Sunday, March 22, 2020

An Imperfect Life
 
Chapter 40

 Pastures new.

 

When I told my lovely girl friends of our impending departure there were tears – not just mine – the girls got quite emotional.  We knew it would never be the same again and being at home all day with a small child was quite a lonely occupation. I felt better when I found I was pregnant again.  We wanted at least two children and this would make the gap two years and three months between them.

“Maybe you’re right William.  Maybe it would be better to have a larger house and a better salary.”

Before I had time to get used to the idea William told me he had been offered the job and had accepted it so I put on a brave face and threw myself into scouring the D.T. looking for a nice house in our price range

  William’s new job meant a move from Surrey to Kent supposedly ‘the Garden of England’ where there were lots of Oast houses for the brewing of hops.  Traditionally East Enders would move lock stock and barrel to Kent for the hop-picking season.

“William I’ve found something and incredibly it’s in our price range.”

 “You get more for your bucks in Kent.  Where is it? “

“A place called Southborough.  It’s between Tunbridge Wells – spelt with a ‘u’ -and Tonbridge spelt with an ‘o’.”

“There’s a good boy’s school there – I’ll phone the agent and make an early appointment.  It’s quite a drive - what about the baby?”

“Anne wants to have him.”  Both my girl friends had boys a couple of months older than our son and they were fascinated by his constant crawling, pulling himself upright and general activity whilst he was half the size of the other two boys.  When left in his pram before long he would leap over the side and dangle - thankfully saved from a tumble by his restrainers.

   First impressions were good; Tunbridge Wells (Royal T.W. as it liked to be known} was a spa town with lots of history, the Pantiles and a large hilly common.  Southborough was about two miles north and we drove up a quiet cul de sac where the house was situated amongst other detached Victorian dwellings.

“I don’t like that laurel hedge in front.  It’s far too high but the holly trees are good.”

On the near side, on a cobbled path was a stable with an apple loft above.

“It all looks in good nick – I like the pale grey the house is painted and the turquoise trimmings.  Oh and look there is a path on the far side of the house so I can wheel the pram to the back of the house.  And there is a lockable door.”

 Daily walks with baby in pram were the norm in those days.

We walked down the path and let ourselves in to the very private walled garden.  It was neglected but there was a large old pear tree which gave dappled sunlight and old apple trees, Ribston Pippins, Worcester Pearmains and Bramleys.

“Gosh look at that enormous yew hedge – it seems to divide what they call the pleasure garden from the vegetable garden.”

William was looking at it critically and possibly planning its demise.  There were rose beds and flowerbeds all tangled and full of weeds and behind the yew hedge an old neglected vegetable garden.  It was all a bit daunting – but exciting.

  We were told the last person to live there was a very old lady and her housekeeper.  On her death a speculator had bought it, redecorated it and put it on the market.  I couldn’t wait to see inside.  We returned to the front entrance and went through heavy double doors to a large glass paned door.  The entrance hall had a central staircase; the drawing room on the left and the dining room – with hatch to the kitchen– on the right.  Both rooms were large with attractive fireplaces and bay windows.  Behind the drawing room was a smaller room – with fireplace.

“This would make a great study – looking out onto the garden,” said William.

“Or nursery – remember there are going to be four of us!”

At the end of the hall there was another entrance from the rear garden with both an inner and an outer door.

 “Gosh!  The old lady must have been security conscious.  Look at all those heavy bolts on top and bottom on all the doors.  And there is a loo here with the same iron bolts top and bottom and inside and outside the loo.  How odd! And where do these other three doors lead to?”

William opened them revealing a scullery, the kitchen and steps down to a cellar.  We’d been told that the people next door had converted their cellar into a basement flat.  Ours was given over to a lifetime’s store of coal and coke.  We discovered there were also fireplaces in the bedrooms and bathroom

“Oh look William – an ideal boiler.  Can you smell that chokey smell?  Multiply it by ten and that’s what the cellar smelt like at the Convalescent Home at St Anne’s.”

“I remember,” joked William “the one you allowed to go out when you were on night duty.  Very careless of you!”

Yet another door led down two steps into the garden room with butler’s sink and a small room just off it.  Another door led into the garden.

  Halfway up the stairs was a large bathroom and separate loo.  The bathroom had a pretty old fireplace and would have been the tweeenie’s bedroom.  There were five bed and dressing rooms-as they put it and outside the rooms were mahogany let-down side tables for the maid to put the breakfast tray before opening the door.

By the time we got back in the car we were exhausted.

“What did you think” I asked William?

“It’s a very good house,” he said positively.

I sighed regretfully,”It’s just too big.”

“I suppose so.”  William knew his limitations and he was never a DIY man.

By the time we reached home I had mentally moved in.  The house was crying out for a family.  Our family!  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“On the other hand William…”

  I was certain it was the right house for us.  William agreed but was more cautious.

“It’s a hell of a responsibility to take on.  We’d have to get it properly surveyed.”

I agreed.  My sister Maddie was now working in London for an architect and said she knew just the man.  Not wishing to waste time and possibly lose the house we met up with him in Southborough and after what we hoped was a thorough going over he said,

“The house is sound and if you are both in love with it you should go ahead.”

He also told us that he and his wife had just bought a farmhouse they fell in love with, in spite of a doubtful survey.  He mentioned that the two steps down from the kitchen to the scullery could be a nuisance but it never bothered us.

  Later when the children would stow toys in the washing machine causing it to flood I was thankful for the brick floor, where the water would just drain through to the garden.

First thing in the morning and last thing at night my head was full of plans for our new home.  Who knew you could be in love with a house and miraculously William was just as keen.

  We sold our bungalow making a small profit and and our offer on the Victorian house accepted.  Anne offered to have our son whilst we moved in and we gratefully accepted.  He didn’t fret at all and we were very proud of him.  Mind you I think he was spoilt rotten whist he was there.

  We were under close scrutiny by the neighbours when we moved in.  I was wearing tartan trousers from my modelling days so they were convinced we were Scottish.

  We had a lot of space to fill but Dodie, my mother –in- law, helped out with a carpet or two and sister- in-law Fleur had her late mother’s furniture stored in her house sized garage some of which found it way to us.  There was so much wall space and I started a life long collection of pictures and drawings- mostly repros but some originals.

Heating was a bit of a problem and to supplement the open fires and boiler we had paraffin stoves, gas and electricity fires.  This was the fifties remember.  All had to be carefully guarded with an active toddler in the house and I was thankful for the old wooden play-pen where I could safely leave my son.  We designated William’s dream study as the playroom but he quickly learned to push the play pen up against the door so I couldn’t get in and would have to go round to the window outside in the garden and persuade him to back off.

  As usual, when pregnant, I was getting larger by the day and one day I left him playing in the hall whilst I went to use the downstairs loo.  Suddenly I heard a noise, went to open the door and realised my little monkey had pushed the iron bolt across

Thanks to the security conscious previous owner.  I could see my sons navy blue eye staring at me through the key hole.

“Darling- just push the bolt back for Mummy please.  Good boy darling!”

But darling thought this was an exciting new game and just said

“Mummy! Mummy!”

This went on for quite some time and I became increasingly panicked.  Thank God we were on the ground floor and there was a window - with a complicated screw bolt.  I had to stand on the loo (it was encased in a mahogany base and could withstand my weight) then lurch sideways to open the window.  Somehow I managed to lever myself out (thank you God), walk round the back of the house and let myself into the kitchen and found little sunshine with his eye still glued to the key hole.  More lessons learned.

 

8 comments:

savannah said...

WOW! What a house! I'm looking forward to reading more about your life there. The children must have loved it! xoxo

Pat said...

savannah: It was lovely. Some years ago we were in the area for a wedding. The house now had a ghastly double garage where the stable and apple loft had been and the outside of the house and front garden all tarted up in the worst possible taste. and probably now priced at least half a million.

angryparsnip said...

I love this story. The house sounds lovely I wish I could have seen it.
Never go back to a home you have loved. It rarely works out.
Please write more, it sounds like a home children love.
be safe and well
parsnip xx

Pat said...

Parsnip: 'never go back'. That is so true. The memories remain as you know and I did come to love this house and hope to stay here to the end. I wonder if you feel the same about your lovely home?

AndrewM said...

The house sounds great. What a lovely little boy.

Pat said...

AndrewM: not that you are biased in any shape or form. Had trouble publishing your comment as it came through as anonymous.

Kim Ayres said...

A fireplace in the bathroom - that sounds so idyllic!

Pat said...

Kim; it was very pretty but with two small kids we never got round to using it.