The problem with free lunches is that they don’t have a lot of flavour, or to put it more accurately the don’t taste of anything at all because they don’t exist. Nevertheless we can’t help ourselves, if it looks free, despite the fact that we know full well that it isn’t, we just have to have a go. I guess it’s part of being human, otherwise how would con men manage to make a living. Your inbox will be full of them, some so obvious that you wonder who could be caught, but that’s the point, the con man is looking for someone who can’t even see the obvious, then they are on to a sure thing.
Still, even so...
A letter from my local council invited me to fill in a few questions and then they would assess whether I would be eligible for government money to upgrade my insulation, perhaps replace my boiler or whatever to do with energy consumption.
Now to be honest I wasn’t in need, nor was my house, in fact the previous attempt to get money out of one of these schemes had proved to be a complete waste of time, oh and some money, because by the time you have fulfilled all the requirements and jumped all the hurdles it worked out that you had to use an appointed contractor and he was going to charge you worse than an arm and a leg, they’re the sort of companies that build hospitals and schools, all ‘fixed’, the big boys take it in turns. Anyway, worth having a bit of fun and you just never know. Well you do, but there’s human nature for you...
So I filled out the form with as few lies as I could manage and sent it back. A few days later I had a letter telling me that I was eligible and giving the names of the approved contractors, actually in this case they appeared to be the big energy companies. I called one and after a while someone called back, and gave me an appointment on the following friday for their surveyor to call. Their surveyor, one Sion (it’s pronounced Shawn) Jenkins was inevitably late and I was prepared to be a bit short with him until I opened the door and Sion Jenkins turned out to be...
“Good morning, sorry I’m late,” she held out her hand, “Sioned (pronounced Shawn-ed) Jenkins.”
... a woman! Now don’t get me wrong here, there are lots of women who are surveyors and good luck to them, I love women and I believe in total equality, it’s just that I was expecting a bloke because of the name.
I shook her hand. “Call me Martin. Come in.”
“You were expecting a man.”
“They will call me Sion, it does cause some misunderstandings. Now. What was it you wanted?”
Mmm ... better not say my immediate thoughts! Sioned Jenkins was gorgeous, I’d say late thirties. I always have difficulty describing ladies, you can say like X (fill in your favourite film star or whoever) but even with a full compliment of top quality eyes, nose, lips and teeth all arranged to best advantage Sioned didn’t look like any film star I could think of, but with dark wavy auburn hair to her shoulders and smartly dressed in the sort of casual wear that you’d use for crawling around houses, she had a strong appeal to my ever over active libido. And she had a twinkle in her eye.
Now I guess that a little bit of honesty wouldn’t go amiss here, I knew I was ‘trying it on’, because I had already done most of the work modifying the house and bringing it into the twenty first century. I’d bought the large four bedroomed Edwardian pile in a small village not far from the coast of Cardigan Bay, for a song after the death of the previous owner. I made an offer to the executor which I thought would be rejected out of hand, but it wasn’t, and I ended up with a project which was going to be a bit of a money pit. Maybe the executor knew that. There were thirty seven acres of land with it, and all but four of that was woodland which was why I decided to heat the place with a wood fired boiler, you just stuff it full of wood once a day and it does the rest. There were also a number of outbuildings including what must have been a stable and coach house, don’t get too excited, it would have been a pony and trap, and a sizeable barn. In the main rectangle of the house there were four large rooms on each floor, two on either side of a wide hallway which contained the stairs. Upstairs at the back was the only bathroom, with a corresponding area at the front which was unused. I took all the floors up so that I could install underfloor heating and remodelled both the bathroom and the area at the front to give an en-suite shower room to each bedroom ... There was also a small staircase to two attic rooms which I had done nothing with. On the ground floor my study and the dining room were at the front with the lounge and kitchen at the back. In addition at the back the lounge extended beyond the main house and was complemented by a breakfast room behind the kitchen. In addition there was a cloakroom and a laundry room. But during the upgrade I had missed one thing.
“So that’s the property,” I said when we were back on the ground floor. “What I was hoping for was an oil fired boiler cut into the heating system so that it can be used if I am ill and can’t stoke the boiler.
“No can do,” she replied, “if we add an oil fired boiler we have to disconnect the wood fired one, we can’t do both together. And wood firing is better for underfloor heating. The only thing that might be sensible to add would be an air source heater.”
“Oh well, shame but I thought it was worth a try.”
That twinkle was back and so...
“How about supper?”
I had checked her left hand, well, you do don’t you, clearly no Mr Jenkins, but...
She gave a tinkling laugh.
“It’s a bit early, and I’ve got other appointments.”
“This evening? Say about seven?”
“Unusual. I can make that.”
“I’ll have the champagne on ice too.”
“I have to drive.”
“There’s three spare bedrooms.”
“And yours! I’ll see you at seven.”
Now, exactly what am I getting for supper?
After we’d polished off the champers, the fish stew went down well with a bottle of Sancerre, and the little chocolaty pudding I created was accompanied by a small bottle of ice wine. I’d used the breakfast room for supper, rather more intimate than the main dining room, and after the meal we sitting opposite each other in the lounge with the woodburner crackling nicely, with a cup of Sumatra Mandheling and a glass of armagnac.
During the meal we had been talking about this and that, exchanging views and laughing at the world and now Sioned came out with a complete non sequitur.
“Do you know I have three daughters who are all virgins?”
Now, I did know she had three daughters, because she had told me. but I can only excuse my next words by saying that we had had quite a lot to drink and that that statement had come as a complete surprise.
Sioned looked at me, swirled the last of her armagnac around the glass and drank it.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
She stood and negotiated the coffee table between the settees to practically fall into a clinch with me. Things progressed from there. This evening she had worn a green and flowery two piece, the top with sufficiently deep décolletage to leave me in little doubt that she was not wearing a bra and as I discovered shortly, no knickers either, though she may have slipped them off in the cloakroom. I’m not sure whether stockings and suspenders are the most comfortable thing to sleep in, when we finally slept, but that was what happened when we finally umm ... finished. We indulged again in the morning and after coffee she left.
I decided that I would indulge myself with a full English breakfast, partly to replace the considerable energy I had expended but also to give me time to contemplate what had happened. And let’s be honest because I enjoy it. Not too often though. I wasn’t really doing too much contemplation, other than the superb flavour of the local bacon, dry cured on the farm, the true free range eggs with almost orange yolks, sausages that I made myself, I have to admit to desecrating this with baked beans, but nobody’s perfect and I made up for it with toast made from a perfect sour dough loaf, Normandy butter and a traditional seville orange marmalade made by a local lady called Mrs Pook who makes a range of simply superb preserves, until I poured out my second cup of coffee.
I relaxed back in the chair and patted my somewhat distended centre section. I had really enjoyed entertaining Sioned, and not just for the latter part of the evening either. She was great fun with a quick mind and we certainly gelled together. She had told me about her daughters, the first conceived before her seventeenth birthday with a boy that she certainly didn’t want to marry. She explained that there wasn’t much else to do in the evenings and the result was Angharad, usually known as Hari. Two years later an ‘accident’ with one of the lecturers at college resulted in Bethan. With remarkable precision after a further two years she produced Cariad. She also appeared to be working her way through the alphabet. So she had three children by different fathers, very British, apart from the fact that she was working her way through college at the same time with the help of very understanding parents, not ‘on the social’.
Now all this might make her seem like a slut, in the American vernacular, but to be honest she didn’t come across like that at all. As she said, she didn’t want to marry the first bloke, the second already was, and the third was conceived when she was drugged. After three it was impossible to find any man who wanted her on a permanent basis so she simply gave up and concentrated on her career. The only other question I had was whether I would see her again, after coffee this morning she had said she simply must fly, laid a kiss on me long enough to liven up certain parts and left.
At the end of my second cup of coffee I decided to spend the day out in the woods to use up all the energy I had acquired from breakfast, so I dressed appropriately and went out to the barn and took the quad bike and trailer out to do some work.
When I came back into the house just after five I could hear singing coming from the kitchen. I poked my head round the door and saw a happy lady dressed in jeans and a shirt preparing food. She looked up.
“Hi! I thought I’d return the compliment and cook you a meal tonight.”
“Excellent!” I grinned. “I’ll just have a shower and change and be back with you.”
When I came back down she had a cup of tea ready. To be honest it isn’t something I normally drink, my preferred brew is the juice of a half lemon and a spoonful of honey, but I wasn’t going to complain. Certainly not.
We started supper with some smoked oysters served on slivers of buttered crispy sourdough toast with a glass of gun flint dry entre deux mers, and then switched to a Babich Classic Hawke’s Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon that I just happened to have a couple of cases of. This was with the Boef Stroganoff that Sioned had created with the most scrunchy sautéed potatoes that I have ever had. She is either a woman after my own heart or I had let it slip that I cannot abide rice. Unless it is cooked in milk in an enamelled dish with sugar and topped with nutmeg and lemon zest. However pudding tonight was a tarte tatin with double cream, simple but delightful. We took coffee in the lounge and watched something light and silly on the box until we were overcome with lust.
The next morning after showering and eating a light breakfast, we decided to just spend the day doing not too much and to this end a walk along the beach was a must. We were rather like a couple of teenagers messing about on the beach, eating a portion of chips between us and following it with icecream.
We arrived home at tea time and this time I did the honours.
“I have to make up my mind whether I go home tonight, or leave early tomorrow.”
“Well, I know what I would prefer but it really is up to you, you’re the one who has to work. What about the girls?”
She looked at me. “I’m thirty eight. Hari is twenty one, Bethan nineteen, and Cariad is seventeen. If I don’t turn up for a week all that will happen is that they’ll wonder where I am. Other than that they will survive.”
“No worries then.”
“Not really, but I am their mum, and I’ve never done this before, so they are bound to wonder.”
“You didn’t tell them anything?”
“Only that I was going to stay with a friend.”
“I could be a mad axe murderer or heaven knows what. You really ought to tell them where you are and when you’ll be back.”
“I know, but after twenty one years I am free, I can act like the teenager that I missed being,” she sighed. “But you are right, I’d better call them, and if I’m a bit late in the morning then work will just have to put up with it. Heaven knows the staff I have should be able to sort their week out without me holding their hands all the time”
I could hear a lot of questions being asked on the phone, well I could hear the answers anyway, and those girls were naturally very interested, mother was with a man, we want all the gruesome details. I could hear many of the details being filled in, not too many, but enough to cause me some minor embarrassment.
We decided to go out to the local pub for supper, nothing gourmet but very satisfying and they do serve very good ale. Walking home she said that if she continued eating as she had been this weekend then she was going to become rapidly barrel shaped. Exercise was the obvious answer and we duly retired to bed.
This went on for a month. Sioned lived about an hour and a half’s journey away, not far on the map, but even the main roads in this area are slow, with few opportunities to overtake, so we were limited to weekends, but of course there is the telephone ... It was that fifth weekend when things started to change, not in a bad way though.
Sioned was somewhat pensive that friday evening, something was dampening her usual sparkle.
“Do you want to tell me about it?
She was silent for a few moments.
“The girls want to meet you.”
“I guess that’s fair enough, only natural, they want to check up and see whether I am an axe murderer. They’ll want to stay no doubt. How about next weekend, that’ll give me time to get the other bedrooms furnished.”
But there was something else.
There was a - yes I’ve got to say it - pregnant pause.
“So we’ll need to look for girls names beginning with ‘D’ then.”
She looked at me straight faced for a second and then broke into a grin.
“So you’re not cross?”
“So was I, I hadn’t given it a thought.”
I simply raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t suppose I ever have, have I. I’ve lived like a nun since Cariad was conceived. It isn’t quite how I expected to spend my declining years, but I’m not getting rid of it, it’ll be loved just the same as the other three.”
“A little different, it’ll have a father present this time. And obviously this is why the girls want to meet me.”
“Yes, we are very close, we share every thing, so whatever happens between us they will be involved.”
“Us, hmm ... sounds good to me. D’you think we should, umm...”
“Go and make sure I’m pregnant? That sounds good to me too!”
So we did. More than once.
Saturday we spent looking at and buying furniture and bedding, mostly on line I’m afraid, it is just so much easier. We also did a hell of a lot of talking.
I suppose a word about me would be in order. At the time I was forty two, never married although I had had many girl friends and a couple of longer term relationships, but the right one had never seemed to come along. I had worked as an architect, a thankless task unless you are at the top of the tree, and I wasn’t, probably not really interested. Fortunately for me my father had been very successful as a developer and investor and had amassed a large fortune which he invested offshore. On his death, my mother died a couple of years before him, I inherited the lot. So of course I retired and bought my present house. I wasn’t spending a lot of money and I really didn’t need more money than would cover my day to day expenses, so my income didn’t look very high which is why I thought I just might get away with complying with the requirements to get a different boiler. No, let’s be really honest, I was bored. Bored out of my skull, and running some poor little bugger of a wage slave ragged was just the sort of meanness you get up to when you are that bored. Except that it had kinda backfired. In a really nice kinda way.
I’m sure everyone is thinking, ‘Yeah right, that’s a gold digger if ever I saw one’, and if I’m honest I’ll tell you it did cross my mind, and I can equally say that it crossed very slowly. But she could have no idea of my true worth, and certainly in the beginning she must have thought that I wasn’t too well off because of the circumstances in which we met. Okay, so I wined and dined her well, but not at fabulous expense. Except for the ice wine, that stuff is like liquid gold. So I wasn’t eyes wide shut, they were very much open.
“I don’t want to get married,” she said. “It’s never been necessary before and I don’t see why it would be now.” And she didn’t really know what to do about her job.
“Do you enjoy it?” I asked. Apparently it was pretty good.
“I am assuming that since you haven’t just said ‘goodbye, this is my baby’ you want me to be involved.” Yes she did.
“Do you want to move in with me?” The answer was yes, even though commuting would take up a lot of the day. But she could organise things so that she got all the calls in this area, so that would make things easier.
“What about the girls?” She had her own house, bought and paid for, so they could stay there because they worked locally, well the older two did and Cariad was thinking about it.
“But you are going to miss them.” She broke down in tears.
“Well, what am I going to do?”
“Why don’t we leave a decision until after next weekend, you never know, the girls might hate me on sight.” She didn’t think so, but agreed that that was the best course.
We went to bed that night and just cuddled.
The following week she spent most nights with me. The furniture and bedding we ordered turned up on time, and were put in the other bedrooms, and the beds made up ready for the weekend’s visitors.
They arrived late afternoon on friday. Sioned had Cariad with her and the older two, Angharad, Hari as she was known, and Bethan, came in their own car.
They had dropped their bags and what have you in the hall and had gone into the sitting room when Sioned called me from the kitchen to meet them. That they were a delight to the eye came as no surprise and I was introduced to Hari first. She was almost a spit of her mother, from hair colour to face and figure. Next was Bethan, a tall and willowy blonde, and finally, but certainly not least came Cariad. Easily the shortest, with the round face and big brown eyes that, together with very dark hair, seems to be genetically Welsh.
“So you’re the father of our new sister.” Hari was clearly the leader, but they were all smiling at me. “What do you think girls?”
“Good,” said Bethan, “I approve.”
She looked at Cariad.
Big grin, “Yep, I’m in.”
“Well that’s that then, we all approve, not that there was any doubt, if mother thinks you’re okay then so do we. Besides she’s been walking on sunshine for the past month, almost unbearably happy.”
“Well, thank you ladies. I think. By the way how do you know it’s a girl?”
“Genetically impossible for mother to have anything else.”
I turned to Sioned to find her in a fit of giggles.
“It’ll probably get worse,” she said, when she recovered. “Let’s show them to their rooms and we’ll have a bit of peace for a few minutes to umm...”
“Oh puleeze,” said Hari, hustling her sisters out, “ not in front of the children.”
They disappeared upstairs in gales of laughter.
And that was how the weekend went. They didn’t leave until monday morning when I got a kiss goodbye from each of them. Fortunately their mother was watching, the kisses were not ‘father daughter’ ones!
They invited themselves back the next weekend.
And the next.
In fact they came every weekend.