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I grew up in a beautiful village in a house close to the village green. The green, which doubled as a cricket pitch, was surrounded by an odd assortment of houses, some of them grand and some of them not so grand. Conveniently close to the green was the village pub, the Red Lion, which I have often mentioned in my various stories of yesteryear. It had two bars to choose from and one was the saloon bar, which some people called the posh bar. If you wanted to drink there you expected to pay a little more for each drink. The other bar was called the public bar and that served the greatest number of people for the prices were lower, that's where my father drank, as did my siblings, and, in years to come, so did I.
This story begins in 1948 when my family moved into one of the new houses that had just been built on the edge of that village Green. To us it was the grandest of homes, it even had two toilets and one of them was indoors. My sister Violet tells a story that as our Dad entered the bathroom he asked in a somewhat puzzled voice where the light switch was. When he was told he had to pull the string he did so and to his delight the light came on. My father apparently remarked with a smile that he'd never get used to these newfangled inventions. That house, No. 19, Hullmead, Shamley Green, was one of twenty new homes that had just been built by Surrey County council and to us it was a palace.
Another house that overlooked our village green was the lovely cottage known as 'Easted's', and it was there that the Branson family lived. Their son, who we knew as Ricky, was later to become the world famous entrepreneurial boss of the virgin group of company's. To be fair to Richard, his parents were not rich and he was to make his own fortune. However, his parents were part of what my dad called the poorer of the village toffs, and they still chose to pay a little more for their drinks in the Red Lions saloon bar. So it's unlikely that Ted Branson and Wally Tuffs snr, both Shamley Green-ites and regular customers of the pub, ever enjoyed a drink together. However, on one occasion in the years to come, I did, with both Mr Branson and his amazing wife. This happy memory explains how it happened!
I was some years older than young Ricky but I remember seeing him quite often in the school holidays. If he had been cast in a film he'd have been the rich kid, for he looked the part with his good looks, bright blue eyes and blond hair. He had inherited his good looks from his mother who was truly beautiful, with an ever ready smile for everyone. I used to play with a lad called Philip Sampson whose parents were friends of the Branson family and through him I would sometimes visit their garden. Mrs Branson was always nice to me although I didn't really have a reason to be there for I wasn't Ricky's friend, I think she just liked youngsters, even scruffy urchins like me. Normally the children of the wealthier village families didn't mix with the kids from the poorer families. They kept there distance from each other, just like their fathers did in the Red Lions two bars. For some reason I seemed to be an exception to the rule and was always welcomed.
The years passed and the Branson family moved from their Easteds cottage home to another house in our beautiful village, this one was larger and even more impressive. If my father had still been alive he would no longer be able to bracket them as among the poorer of the village toffs. I too had changed for I was no more a scruffy urchin but instead a smartly dressed young man with rather big ambitions, who was now engaged to be married. We're now in the summer of 1969 and it's just a year before my wedding. Every night when my fiancee and I finished our days work, we'd walk hand in hand up Woodhill Lane and we'd pass the home where the Bransons now lived. Immediately next door, we'd reach the entrance to the long drive that led to the home of my Jenny, where we'd stop, as we did every evening of that wonderful summer. We'd embrace and then we'd kissed, for we were young and in love .....
Another decade passes and I'm proud of my success. I was with an old friend in a small pub called, The Blue Ship, not far from one of my new shops when an elderly couple walked in. As the man ordered some drinks at the tiny bar I immediately recognised a deep voice from my past. I looked up to see who it was and immediately recognised the still beautiful woman with him. She smiled at my friend and I, in the same friendly way she'd smiled at me years before when, uninvited, I would sometimes visit her large garden. It was, of course, Mrs Branson, and as she sat down with her husband I pondered on whether to introduce myself and thank her for the welcome she'd always given me as a scruffy youngster. I decided to do so and began with the words, "You probably won't remember me but --" She cut me off with that most radiant of smiles and said to my amazement, "Of course I do, you're Kenny Tuffs", and she went on to tell her husband that I was the young man who helped teach their daughter Vanessa about the birds and the bees. Mr Branson looked mildly intrigued whilst I felt slightly alarmed. I had no need to be ......
The conversation that followed was delightful and told of events I had no knowledge of at all. It seems that young Vanessa had become aware of the time my fiancee Jenny and I would arrive home from work. She knew of our daily routine and often she'd hide in the corner of her garden, right next to the spot where she knew we'd stop for our cuddle. Of course it was all innocent, for we just kissed and made arrangements for the time we'd meet later in the evening, but Mrs Branson told me that nightly her daughter would give her a progress report on what we'd been up to. Apparently any friends of Vanessa's who were visiting would join in the adventure but, before doing so, they had to swear to be completely quiet. When I told my wife of this unknown intrusion into our private romancing, she said we did eventually become aware of our audience. In my case I have no recollection of the event at all but I will treasure the memory of the half hour spent with Mrs Branson when she told me off her daughter Vanessa's espionage skills!
Many people in Shamley Green have stories about Richard Branson, I'm told that dozens of people claim to have been his baby sitter as a child, and a few obviously were. Most of us from the village are all happy for his success and I personally rate him for the way he is held in high regard by his staff. But when I hear the name Branson I don't think of Virgin Media or Virgin Airlines, I don't even think of Virgin Galactic. I always think first of his wonderful mother and then of the story she told me about his little sister Vanessa!
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