The change in our situation was that we had decided to have another baby. Ronan was born ten months after our decision to move and – if you’re wondering – the two decisions were linked.
We couldn’t move straight in, there were some necessary works to be done, in particular the replacement of the roof tiles. The original tiles were still in place, though they’d been turned over at some time in the past. It all had to come off and it was a major undertaking. Upstairs, there was a sloping bit between the ceiling and the wall, which was actually part of the roof. So, once the tiles and battens were removed, the bedrooms were exposed to the outside, even though the ceiling itself wasn’t affected. Russell researched hand-made peg tiles and found somewhere in Sussex, he ordered them and hired a lorry and took a mate to help and went to fetch them. They are really lovely tiles and will last centuries. We had the Tudor chimneys taken down and re-erected, because they’d become dangerously unstable. The house was rewired and the Aga was installed and various other work was done, including new baths, stainless steel rather than cast iron, because Russell was concerned about the weight but didn’t want plastic. A bit bemusingly, his parents had had replacement metal-framed windows put in, back in the ’50s, which were ugly, not in keeping with the house, draughty and just plain horrid. We had to get planning permission for all the work but it was all necessary, and we had hardwood window frames installed instead. We forgot one window which is still there in the attic, in fact.
Ma had moved into the annexe and, obviously, the work couldn’t start until she had moved out. Hilda agreed not to retire until we moved in. In the spring of 1985, I had a cold which left me with a husky voice. After a few months, it occurred to me that I still had a husky voice and went to the doctor who was a bit alarmed and sent me to hospital. It was decided I should have an operation – this was well before the days of scans and they didn’t know quite what they’d find. I still don’t know how worried they were,but I did get seen pretty quickly – in fact, it was simply an polyp on my vocal cords and nothing to worry about (I’d had such a fabulously husky voice, only time in my life I had men whimpering quietly at my feet when I spoke) – but while I was in hospital, my mother-in-law suddenly died; in bed though not actually in her sleep. Hilda took her in some tea and, after an hour or so, thought it odd that she hadn’t got up. She spoke to Kenny, the gardener, who obligingly went and rattled the dustbin lids a bit to wake anyone who might be asleep. Then, he waited at the bedroom door while Hilda tapped and went in. Ma had poured her tea, but then evidently lain back and died. There was nothing to be done.
My mother came to tell me – I wasn’t allowed to speak because of the damage it would do to my vocal cords, it was all a very strange experience. Russell was deeply shocked and upset, of course. Her funeral was a very emotional affair, though I had the odd experience of feeling a non-person because I was still not allowed to speak. This had a lasting effect on me, being the first time I got an inkling of what it’s like to be disabled. I was ignored by almost everyone. I had a notepad but no one was interested in what I was writing, they just talked above me. In the end, I mostly tore up everything I’d written. Just our nephew Simon came to have a conversation with me and sat patiently while I wrote responses to what he said. I’ll never forget that kind sensitivity.
We had been pressing on as quickly as we could, but now the pressure was off. Ma died on 23rd October and it wasn’t until July the next year that we moved in.