I confess, I am struggling to remember the past, in such turmoil about the present.
(More prosaically, the book I wrote on what we went through – the publisher went bust after signing me – ended with the events of 2009, so I will soon be relying on memory alone.)
We threw ourselves into our first ever own home with the joy and enthusiasm of the long-famished. Just as it can happen that everything seems to go wrong for you in a logical progressive collapse, so – far more surprisingly, perhaps – the reverse can be true. Dominoes defy gravity and help each other up.
The house had six bedrooms. Just enough: my parents; Shaun and me; older daughter; two more daughters; two sons; guest room.
I asked Ben which he wanted.
What point in asking? said Eeyore. Serena always gets the best.
Just choose, Ben. Everyone choose the one you want, and let’s see how it pans out.
I knew the answer, of course. My parents were allocated the huge bedroom, over the garden. Shaun and I, one of three overlooking the street: I have to face East and be woken by the sun, non-negotiable. The next biggest was the one the boys would have: they had shared a bedroom all their lives.
The cellar, Ben said.
The cellar? It didn’t quite have an earthen floor, but it had no light whatsoever and was only fit for potatoes. And wine, if we’d had any good enough.
Yes, and I’d like the attic, said Alex.
The attic. Uh-huh. Also no floor, ceiling, windows or anything fit for habitation. Just a few rickety beams: miss one and you’re in the room below.
You see Ben, I said triumphantly. No one wants anyone else’s choice.
(And you see, too, what happens when you share a bedroom for two decades. They couldn’t have got much further apart. Not without one of them moving into the hen house, which Serena had made in Oxfordshire and the poor removal men had to lift intact over a seven foot wall: took six of them.)
And I had so looked forward to having a real potato-cellar.
So all that summer, all of us (plus a French au pair Serena found, now a brilliant lawyer and life-long friend), up and down, in and out, excavating, hammering, sawing, filthy fibreglass yellow insulation creeping under everyone’s skin in the baking heat under the roof, all of us working together. Except Bink, is my memory. Presumably she spent the time looking after six-year-old Rosie. While the au pair got fibreglass under her skin.
After a summer of serendipity (the morning I gave up ever finding a second-hand eBay window for Ben’s cellar – and yes, Shaun was absolutely right: dig down there under the gravel and I bet there was once a window into Ben’s room, under the ground two hundred years ago – and started ordering expensive bespoke, Shaun and the boys found a window which fitted, in the hedge at the bottom of the garden… Ben was most miffed) Alex had a room and Ben had a room, we had ripped out the dance studio and had a dining-room and drawing-room, had taken out the island and breakfast bar to make an old-fashioned kitchen big enough for all of us to sit in at once, and I was on the case for Bink’s room: there was one bedroom with a plumbed-in loo, smack bang in it with no walls or door around, most eccentric thing you ever saw. But I was wise now to what none of all the professionals who interfered in our lives had bothered to tell us in Parson’s Green, that you can apply for a disability grant if you are seriously screwy enough, as Bink most certainly has been for a very long time. So she would have an en suite loo and shower in her room.
And at the end of August, my parents moved in properly, after their summer by the seaside.
And the saddest thing happened to us ever, happens to most of us, which I will never get over till the day I die, not ever...
Bink rang last night, to find out how Serena was after her bike accident on Wednesday. So lovely when she does that: something so normal, sisterly and normal. I nearly asked why she didn’t ring Serena herself... but you know: don’t kick a horse in the teeth when it gives you a gift and other misapplied sayings. (Never trust Greeks hiding in wooden horses &c.)
And of course, within minutes I’d stressed her by asking too many questions how are you what did you do today are you taking any meds what do you want to do with your life would you like to join this choir I’ve found for you why on earth do I do that no wonder she never rings back.
Sick with worry. We’ve been here so many times before.
No plans. No ambitions. Nothing to do except nothing.
Never goes well...