So near the end of our time there. Still such a long way to go...
Even with Shaun’s new post, we still had nowhere to live. I realised that for all our new-found optimism, the severance agreement was crucial. Without it, job or no job, we had no accommodation.
We’d never had a mortgage before. No idea what we could afford. I went on the internet, found a house. Thought, that will do.
If we got the agreement...
An insane week. Crucial telephone calls over all the minutiæ of the severance package. Interspersed with more work than I usually have in a month. Thought for the Day on Tuesday. Telly in London on Wednesday. An article for the Times by the end of the week. Speaking at the Oxford Union on Thursday.
Normally I’d spend several days mulling such a debate. I would have to write my speech on my napkin during dinner.
“This House believes promiscuity is a virtue not a vice.”
What you have to do, to score in a university debate – specially such a silly one – is tell more jokes than the other side. “I come from a constituency,” said the Anglo-catholic bishop I was teamed with, “where protection during sex means a bus shelter.”
Fortunately, our opponents were elderly feminists, flown over from the States at their own expense. For the kudos of speaking at the Oxford Union. Apparently.
One of them, inaudible.
The other leered, “I hope to get lucky tonight,” at all the fresh-faced twenty-year-olds, cringing around her.
“I don’t,” I said, “hope I get lucky tonight.”
Shaun, handsome in his father’s dinner jacket, was in the front row. (In the chamber where, he told me eighteen months later, he first spotted me from the gallery when we were both Freshers, and watched me all evening...) “I know.”
“Liar,” the bishop whispered as I sat down. “You said you’ve got to write your Times article all night.”
We won by a very long way.
Friday, we flew to Inverness for a weekend with Louis. All the work done. Walks along the breathless estuary. Slumping by the singing fire. Champagne for dinner.
Two months earlier, I had pitched a vicarage housekeeping book. The editor had laughed out loud, reading it to the office. Any other time, I would have secured a deal.
It was crucially urgent. If I didn’t have a contract before a friend’s vicar’s wife’s cookbook hit the shelves next month, my pitch would die in the water.
I just couldn’t. I simply didn’t have time and energy. Not that, and rescuing my family, both. Passionate though I am about my writing, just this once, Shaun’s severance package was more important than a book deal.
I sat by Louis’s fire, knowing I must send the final pitch, if I was to have any hope whatsoever.
Sunday night, we returned to Oxfordshire.
Ten years ago, you didn’t get emails on your telephone. Louis didn’t have internet.
We got in, I opened up... and saw our house fly away. Pinky – or Perky: whichever had drawn up the agreement – had realised his mistake.
A supplementary email. This agreement, of course, is only relevant if Shaun has no other job to go to.
That was that, then. Nowhere to live after all.
Or was it? Did a supplementary email count?
I had no idea.
And it was a Sunday night.
(And yesterday, thank you for asking, Bink went to church with Shaun. Was befriended by a lovely young family with children. And introduced herself as Bink.)