Like almost everyone else I know who is over 50, it is hard to believe we have passed our half century. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was at school sweating away in 1976 (the hottest summer ever!) preparing for O levels. I was useless at maths and wasn’t even good enough to be put forward for CSE, which meant I managed to leave school in 1976 with no qualifications whatsoever in that department.
My despairing teacher would have been astonished to know that 34 years later (seven years ago) I would set up a business with my husband Guy. I now have to cope with maths on a daily basis. This can range from calculating stock adjustments to filing online VAT returns, and everything else in between.
Finally, I have realised that maths is not the battleground I thought it was. It is just horribly logical.
In a roundabout way, I have New Zealand to thank for this recently acquired skill. My long-standing links with New Zealand go back to my days at boarding school and being asked, at the age of 13, whether I would like a penfriend in New Zealand.
What I have found, setting up and running a business a little later in life, is that you can surprise yourself at what you can tackle and achieve
Along with lots of other girls I said yes and, lucky me, I got Sarah Burrows and Sarah Burrows got me. We started writing and have never stopped, making it a friendship that has lasted for 29 years.
Sarah was the catalyst for my first visit to NZ and she was our guarantor when Guy and I went, in 1999, to live there with our small children, for five years. It was a leap into the unknown in many respects, and we could never have predicted that we would eventually return to the UK with a business idea because of it.
The idea began when our eldest son, Sebastian (then aged eight and a half), used to thrash around in bed getting far too hot. I had to do something about the feather duvet we had brought from the UK, so in its place I bought him one filled with wool, really because there was nothing else available. The result was a miracle: no more tossing and turning, and blissful sleep ever since.
Some years later we returned to the UK, and Guy and I talked about bringing wool duvets back with us. In 2005, we started White Cloud.
We began with a tiny number of wool duvets and have gradually added to the range, first pillows and now under-blankets and blankets. We have grown cautiously and carefully which, in hindsight, has been the right thing to do.
We are often asked why our duvets are not made of British wool and my answer is that we have a massive affection for New Zealand and genuinely believe in the products. They are top of the tree, as far as innovation and quality goes, and it is our small way of repaying them for the amazing time we had there and the improvement in family life that Sebastian’s duvet made to us (me in particular!).
Seven years on, we have a really good team of people around us who not only help us but also understand us. The fact that three of them are over 50 is a deliberate strategy because we know they think the way we do.
I surprised myself
What I have found, setting up and running a business a little later in life, is that you can surprise yourself at what you can tackle and achieve. Had I been told that I would have to learn how to import products, sell them, design a brochure, maintain stock levels, find people to help with packaging, design and run a website, assist with accounts and run an office, I might have gulped and said no.
Fortunately for me, Guy is adept at maths. (He once had to teach me how to do long division over the telephone, one stressful evening when I was a student at Roehampton, in order to calculate the mathematical proportions for lettering and calligraphy.)
It is fascinating that two out of three of our sons have inherited Guy’s maths skills, and the youngest has inherited my love of English. (For that matter, how can three boys, with the same parents, end up looking so different? One of those things that one, at our advanced age, finds oneself pondering upon.)
Fortunately, it is a bit like having small children: the whole thing grows with you and at some point you realise it’s happening and you have managed. For my part, I am proud to have shown our boys that changing direction in life is possible and that MUM should stand for Massively Underestimated Mother.
Caroline Bodger, 52, lives in West Gloucestershire with her husband Guy and their three sons. She is the director of their company, White Cloud, which imports wool duvets, pillows and blankets from New Zealand.