Stephanie A Girl In A Million – Chapter 4
HURRAY – I AM NORMAL AFTER ALL
Having decided that I needed to get a career I applied to several “blue chip” companies famous for their rigorous training as a sale rep. I was accepted by Hoover subject to passing an intensive 4-week training course. It was I was working out my notice with Councillor Hill, I made my almost daily trip to Lloyd’s Bank to obtain change for the shop.
I popped along to the bank with a bundle of notes. ‘Five pounds worth of florins, five of half crowns, and five each of shillings and sixpences,’ I said to the girl behind the counter, as I counted out notes to the value of £ 20. Then I looked up. The breath caught in my throat as I looked straight into the eyes of the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. And I was totally unprepared for the wave of curious sensations swept over me as she stared straight back into my eyes.
‘Sorry, could you repeat that?’ She apologised with a smile.
‘Um, er…a tenner’s worth of ten bob notes…er, a fiver’s worth of coppers and…um, I’ll take the rest in sixpences,’ I replied falteringly, unable to take my eyes off her face.
I left the bank in a complete daze. It was only when I looked at the pile of wrong coins and notes that I began to feel foolish. Half-hoping, half-fearing to see the beautiful new cashier again, I made another trip to the bank. I didn’t know whether to feel glad or disappointed when I collected from another cashier the correct change and the rubber stamp the bank allowed me to borrow to enable me to save time by pre-stamping the paying-in slips for the deposits I would be making that night.
When I arrived back at the shop, Doug, our representative from Pye records, was standing on the pavement outside waiting to speak to me. Although married, Doug was a self-confessed womaniser and, having no one else he could safely confide in, we had a standing arrangement to have lunch at Le Capri whenever he called so that he could bring me up to date on his latest exploits. As we stood there on the pavement, chatting, a voice suddenly interrupted us. ‘I understand you’ve stolen my rubber stamp.’ When I turned round I was face to face with the beautiful girl from the bank.
She was about five feet seven with long, dark hair, and drop-dead gorgeous. And once again I found myself again faltering for words. Assessing the situation, Doug took control. ‘We’re just going for lunch at Le Capri.
Why don’t you join us?’ he invited.
To my surprise, she agreed and during the introductions revealed that her name was Marylin. Throughout the lunch, Marylin and Doug kept up a line in humorous banter, while all I could do was sit and stare wordlessly at Marylin and wonder at the strength of the attraction I felt for her. It was the first time in my life I had experienced such a strong and profound attraction towards a girl.
I couldn’t get her out of my mind. All I could think about for the rest of the day and night was how I could meet her again. The following day I was a nervous wreck. I had to see Marylin almost lunchtime and then nervously went along to the bank on the pretext of requiring change. I tried so hard to appear to be cool and casual, but I was shaking so much that my words fell over themselves without making any sense.
Calmly Marylin waited, a little smile hovering at the corner of her mouth. ‘Will you…I mean, er, would you like to come to Le Capri for lunch again?’ I eventually managed to blurt out. Again to my surprise and delight she agreed to meet me fifteen minutes later. My feet fairly flew back down the street as, heart thumping to an unfamiliar beat, I contemplated the exciting prospect of spending a whole, uninterrupted hour in the company of Marylin and wondering whether this heart-stopping, ecstatic feeling that was so foreign could possibly be love?
With each passing minute that we lingered in Le Capri I became more and more enthralled. Hesitantly, I asked: ‘Would you like to take a look at the house I’m in the process of buying?’ (corny or what!!) but she smiled her agreed As we drove to my new house I jokingly commented that, though I’d had lots of offers of help, I still had no one to make my new curtains for me. ‘So how good are you at sewing?’ I laughingly asked.. On the return drive I plucked up the courage to ask her if she would have dinner with me that night -to which, once again, she agreed. I couldn’t believe it! That this beautiful girl
wanted to go out with me was incredible. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait for the evening to come. The moment I finished work, I rushed straight home and scoured the Yellow Pages in search of a restaurant special enough for such a wonderful girl who appeared much more sophisticated than myself.
Marylin lived in Wheathampstead with her grandmother, with whom she had stayed ever since her mother had returned to her home town of Torquay following the tragic death of Marylin’s father in a road accident three years earlier. The grandmother was a sweet old lady but, as I soon found out, Marylin’s mother was a different kettle of fish.
Having been brought up with the idea that women should never work, she had married an army officer while she was still very young and had then been thoroughly spoiled with servants and a comfortable, easy lifestyle when he was posted to Berlin.
Naturally her husband’s death had come as a terrible shock to Marylin’s mother and, unable to cope, she had had a nervous breakdown and spent some time in a mental institution. When she recovered she passed much of her time in the company both a vodka bottle and other men, leaving Marylin alone at home to look after her two younger sisters. Eventually she moved to Torquay, taking the two younger girls with her leaving Marylin to live wither her grandmother.
I took Marylin to dinner at the Cowper Arms at Digswell, near Welwyn Garden City. Wanting everything to be perfect I spared no expense, ordering the finest food as though I’d done it a thousand times before. Perusing the wine list, I nonchalantly added; ‘And bring us a bottle of Nuits St George.’ It wasn’t until weeks later (after we were married, in fact) that Marylin teasingly told me that I had mispronounced it as ‘Noots St George’.
Just one evening with her was enough to convince me that for the first time in my life I was totally, incredibly and irrevocably in love. What was even more amazing was that Marylin appeared to feel the same way, too! Immediately I did the honourable thing by breaking off my relationship with Margaret who was heartbroken. From that moment on, I intended to spend every available moment with Marylin. The change in my life and my personality were dramatic. The miracle of love had come into my life, and I felt sexual arousal just at the thought of her. I WAS A HEALTHY NORMAL MALE AFTER ALL !!!!
Marylin and I saw each other at every possible opportunity, and our mutual love grew stronger daily. I would leave romantic little notes in the basket of her bicycle when she was at work, send her soppy little cards, and buy her flowers and silly, inexpensive little gifts. All my romantic impulses that had for so long been stifled now had an outlet, and I couldn’t help expressing all the love and happiness that were bubbling up inside me.
On 5 November 1967, just ten short days after we had met, as the night sky exploded with the shooting stars of fireworks celebrating the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the stark black and white imagery of my previously monochrome life exploded into glorious, living colour as I placed an engagement ring on Marylin’s finger. The only dreams I had that night were of Marylin. The nightmare had gone and I was finally free.
As luck would have it, both Marylin and I caught severe colds and that precious week, for which we had made so many plans, was spent in bed – she in hers, I in mine, but Marylin’s grandmother was out shopping one day, and with no other motive than a discussion of our wedding plans, I joined Marylin in her room. One thing inevitably led to another, and before I knew what was happening we were making tender, passionate love. Afterwards, cuddling Marylin in my arms, I felt as if I was walking on air. There’s nothing wrong with me, after all, I thought triumphantly. All I needed was to meet the right girl. I was so happy I could hardly speak. The truth was, no words could possibly describe what I was feeling and when the thought occurred: My God, what would I have done if I had never met Marylin? I could only cling on to her and hold her tightly, knowing that it would be impossible for me ever to let her go.
When I heard footsteps on the path I had difficulty tearing myself away from Marylin’s side, but knowing how outrage her grandmother would be if she caught us in bed together I had no choice. With a foolish grin of pure joy I crept back to my bed.
I couldn’t believe it. It was incredible! A miracle! I was twenty-one years of age and I’d finally become a man! I wanted to throw open a window and proclaim my joy to the world. Every single emotion and thought I’d ever read about or seen in the movies coursed through my veins. I wanted to sing it from the mountain tops and shout it from the chimney stacks. I was in love…and I had just made love – and all with the woman of my dreams!
With my four-week course looming, we made as many plans as we could. We’d originally planned to get married in March 1968, but now we both knew we couldn’t wait that long, so we brought the date forward to 6 January. Meanwhile there was so much to do. I telephoned Marylin’s mother and formally asked for her daughter’s hand, invitations were sent out. Doug agreed to be my best man, and Auntie Elsie and Uncle Ray said they’d be delighted to come. But from my parents there was no word.
With most of the arrangements made, I tore myself away from Marylin’s side and set off for Watford to start training for my new career. Now, more than ever, I was determined to build a successful life for Marylin and, of course, the children we hoped to have. Despite missing Marylin dreadfully, I acquitted myself well on the arduous course. Every aspect of salesmanship was covered, and when we weren’t attending lectures and seminars on selling techniques we’d be locked in sessions specifically designed to help us assimilate what we had learned. It was during one of these sessions that I was called away to take an urgent phone call that had come through. It was Marylin. She was panic-stricken because my mother had visited her at the bank and asked her to call round at my parents’ house that night. I was horrified.
What were Mum and Dad up to now? Knowing I couldn’t possibly allow Marylin to face them alone, I begged my instructor to release me for the evening from the residential course in Watford on compassionate grounds, saying that there was an emergency at home.
I drove like a maniac to Harpenden to collect Marylin, and together we presented ourselves at my parents’ front door. Though they must have been surprised to see me there, neither of them let it show. I held fast to Marylin’s hand, willing her not to allow them to intimidate her and bravely trying to hide my mounting fear. We sat down on the settee like polite strangers, waiting for my father to speak. When he did, he took the wind right out of my sails.
‘Are you pregnant?’ he asked Marylin. I was so appalled and ashamed that I hardly knew what to say.
‘Of course she’s not,’ I protested. ‘Please try to understand. We love each other very much and, though we hate to see you both so unhappy, we will be married. There’s nothing either of you can say or do to make us change our minds.’
‘You seem like a nice enough girl,’ my father said to Marylin. ‘And it’s not that we’ve got anything against you personally. It’s just that…’ He stopped, too upset to go on as the tears trickled down his face. I knew what my parents were thinking. Their attitude might seem strange to anyone not brought up in such a rigid religion, but I understood what they were going through. Their devotion to their faith was total. My father was an Elder, and the church meant a great deal to him. My mother was even more fanatically devoted than he was, and I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that she would have died for her beliefs.
Poor Marylin could only stand and stare at the three of us as the tears poured down our cheeks. It was hardly the best circumstances in which to meet my parents for the first time, and I’m sure she was totally nonplussed. I was devastated, but part of me could only admire their absolute refusal to compromise. Being a Jehovah’s Witness is not easy – in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest religions to follow. But my parents were committed so wholeheartedly that they really believed they were doing the right . They couldn’t give us their blessing, and we refused to cancel our plans.
Eventually, knowing there was nothing more I could say or do, Marylin and I took our leave. We didn’t see my parents again until after the wedding and the birth of our twin boys.
We spent Christmas at Torquay with Marylin’s family. At first her mother and I got on well (though time was to alter that in the same way that it’s altered so many things in my life), and I thoroughly enjoyed the first real Christmas I had known since religion entered my life. January came, and our long-awaited day finally dawned. I had spent the night before at my Auntie Kath’s, unable to sleep through nervousness, still praying that at the last moment my parents would relent and show up at the reception.
Doug and I looked resplendent in top hat and tails. Auntie Kath had wisely forced a brandy down my throat to still my knocking knees, but I was shaking right up to the moment when I saw Marylin walk down the aisle. She looked so radiant that she took my breath away.
We spent eight glorious days honeymooning in London, seeing the sights, taking in the shows and, of course, making love. We acted like kids let loose on a spree. We played with each other, saw cartoon films galore, even played games of hopscotch in the street. We didn’t mind that we couldn’t afford to eat in the hotel – we were happy enough with sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers bought from street stalls. All that mattered was that we were hopelessly in love.
We stayed with Marylin’s grandmother until March when we were finally able to move into our first home at 14 Westfield Drive, in Harpenden. The very same house about which I joked months earlier that Marylin might like to make the curtains. Having cut my income by two-thirds when I’d moved to Hoover, the additional expenses of the wedding and the house purchase meant we were now flat broke, but we didn’t mind in the least. Then came the magical day that Marylin told me she was pregnant, we had even more cause to rejoice. I fussed around her and when, three months into the pregnancy, the doctor informed us that Marylin was carrying twins, it provided me with the perfect excuse to envelop her with even more love. I think that was possibly the happiest year of my life. I’d spend hours lying in bed next to Marylin, my head close to her stomach, one hand resting protectively on her tummy as I heard and felt our babies moving inside.
When my sons were born I was with Marylin throughout. Though it was a difficult labour, the moment Stephen emerged I was filled with so much emotion I thought I would choke. As Andrew was not to arrive for another two hours, I was allowed plenty of time to hold Stephen in my arms. My elation was indescribable, for no words can do justice to that incredible feeling of having helped to create not one, but two, new lives. Having had two forceps deliveries Marylin was exhausted, and as she fell asleep I held her hand and gazed lovingly at my two sons. If anyone had ever had cause to doubt my manhood, what Marylin and I had accomplished together must surely now have confounded them all. We experienced a few traumatic days when Stephen was rushed off to St Albans Hospital with stomach problems, which fortunately turned out not to be too serious and soon he was returned to us and I was able to take my wife and sons home to Harpenden.
I had taken a substantial drop in salary when I joined Hoover, and now the strain that Andrew and Stephen put on our already stretched finances meant that I had to take on extra work. So after a full day’s work I did a part-time job as a barman from six till eleven, as well as a gardening job leaving just Sundays free But I was never happier or more fulfilled, particularly as the twins’ birth had prompted a tenuous reconciliation with Mum and Dad who, having been presented with a fait accompli, now concentrated all their efforts on saving my soul my converting Marylin. They never did succeed, but when the twins arrived they were so smitten with their grandsons that they couldn’t possibly bring themselves to reject us totally.
I revelled in every aspect of parenthood and as there were 2 babies we both needed to respond to cries for feeding or nappy change throughout the night.. To bathe my sons and watch them gurgle with delight as they splash around in the water was a constant delight, and although for most of their waking hours (and many of their sleeping hours, too) I would be out of the house earning the money to support us all, back home I was never too tired to spend time cuddling or feeding them. If meeting Marylin had brought peace and contentment into my life, becoming a father had increased that feeling a thousand-fold.
I never mixed with my colleagues after work because I just didn’t have the spare cash to buy myself or them a drink. The mortgage was crippling us, and we were so hard up that we’d often exist on a sack of potatoes and a catering can of baked beans to enable the boys to have everything they needed. But when you’re young and in love you survive the hard times, and though juggling work and my part-time jobs was exhausting, I always seemed to find the energy to keep going.
Less than two years later, Marylin was expecting again. We were overjoyed and very much hoped that this time we would have a daughter to make our family complete. Naturally we anticipated everybody else would share our happiness, but when we broke the news to Mum and Dad, who openly adored Stephen and Andrew, their disapproval and hostility took us aback.
‘It’s wrong to bring more children into such a wicked world,’ they preached at us, ‘particularly when the Bible tells us that those who are evil will soon be destroyed by God!’ I was so incensed by their negative attitude that for once I couldn’t stop myself from arguing.
‘How dare you tell us what we should do,’ I protested. ‘No one has the right to dictate to us how many children we should have, or when.’ I just couldn’t believe their attitude, and this time my anger lasted for weeks.
Eventually, of course, they got used to the fact, and on the surface at least the rift was once more breached. Ironically, when my sister Pearl (ten years older than I and with two young teenagers to boot) announced shortly afterwards that she was expecting twins, my parents greeted her news with a great show of pleasure and a noted absence of adverse comment. Despite all the treasures I now had in my life, I still craved my parents’ approval, and their obvious preference for Pearl the religious paragon they revered sometimes still irked me.
Marylin’s second pregnancy didn’t go well. In her sixth month she was confined to bed with a threatened miscarriage, and having to look after two little boys, hold down two part-time jobs as well as a full-time job and care for a sick, pregnant wife in addition to dealing with all the cooking and cleaning left me exhausted. But nothing was too good for my Marylin and I fussed around her like a mother hen, always finding the time to do special, romantic little things like placing flowers on her dinner tray and devising tasty little recipes for her. I remember the day she had a yen for something sweet. All I could find in the kitchen was a packet of Angel Delight. As I whisked it up with a milk in a bowl and watched it turn bright green, I felt quite proud of my culinary ability. I sat on the bed, grinning with pleasure at the expression on Marylin’s face as she ate it all, right down to the very last spoonful – blissfully ignorant of the fact that what I had taken for a smile was, in reality, a grimace of distaste. Poor Marylin – to this day she cannot stand the sight of green Angel Delight!
It also makes me smile now when I think about the midwife who used to call round to check up on Marylin’s progress. How it used to amuse her to see me struggling with a baby under each arm and a vacuum cleaner in one hand. ‘You know,’ she said to me once, ‘you’d make someone a wonderful wife.’ I often wonder what she would say if she could see me now!
However, when Rebecca Louise was finally born on 1 April 1971, Marylin and I had to agree that all the work and the worry had been well worth it. Her birth coincided with my promotion to area manager, a position which carried a salary substantial enough not only to ease our financial burden but also to allow us to move to a larger house. We found just what we were looking for in a small village called Langford, just three miles south-west of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. It was a modern, three-bedroom detached house that boasted a separate lounge, dining room and study, and on the day we moved in I couldn’t help feeling proud of our achievements. At that moment we seemed to have it all.
Looking back now, it seems as if those days were always filled with sunshine, happiness and shared laughter. The children were thriving, Marylin and I were still very much in love and we had our first family holiday to look forward too.
We stayed at Caister Sands, a self-catering holiday village not far from Great Yarmouth. The weather was gloriously hot the entire fortnight and we had a wonderful time building sandcastles on the beach, teaching the twins to swim, flying kites in the park and even taking out first flight around the coast in an aeroplane. No matter how much time we spent together, Marylin and I never became bored with each other. She was intelligent and interesting, and we always had plenty to talk about. The following year we ventured abroad on a camping holiday in Brittany. Here again, we had such a wonderful time together that we decided to repeat the formula, but to journey further afield each year. We drove to the south of France, then Italy, Switzerland, Austria and even Germany. Though it didn’t seem possible, each holiday was better than the one before.
My career at Hoover was going exceedingly well, and after heading up the customer service department I was promoted into marketing, where I discovered that I had natural flair for solving complicated marketing problems and promoting products. The year we planned our German holiday, I was approached by the troubled Pickles organisation which at that time was the sole distributor for ICI gardening and decorative products. The group consisted of three divisions: Pickles, Johnson Wall coverings, and Saga DIY Retail, of which they appointed me to head. With thirty-two stores ranging in size from just 1500 square feet to a virtually unheard-of 82,000 sq. feet which at that time was the largest hypermarket in the UK, it was an irresistible challenge.
Since the warehouses and stores were distributed around the country, I spent a lot of time away from home. My secretary, Leslie, often had to accompany me on business trips; it caused much ribbing from the guys in the office but, as I knew our relationship was totally innocent, I just ignored their rather juvenile remarks. When Leslie left she was replaced by a young girl called Sandra Tree. Sandra was quite tall and attractive, with dark, frizzy hair and such a sweet, shy manner that I was amazed when she told me she was in the Territorial Army. I couldn’t believe that a girl who seemed so innocent, who blushed as easily as she did, could be interested in something like the TA. Pretty soon it was obvious to everyone that Sandra was completely infatuated with me. She’d often come to our house at weekends and we’d sit in the garden discussing business, or talking about the people we had met one of our trips away together. It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong with our friendship, or even that it could be misconstrued by anyone. I was happy with Marylin, and though I was spending more and more time away from home or working late at the office, my reasons for doing so were genuine.