Friday, mid February 2009.
The bishop had forgotten I was coming. But he put the kettle on and asked after Shaun’s job application, the reason he wasn’t there.
I hadn’t taken a lawyer, no. But I had taken a lawyer’s advice.
Three-bedroom flat for the Chaplaincy, I said. Besides, all the other applicants were teachers of long experience.
* * * * *
The most stimulating day Shaun had enjoyed in ages.
Lunch with the boys. Voluble response to his lesson. No time to draw breath. Meeting. Interview. Teaching. Talking.
Buzzing, he was.
We were due to spend the evening with our dear friends next door, at the Manor House, five of us. As we were leaving, the telephone rang. Head Master.
“Shaun’s had the best day in years,” I said. “Really enjoyed it.”
“Good,” he said.
I gave Shaun the telephone.
After a few minutes we gestured that we would see him next door.
He was a long time. Half an hour. More. It didn’t matter. We sat in their kitchen, chatting, easy, at home.
I wasn’t bothered about the Chaplaincy post, had no desire to live in Bedford, Shaun didn’t want to be a teacher. It was only important because it was the first job he’d been considered for, given a chance at. It was a run-in.
I wanted to go home now, to Cambridge.
There are some evenings, moments, landmarks you will never forget. Till the end of life.
Shaun’s coming in from the cold. Down the stone steps, which linked our two gardens in secret, through the hole in the wall, in the dark.
Changed into jeans.
“I was everybody’s first choice. Governors, Director of Music, Head. Most of all, the boys.”
I can’t remember the yelps of delight or screams of astonishment from the others.
All I remember is holding on to Shaun, round his middle – I on a kitchen bar stool, he standing – holding and holding and grasping so tight it must surely hurt, rock he was, solid, sobbing over and over again.
“We won’t be homeless. We won’t be homeless. We won’t ever be homeless again.”
Relief crashing over my head as the gasping North Sea. Sucked under the tide and thrown up on the sand and gulping for breath.
The moment life changes. Turned on a sixpence.
We will not – my children will not – be homeless again. Not ever.
The champagne fired at the ceiling and gurgled into the glasses. Joanna smiling calmly and pouring. Mensun bemused as always and quietly thrilled.
The happiest moment of our lives, and they gave it to us in their kitchen, filling glasses, chinking, no need to say anything but just watch another family being happy. We hugged each other and them and cried again and drank again.
We would never be homeless again. My children will not be homeless.
Where will we live? someone must have eventually asked him.
“First thing the head said: the Chaplaincy is too small for us. Which it is. I said, it’s twice the size of our current cottage. Which it is, too. He suggested a housing allowance.”
Shaun had made a mistake, I was sure. He’d written numbers on the back of an envelope. A teacher’s salary. Twice what he’d ever been paid as a clergyman.
I kept repeating, over and over. “It can’t be!”
“John gave me the figures.”
Don’t accept it yet, I said. Not without mulling it over. That’s what went wrong with the Oxford job: too good to be true.
“Too late,” Shaun said. “I have.”
Shaun never goes back on his word. That’s what went wrong with the Oxford job, too. He simply couldn’t believe another clergyman could.
(Except to me, obv. “Yes, I’ll mend it: you’ll only mess it up.” Ten years later: “I didn’t say when.”)
Oh, what an evening that was... So happy, so wondrously, exuberantly celebratory.
So full of champagne.
Some time later, I can’t remember why, I had cause to go into the Manor House when there was nobody there. I was feeding the parrot, or something. I stood in the empty, tidy kitchen and recalled that night, and another equally memorable evening with them ten days later.
Such friendship is not in every lifetime.
It was worth four years of hell, to know – and love – you guys.