Pulling the shirt out of his wardrobe Gareth smiled. The style of his tuxedo shirt always made him chuckle. From the front it was a plain white shirt, but the arms and the back were decorated with pictures of cavorting cows in various positions only seen in a bovine version of the karma-sutra. He loved going to events and later on, when the wine had been flowing, taking of his jacket to surprise his fellow guests. It harked back to the shirt he was wearing on the night he met his wife, Veronica, though this one would be about three sizes larger. He’d grown a bit since his early 20s.
Veronica Trumpington-Thomas was best described as “Good Country Stock”. Her passion was for breeding cattle. Belgian Blue’s were her favourites although some had cruelly have suggested that the breeds square set stance and stocky features were not that different from their owner. She hadn’t really wanted to marry but her father had said that it was her duty so the task was set about with the same efficiency that she used when choosing sires for her livestock. The list of requirements was short, good temperament, reasonable features and respectable family lineage.
Sadly, the markets where husbands are acquired weren’t really to Veronica’s taste, she preferred the straw and dung of the cattle version, but there were events where eligible candidates could be found. Some old school friends were persuaded to invite her to the right sort of parties and after a few drinks, the process didn’t seem quite so unpalatable.
The annual young farmer’s ball was coming up so Veronica slipped into her best black and white ball gown, making her look more like a Friesian than would normally be desirable and joined in. Walking into the marquee someone caught her eye, a rather dashing looking young man lurking in the corner, looking a bit sheepish and lost in his tuxedo.
As the evening wound on Veronica kept seeing this young man wandering around, but none of her friends seemed to know who he was. To honest, she wasn’t really that interested but after the meal and a few gins, she was starting to feel a bit randy. Having either shagged or frightened off most of the other members of the local group she felt in the need of new blood and set out to find if he might be interested in a demonstration of her cattle impregnation techniques.
Gareth had been invited to the do by an old friend who proceeded to abandon him for the first girl who had flashed her pig tattoo in his direction. He tried propping up the bar for a bit, and eventually took to circling the room until it started to circle him thanks to the amount of scrumpy he had consumed. More of a G and T person he had resorted to the local brew after his attempt to order something more refined had been ridiculed by the locals. The drink was more potent than he was used and attempts to soak up the alcohol with something solid hadn’t gone well as the cuisine was as rural as the drink.
The countryside all looked the same to Gareth so finding his friend’s house earlier in the day had been due more to luck than judgement or map-reading. Worse, when he did arrive, he discovered that he’d packed a suit but no shirt and since there was no chance of buying something he’d had to borrow one. Unfortunately, this had been a bit of a comedy purchase and now the marquee was getting hotter and hotter but he really didn’t want to take his jacket off.
Veronica saw Gareth circling the marquee again, by this point he had begun to look a little green. He stumbled and half fell into a chair on the table next to her. She noticed him begin to put his head into his hands, and then seemed to be struggling to remove his jacket.
“Bugger this,” she thought, “Everyone is coping off and it’s about time I wrapped my lips round someone.”
She marched over to the next table. Gareth, by this point, was fighting to keep his head between his knees and try get his jacket off at the same time. Veronica grabbed the back of his tux and practically ripped it off his shoulders.
“Oh” she screamed, as the design on the back of Gareth’s shirt was exposed, from the front it looked plain white but the back was something all the more lurid.
Gareth looked up in surprise, unfortunately at the same point the numerous pints all came to a head and he proceeded to vomit them down the front of Veronica’s frock with some force.
“Argh!” Veronica, now covered in pints of the local brew mixed with several partly digested pies, screamed. “What are you doing!”
Gareth looked up sheepishly and started to mumble a string of apologies. He hoped the rather large but attractive girl looming over him would not berate him too hard as he could feel a roulade and champagne cocktail that might be making its way up at any moment.
Veronica was about to let rip, who did this boy think he was, this dress had been specially made by her mother. But as she turned to give Gareth what for she saw a pair of soulful brown eyes were staring at her that bore a startling resemblance to her favourite cow, Winny. And with that, she was lost.
Many years of working with animals meant that Veronica had been covered by much worse than a bit of posh vomit. She grabbed Gareth and dragged him off to the toilets to clean herself and him up. After letting him be sick a few more times, it was time to test the staying power of the portaloos. Stories after the evening always included comments about the particularly loud mooing that seemed to be coming from the direction of the next field, though no one had seen any cattle.
20 years on and their marriage was still going strong, though the only children they had had four legs. Their lack of offspring had disappointed both of them but with no conclusion as to why things weren’t working Veronica had gone back to animal husbandry and they’d settled into a different kind of family routine, their children being in the fields rather than in the house.
He loved his wife very much but she would insist on carting him off to the odd farming ball to make friends and for her to do some networking. He could chat to most people but this lot did get into quite a bit of detail about their farming practices, and he struggled to hold his own. By halfway through the evening he’d often be found in a corner, pilfered bottle of gin in hand, drinking to his heart’s content as his wife worked the room.
Two hours later and the Harvest farming ball was turning out the same way. Gareth was just eyeing up a nice bottle of cider on the next table when someone plonked themselves down next to him.
“Hi, you’re Gareth, Veronica’s other half aren’t you?”
Gareth turned to his new companion. Though slightly younger and slimmer they were cut from the same cloth. He even caught a glimpse of colour on the sleeves of his shirt as he turned to face Gareth..
“Freddie Coward. My wife, Joan, is over there talking to yours. We have a small farm and she aspires to your level of herd. To be honest, it bores me senseless, so she suggested I might want to come over and have a chat with you.”
Gareth visibly relaxed. At least he wasn’t another farming expert.
“Veronica mentioned you run a company that helps other companies get out of trouble. She said something about a naval island, I think I read about it in the paper. It’s called KOD isn’t it.”
Gareth glowed slightly, he always liked to know that people knew what he did and the work on Fillern Holm had garnered them some good PR.
“Well, yes that was one of our best projects, working with the MOD don’t you know. Can’t say too much but we turned things around.”
“Sounds very interesting, have you done any others?”
Half an hour later and Freddie might have been wishing he hadn’t asked that question as Gareth regaled him with stories of KOD’s successes. He omitted to mention that most of the work wasn’t done by him, no harm in embellishing the truth here and there.
By this time the cider had been consumed and jackets had been removed. The chaps laughed as they both had a penchant for lurid shirts, though Freddie’s had depictions from Shakespearean plays instead. There was much blood and gore.
Reclining in his chair Gareth though, I like this lad, he’s on the same wavelength as me. And he likes silly shirts.
“Pip pip, old boy. Here’s to finding a shirt design even more frightening for the next ball.”
“You are on. I’ve seen some great stuff on eBay.” Freddie chinked his glass with Gareth’s.
“Actually, Gareth, I have to profess I have an ulterior motive here. I need your help.”
“What with, old boy.” Gareth was finding it hard to focus, the cider being more powerful than his usual tipple. He leant forward, trying not to fall off the chair.
“Well, I run a theatre. It’s not a big place and we don’t get the cream of the shows, but I still love it. But we are really struggling, and if I don’t get the ticket sales up by end of March next year, then the local council will sell the place to property developers.”
Now Gareth had a soft spot for the theatre, having trodden the boards himself during his university days. He could remember the smell of the greasepaint and the joy of a receptive crowd. What harm would there be in giving them a little help, he thought to himself.
“I know it’s not your usual cup of tea, but any advice you could give us to get of this mess would really help. I can’t pay you, but I can give you free tickets to every show we have on.” Freddie had gone from jolly to maudlin. He really did love his theatre but times were tough and he was struggling to know what to do. It was Joan who’d suggested that approaching Gareth and pandering to his softer side might mean he got some help. She also didn’t want to see him not working and under her feet at home.
Gareth stood and patted him on the back.
“Absolutely, I’m sure I can find time to give you some pearls of wisdom. Don’t worry about the money, we’ll sort something out. Give me a call next week. Now if you will excuse me I think it’s time to go home, I’m seeing double of everything!”
Waddling back to his wife, half cut, a little niggle appeared in the back of Gareth’s brain. Kate wouldn’t like this. He brushed it away, it was still his business after all, what harm was it to do something good for the community rather than for the money.
“Alright, Darling?” Veronica was surprised to see her husband weaving toward her. She was even more surprised when he knocked her flying as he lost his footing. Sitting together on the floor she took one look at her now comatose husband and thought, home time.