As one always does, we thought of ourselves as immortal, so Sam's coronary at the age of fifty-two came like a bolt from the blue. With doctors warning of another one being imminent if he didn't change a lifestyle which involved too much travelling,too much entertaining of clients and too little exercise, we returned to England in the summer of '99 with no employment and a couple of boys in their late teens who had never seen their homeland.
For no particular reason except that we'd spent our honeymoon in Dorset in '76, we decided to rent an old farmhouse near Dorchester which I found among the property ads in the Sunday Times before weleft Cape Town. The idea was to have an extended summer holiday while we looked around for somewhere more permanent to settle. Neither of us had connections with any particular part of England. My husband's parents were dead and my own parents had retired to the neighbouring county of Devon and the balmy climate of Torquay. We enrolled the boys at college for the autumn and set out to rediscoverour roots. We'd done well during our time abroad and there was no immediate hurry for either of us to find a job. Or so we imagined.
The reality was rather different. England had changed [...] during the time we'd been abroad, strikes were almost unknown, the pace of life had quickened dramatically and there was a new widespread affluence that hadn't existed in the 70s. We couldn'tbelieve how expensive everything was, how crowded the roads were, how difficult it was to find a parking space now that 'shopping' had become the Brits' favourite pastime. Hastily the boys abandoned us for their own age group. Garden fetes and village cricket were for old people. Designer clothes and techno music were the order of the day, and clubs and theme pubs were the places to be seen,particularly those that stayed open into the early hours to show widescreen satellite feeds of world sporting fixtures.
"Do you get the feeling we've been left behind?" Sam asked glumly at the end of our first week as we sat like a couple of pensioners on the patio of our rented farmhouse, watching some horses graze in a nearby paddock.
"By the boys."
"No. Our peers. I was talking toJock Williams on the phone today" - an old friend from our Richmond days - "and he told me he made a couple of million last year by selling off one of his businesses." He pulled a wry face. "So I asked him how many businesses he had
left, and he said, only two but together they're worth ten million. He wanted to know what I was doing so I lied through my teeth."
I took time towonder why it never seemed to occur to Sam that Jock was as big a fantasist as he was, particularly as Jock had been trumpeting ‘mega-buck sales’ down the phone to him for years but had never managed to find the time - or money? - to fly out for a visit. "What did you say?"
"That we'd made a killing on the Hong Kong stock market before it reverted to China and could afford to take earlyretirement. I also said we were buying an eight-bedroom house and a hundred acres in Dorset."
"Mm." I used my foot to stir some clumps of grass growing between the cracks in the patio which were symptomatic of the air of tired neglect that pervaded the whole property. "A brick box on a modern development more likely. I had a look in an estate-agent's window yesterday and anything of any...