Thursday, 20 September 2012


It took me a week of gazing out at the dark green turbulent sea through the salt stained windows of the Selsey Coastguard cottage before I hit the typewriter keys again to start on my second detective novel.
During that time of contemplation, I did not think creatively but dwelt on who I now was - a husband and father, therefore a family man with responsibilities, a freelance author but not that ambitious, a temporarily carefree individual with enough in the bank to feel secure providing I was not reckless. It was fortunate that Eve was equally content.
We had both flirted with a little fame, photographs in magazines, reviews in the press, flattering experiences that had been fun but not vital. We’d had our fill of cocktail parties, dinner parties, fashion shows, receptions, balls and the social whirl. Happiness for both of us was now old sweaters, jeans and gumboots, sitting on the windy beach with tiny Nick, cooking mussels picked from nearby rock pools and falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping up against our bedroom wall.
 Eve started to paint, I started to write and Nicolas grew in size and mind, gurgled, sneezed, coughed, cried and became more lovable than ever, an unimaginable joy.
 But this idyllic life did not last.
 Unbelievably, Major Bill and Doris came down on our first weekend to check that their daughter and grandson had survived without a telephone, a supermarket, friends or acquaintances close by. They could not stay with us for there was no room, but they found a little hotel up the road and joined us for lunch and dinner during which they mapped out their plans for our future..
 Eve was incensed.
 'They are never going to leave us alone!' she shouted out to the sea one night after they had left.
 And they didn’t. For the six months we were in Selsey they came down nearly every weekend. Major Bill proudly informed me that he had put his grandson’s name down for Eton, Harrow and Winchester ( I had vowed never to send my children to boarding school ) Doris warned Eve that she would have to vet the accents of any local children her grandson might play with or he would not grow up speaking the Queen’s English, and they both advised us, separately, that if I was determined to risk the family’s well being by insisting on the precarious life of a writer, we should seriously consider investing what money we had in a country property. They would look for one for us.
 Under this very irritating pressure, we jumped the gun and, whenever the weather permitted, set off in the car with little Nick in his carry-cot on the back seat and toured Hampshire and Dorset armed with sheathes of estate agents literature. We saw new houses, old houses, manor houses, cottages, bungalows, chalets, converted barns, warmed very much to the idea of the country life, and when we finally found a suitably inexpensive tumbledown farmhouse in Wiltshire and told Major Bill and Doris, they threw up their hands in alarm. It was far too far for them to come and visit us at weekends, a fact which had occurred to us.
 We could have ignored these remonstrations had it not been for the bad news pointed out later by the bank manager. Though we were in the 1960s when borrowing funds to buy houses was a doddle compared to today, without a regular income a mortgage would be impossible. With someone suitable guaranteeing regular payments however, a mortgage could be considered.
 Undoubtedly slyly aware of this, Major Bill played a trump card. If we were sensible and chose a property within a 90 minutes drive from London he would be our guarantor. Any such place would, of course, cost more than we had budgeted, but he would help us out if necessary. We were not foolish enough to turn down such an opportunity, so off we went again looking at places, but this time close by. .
 In Old Barnham, twenty minutes drive from Selsey, we found a neatly renovated Georgian cottage with three bedrooms, new kitchen, new bathroom, new plumbing, a garden with seven fruit trees, surrounded by farmland and, opposite, a beautiful Queen Anne manor and Norman church. When we told Major Bill that it was only two miles from Goodwood, he immediately agreed to sign on the dotted line. It would be the perfect base from which he could attend many happy race meetings.
 The purchase took two months to complete during which I became more and more anxious about the expenses that piled up specially as Eve now announced that she was pregnant again.
 One fine Sunday morning, however, when I was in my coastguard cottage study staring out of the window hoping for inspiration, a black Rolls Royce drew up in the driveway and out stepped an impressive bearded gentleman wearing a full length suede coat and fedora at a tilted angle. A ‘theatrical’ if there ever was one.
 'AndrĂ© Launay?' he enquired when I opened the door.
 I nodded.
 "I saw your show ‘If the Crown Fits’ last year and thought I should commiserate. You must have had a trying time with Robert Morley. I worked with him once and it wasn’t easy.'
 'Thank you,' I said, obviously puzzled as to his identity.
 'My name is Jimmy Grafton, I manage the Goons and my own scriptwriters agency. I heard you were living here for a while and thought a chat might be beneficial to both of us. I have a week-end place up the road, why don’t you come round for a drink ? Bring the baby, my wife dotes on them.'
 The outcome of the evening was instant relief from my financial worries for Jimmy suggested I work with him on a television comedy series - The Dicky Henderson Show -  on which he was engaged. It needed fresh input which I could probably supply.   

 We moved into Manor Cottage, Church Lane, Barnham in the Spring of 1962 where we happily settled into a very pleasant country way of life and I finished the third Boardman novel when not writing TV scripts.
 For the first time ever I started gardening, that is I bought a whole range of implements and stared at them for a long time before daring to use them. Once I got the hang of a spade, trowel, scythe and lawn mower, there was no stopping me. What had been a quarter acre of long grass started to look like a lawn, trees were trimmed, seeds and bulbs were planted apple blossom was eagerly awaited. This was the life. A couple of hours at my desk, a couple of hours of manual labour, from now on, except when Major Bill and Doris came to stay, it would just be me, Eve, Nickypoo stamping about in the new flower beds, Jimmy Grafton, Tom Boardman and dandelions.
 Then the phone rang. 

 Selsey during a storm
 Manor cottage
 Dickie Henderson

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