The Old Rectory must have had a huge garden originally. They’d built a new house for the Rector next door, which was a spacious five bedroom house with a wide drive, double garage and a garden, and as well as our own big garden, there had been an orchard at the bottom of the lawn which, as I said, we sold.
We bought a greenhouse where I was able to grow tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and melons – and had to buy another smaller one a couple of years later because you could hardly get in the door by August for the lush vegetation. I put my tomato plants in there.
As I said the other day, we were there for ten years. But after seven years, Russell’s father died and the decision was made to move to the house where I live now. Ronan was born in the meantime, the annexe was built for my mother-in-law and considerable refurbishment was done to this house. We sold the Old Rectory to people we knew – he was an antique dealer, very successful at the time, though things went badly awry for him some years later. His daughter was the same age as Ronan and they were friends.
We moved the day before Ronan’s second birthday and they invited us back a few times for tea. When they’d done all the redecorating and so on, they gave us a tour of the house. It was spectacular. Gilding, painting effects, quite remarkable. Not to our simpler taste at all, but done with love.
We did well on the sale. That sort of house was in vogue by then and we made a sizeable profit, even after the work was done here. And that was 1986 and we’ve been here ever since. I realised, earlier this year, that I’ve lived here more than half my life.
It had taken me a long time to feel that I might ever make it my home. I used to find it dark and oppressive. My in-laws’ decor had something to do with that. The walls weren’t dark but the ceilings were low and the windows had small panes and the curtains had pelmets, which cut out a lot of light. But eventually I came to love it, or I’d never have suggested moving. We enlarged the windows, got rid of the yellow gloss paint that dear Ma thought would brighten the passageway and did various alterations, with listed building planning permission, to make it more comfortable. Ma only lived in the annexe for six months and died suddenly in her bed of a heart attack.
My stepfather Wilf had a heart attack himself, not long afterwards and it was recommended that they move to a smaller house, preferably a bungalow. So we offered them the annexe and they accepted. But that’s another story in itself. Nothing is ever simple in my family.