Just this and two other chapters before the end of November!
Where did the month go!
As I explained yesterday, I shall change chapter publishing from next Monday.
From next Monday I will revert to publishing the range of articles and essays that I have been doing since July 2009. In other words, a new post every day of the week, just as before. But, in addition, I will be releasing three of the forthcoming draft Chapters, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
So if you are not into reading the book, just pass those posts by. If you are, poor soul, then read away to your heart’s content.
Any reactions or comments would be wonderful.
With that, on to the story!
As so today.
Learning from Dogs
It was February 14th, 2007; Valentine’s Day. What would have been his seventh wedding anniversary for him and Maggie. Eight weeks to the day since she had blown his life apart.
Rather than mope on his own, he had decided ahead of time deliberately to arrange something unusual and different for this potentially disturbing day. A chance remark with friend, Julian, who lived in Exeter, revealed that he was a private pilot and, coincidentally, also a single man; his marriage having failed a few years previously. So when Julian offered to fly Philip and him to Guernsey for lunch he could hardly believe his luck. It turned out to be a wonderful experience even when soon after climbing out from Exeter Airport Philip was blown away by the incredible views of the broad reaches of the English Channel and the Atlantic way beyond. Julian demonstrated the remarkable ease with which two people can travel to a place in a light aircraft, in this case an island no less, enjoy a few hours of food and fresh air, and be back home in not a lot longer than it would have taken a ferry to steam one-way from Poole in Dorset to Guernsey. Philip had often wondered what becoming a private pilot would be like and Julian’s generous gift had triggered a little thought that maybe, once the crap of the divorce was behind him, he might enrol in flying lessons.
Thus upon their return to Exeter Airport and later when Philip collected Pharaoh from Sandra’s kennels and set off home to Harberton he felt good that he had not succumbed to the regrets of his lost relationship with Maggie, that could so easily have hung over this day.
Back home, with both him and Pharaoh fed and watered, fire burning brightly, he reflected on the past sixty days. It had been an incredible roller-coaster of feelings, moods and emotions.
At the root of Maggie’s unfaithfulness had been her longing for another child. Her first child, a daughter, had chosen to go and live with her father before Maggie and Philip had met. He knew that Maggie had been conscious that her child-bearing years were almost over. He guessed that with him having had that vasectomy so long ago, and being significantly older than her, that Maggie had been drawn elsewhere.
It didn’t lessen his anger towards her, not in the slightest, because he truly believed that trust was fundamental to any relationship and trust was impossible without the openness of one’s concerns and worries.
That day after the terrible day of December 20th, Philip had rung Diana, his elder half-sister; James’ mother. He explained what had happened. Her reply was immediate and all and much more than Philip had expected. Diana told him to put some things together and to come straight over to the house, with Pharaoh of course. Philip replied by asking if it would be alright with John, her husband, to which Diana had simply told him not to worry, she would speak with John and to come across now.
So that’s just what Philip did later that Thursday afternoon. Leading to him spending eight days of being loved and cared for by Diana and John. He had known them for more years than he cared to remember. In fact, Diana and her sister, Rhona, who died a few years previously, were the primary reasons why Philip had settled down in South Devon after returning to England from overseas in the early 1990s.
Luckily, Diana and John’s house and small-holding, just up the lane from Littlehempston, was only six miles from Harberton so it had been easy for Philip to pop back home to pick up clothes and food for Pharaoh over the Christmas period. Pharaoh thought that every one of those days over with Diana and John was Christmas Day!
He didn’t have that talk with Maggie the day after she went to her parents and, frankly, he wasn’t bothered. All that mattered was getting his mind around this new phase of his life that had been thrust upon him and, in his own time, moving on to Plan B, as it were, whatever that turned out to be.
Which, in a very real sense, was what Philip was musing over that evening back home after his Valentine’s Day flight and lunch with Julian in Guernsey.
When he had first spoken with Julian back in January and the idea of the flight had been mentioned, Julian had also recommended avoiding person-to-person contact with Maggie. His argument was that the wounds would more quickly heal by appointing a solicitor to handle the legal separation and eventual divorce, than having to have continued contact with Maggie. That’s what he had done.
But there was one aspect that did not hang easily over Philip; that of what to do with the house. He was torn. It was a lovely converted stone barn in a popular South Devon village. If he stayed there, inevitably there would be some pay-out due to his ex and that galled him, seriously so, as it had been ninety percent of his money that had paid for the house. He resolved to go and talk to some estate-agents in Totnes over the coming days to see if that made the decision of to sell or not to sell easier.
It turned out to be the next day. He had run into Totnes in the morning to pick up some food from Safeway, then walked the short distance to Fore Street at the bottom of town. It had been ages since he had looked through the windows of an estate agent, at the many panels advertising properties for sale, and he just couldn’t believe his eyes. The prices were astronomical. It was the same in all the agents’ windows: Rendells; Fulfords; Michelmore Hughes; Luscome Maye. Curiosity overcame him. On the way back down Fore Street he went into Fulfords and was quickly seen by a eager young, slick-haired sales assistant. Philip explained where he lived and that he was curious as to the current price. The young man asked him to remain seated and went across to speak to someone whom Philip presumed was one of the partners. They both returned to the desk where Philip was sitting.
“Hello, my name is Jeremy Stanton and I’m a partner here at Fulfords. How may I assist you?”
“Jeremy, my name is Philip, Philip Stevens, and I live in Harberton, in Tristford Barn in the cul-de-sac just off Tristford Road.”
“Yes, I know where you are. Isn’t your house that old, converted stone barn that overlooks the other properties around you? That beautiful barn, to my eyes anyway?” replied Jeremy.
“Yes, that’s the place. I purchased the barn privately from the owner who did the conversion, bought it back in 1999, and just wondered what it might be worth these days.”
Jeremy paused for a moment, “Oh, wasn’t that Barry Williams who did the conversion?”
Philip was impressed.
Jeremy indicated to him that they both go to a small room towards the rear of the open floor area.
“Philip, would you like a coffee or tea?”
“Well a tea would go down very nicely.”
Jeremy stepped outside the room for a couple of minutes and to Philip’s great surprise came back with a couple of mugs that obviously held freshly-made tea, not of either the instant or machine variety.
“I made us a couple of mugs of the proper tea. Can’t abide the instant stuff.”
Philip took a careful sip from his mug. The tea was hot to his lips yet very welcome.
“So Philip, you purchased the barn in 1999, I guess going on for eight years ago now. Do you mind telling me what you paid for it?”
“I paid one hundred and sixty thousand pounds, that I’m pretty sure was a little over the odds at the time. But, as I’m sure you know, properties in Harberton don’t often come on to the market especially a converted stone barn right in the middle of the village.”
“Philip, I couldn’t agree more. Now, of course, we would need to come over and take a look in order to give you a more accurate estimate but I would say that today’s price, especially in these times of significant demand for village properties, won’t be far off five hundred thousand pounds.”
The look on Philip’s face as he heard that estimate from Jeremy said it all. He was staggered.
“I had no idea that prices had risen to that level.”
“So, Philip, do you want us to come over to Harberton and give you a detailed analysis and estimate?”
Philip could hardly quieten his mind and stammered out, “Er, er, yes, I suppose so. No, sorry, of course you should come out. That would be very helpful.”
They settled on a date, the coming Saturday, just the day after tomorrow.
Later that afternoon, when out walking with Pharaoh, he thought more about his future. It seemed to be pretty clear to him that selling Tristford Barn made a huge amount of sense. There were strong and persistent rumours that property prices were overdue for a correction, that selling the barn would allow him to settle with Maggie and pocket a tidy amount of cash while he worked out where his life was going. Going on to reflect that if it turned out that it might be a while before he bought another house, then the present savings rates would reduce the pain, big time, of paying for rented accommodation. That last thought of his being immediately tempered by Pharaoh barking at something up in the trees; squirrels most likely. Of course, renting somewhere dog-friendly might be a challenge. The thought then crossed his mind as to whether the place that he had been renting over at Diptford, before he and Maggie had bought Tristford Barn, might be available and, more importantly, would they accept a dog; after all it had been a farm property with sheep and livestock. Upper Holsome Farm, that was it. What was the woman’s name?
As he drove back home her name came to him. It was Liz Jones, of course. He recalled how she had explained that her husband had died from a tragic tractor accident back in 1990 and Liz had decided to keep the farm running but to let out a wing of the main house to ensure some steady money coming in.
Liz’s phone rang a few times before it was answered.
“Hi, is that Liz?”
“Yes. My goodness, is that you Philip? How are you?”
Philip summarised what had happened over the past couple of months.
“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. Gracious, it only seems like yesterday that I was at your wedding at Harberton Church.”
“Liz, it was seven years ago yesterday. Anyway, moving on. I’m kicking around the idea of selling Tristford Barn and perhaps renting somewhere while I take stock of things. So just wondered if you were still renting out your rooms. But, Liz, it wouldn’t be just for me. I now have a beautiful German Shepherd dog: Pharaoh. He’s the love of my life. He’s four this coming June. So I didn’t know, assuming you are still letting your rooms, whether or not a dog could be included.”
Liz’s reply was direct. “For God’s sake, Philip, this is still a working farm and you’ll will remember the dogs we have here. Of course your dog would be welcome.”
Philip felt a ray of emotional sunshine lighting him up. Pharaoh sensed it as well, coming over to where Philip was sitting with the phone and laying his head across Philip’s leg, so typical a gesture for him. What a sensitive dog he was.
“That’s fantastic. Let me see how things develop but whatever, I’ll stay in touch, Liz.”
“Yes, please do. I have a professional woman in the rooms at present. She’s something to do with Plymouth Hospital. But, as it happens, it wasn’t that long ago that she was saying to me that she might be facing a job move during the year. I’ll quietly sound her out. Oh, and Philip, the best of luck. You’re a good man and it will all turn out fine, trust me.”
“Thank you, Liz, thank you so much. Will be in touch.”
And with that Philip rang off, stroked Pharaoh’s soft warm head and felt a whole lot more contented than he had done for quite a while.
Again the evening, after he had made a meal for himself and fed Pharaoh, was a time for more inner reflection. One of the things that had been troubling him was the incredibly intense emotional reaction that he had had to Maggie’s announcement of her miscarriage back that last December.
When he had been staying with Diana over Christmas, they had had long talks about their father and the consequences of his death all those years ago. Diana had said to Philip that while she had been aware of the trauma it must have caused him, she had never shared with him her concerns about the long-term possible emotional consequences. The suddenness of their father’s death, the way he must have felt shut out from everything, even though she had no doubt that everyone was doing their best to protect him.
Philip knew that Diana had been stirring up some deep feelings because of the way he had such trouble even listening to her words. So, as he sat before the warm wood stove, Pharaoh fast asleep on the rug before him, he thought that now might be a good time to seek some personal counselling. The last thing he wanted to do was to carry baggage, known or unknown, into the next phase of his life. He resolved to call Jonathan Atkins in the morning.
2,337 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover