Chapter Twenty Two


We had a terrific time on our honeymoon in Sri Lanka although I wondered if Sophie wasn’t a bit distant.  Certainly we didn’t have such a passionate sex life.  We did swim a lot.  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.

After we returned from our honeymoon we moved into the bungalow that came with my nursery business that 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 and the place looked very smart.  Sophie was pleased but said she would have to tart it up a bit before it would seem like home.  I was more preoccupied with the nursery itself and left Sophie to make our home more personal.

Ronnie and June, the previous owners of the nursery, had agreed to look after the business whilst we were on our honeymoon as a 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 think they were too old and hadn’t had the energy to keep innovating which you have to do to keep a business profitable so I wasn’t concerned.

I learnt 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 with 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 I worked out the kind of plants that could be successfully grown in the North Wales climate.  Hopefully this would cut down our purchasing budget.  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 to set up 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.’

After a few months 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 far more tasteful than the Cannon mansion.  It wasn’t ideal being on the premises the whole time for either of us as there was a serious loss of privacy.  I knew she wasn’t entirely happy living there as during one of our occasional rows she said it was no better than Cwm Dinas.  That hurt me a lot as it insulted both our home and the place I’d been brought up in and still thought of with great affection.

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 it all so difficult.  I was so busy I wasn’t able to give her the support I should have and in turn I could have done with more support from her.  Sophie’s friends were of an age so we kept getting invited to weddings and these were always at the weekend so I couldn’t go until after closing time, 18:00.  She then had to go on her own 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 a little.  At the same time it gave her further ammunition in her cause 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.  In spite of our differences we both had agreed on all the preceding viewings that we didn’t want to live in any of them so it was a huge relief to both of us that our views coincided.

We chose a 5-bedroom house that had been built in the grounds of an estate and so had wonderful mature gardens.  It had been built in the 70’s when windows with little panes and fake old glass with bottle ends.  I wanted to replace these as soon as possible.  I couldn’t see the point of spoiling the view with lots of bars.  I liked large expanses of glass.