Late summer 2009
My parents moved in with us in late July 2009, before going to the seaside for a month. Late August, they came to live with us properly. We were still in a state of complete chaos, boxes everywhere, curtains to order, paint, carpentry, dust, everything in disarray.
“We should have got straight before inviting them here,” Shaun said more than once: it was undoubtedly stressful for them. Perhaps, but we didn’t realise it would take so long. We had spent the summer holiday doing nothing but unpacking, painting, stripping, reconstructing. Still so much to do.
Never mind. My mother, the easiest person in the world, sat happily in the sun in the garden, or in the conservatory, near the wonky fountain which we had put in the pond and which I spent hours getting to the right height, right flow, right fall.
On 5th September we had a housewarming. Far too soon, far too expensive, far too much chaos. But Serena and my father were both unstoppable, and their energy made it happen. The previous owners had left behind a new marquee, still in its box, and Ben and Alex erected it in the garden. Ben put a superb band together. We sang family madrigals, as so often before. The Turtle Dove. The Silver Swan. Goodnight Sweetheart. All our old favourites, some the same as the ones Ben had organised in the Manor House. We had a piper from the school, who piped in dinner. A harpist from Bedford School, superb, in the conservatory. A family of guests made a chamber group. Bouncy castle, fairy lights, fun fun fun.
The following Saturday we had a tea party for all those friends of my parents, and Rosie’s, who hadn’t been able to come the week before. Lovely sunny afternoon. I spent the whole day in the kitchen, baking. I rebuked myself as I did so. I should be in my study writing, not indulging myself playing housewife. I still wasn’t writing, and I didn’t know why.
I had my own study, spacious and comfortable. I had done far more to it than I had intended over the summer. Taken up the schoolroom synthetic carpet and stripped and waxed the floor. Blasted out the blocked up fireplace: Ben and a builder friend had spent several hours one evening, smashing out the chimney with sledge hammers, arriving finally at supper at nine o’clock, black as sweeps, having at last found the flue. Bought three matching old wooden bookcases on Ebay four all my dearest books, my First Folio: ah, then I felt at home! And my Plato and Chaucer and Dickens and Browning... All my friends on the shelves.
Still, I wasn’t writing.
It worried me, but nonetheless I spent the day in the kitchen. Bread, chocolate cake and madeira, fruit and chocolate scones with clotted cream, cheese scones dripping with butter. My own kitchen, for the first time in my life, happier than I could remember being, balm for the battered years. My parents’ friends sat at a long table on the terrace, fountain playing, having tea in the sun. Rosie’s friends ran around the lovely large garden and played.
My parents, my father especially, thrilled at the home baked tea.
The following week Alex invited a dozen Cambridge mathematicians for the weekend, sleeping all over the house. Again, I cooked and cooked. So happy to have a home, space, again. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, even home made tea again. They didn’t really seem to notice, but I did it for Alex not his friends. He noticed. They had barbecue dinner with my parents and talked maths to my mother, what she could remember.
My father took her to School Chapel, to our parish church, made friends. He and I went to choir together. I helped him unpack, things which my parents hadn’t used for thirty years, their silver butter knife and jam spoon, laid out in their kitchen upstairs. It was good to spoil them, pamper them. He said he hadn’t felt so smart for years, like living in the Ritz.
Late September, at last after much searching, I found a ceramic window box that would fit outside their kitchen window sill, and bought cyclamen, violets, lots of different spring bulbs to come up in different weeks. My mother would love those, I knew. I spent the afternoon planting it, and again felt guilty that I wasn’t writing. Well, I wasn’t, that’s all there was to it. The only thing my life lacked to be perfect, my writing restored. That and Bink’s full health.
My mother sat at their table in their kitchen, loving the window box. The violets waved in the breeze, and she said, “I do love living here.” Every day she said it.
“Just as well,” I said. “It would be hard to go back.”
By day, she sat in their little sitting room downstairs, or in the conservatory, a book on her lap, seldom read because the concentration went, a few years ago. “What can I do to help?” Always, offering to help.
Nothing, my father would say. There’s not much she can do, now. Oh, but this wasn’t true. Rosie could help too. They sat together, at the kitchen table, shelling peas or chopping vegetables. Our neighbour bought an ironing cloth, so she could iron Shaun’s numerous smart work shirts, sitting down.
Nothing could shatter our joy...