Those three months spent living with my parents, like so much before and afterwards, were just a matter of survival.
I kept trying to write. I kept failing.
My memory is of sitting in the neighbours’ new, clean house, Rosie playing at my feet, Bink no doubt washing in the background, writing endless long emails to my cousin Fleur. Feeling endlessly guilty.
Strictly speaking it wasn’t that I couldn’t write. In truth, I couldn’t stop. Words poured out of me like tears, all the day long. I just couldn’t write anything constructive or disciplined or book-shaped.
I found a little house for sale in Newnham, near Rosie’s – and my – nursery school, and desperately wanted to buy it and settle there. I’d have to borrow money from my family, though. And no one could see the sense in it: Shaun’s job was in Oxford.
There was a vacancy for a vicar, just round the corner, near where I was brought up. I dreamt and dreamt of Rosie waking to the birdsong I’d heard as a child, my mother lying on my bed beside me in the barely lightening morning, teaching me to listen to the Dawn Chorus.
Shaun applied for it… and wasn’t even called for interview. It was three years before we learnt the bizarre and sinister reason why. (And no, it was nothing to do with Shaun himself.)
Meanwhile, I arranged for someone to come and assist Bink in applying for the Disability Benefits she’d been entitled to for years. Page after page after dozens of them. How many minutes in the night she needed help. Whether she could make a cup of tea.
Even after several hours, with professional help, the process had barely started. It was to take many months and several visits, even with a trained member of staff.
A year or two later, such help was discontinued.
The brutal truth was that if you were half-ill enough to qualify, you’d be far too ill to apply. I couldn’t help wondering who managed to make any money out of it…
The neighbours came back from Australia and needed their house back. Bink’s place in the Bethlem wasn’t yet ready. And Shaun’s employing Oxford church had at last bought the sweet little cottage for us.
The last thing I wanted was to go back to Oxfordshire. But there was no sensible alternative.
Just as we were about to leave, Alex’s college finally thought to inform us that he’d been told to step down for the rest of the year. Because he’d missed too much of the course. Because they’d appointed the wrong kind of mentor for him. Because (you may remember) when a mother tells the (expert) professionals the kind of mentor her (technically adult) son needs, she’s being an interfering fusspot and must be politely (or not) ignored.
So... obviously they’d learnt from that mistake and kept his family in the loop this time, right?
And the condition of Alex’s leaving was that he was barred from living in Cambridge.
So he and Shaun moved into the little cottage first, the rest of us to follow in a few days.
(And if you want to read more about Alex, you might be interested in this article in today’s Mail.)
Saturday. Mid-morning. Shaun rang.
So I listened. I heard chirrups and trills and the chuck-chuck-chuck of diligent and energetic birdsong. And then I heard something else.
Bells. Peal after peal after peal. Merry and laughing and dancing. Singing in the air.
“Through our bedroom window.”
I knew we were right to choose the little cottage, just up from the tiny church.