When Peter met Penny
It was 1969 and my Mother was still living in Toronto, Canada and working as an air hostess, but that summer, she decided to jet back home to England and visit her family.
She was her ideal weight of 8stone 8pounds (123pounds) standing at 5’5” surviving on coffee, fruits, protein and cottage cheese and her skin was finally acne free! My Mother was becoming increasingly homesick and at times torn between loving the bachelorette life, and then wondering if she was letting her parents down by being behind her peer’s in meeting Mr. Right and starting a family.
Her younger sister Alison was engaged earlier that year. Alison’s fiancé Tony was best friends with my Dad, Peter, they had known one another since the age of 5. Tony’s first memory of my Father was him wearing a traditional Lederhosen outfit, styled by my very proper German Grandmother, Edith.
Now Tony and my Father, were 22 years old and it was summer of ’69 and Tony had an idea! He asked my Father,
‘how about we go up to London on a double date? I’d love to introduce you to Alison’s sister, Penny, she’s a great looking girl!’
‘Oh, I don’t know, I s’pose we could’ was my Dad’s less enthused reply.
I could not help wondering, was my Dad still missing Sally? Was he devastated that she did not want to commit to him after their long teenage romance that lasted until only recently?
Tony’s infectious enthusiasm got my Dad to agree and they planned the date at ‘Buzzes Bistro’ on Maddox Street, very close to Piccadilly Circus. Tony told me that this restaurant had a fun reputation, it was sort of like a theatrical performance, high energy with male waiters dancing around the table and kissing one another, he said it was, ‘you know, absolutely outrageous in those days to see men kissing like that!’
(Visions of multiple smooching Freddie Mercury look-alike waiters flashed before my eyes)
The four of them drove up to London, from Reading in Berkshire, where we are all from. This is a town about 50miles from London, and that was the first time my parents were introduced. Tony told me that after dinner my parents danced to Marvin Gaye, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ and that became their song.
I never remember having that song played through my childhood and being told ‘hey, this is our song!’ I remember other songs that my Father played and adored, like anything and everything by Queen, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Rogers, Hot Chocolate. My Mum always told me she liked Elvis, but I can’t remember those songs getting much airtime, most likely because my Dad would be the one to play the music. That’s something I think about a lot, if I had more time with my Dad as a teen or an adult, that we would have talked about music, shared music, listened to it together, got drunk and sung our favourite ballads together.
But our childhoods and our lives were busy, busy, busy. There was not a lot of time spent romanticizing about the past, my parents were always on a mission of some sort. Conversations were always about the family business, a party to plan or a holiday to pack for. Perhaps if they were still here now, in their 70’s, they would have slowed down and I would be interested to listen about the good ol’ days and I would have heard them talk about Marvin Gaye and relay that story to me.
Anyways, I digress…, back to 1969. After their slow dance to ‘I heard it through the Grapevine’ which was quite apt, because they most likely did know of one another through the grapevine as their lives were somewhat interlaced as lives were in smaller towns in certain circles back in those days.
The were sparks and Penny and Peter exchanged contact details and then Penny returned to Canada. In letters to her Mother she says that she had been writing to Peter Nash. She was actually in a relationship of sorts with a chap called ‘Dick,’ but she felt rather indecisive about him and about whether she wanted to stay in Canada or return to England.
I think a culmination of things helped ignite her decision to leave, by September of ’69 – she was laid off from her air stewardess job, her girlfriends whom she had gone to Canada with were all getting married off and then there was her indifference to Dick! She now also, had the interest of my Father to return to in England.
My Father was charming, laidback, charismatic, funny and ambitious. She would always tell me, I fell in love with your Father, because he made me laugh. And he was funny, he was an entertainer especially after a few drinks and a brilliant joke teller. At the time of meeting my Mother, he was working for a big Ford dealership called ‘Gowrings’. He loved cars, especially fast car’s and his personable character made him an excellent salesman.
My Mother was one of two girls, it was her and Alison, no son’s. Their Father, my Grandpa Stan had made a good living from his car business, called Horncastle Garage. The business had started in the 1920’s as a house with two petrol pumps outside and slowly but surely Grandpa Stan developed a steady business with a great reputation over many years. From what I gather, it was predominantly a mechanic workshop, but there was a small showroom, selling the odd car, my Grandpa’s passion was engines, he liked fixing and building things, he was not a salesman.
Did my Father see this as a golden opportunity?
He would be marrying my Mother who had had a somewhat more privileged life than him, her family were always flying off to exotic destinations, they had a second home by the beach and they seemingly had plenty of disposable income for beautiful clothes, beauty treatments and luxury furnishings adorning their family home which they had designed and built from the ground upwards. The very house my Mother and her sister Alison grew up in was called ‘Xanadu’ which means ‘an idealized place of great or idyllic magnificence and beauty.’
(Side note: I am looking forward to my very own Xanadu one of these days!)
My Grandpa and Nana loved a bit of luxury, everything was kind of bouji and modern in their homes, and I always remember they had light switches that closed the curtains and a jacuzzi bath! These are things I remember from my childhood in the 80’s.
Did my Mother see the potential in my Father? Her Mother was writing to her in Canada saying that business was slow and that the car sales were not doing well.
My Fathers parents were not poor, but they were modest. I heard that my Father felt some kind of frustration with his own Father who was a painter decorator, that he didn’t aspire to much, that he lacked ambition, my Father didn’t want the simple life, he wanted to reach for more.
My Fathers full name was Peter John Nash and my Mother became Penelope Jane Nash, they both had the same initials, which always felt so curious to me, it was like they were the perfect match, there was undeniably some kind of alchemy within this partnership.
My Mother returned from Canada on October 8th, 1969, and just under one year later, she married my Father on September 26th, 1970, it would have been their Golden Wedding Anniversary last month.
The photos from their Wedding day are beautiful, they look radiant and very happy. I have a large framed photo of them in their going away car, which was a decorated breakdown truck from the garage, a piece of the family business included in the wedding celebration which was to shape their lives in ways they had no idea about. I think it also represented their sense of humour. They are sat on the top of this truck and my Dad has pulled her long dress over her knee and is resting his hand on top of it, the cheekiness and fun shines through, and they knew how to strike a pose!
I do not know how quickly it was that my Dad handed his notice in to Gowrings, but soon he started working for his new Father-in-law, my Grandpa Stan. Gowrings was a Ford dealership, so my Father must have sold it to Stan that they should turn his dusty little showroom that was selling Austin Rover’s at the time and change the offering to the American Dream Mobile, Ford!
The 70’s and 80’s were the Golden Age of Cars. In the 60’s only 25% of UK households owned a car, in the 70’s this had topped 45% and by 1980 70% of UK households owned at least one car. And this escalation in car sales was reflected in the economic accumulation for my parents.
They started their marriage living in a flat (an apartment.) My Mother always had a bee-in-her bonnet about this, because her cousins had been given country houses as wedding gifts (they did however build houses and I am sure my Mother was given a car!) They started in humble beginnings and as the car sales increased, so did their living arrangements as they crept up the property ladder bit by bit over the years and as their family grew.
The family business became ‘Horncastle Ford’ and it truly was a family establishment, it was a huge part of my childhood, and it is only in recent years that I have looked back in awe and appreciation for what my family created.
To be continued…
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