Friday, 12 October 2012


 During the five years that followed our move from London, two domestic situations developed that destabilized the happy foundations of our marriage. One was the deterioration of Eve’s relationship with her parents, the other was my own increasing ability to ignore her problems by losing myself in my work.
 Shortly after the birth of our new baby boy Matthew, who proved to be twice as energetic as his brother Nicolas and therefore exhausting, Major Bill and Doris announced that they intended to build an extension onto the cottage so that they could stay more often in greater comfort than was offered by our one small guest room. Eve had always been touchy when her father interfered with her life and this latest idea became a volatile issue. As Major Bill was guaranteeing the mortgage, we could hardly make our objections known and, soon enough, an architect turned up to study the designated site and, shortly after builders invaded our space and started on the unwelcome construction.
 Fortunately for me a publisher friend came to tea one day and was intrigued by a historical wall chart of contemporaries hanging in my study. I had drawn it up when writing ‘Death and Still Life’ ( my third thriller set in the art world ) so that I could see at a glance which writers, composers, and heads of state were alive at the same time as well known artists.
  e.g : Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin were all painting away while Tchaikovsky was composing the 1812 Overture, Longfellow penning his epic poem Hiawath and Queen Victoria sipping tea with Disraeli or Gladstone.
  The publisher was so impressed by the idea that he suggested I compile a dictionary based on the chart and commissioned it when I submitted a suitable format.  With the aid of a hundred brand new empty soup tins from the food factory ( which I occasionally visited for board meetings ) and thousands of different coloured cards, I spent days in my own happy world popping the likes of Socrates, Michelangelo, Chopin  and Louis XIV in their appropriately dated cans - a pass time nearly as exciting as Sudoku - essential information gleaned from a mountain of encyclopaedias as computers did not of course exist. It took two unhurried  years to complete and ended up with 35,000 entries, was published as the Dictionary of Contemporaries in 1967 and can be found gathering dust on the shelves of most UK reference libraries, ignored now because Google and Wikipedia have elbowed it out of the way.

  By the time Matthew was a year old and Nicolas was attending kindergarten, Major Bill’s extension was finished with a higher roof than expected which cast a long dark shadow on what had been the sunniest part of the garden. Major Bill and Doris themselves also cast a long dark shadow on our lives coming every weekend and this might not have been the end of the world if a developer had not bought the land on the other side of the cottage and started building a number of really ugly bungalows. With drills and cement mixers shattering the tranquillity of our surroundings our home was no longer the peaceful haven we enjoyed and Eve and I agreed it might be time for another move.
 By 1964 the housing market was not only in our favour if we sold in Sussex and bought in the West Country, but old vicarages were being sold off cheap by the Church of England Commissioners as country parsons could no longer afford heating such mausoleums. So off we went again on far away county drives and, one fine day, found ourselves in Halse, a tiny hamlet west of Taunton in Somerset, dominated by an early Victorian rectory which was for sale. Built of red sandstone it was on three floors with eighteen spacious rooms, three acres of woodland, boasted a disused chapel, outhouses and a back garden giving onto a 16th century church and its pretty cemetery. It was total madness to even consider but we loved it and wanted to buy it.
  Major Bill and Doris were incensed at the idea, opposed it and put every conceivable obstacle in our way, but a fairy godmother in the shape of Otto Plaschkes, a Hungarian film producer, appeared out of the blue and bought an option on the The New Shining White Murder ( my second humorous thriller ) and commissioned me to write the screenplay. This instantly solved all our problems. The selling of Manor Cottage and purchase of the Old Rectory went ahead, our debts were paid off and Major Bill recompensed for all he had spent on the extension.

 Early one misty Autumn morning, a number of removal men came with a sizeable vehicle and emptied Manor Cottage of all our worldly goods. With the kiddiwinks in the back of a newly purchased second hand Humber hugging their favourite soft toys ,we left Sussex for Somerset followed by the pantechnicon and, by evening, installed ourselves in the echoing vastness of the Old Rectory.
 Exhausted by all that such a move entails, we picnicked on the floor of the empty dining room by candlelight (the new electric metre not having been connected ) and all went uncomfortably to sleep in the same bed as Nicolas and Matthew decided that the place was definitely creepy and full of ghosts.
 The Old Rectory  proved to be neither creepy nor haunted when we got up the next morning. With the boys riding their tricycles up and down the long corridors and in and out of the empty reception rooms while we wandered around our new domain discussing what would go where, we felt we had entered a new phase of marital contentment and domestic bliss.
 But it was not to last.  

The old Rectory

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