About five months ago my landlord rang.
He never calls, so instinct said to brace for bad news. Trust your instincts.
He wanted us out after almost 7 years; and wasn’t giving much time to find a new place. A hammer blow that had my wife Maureen in tears, while I immersed myself in anxiety. Could we find somewhere suitable, and as cheap? Quickly?
The calculations indicated financial catastrophe. Our rent had stayed the same since 2014. We would have to find another £400 plus a month for somewhere equivalent. That isn’t easy in your early 60s, as work takes more of a backstage.
An idea poked temptingly through the turmoil. Could we kill a couple of birds with the same stone? It’s a cruel proverb. But might we move in with my father, who lived 16 miles away, in Brentwood?
15 years after Mum’s death, he is the victim of ever-advancing dementia, and cannot begin to fend for himself, rattling around on almost zero memory in a three-storey town house. Although my brother and I were visiting on alternate days, mixed with carer visits, we could never give enough time and attention. So why not give him live-in carers, company and a constant watchful eye, in return for rent-free accommodation? Two potatoes nicely mashed with the same fork.
It wouldn’t be plain sailing. From a routine where I saw dad every other day for 8-10 hours, I would switch to being his constant companion. Looking down the timeline, it terrified me that the unrelenting proximity to his quasi-helplessness would be exhausting.
With no better alternative, the plan swung into action. Things moved along with a few strokes of luck, so that we got an extra three months, and could enjoy the whole summer in our rented home before moving. That was a blessing – because our summers in Great Waltham have been so joyful – and a curse. Every day reinforced my sadness that we had one less day left before the upheaval.
On the worst days, the sense of loss was overwhelming. Parts of June, July, August and September were funereal, as I walked and cycled along the latticework of local, rural routes I had painstakingly reconnoitred and mapped down the years, sometimes buoyed by a pint or two. Saying goodbye to the quiet mid-Essex back roads, churches, special trees, and certain vistas and buildings like they were old friends. Taking leave of the play of light on the fields, through every season, and so many country pubs, where a beer could lend spiralling, ecstatic new dimensions to a walk or a ride.
Sitting out back some evenings, feeling sorry for myself, as the evenings shortened. Wondering if our six cats would transition to a new home with less space and garden. How I loved that garden, its length, its colours and old wood and the little meadows we created last summer.
I moaned far too often to Maureen about the trials to come. She said we had to get on with it. Sometimes love is blunt and practical.
We finally moved on 30 September. The weeks leading up to the event were so busy that I forgot about my broken heart. No time to mourn as we packed, cleaned and downsized.
Two months later the pain has gone. Many new things have replaced it. The pictures below give a flavour of that disappeared past.