Chapter 1

A new life! At forty four years of age, I was sitting in my new garden outside my new cottage, pondering the recent changes to my life. I say new, the original part of the house was almost two hundred years old, but what I mean is new to me.

A few months ago I was a typical divorced bloke, living in the northern end of the English Midlands, in the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Situated about halfway between Birmingham and Manchester, The Potteries was a unique area. Midlanders called us Northern and Northerners called us Southern. The local dialect, one of the hardest to understand in the country, was almost lost now, gone with all the jobs the area had once supported.

I considered myself as the top end of working class, living as I did in a large detached house and running my own company. Many said that this made me middle class but I always pointed out that I had worked all my life, as had my parents, and that my business employed just one person; me. I always told them to catch me leaving work, covered in sawdust or reeking of varnish, then tell me I'm not working class.

Seven years ago I'd discovered that my wife of fifteen years was having an affair. They say that love and hate are actually very close and I was one of those that crossed that line. The divorce was messy as she tried to claim cruelty, both physical and mental, but fortunately the judge believed me, probably helped when my our children testified on my behalf and my wife's venomous outrage at each of them as they gave evidence.

It took three years before I was able to trust a woman again and guess what, it turned out that she was keeping three other men on the go as well as me. After that short episode, I withdrew even further. I still dated occasionally, as I loved the company of women, but I never let it get remotely serious. Many of these 'relationships' ended acrimoniously when I wouldn't commit, even after I had made my intentions clear from the off.

A sudden shrill sound brought me back to the present. A bird of some kind was singing in the tree at the end of the garden. This was something I was not used to. Living in the city, wildlife consisted of pigeons and the occasional urban fox. Here I was surrounded by nature, birds of all sizes and colours visited daily. I kept meaning to get a book and actually learn what they were but hadn't yet got around to it. Rolling countryside was yards away rather than miles, animal sounds more frequent than mechanical ones. It had taken a few weeks to get used to, but I now loved it.

Even Aggie, ( http://aggpup.redbubble.com/sets/124289/works/5091561-1-aggie ) my border collie, had stopped chasing every bird that landed in HER garden. She was enjoying the change of scenery and pace even more than I was. Her walks were on grass and soil rather than concrete and asphalt and god knows how much better the smells were for her. I smiled as I watched her lying a few feet away, with her head on her paws guarding her new territory.

I'd bought her as a puppy the day my divorce was final and she spent almost all of her time with me since. My business is as a boat builder or to be more precise a narrowboat builder. I buy in a steel shell and convert it into a luxury boat for touring our great inland waterways or even a boat to be lived on permanently. This meant that I had to do all the electrics, plumbing including gas, mechanics and of course a high level of carpentry, almost cabinet maker level. These skills, I knew, would come in handy in maintaining this old house. One of the big advantages of what I do was that I could work almost anywhere and, on occasion, had. Aggie thought it was a great job too, as she went with me from the first day. Her cute face combined with the fact that she was a complete softie, actually helped clinch a few deals for me.

As usual lately, my mind was straying. I had come out here to work out some kind of a schedule for the myriad of little jobs that needed to be done. A new kitchen and bathroom were the only major jobs that were required when I moved in and the former was already completed. Of course it helped that because of my business, I already had all the right tools.

This house move was a surprise, even to me as it had been very much spur of the moment. Uncle Jim, my mother's brother, had always been a favourite of mine. As a child I'd loved his bizarre sense of humour and his outlandish dress sense. It was only when I was in my teens that I realised that this was because he was gay, although he always refused to use that word. He always maintained that gay meant happy and for him growing up as a homosexual man in the forties and fifties was by no means a happy thing. He described himself a queer or a queen though most frequently 'as bent as a nineteen bob note'. {a bob was a shilling or a twentieth of a pound, so it was like saying as odd as a 95cent note}

During my youth, I'd been in more than one fight because of what some schoolboy had said about him. They usually only ever said things once, at least in my hearing. I'd never seen him with another man and I used to spend quite a lot of my free time in his company, nor did he once make any untoward move to me or my friends. Fifteen years ago he'd moved to the warmer climes of Dorset and bought this beautiful cottage. As often happens when marriage and kids come along, I'd neglected him since and had only been to visit twice in those fifteen years, albeit the last time had been just after I'd kicked my adulterous wife out and I'd stayed down here just over a month.

Jim had died four months previously and to my surprise, I was his only heir. The house and all its contents along with a modest sum all came my way. When I realised all this, I also acknowledged that my life in Stoke was in the Doldrums. All my kids had left, not only home but, the area as well, my eldest son ending up in New Zealand. My other son was in the Big Smoke (London) prostituting himself as an investment banker, whilst my daughter and her husband had moved to Cornwall.

Almost on a whim I put my big empty house on the market and planned the move to Dorset. I finished the boat I was working on and told both of the other customers that had already ordered about the move. Neither were at all bothered, as they were both from the South of England anyway.

So here I was, mortgage free and with Uncle Jim's bequest and the proceeds from the sale of my house, reasonably well off. One decision I had made was to halve the boats I was prepared to build each year from four to two. That, and an agreement with one of the local farmers about renting some land and outbuildings, was about as far as I'd got regarding plans. The next shell was due there in ten days.

'Come on girl, ' I said to Aggie, 'time for your walk.'

Aggie wasn't the brightest thing on four legs, but she recognised that word and was bouncing around me before I could even get out of my chair. I looked down at her and noticed how long the grass was already. Was it me or did it actually grow quicker down here?

As usual I picked up my Nikon D300 as well as Aggie's lead. She didn't really need it and for most of our walks never had it on even once. On the off chance of meeting other dogs or sheep, I always took it anyway. The camera was for the fabulous landscapes that surrounded this bit of Dorset.

Forty minutes later we were one hundred feet or more above the valley where my new home was, walking along the ridge that looked over the village. The well worn path and well oiled gates was a sign of its popularity amongst locals. The surrounding scenery in its green and gold was just stupendous. ( http://aggpup.redbubble.com/sets/120950/works/1409204-2-fields-of-gold )

As normal, Aggie covered ten miles to my one and was here and there checking out new scents and any movement. In the distant I spotted a solitary figure walking towards me. I called Aggie to heel and got the lead ready. Sure enough a few moments later a chocolate Labrador appeared and ran to the walker. Aggie is usually fine with other dogs and I knew that Labs are usually passive too but I still put her lead on, just in case.

As we neared each other I could tell that it was a young woman or even just a girl.

'Is she nasty then?' The youngster, having seen me put the leash on, asked as we reached it other.

'No, she's fine. I just don't like taking chances.' I explained.

'Well let her go then. It is a her isn't it?'

I nodded as I bent down to unfasten Aggie, who promptly ran off to the Lab for the compulsive sniff of each other. That done they both bounded off together.

'Haven't seen you around before, are you just visiting the area?' The girl, whose age I put at about eighteen to twenty, asked politely.

'No. I've just moved into Brook Cottage.'

'Ah! The old pervert's place.'

I bristled. 'Uncle Jim was NOT a pervert. He was a wonderful man who just happened to be gay, ' I said sharply. 'Aggie!' I then cried as I walked away from the surprised girl.

As I'd expected my call did little to change my dog's behaviour, but walking away did and she soon caught up with me, the Lab quickly forgotten. I wished that I could forget the encounter just as easily but I couldn't and so with my mood spoilt, I headed back home. It still felt strange to consider the cottage as home. As I approached the cottage I couldn't help but appreciate the splendour of the village I'd ended up in. The village was made up of about ninety homes, mainly on the main, but not too busy, road that ran down the valley. As none of the properties had been built after 1900, it had a timeless feel to it.

If the girl's attitude was anything to go by then the people may not be great but the houses and gardens were. I particularly loved the small white cottage opposite me, with its picturesque thatched roof. My roof was slate, which whilst not as pretty to look at, was a damn sight easier to maintain, plus I looked out more often than in.

Once I got back, I started on whittling down my list of household chores. The last of these for the day was chopping wood for the wood-burning stove that sat in the huge inglenook fireplace and heated the cottage and its water system. This was one job that I was not used to, yet I found it strangely relaxing. Having worked up quite a thirst I decided to give the local pub a try. Although I generally preferred a good wine, I was also a fan of traditional ales when in the mood, and after all that chopping I was really up for a pint or two.

I decided against taking Aggie with me, though I did intend to check at the pub to find out if dogs were allowed. The look of betrayal that she gave me as I closed the door on her made me laugh. I knew that I spent more than enough time with her to feel guilty. If I stayed in then she would only curl up in front of the fire or in her basket.

The pub, The Falconer, was a traditional British pub. Originally a coaching inn of the seventeenth century it now seemed to rely on food to survive. Fortunately, they had enough room to separate the bar from the diners. Almost immediately I was inside, I knew that I would have to take care if I ever decided to have a session here. At six foot six inches tall, I was an inch or so higher than all the beams and doorways. Head bent over, I walked up to the small bar and looked at what beers were on offer. I was glad to see that they had a number of guest ales, which meant a variety throughout the year. Waiting for the bar staff to appear I decided on a pint of Hobgoblin. This was already a favourite of mine and would help me judge how well the beer were kept.

As I was waiting a woman came up to the bar. Without being too interested, I could tell she was a blonde, average build and about a foot shorter than me.

A few seconds later a barmaid appeared. She looked at the woman and totally ignoring me, asked what she wanted. It was when I looked at her in amazement that I realised it was the same girl who I'd met earlier. I was about to walk out in disgust but decided to wait.

'Before you serve this lady, could you please fetch the landlord, ' I asked curtly.

'Can't it wait until I have been served?' The woman demanded loudly.

'Why should I wait for you to be served when you weren't bothered to wait?' I asked.

'Kelly is my daughter, ' she said angrily, nodding at the barmaid.

'And?'

'What's up?' I heard a deep gruff voice say from behind me.

I turned round and saw a short rotund man, probably in his late fifties. His ruddy complexion suggested farming, or at least some sort of outdoor life.

'This rude man is the problem Seth, ' the older woman said.

He looked at me for an explanation, which I had no intention of giving him until I at least knew who he was. 'You are?' I requested.

'It's my name over the door, ' he answered gruffly.

'All right then. I had been waiting about five minutes to be served when this woman came up to the bar. A few seconds later the barmaid came and ignoring me, she asked what the woman wanted. I was not happy about that and asked to see the landlord.'

'Well that's me. I can't see what the problem is. She's local and you're not... '

'Stop there, ' I ordered. 'I am local now, Brook Cottage to be precise, but this will never be my local with that sort of attitude. Even in the city we know our manners. I always believed country folk were better than that but I was obviously wrong.'

'Well you are banned.'

I was fuming when I walked out without another word from me, although I could hear the woman congratulating the landlord.

I'd calmed down only slightly by the time I got home but the joyful greeting I got soon cheered me up. 'Looks like wine or bottled beer for me now, ' I told my attentive dog.

I then heard a knock at the door. Too much of a coincidence to be anything other than related to the pub incident. I opened the door and saw three people, two women and one man.

'Hello, I'm Tim Parsons and we're here to apologise for the welcome you got at the pub, ' the man, who looked just a bit younger than me, said.

'Come in. Don't mind the dog, the worst she'll do is lick you to death.'

Once we were in the small room that was my living area the introductions continued.

'My wife Sheila and her sister Elizabeth.'

'David Powell, ' I said shaking hands with each in turn.

'We saw what happened and we don't want you to think that the whole village is like that. Stella Douglas, that's the woman at the pub, is ... how can I best put this?' Tim said.

'She's a slag!' added his wife. 'Although she comes from around here, she moved away when she had to get married. She only came back when her mother died a few years ago. Since then she has been trying out as many of the village men that will have her.'

'Fortunately, that's not many, ' interjected her sister.

'Right, ' continued the elder sister, or at least she looked and acted the eldest. 'When Seth Smith bought the pub a couple of years ago, she set out to snare him. Now Seth is not the nicest person around but he's not stupid. He knows exactly what Stella is up to and takes advantage of it. Kelly is a chip off the old block.'

'True, how she's never got pregnant herself is a miracle, ' Tim said.

'Still, at least she keeps the local lads away from the good girls, ' Sheila laughed. As with many people, Sheila's laugh changed her face completely. Where before I'd seen a plain woman, I could now see some beauty there.

'Anyway, ' said Tim, 'those three are the exception around here, it's just a shame that Seth runs the only pub within walking distance.'

I nodded before unconsciously voicing my thoughts. 'Pity I don't have a bit more space or I'd turn this place into a bar.'

'How could you do that? Don't you need a licence for that?' Asked Tim.

'You only need a licence to SELL alcohol. If a group of people chip in to buy some drinks and then share them, then there is no problem. I used to do it for parties all the time. Obviously you can't have it open all the time but if you can find somewhere big enough you could agree on opening times, say Friday and Saturday evenings and maybe Sunday lunch. Again you would have to be careful who you let in.'

'Actually that could work at Jane's, ' Sheila said.

'Okay for you ladies, but what about us men and our ale?' grumbled Tim good-naturedly.

I had an answer for that too. 'You can buy barrels of all sizes and we used to use a stirrup type of pump to extract it. I actually prefer that to many pub beers because it doesn't use carbon dioxide to pour the beer.'

'That sounds like the outlines of a plan. Leave it with us, ' said Sheila, before changing the subject completely. 'Are you married or gay like Jim?'

I smiled. 'Neither I'm afraid.'

Elizabeth asked, 'why afraid?'

'The former means no wife to join your ladies' circles, the latter, nothing to gossip about.'

All three laughed. 'You got that about right, ' commented Tim.

Sheila looked at her sister. 'A tall, dark, handsome single man will get the gossip going, to say nothing of a few hearts, including yours I'd guess.'

Elizabeth blushed and looked at her sister angrily.

'Tall, I'll grant. Dark, well the hair was once before I had the salt and pepper look, but handsome, never.' I laughed.

I already felt comfortable with these three so offered to open a bottle of wine. They declined saying that they had left friends in the pub and had better get back.

Once they'd left I sat down in Jim's old rocking chair and contemplated the last hour. Living here was maybe not as bad as I'd thought when I'd left the pub. Aggie's movements distracted me and I watched her try to settle. She hadn't got used to me on a rocking chair and was still trying to find the best place to lie that enabled her to touch me. She needed that contact just in case I tried to run away or do something interesting whilst she slept.

Well, I'll just have to see what the next week brings, I thought.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Heterosexual / Slow /