Despite our time – in that pretty cottage, in that pretty village, opposite that pretty church – being very challenging all the time we lived there, we have lots of lovely memories.
Our neighbours were the best in the world.
2nd April, 2006
On that very first Sunday, the day after Bink’s 21st birthday, I tipped everyone out of bed and said from now on we’d be supporting our new tiny village church, barely a hundred yards from our door.
The one with the glorious bells.
There were a few grumbles and some extra snores. But we all made it.
Apart from Shaun, of course, who was employed to be at a different church altogether. (A church which, incidentally, still expected us to be attending it. I had told the vicar before we even left London that if we were housed outside Oxford I would attend our parish church, wherever that might be. And the children would probably follow me. He hadn’t believed me, perhaps because it didn’t occur to him that some people do what they say they will. Far less important was that we only had one car, that church was seven miles away and Shaun would need to be there an hour or two earlier than anyone else.)
The Atkins family soon swelled the electoral roll of the village church by nearly 50%. Within eighteen months Radio 4’s Sunday Worship programme was broadcast from it.
That very first morning we were warmly befriended by Muriel and Bob, retired farmers, who invited Rosie to play at their house any time she liked. They were only a couple of minutes away, and she quickly learnt the lane to their cottage.
9th April 2006.
Soon, too, we were invited to the Manor House: ours was the humble Manor Cottage, in the once Manor grounds. Would we like coffee on Sunday morning? I said we’d be at church – a very slight, “oh!” – but we’d love to call in afterwards.
The lady of the Manor would obviously be gracious and elderly, with grey hair and perhaps a bun. A sort of friendly Miss Haversham.
I dressed carefully.
And, wow! Met one of my now bestest friends. Blonde and gorgeous and vivacious and full to the brim and overflowing with love. That very first morning together we started organising a joint fête, to span our two gardens and raise money for the struggling church. Soon, there was a hole in the wall between our tiny patch and their spacious grounds, making the gardens one.
Rose told me last night that she went through it, as we often did, tripped down the stone steps to their barbecue and had an egg on her forehead for Easter.
Joanna and her adorable (slightly quieter, more academic) husband filled our spirits all the time we lived there. With spirits, mostly.
Gin when the going was bad. Champagne when it was good.
We got through a lot of gin.
But actually, a fair bit of champagne, too. Joanna can turn anything to celebration.
I am expecting a lot of bubbly...
Bink will not be at the party. She is still on the Priory’s bootcamp, and not allowed out.
Am I sad? Yes and no.
Of course I’m sad that she won’t be popping the corks with us. Of course I’m sad because she herself is sad to be missing two of our dearest friends and their very dear home, which meant so much to us and kept us cheerful for so long.
But am I sad she is getting treatment? Am I sad she is on a strict programme to enable her to overcome her OCD?
Was I sad to hear these words: “Oh well. I probably shouldn’t be partying for a while yet anyway.”
Is the Chief Rabbi circumcised?
(To be honest, I’ve never asked him.)