The Pakefield years

We lived at the Old Rectory for ten years. We bought it when Alex was a tiny baby, moved in just before Christmas the same year – 1976 – and I loved it.

I’ve described the house itself. It was light and sunny with high ceilings and lots of windows – draughty sash windows, but that was what I’d grown up with so it didn’t bother me. We bought a half-tester bed, which is like a four-poster except that it has two posts and a canopy just over the head end and I remember lying in bed watching the curtains billow when there was an easterly wind.

We’d stretched ourselves financially to buy the house. And we couldn’t really afford to heat it, so doors were kept shut in the winter so that no heat was wasted. There was central heating but it wasn’t used as much as it would be nowadays. I had a small grand piano – a “boudoir grand,” which is a size up from a baby grand, that was placed in the octagonal bay window in the drawing room. If I played it with the lid up, I could be heard all down the road, I was embarrassed to discover.

Once, I found a swift on the drive. It had crash-landed somehow and couldn’t get airborne again. I picked it up, beautiful little bird that it was, and it climbed up my arms with its curved, hooked claws. I carried it upstairs to our bedroom, which was above the drawing room and had a similar octagonal bay, and held it out of the window. It carried on climbing up my arm. But finally I persuaded it to to go the other way up to my fingertips and launched it into the air. It tried to fly, but dipped down towards the ground. I thought it would crash land again – but it just swooped upwards at the last moment and started to climb. It circled round and up, round and up and I watched as it rose higher, until finally I couldn’t see it again. It had left its calling-card … yeah, it had evacuated its bowels onto my arm. Insects. The outside skeletons of insects, black and bitty.

My mother and stepfather sold Seaview after a couple of years and moved out to a village on the A12 south of Lowestoft. My mother still had rather more dogs than was manageable in a smaller property, so we took one of them and my sister took another. Ours was a black and tan boy called Simon. He was a very nice dog, about the size of a labrador and he loved the children. My mother had too many dogs and he relaxed and was happy with us. I remember once, Russell had gone out with the children – Weeza and Al, that was, it was before Ronan was born – and I’d stayed in bed for some reason. Simon started howling at the window by the half-landing near the front door. He sounded wolflike and pathetic, full of self pity. I stood at the top of the stairs and said “ahem.” The sight of that dog jump, because he’d thought he was alone, and his embarrassed face was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

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