Thursday, 3 February 2011

Living in a Shed

During the course of my first marriage, we moved around a lot. My husband worked as a record department manager in WHSmith and the only way to progress in his career was to be promoted to a bigger department in a bigger branch. Between 1985 and 1991 we moved from Bristol, to Bath, to Bracknell - our journey through life dictated by square footage allocated to purveyance of vinyl.

He was good at his job, proudly boasting that he could memorise all the unique album codes of every LP he stocked, and dedicated himself to his work. It was during his service at Bracknell, however, that his abrasive personality rubbed the wrong people up the wrong way. Regardless of the tightness of his stock control, his eye for a trend and his obsessive organisational ability, if people skills are lacking, it is going to catch up with you eventually - especially in a role where customer interfacing is critical to the service you provide.

It was clear that his current career path had just hit a brick wall.

By pure chance, this unfortunate turn of events coincided with the emergence of an exciting retail development - the stationery superstore. He saw an advert in the paper looking for people interested in being involved in a start up opportunity for a brand new superstore, Office World. He applied. His manager at Smiths gave a glowing reference - leaving to start a new venture would eliminate the need for  a messy dismissal case. He got the job. We moved again. To Northampton.

He threw himself into his work with his usual commitment. If friends ever asked him the question "What are you doing now?" - they would regret it. He would launch himself into a long, detailed and very dry description of stationery superstore retailing and his vital role in the business. His passion for every boring little detail was such that people would go away with the impression that he owned the company.

His commitment and skill set were obviously recognised by his superiors, along maybe with his brusque manner that had caused him the problems before. He was offered a position at head office as a buyer where bluntness and arrogance could work in your favour, securing you a better deal.

Another move. This time to Reading.

Every time we relocated it was an opportunity to go our separate ways. We did not have a happy, loving marriage. I dreamed or starting over without him but dreams turned to nightmares with the paralysing fear of the unknown, the shame of admitting my failure to make my marriage work and the worry that I would not be able to cope with everything that being a single parent entails.

Every time, the lure of more money, a better home and a fresh start tipped the balance in favour of staying with him and making the best of things.

I spent many of the years of my marriage in a fog of depression and many more on my own as he stayed in hotels during the week to start his new job while I was left behind until the house sale could be finalised and we could purchase a new property in our new location. I found it very hard to invest emotionally in any of our 'homes'. We moved about so much that there was no time to put down roots.

This time it was different. A head office job represented stability. Moving up the career ladder only meant moving to a bigger desk. I had two children by now and I wanted them to have a proper home. I loved the house we bought in a small village with a small village school. The children settled down beautifully, I made  friends, I would sometimes cry with joy as my house came into view when I was driving home. I had never really experienced such a feeling of belonging. I immersed myself in village life. I had two more babies.

Were my husband and I happy? I suppose we had our moments but 'happy' is a strong word.

We lived there for 6 years.

I'm not even sure what happened with the head office job and why it came to an end. It may have been to do with a buy out. I've just googled 'Office World' and it doesn't seem to exist anymore as I knew it.

The Office World job was a start up - his next job was at the opposite end of the life of a business. He went to work for the dying company, Tandy (retailers of cheap electronics), with the sole intention of easing their journey to the grave, tying up the loose ends and minimising the impact of their demise. I think a carrot was dangled of being able to raise a money spinning phoenix from the Tandy ashes that would set him up financially for life. If the phoenix ever materialised, he was not included.

The fact that I can't even remember what the circumstances were that led to this move is an indication of how distant I was from my husband - how disinterested I was in the one thing that he was passionate about - his work. I had my kids, he had his work, his work supported my kids. There was a dependency but no love. I really had no intention of uprooting my family from a place that felt like home and from friends who would support me.

The Tandy job was in the Midlands. House prices were considerably lower there than where we currently resided. Within easy commuting distance was the beautiful rural county of Shropshire. When I was made aware of the sort of house we could buy with our money, I was amazed. I could move from our three bed semi on a busy road into a five bedroomed detached cottage with big garden on a country lane surrounded by fields. I fell in love with the idea of the life I could have there.

We moved.

Once the Tandy dream ended, my husband started working for a Portuguese company called Enabler (I joked that it sounded like a vibrator - he NEVER joked about work). Ironically, they were based in Reading where we had moved from but he worked on site with the client developing software solutions for retailers. He worked in London and then in Scunthorpe, staying in hotels during the week and travelling home to be with the family at weekends. I also used to joke about who put the **** in S****horpe, but oddly enough, he didn't find that amusing either. We grew steadily more distant. Later he would begin an affair with his much younger Portuguese co-worker, adopting the Portuguese persona of Manuel da Silva and telling his own children that they were too pale and should get out in the sun more!

I don't regret moving to Shropshire. I have been here for 10 years now. It is a beautiful place and although I no longer have my country home, I love the roomy townhouse I share with my new husband.

Finally, I get to the point of my story.

Today, my husband is waiting for news that could mean we have to relocate. Despite the fact that I love my home, my children are settled and I have family and friends here, there is absolutely no question about whether or not I would uproot and move to be with him, to support his career choices and to remake our family life together.

I love moments like this where my new life contrasts so strongly with my old life. Whether or not we have to move this time is irrelevant. What matters to me is the conviction I have that wherever we end up we will make it work for us and be happy.

I adore my husband. I joke that I would live in a shed as long as we were together and if I have to put that claim made in jest to the ultimate test, then so be it.

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