The big day dawned bright and crisp, and the service was fantastic. Lucy was really cute as the maid of honor, and Ruby was just stunning. I don’t mind admitting I had a tear in my eye as she came down the aisle towards me and a catch in my voice as we took our vows.
Then we headed off in the Rolls Royce to the reception to the cheers of everyone in the party. The reception was held in the restaurant on the cliff top outside Wells, and it went off without a hitch. After a night in a hotel, we jetting off to our honeymoon in St Lucia. We spent a week sunbathing on the beach, swimming in the sea, drinking in the bars, and making love. It was a simply glorious start to what I was sure would be a beautiful new life together.
We had decided to look for a house to buy, and only a month after we returned to the UK we found a cottage on the Sandringham estate that we both fell in love with. It was actually two workers cottages that had been converted into one dwelling. It had 4 bedrooms, an open-plan ground floor, a large, but overgrown garden, and a small orchard of apple trees. There was also an old barn building that I could envisage as being a workshop.
Sometimes it seems that pieces of the puzzle just fit together effortlessly, and this period of my life was very like that. The house purchase went through without any problem, and we moved in and soon were busy “nesting”. By the end of our first year there, we were loyal members of the local community. Ruby even started attending the parish church, and eventually got me to join her there on Sunday mornings.
I discovered a love of gardening, and we spent a lot of time and thought getting our property to be as near perfect as it could be. Not content with a regular water feature, I built a raised pool with a waterfall which became a rambling stream going across the garden. We often found deer drinking in the pool, and when the local geese found the stream they were regular visitors.
The barn I turned into a motor mechanics dream. I had an inspection pit built so that I could easily work on my cars, and the walls were soon lined with tools and equipment. By this time, as well as my old convertible I had a newer Jaguar Xli and a steady stream of other vehicles coming in and out of my workshop from other Jaguar fans. Ruby insisted that we have what she called a “standard” car too, something that she would be happy driving. In the end, I got her a bright red mini, which she just loved.
Lucy got a place at the University of East Anglia in Lynn, and I suggested she could stay at my apartment by the river. I didn’t ask any money from her, feeling content that I was helping and that I’d have someone looking after the place for me. One more part of my life slotted seamlessly together.
Apart from work and church, we hardly moved outside the house for the first year we were there. Soon we began to be more sociable, however, and much to my surprise Ruby and Mary became close friends. It started when Pete came over to my new workshop with a problem with the flue injection on one of his vehicles, and we worked a couple of weekends on that before we had the car running smoothly. He asked us both over to his place to dinner as a thank you, and the four of us had a lovely evening together. Ruby liked to show off our garden and invited Mary to come over one afternoon. Soon this turned into a regular event, and the girls got together often for tea and gardening talks. Mary persuaded Pete to try some of the ideas we’d done in our garden, and I helped him put in a fountain and waterfall.
At first, I had a sense of dread lurking somewhere in the back of my mind about this. I don’t know that I could have put the fear into words, but it was unsettling to me to see my ex-lover and my wife, chatting together as if they had so much in common. I worried about what Mary might talk to Ruby about, and wondered if they compared notes. But over time, the anxiety dissipated as we all just got on with our own married lives.
Another married couple we got to know really well was Harry and Jill Stocker. I first met Harry at Brightstone Beds when he was in the HR department. Very soon after that, he moved on to work in the local government’s personnel function and eventually became head of Human Resources.
One day Ruby and I were in a garden center looking for bushes to go around the topmost pool of our water feature. I literally bumped into Harry as I was backing away to get a better view of the trees. Harry and his wife were also avid gardeners, and they invited us to go and see what they had been doing.
Harry had his job in Lynn while Jill was an executive at a company based in Norwich, so they had purchased a house somewhere in between the two cities. The house they lived in was converted from an old rectory in the quaint village of Stiffkey. It had an ancient stone wall around the perimeter, which gave a lot of privacy. Inside this, they had created an oasis of an English country garden, complete with immaculate landscaping and a croquet lawn.
Jill had emigrated to England from South Africa, and we were enchanted by their descriptions of the countryside there. They visited her old country every year, and when they invited us to join them on one of their vacations there, we jumped at the chance.