Looking back on an event, you often realise how important it was while, at the time it doesn’t seem so. My wedding day, the birth of my children, becoming a partner in my law firm, passing my finals: these were all important in and of themselves – a sort of holy trinity of importance – you knew they were going to be important, they were and, in retrospect, they have remained so.
Yet each of these events was the culmination of a process. My wedding followed a long courtship (how Jane Austen). I met the current Mrs Le P at a law fair in October 1976; the wedding was May 1984. But even that original meeting depended on my being at that particular university at that pint doing that degree so the defining moment had to be before that – completing my UCCA form in 1974 perhaps; passing my A levels; acquiring a place on that course?
Not it was further back than any of those. Undoubtedly choosing Bristol and choosing law involved more than one influence but both components were the outcome of Bob a Job week in the spring of 1971.
Bob a Job was a Boy Scout event which inflation and health and safety zealots ruined. The idea was as a Scout you offered yourself to do small jobs for a Bob, a shilling in old pre 1971 money, 5 pence these days. I don’t know when the price was set – probably when the Scouts were founded after the Boer War, in 1903 or whatever. Anyway, by 1971 it was just a label for raising funds for your Scout troop – or it should have been – one old sod offered me a shilling for scraping mold off his caravan. He was the exception and Dad was livid but as with a lot of Dad’s ‘this is appalling’ moments it didn’t translate into anything as constructive as telling the old boy where to stuff it.
Anyway, one job I secured that Easter was to do some gardening for a friend of Mum’s – Iris Gosling . Iris and Mum were what were known as stalwarts of the local Woman’s Institute in much the same way that Kim Jong-un is a stalwart of the North Korean government.
Mrs Gosling paid well, beyond a bob anyway and was impressed that I said it would all go to the Scouts. She liked my ‘ethic’ – I remember her saying exactly that and not having the first clue what she meant beyond she was pleased with me. She offered me a regular job, two to three hours on either a Saturday or Sunday gardening. I think I was paid half a crown an hour – that’s 25 pence today. It seemed a good deal to me especially as Sundays tended to be filled with homework and home chores for which the rate of pay was zero.
Mrs Gosling lived with her husband, a bluff hearty lopsided man in an enormous house and an even bigger garden, on the corner of Silver Steeet and Vaggs Lane in Hordle in Hampshire – Silver Thatch, I think. With luck that lovely blogger Derrick Knight who does me a great service by living about a mile from here and regularly stirring memories of my youth with his sumptuous pictures – you can view him here – will post a picture of the house sometime!
Over the next four years until I went to University I worked for Mrs Gosling and learnt a lot about gardening and life. The ‘life’ bit came from David her son and his various and varied girlfriends.
David was in his twenties, a qualified solicitor who appeared to be having the time of his life and most of it spent with a range of gorgeous women. To me he was an exotic who saw his legal career as no more than a way of earning the money and respectability that would allow him access to some beautiful people and interesting times. He had done a law degree at Bristol University. If he could and end up with such an epicurean lifestyle, then it followed I could too.
Such is the naïveté of youth. I lost contact with David a while back and doubt he will read this blog. Were he to do so then thank you old fruit for unwittingly being the cause of my life’s most defining moment. I owe you a curry.