Chapter 13

(i) Sophie takes stock

Tim and I have been married for eight years now and we’ve two beautiful little children, one boy, William, and one girl, Diana, aged 6 and 4. I chose the names as I’m a bit of a royalist and I loved Princess Di. They were quite different as babies: William was very beautiful, everyone admired him where ever we went but he was difficult; he never seemed happy on my breast, wouldn’t take a dummy and cried a lot; Di was the easiest, most placid baby anybody could wish for and she’s grown up to this pretty dreamy little girl who’s just started school. Tim was marvellous with the children. He’s a lighter sleeper than me and most of the time when Will woke in the night it would be Tim that got up for him. William’s a lovely little boy now, looks terrific in his school uniform and he’s obviously very bright.

We decided to send both children to the local village school although most of my friends’ children go to Eden House, the local prep school. Tim and I had a bit of a battle about that as I had wanted to go down the private school route and Tim wanted to send them to the local state school. Dad didn’t help. Tim’s arguments were stronger. The logistics of driving the children to Eden House every morning and picking them up every afternoon when we’re both so busy would have made life difficult for us. Dad offered to pay the school fees at Eden House and took offence when we chose the village school. They both seem happy at school and have local friends which is cool and actually having children at the village school has also helped us adults become part of the community.   I hadn’t considered either of these aspect when I was routing for Eden House. I’d just wanted the best education for my children and didn’t want my children mixing with kids from the council estate. From what I’ve seen and heard about the village school children do very well there and I’m glad that I didn’t insist on my choice. After all they have to learn to mix with all sorts. I don’t want them growing up in a rarefied atmosphere of children of the rich.

Tim loves his life, he still adores me and he loves the children. Plants are his passion and he is slowly building up a loyal following of customers. However the business limps along from one crisis to another and takes up far too much of his time. I insisted he put a manager in the nursery because otherwise we’d have no time together. Before that he was working 7 days a week in the summer and I had to take holidays on my own. Tim takes a small wage from the business. He says the reason he can’t pay himself more is because Erwin, his manager, is creaming off most of the profit. Dad doesn’t help. He thinks Tim’s business is under capitalised and wants me to give it a boost. Tim refuses.

Tim is very proud and very stubborn, He says he wants to maintain his independence and self respect so insists on paying half of everything even though it’s a complete nonsense and he doesn’t anyway. In fact I had to buy Tim a car for his Christmas present several years ago as he only had the business van and that had become unreliable. In fact everything of value, all the nice furniture, TV and so on I’ve bought otherwise we wouldn’t have anything nice. And then there’s the house. We lived in the bungalow that came with the nursery for the first year. I wasn’t very happy there as I was used to a higher standard of living but I compromised as Tim brought that into the marriage. When we started trying for a child I started pushing to move, saying the nursery wasn’t a nice place to bring up children. I think that Tim had had enough of living on his business premises anyway and he could see sense in my argument. Then the next stage was that he wanted a place where he could get a mortgage for half the value of the property, so in theory it would be half his. When he looked into what kind of mortgage he could get with his pathetic salary he realised this idea was a non-starter. I kept telling him that we were married and what was mine was his. Reluctantly he accepted that our new family home would be bought with my money. At first he baulked at the kind of property that appealed to me. But when he realised how lovely some of these houses were he was as enthusiastic as me. It was as if he realised for the first time what you could have if you were wealthy. We bought a lovely property in the village of W-, just outside Newcastle-under-Lyme. It had five big bedrooms and was set in lovely grounds with a triple garage. I know Tim would love to have time to look after the garden but he’s had to accept that he can’t so we employ a part-time gardener. I also insisted in paying for a cleaner because there was no way I was going to do it all and Tim was never there.

So how do I feel? Really I’m undecided. I love my children. I love my house. But I’m not sure if I love my life. I had such a good time before I got married, travelling, boating, going to parties, eating at fancy restaurants. Now I’m not able to do any of these very often. We did go on a boating holiday in Dad’s boat a couple of years ago but that wasn’t a success. Dad and Tim don’t get on. Tim thinks Dad drinks too much and is too right wing, calls him the fascist. Dad thinks Tim is an idealistic fool. They’ve had some very heated political discussions. Tim would rather be on a sailing boat than on what he calls a floating gin palace and he refuses to ask Griff, the steward on the boat, for anything, saying he doesn’t agree with having servants. I was upset this trip didn’t work out as I adore being at sea, sailing into wonderful harbours like Ibiza town, anchoring in lovely bays.

In spite of me saying it didn’t work out we did manage to have some lovely times that holiday, thinking about it has brought them back. Sitting at anchor after a morning swimming, snorkelling and water-skiing behind the tender; a lovely spread of goodies on the huge table on the stern deck for lunch washed down with a few glasses of sangria; an afternoon snooze in the luxurious cabin, usually interspersed by one or two bouts of tender lovemaking. Wonderful!

Anyway Dad’s decided to sell the boat so that option isn’t open to us anymore. Tim wants to take us camping in France as he remembers how much he adored his childhood holidays doing just that. I remember he tried to get me camping years ago when we first got together. I refused then and I would have refused now if it weren’t for pressure from the kids. Most of their friends go camping and I think Tim’s been brainwashing our children. I’ve finally agreed but only if we stay in a static luxury caravan.  So we’re off to France next month.  What a comedown for a girl used to staying only in the best hotels!

The other day Tim tried to persuade me to go out into the fields and pick blackberries. I said I had tried it once when I was little and all I could remember was getting prickled and stung.

“Anyway I don’t see the point. You can buy big juicy blackberries in the shops now. Why waste an afternoon getting an inferior product, coming back scratched and stung? I’ve better things to do with my time.”

“Like shopping or watching the box,” said Tim angrily. “It’s celebrating one of our old ways of life when we were hunter gathers; it’s celebrating autumn, the time of the harvest and anyway it’s good to get some fresh air.  I’m going anyway. You can do what the hell you like.  And I’ll make some jam with my pickings – another celebration of our old way of life.”

“You’ll just end up an eccentric old fogey like John and Wendy.”

I regretted having said that as soon as the words spouted out of my mouth. Tim looked absolutely furious but he didn’t say anything, just stormed out of the house with a bag to collect his precious blackberries in. I knew I’d gone too far but he seemed to be on another planet to the one I was on.

When he came back I was sat watching Countdown on the TV with a nice glass of cold Chardonnay very content. Tim made a lot of noise clunking about in the kitchen. I supposed he was making jam but I wasn’t really interested. If we’d grown apart it was his bloody fault. I hadn’t changed.

Later that night, when I’d had more time to think about things, I thought that probably Tim hadn’t changed either. After all no one really changes that much. What had changed was my perception of him. I’d deluded myself into thinking he was a different person than the one he was. I’d deluded myself into thinking I could be someone I wasn’t. I had admired what Tim stood for and thought that I could mature into a more plant-loving, country type of person who wasn’t materialistic. Now I had come to realise I was my father’s daughter, a rich girl who enjoyed the trappings of wealth and wasn’t interested in global warming, energy conservation or any of the stuff that seemed to be of major concern to Tim and Tim was that plant-loving country person.

It was a pivotal moment as then I realised that my husband and I weren’t really suited. I thought I still loved him but I don’t think I admired him any more. Was that going to be terminal?

(ii) Tim looks back over his life so far

I’m proud of myself – I remembered our wedding anniversary.  We’ve been married eight years now.  I bought Sophie a card but I think she was hoping for more.  Buying things for her is always a problem for me.  She seems to have everything she needs and if she wants something she just goes out and buys it.  The reverse isn’t true, of course.  I’m easy to buy for as I never go shopping for myself.  Yet I rarely receive what I want – a new pair of gardening gloves, socks, practical things.  For instance my anniversary present today was a pair of gold cuff links.  I already have some cuff links and I can only wear one pair at a time so for me it’s not a good present.  I’m sorry if I sound ungrateful but I think it’s because I’m finding it difficult to come to terms with Sophie’s materialism, which, if I’m honest, I find offensive.  One one hand there are a lot of people in the UK struggling to feed and clothe themselves, fishing food out of supermarket rubbish bins and so on and on the other hand Sophie buys more and more clothes, keeps changing the furniture at home and just spends money on a whim.  What the answer is though I don’t know.  I don’t feel she should give her money away.  She does that anyway, to an extent.  She’s always very generous – I’ve witnessed her giving homeless persons £20 notes several times.  I just wish society was fairer so everyone had a more-or-less equal slice of the money pie.

I’ve just reread that last paragraph.  I think I’m getting more and more like John and I also think Sophie is getting more and more like David.  I’ve certainly become more and more judgemental  and she’s certainly become more and more domineering over the years.  I try to avoid conflict so often have to bite my tongue, take whatever’s coming my way, ignore it and do whatever  I was intending anyway.  I shouldn’t complain as in truth life’s really good.  We’ve two adorable children, a lovely house and garden, a thriving nursery business, an active social life – Sophie is a great entertainer – and some lovely holidays.  I know I’m guilty of not appreciating all we’ve got as I dwell too much on the negatives.  I can’t help it though.  I think it’s the way I’ve been brought up.  I want a sustainable world with no poverty and everything that is contrary to that disturbs me.

I’ve been struggling with the Cannon family as well as with Sophie.  David just thinks that anyone can pull themselves out of the mire just with hard work and keeps banging on about it.  He doesn’t realise few people have his drive or how lucky he has been – he was in the right place at the right time.  Then there’s Craig, Sophie’s brother.  I sympathise with him.  It can’t be easy being David’s son but I can’t bring myself to like or respect him.  He’s a drunken showoff and womaniser and he mixes in the company of other rich men’s sons who all seem to have been poured from the same mould.  I find together they are unbearable, trying to outdo each other with tales of drinking bravado, sexual exploits, fast cars and so on.  I try to fit in at the annual Christmas parties but struggle and I’m sure they don’t think much of me either.  I think they all see me as an idealistic hippy. 

Sophie and I have both had to compromise.  I’ve had to accept that I have to live in the style Sophie’s used to.  I realise that to most people that would not be a sacrifice but what they aspired to so wouldn’t see that as a compromise on my part.  A major compromise for Sophie was sending the children to the local village school instead of the private prep school she and her family wanted.    Fortunately that policy has been successful and she now sees that that was the correct decision.

My family have been great, Wendy particularly amazing.  John has done his bit to help too.  He managed to get a grant for enough photovoltaic cells to cover the south facing portion of the bungalow at the nursery.  He also designed and supervised a solar hot water system to keep the greenhouses warm.  We have applied for planning permission for a windmill which would make us completely self-sufficient for electricity but some of the neighbours have objected so I’m not sure whether that will happen.  Also financing it might be difficult.   If Wendy hadn’t taken on the project of growing plants for me so enthusiastically l don’t think I would still have a business.  In the early spring she produces pots and pots of crocuses, daffodils, tulips which simply fly out to customers.  Later she produces herbs, bedding plants and potted vegetable plants in profusion.  And all from one polytunnel.  Then in another bed she grows perennial plants – hydrangeas are the most successful – but she grows a number of different species and is always experimenting with new varieties.  I go over to Wales regularly with a trailer to collect whatever is ready and often stay overnight as driving both ways is too stressful and also I enjoy being back in my childhood home.  Somehow, although I hate to admit it, I can be myself more there than I can in my marital home.  Stanley is following in my footsteps, doing horticulture at Rease Heath College and isn’t often there in the week anymore but he goes home most weekends as he gets homesick in Crewe.  Wendy says that he’s become very involved in the nursery plant-growing project and she’s taken to paying him which supplements his student loan.  He comes for dinner to my house at least one evening most weeks and I really enjoy his company and talking about my old college and coursework. Occasionally Teresa, Jock and Oliver come for a weekend and then Stanley will stay as well instead of going back to Wales.   We have a happy family time, playing games and having sing-alongs.  The three children get along together very well and make it all great fun.  I think Sophie enjoys these weekends too.

(iii) A row over shopping

I have become quite good friends with Tracey in spite of my earlier misgivings when she and Dad had first got together.  I suppose to start with I blamed her for splitting up my parents marriage.  We have started going out on shopping days every so often and have settled into a routine that suits us both. I’d pick her up and drive to Wimslow and after a coffee we’d wander round the shops, trying different things on, showing them off to each other and, if we both like an item, one of us would buy it. We always bought different items as we didn’t want to risk both wearing the same things out together. Tracey usually treated me to lunch and a glass of wine and after a bit more shopping we’d head home before rush hour.

It could be a bit of a downer coming back home. I’d be on a real high, having had a lovely day just doing what I enjoyed doing and I’d know to expect Tim to be grumpy and disapproving. He never said anything but I could tell and he never showed any interest in looking over my purchases and made me feel frivolous and superficial. Occasionally I could get him interested when I modelled clothes for him but then I think he was more interested in watching me undressing or dressing than in the clothes themselves.

Yesterday was worse though. I was late coming home which didn’t help – there’d been an accident so it wasn’t my fault. Although, if I’m honest I did stop at Dad and Tracey’s for a cup of tea and we did get carried away modelling the clothes we’d bought for each other.   When I arrived home I rushed out of the car and dropped the bags containing my purchases in the hall.

“Sorry I’m late,” I called “There was an accident.”

Tim was in the kitchen peeling potatoes and didn’t look up which I knew was a bad sign. If nothing was wrong he would drop everything and give me a big hug and a kiss.

“Had a good day?” he asked flatly. “The kids are in the bath and I’ve got the meal under control.”

“I’ll go up to see them in a minute. I’d like to show you my purchases first.” I said, hoping, I suppose, to charm him out of his sulk. “I’ve bought some fabulous things today – had a lovely day and I got you a little pressie – just some joke hankies I thought were rather nice. But just look at these tops. I liked them so much I bought them in all four colours.”  I’d really fallen in love with them and was really excited to show them to Tim as they really flattered me, showing my bosom off. Tracey had persuaded me to get all four colours because she thought they suited me so well. I’d also bought a new winter coat which I bought with Tim in mind because it was a bit hippyish, a bit different to my usual style.

Tim showed not the slightest interest and just continued with his potato peeling, making a really upsetting cutting remark.  “I don’t know why you keep buying clothes. You hardly wear any you’ve already got. Your wardrobes are overflowing with things you’ve never worn. You waltz in late so I’ve had to sort the children and our food out after a hard day’s work and all you want to do is talk about some stupid additional clothes you’ve spent a fortune on after you’ve had a luxurious day out with Tracey.”

“I said I’m sorry I’m late. I can’t help it if there’s an accident. I go out with Tracey once a month at most and I can spend my money as I want, thank you very much. You like me to look nice and I buy clothes so I do.”

“You buy clothes because you like buying clothes. Admit it. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that per se. I just happen to think it’s a waste of money. And you’d look nice whatever you wore.”

“You think I should just give the money away to charity, is that it?” I knew he felt guilty that we had so much whilst there were poor people scavenging food out of food banks.

“Oh I’m not sure what I think.” said Tim, much less angry now.   I think he felt guilty about his remarks.  ”Oh by the way your mother rang. She can’t have the children tomorrow after all.”

I had a hair appointment in the morning and one at the beauticians in the afternoon. These had been arranged for ages.

“She said she had a cancellation at the hospital which she couldn’t refuse.”

Just then there was some screaming from upstairs and Tim rushed upstairs to sort it out. I followed him up, collecting my bags on the way. The fight had stopped by the time I got there. The children were in the bath and there was water everywhere. Tim was washing Di and I just stood and watched him for a few minutes. Then he lifted the two of them out of the bath one by one by putting a towel, one end in each hand, under their armpits and lifting them right up towards the ceiling, shouting “Gubba, Gubba.” It was one of his tricks, one of his family’s traditions and the kids loved it. Then they both shouted “Train, Daddy, Train” and sat on one of their towels which Tim had spread on the floor. Tim picked up one end of this towel and then proceeded to tow the two children round the room on the towel making “Choo, Choo” noises while they shrieked with pleasure, falling off and jumping back on as he went slower and faster.

“Don’t get them too excited,”I found myself saying. It was lovely to see them having such a good time but, if I’m honest, I was just a teeny bit jealous as I wished I enjoyed playing with the children as much as Tim did. I knew they loved me but sometimes thought they preferred Tim to me.  I comforted myself by thinking they love me just as much but in a different way.  

I was still smarting from our argument. I knew Tim had a point but I liked shopping and buying clothes. It doesn’t harm anyone and it keeps people in work. We continued our talk when the children were in their pyjamas and tucked up in bed.

“I can’t have the children tomorrow, I’m afraid. I’ve two appointments,” I said somewhat sheepishly.

“It’s half term so somebody’s got to look after them. I can’t have them. I’m at work. Can’t you postpone your appointments?”  Tim said, I thought, a little sharply.

“No sorry, It’s very difficult to get an appointment with Toni for my hair, you have to book up at least four weeks ahead, and June, the beautician, is always booked up as well.”

“So your bloody pampering is more important than my business. That’s right isn’t it?”

“Your business is a bloody joke.”

“Well I didn’t have a rich Daddy and have had to make my own way in life. So my business may be a joke but at least it’s mine. That’s more than you can say.”

That really hurt. It was my Achilles heel. It was his deadliest weapon in any rows we had. I was just a silly little rich girl. End of story.  I burst into tears and ran upstairs. 

Tim knew he’d gone too far and it wasn’t long before he came up and apologised. He coaxed me back down and served a lovely meal even suggesting I try on my new clothes on for him afterwards. I said I wasn’t in the mood, I felt too deflated and anyway we hadn’t resolved what we were going to do with the children in the morning.  Tim didn’t say anything more about the row that night but he wasn’t himself either. I tried to cuddle up to him in bed, pushing my breasts into his back and trying to caress his privates, thinking sex would bring us back together. He responded by just turning onto his stomach so my hand couldn’t reach. He said he was sorry but he wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Normally he was like putty in my hands. If I gave him the come-on or showed him that he was in with a chance he couldn’t resist. But that night he wasn’t having any and he wanted to show me how upset he was.

In the morning we were still both subdued but Tim did offer to take the children into work with him so I could attend my appointments. I collected them from him as soon as I could and took them to McDonalds for lunch and then to the park where they had a go on the swings and slides. Afterwards I called in at M & S and bought one of their meals for two that came with a bottle of 

wine so that I could treat us both when the children were in bed.

It’s all very confusing how we react to each other. We seem to approach things from the opposite ends of the earth. I feel inadequate because of the rich girl having done nothing in life issue but I have to accept that’s who I am. I’m used to a wealthy person’s way of life and I don’t suppose I’ll ever change.  And why should I if I’m happy.   I would like more purpose in life though and I think if Tim would let me help him in his business that might be enough.  He won’t let me though and I can’t see that changing.  I still work in Cannon Pet Supplies two half days a week but even Dad can see that my heart’s not in it.

(iv) Tim offers Sophie a job

I’ve been wondering if I’ve been a bit unfair to Sophie and that maybe these shopping trips are a sign that she’s bored.  Her work for Cannon’s Pet Supplies isn’t very demanding and she only works part time anyway.  Her job at the moment is with security, checking the till roll records looking for fraudulent transactions.  She says she’s caught a surprising number of staff out;  apparently dishonest staff account for far more losses from the business than those of customers.  

When we started the nursery business Sophie said she would like to be involved too but I said I didn’t think it was a good idea as I wanted to keep our relationship separate from the business, especially as at that time she was still offering to finance it.   Things have changed since then and if she were still interested I could really do with a hand with the financial side of the nursery so I could concentrate my energies on the practical issues.  Hopefully then I wouldn’t be chasing my tail so much.  If we were to work together but in separate areas of the business it might be beneficial to our relationship, give us more things in common.

“Sophie, I’m so sorry about last night.  I’d had a few problems at work and I wasn’t in the best mood.”

“Well I don’t think that’s much of an excuse to be horrible to me.  I’d had a lovely day out and you ruined it for me.”

“Yes I know I did and that’s why I’m apologising.”

“And when I came onto you in bed you gave me the cold shoulder.”

“Sorry I just hadn’t managed to shake off my bad mood.  But today’s another day and I’ve shaken my mood and said how sorry I am, so can we try to move on please.”

“OK but don’t criticise me all the time.”

“OK, I won’t I promise. Actually I wanted to talk to you.  I’ve had an idea.”

“Oh that sounds ominous.”

“No seriously Sophie I think we need to see if we can’t improve our relationship.  I hate the way we’re always bickering.”

“So what do you suggest.”

“Well originally when I bought the nursery I said I’d prefer to keep us and the business separate, if you remember.  It was all tied in with the finances and how I didn’t want to be beholden to you.”

“Go on.”

“Well that was a few years ago and things have changed and, well, I would like it if you would consider coming to work in the nursery.”

“What you’re offering me a job?”

“Yes, I suppose in one way I am.  I thought that if we both worked for the same thing it would give us more common ground and that that would be good for our relationship.  And, perhaps more importantly, Cwm Dinas really could use your expertise.  I’m hoping that you will see this as an olive leaf and that it might be a challenge, something to get your teeth into now the children are less demanding.  I can’t see Canon Pet Supplies doing that.”

“So what role did you have in mind?”

“Well on the financial side obviously but I’ve not any detailed plan.  I just wanted to see if you liked the idea first.  I thought the job would grow with you.  To start with we couldn’t take more cash out of the business but I’m certain with your input this will change.  Will you think about it?”

“Well you’ve certainly surprised me.  What you have suggested might work.  I know we have to do something to get back to respecting each other. So I’ll say yes, I’ll give it a try.  Perhaps if I just come in one day a week to start with.  That way I could keep my job at Dad’s in case this doesn’t suit us both and I’d have something to fall back on.”

I was pleased Sophie had immediately gone along with my suggestion but I was also apprehensive.  Sophie can be quite assertive when she’s in the mood and I don’t want her to start bossing me around in my nursery.  Anyway I’ve got to remember that I suggested this as a way of improving our marriage and that is far more important than the business.