous old pottery firm and the other an estate agent. Most of the others were very loud and judging by their conversation and attempts at humour, arrogant and bigoted. I was uncomfortable with some of the racist stuff they were spouting as, I think, were my two neighbours, although we didn’t say as much. There was also a lot of boasting about various drinking sessions and womanising.
“Hey Craig, how drunk were we in Amsterdam?” said one of the ones next to Craig. “Tell them about that whore.”
“Well we were absolutely fucked,” shouted Craig, “somehow we found the red light district. We both chose the same whore. She was fucking gorgeous, wasn’t she Phil? Long blonde hair right over her tits; firm they were with great big nipples. Anyway she was prepared to take us both on so Phil started fucking her while she sucked my dick. Next thing I knew I was climbing on top of them both and I shoved it up her arse so we both fucked her at the same time. Fucking amazing. She said she’d enjoyed it too.”
That tale seemed to top the womanising stories and they then started talking about other drinking sessions, football and their flash motors.
The food was delicious and plentiful and we were served lovely wines with our glasses regularly topped up by the two girls serving up. It was embarrassing to hear all the f-ing and blinding in front of these two but worse was to come as people got drunker. After the plum pudding a magnificent cheese board appeared and a decanter of port passed round. One of the older men there, he must have been at least 40 and was very vocal, climbed onto the table and paraded around. He was rubbing his groin and shouted at the one girl who was serving coffee cups. “Oh you’re a real Black Beauty my dear. Nothing I’d like more than a bit of black cunt.” He started to unzip himself and made to pull his penis out but there was a general shout of “Put it away. Leave her alone you dirty old fucking bastard.” Craig stood up and said to the girl, “I’m sorry about my friend here. He’s very drunk and his wife left him recently. His behaviour was completely uncool. Godfrey apologise to the lady.”
At this point I’d had enough and said I had to get back to Craig. “How much do I owe you?” I asked. “Spoof, spoof,” shouted Godfrey and some of the others joined in. So we were herded into a circle and each told to put 3 coins into our left hand. Then to put both hands behind our backs and transfer as many coins into our right hand as we chose before thrusting them into the circle. Each person then had to guess in turn how many coins there were in total in the circle. When our hands were opened the total number of coins were counted and the person who guessed the correct number or closest to the correct number was let out of the circle. I was concerned as the bar bill ran into hundreds of pounds and there were only four of us left when I guessed correctly and was free. I’d worked out as the game progressed that you could have some control of the game by either putting 3 coins out and guessing high or putting an empty fist forward and guessing low. This worked particularly well when there were only a few players left.
The snooker club was close to the bus station so I decided to catch the bus to the nursery instead of a taxi. I was curious to know how Dan, my temporary student employee, was getting on. I was very drunk and knew I would have to do my best to disguise this so I kept very much in the background. I could see that we had almost sold out of Christmas cactus but the poinsettia were not going so I drafted a notice to say “HALF PRICE POINSETTIAS WITH EVERY XMAS TREE PURCHASED,” in the hope of increasing their sales. I had to leave Dan to cash up and took a taxi home. I crashed out when I got there and the next thing I knew was when Sophie woke me at 2200 asking if I was all right.
After the New Year it became clear to me that the bungalow didn’t measure up as far as Sophie was concerned even though as far as I was concerned, the way it had been done out and furnished was fine – far more tasteful than the Cannon mansion where she’d been living before. However it wasn’t ideal for either of us being on the premises the whole time as there was a serious loss of privacy.
The first few months running the business were a real struggle, trying to keep up with my loan repayments, business rates, electric and water. At times I felt completely out of my depth. It didn’t help that Sophie was finding the change in her life style all so difficult. I was so busy I wasn’t able to give her the support she needed and in turn I could have done with more support from her. Sophie’s friends were of an age and we kept getting invited to weddings and these were always at the weekend so I couldn’t go until after closing time, 18:00. Sophie had to go on her own which she hated and because of her background couldn’t understand why I couldn’t miraculously somehow staff the nursery and accompany her. Fortunately after 4 months she became pregnant and that seemed to calm her down a little but at the same time it gave her further ammunition in her objective to get me to accept that we needed a more suitable family home. I could see that I had to give way on that one and also to accept that in effect it would be her money that would be buying our next house. I wanted this to be in the country and Sophie had very definite ideas of the kind on place she wanted. John was full of advice and the most important point he made was that the aspect should face south or south west so that the property was bathed in sunlight. Even Sophie could see that was important.
After several more months searching we finally found somewhere that we both loved. We both had agreed on all the preceding viewings that we didn’t want to live in any of them and we were beginning to wonder whether we would ever find anything we both liked so it was a huge relief to both of us that Bowden House suited us both.
It is a 5-bedroom house that had been built in the grounds of an estate with wonderful mature gardens. It had been built in the 70’s and needed modernising. I wanted to replace the windows which had little panes and fake old glass with bottle ends as soon as possible. I like large expanses of glass and couldn’t see the point of spoiling the view with lots of bars. Sophie wanted a new kitchen with an Aga cooker and new bathrooms. I didn’t like the Artexed ceilings and wanted them smoothed. Meanwhile we continued to live in the nursery bungalow.