It was 10.10am, on Tuesday January 10th 1961. My father, previously a Messerschmidt pilot, and my mother, who worked on her fathers farm, had decided a few years previously to escape family prejudice and become hoteliers in Bournemouth, and it was on this date that they thought it might be a good idea to have me.
Here I am at 11 months old, and having my first visit to Father Christmas. It would have been in a large department store in Bournemouth Square called 'Bobby's', now Debenhams.
Being raised in a hotel in Bournemouth had many advantages for a young boy growing up. An endless supply of new friends via the guests being one of them, and a massive hotel with rooms and corridors and cellars to play in being another. This is me at 2 years old in the front garden.
Of course, school beckoned, and a private boys school at that. Homefield School was where I was sent, along with my older brother Ian who generally took care of me. It was also a boarding school, although we weren't boarders ourselves, and one had to jostle for some kind of power over other more troublesome pupils. The first stage here was Kindergarten, and this is me aged 5 having my first school photo taken. For some strange reason they had us sat at a desk holding a guinea pig...that's private schooling for you. Starting school was a terrifying experience for me, and it was here that I developed my phobia for cooked cheese, as eating all meals provided was compulsory. The hotel had a gardener called Derek, and I would move leaves for him in an old wooden wheelbarrow, and occasionally chatted to him when he had a cup of tea. I think that this must have been where the seed of gardening was first planted in my life.
I settled into school in the end, made friends, threatened enemies, and those that I couldn't, well, I had a big brother in the upper years. This is me aged 9, and it was just before this that Rheumatic fever hit me, and I was very ill indeed. At home for six months, it was while suffering from this illness that I also developed Scarlet Fever, and so not a good time at all. It was at ten years of age that my parents divorced, ripping the family apart in terribly.
My early teens were for me very difficult personally for a number of reasons. Another reason that I don't like looking back at that time is also the haircuts that were in fashion. This is me aged 15 at my brothers wedding, and my first 'styled' cut at a gent's hairstylist after years of cumpulsory haircuts. As brothers, we had shared a lot of time together, and suddenly not having him around hit me pretty hard.
I hit the pubs and clubs with my mates, playing hard most nights, and worked hard gardening for a landscape and maintenance company during the days. My stepfather was a tough cookie, and if I hadn't returned from these soiree's by 10.30pm, which let's face it wasn't going to happen, then the front door was locked. Needless to say, on returning most nights at 2 or 3am, I spent them roughing it in the garden shed with one or more mates who couldn't make it home themselves. We discovered girls, and late seventies music. 'I Will Survive', 'Tragedy' and 'Pop Musik', I danced to them all! This above is me aged 21.
This is me aged 24.
Life seemed ok. We bought a tiny flat, got a cat, a stereo, and things plodded on until I realised that although work was very enjoyable, it was going nowhere for me, and so it was during a lunch break that I walked into Compton Acres Gardens. It was while here that life changed totally for me. It was an amazing place to work, and a wonderful place to live. Life went on as usual for a number of years until my mother passed away, followed a couple of years later by my father, followed by job losses for all of the gardeners through 'restructuring' as it was called. This resulted in homelessness, then divorce and all the nice little psycho things that go with a combination like all of that being crammed into five years.
The gardens didn't survive very well under the new 'restructuring'. and a few months later I was approached to return and take over the gardening side of things on a practical level. Various college students came and went, but it was during one hot summer that I was given the task of overseeing the training of two gorgeous blonde young women looking for summer gardening work. Angie, a young Canadian, needed the money to finance world travel, and would work for six months and explore for six months. The other gorgeous gardener was called Amanda, recently back from a spell in Sweden, fed up with the corporate world and chasing a long standing gardening dream. Angie disappeared to Brazil at the end of the summer, whilst Amanda and I talked endlessly and after a number of years married!
Me at 37
I was by now completely fed up with the way in which Compton Acres was being managed. The damage done by the new owner through overdevelopment meant that the gardens were a shadow of their former selves, there was only myself and Amanda taking care of them, which was a far cry from the heady days of nine gardeners when I started. We had a big bust up with the management and walked out forever. Having only just bought our present house, we hadn't even made the first mortgage payment, and so shortly after started up Four Seasons. Well, it was either that or shelf stacking at Tesco!
Needless to say, grey hair came a little early for me, and by 43 (above) I had gone all 'Salt and Pepper'.
The following fifteen years running Four Seasons have been such a wonderful adventure, and far more successful than we had hoped. The first five or six years were incredibly tough in physical terms, and Claire and Rebecca were taught to have a strong work ethic from a very early age indeed. Whether the chosen day was blazing hot, or giving us torrential rain, they would come out and work as hard as any man or woman I had known do the job.
And here we are now, and I am fifty two years old. Where in the world has time gone? It's kind of crept up on me and kicked me in the backside. When I reached forty I got the mid-life blues, but that was cleared up by Amanda giving me a Triumph Trophy 1200 for my birthday, and I realised that I wasn't so old after all. But 52.....wow! And all those years of gardening left ahead.