The nature of Michaels job meant many nights away from home. As we only had one car, the children and I became good walkers. I had a tight schedule, waking up at 4.30 every morning to feed Edward, so he wouldn’t demand a feed while I was chasing the girls around the house trying to fit the correct sized clothes on the appropriate child. It being winter, we needed tights, coats, hats and gloves added to the mix. Then, with Edward tucked into the large old Silver Cross pram and Nikki perched on a toddler seat on top, we set off for school, with Catherine running on ahead and Abigail dawdling behind, stopping to examine every unpleasant piece of detritus en route.
I thought we were happy in our suburban life, but Michael was not enjoying his job. His nights spent alone in a hotel room were not as glamorous as one might imagine. When he was offered a job back in Bath, we jumped at the opportunity.
I loved Bath, with its aura of elegance and its history. Our first two children had been born there, and my nesting instinct took me back there faster than a homing pigeon.
We found a wonderful old Edwardian house in a terrible state of disrepair, which we managed to buy at a good price. When my father saw it, I expected him to be filled with the same excitement I was. I could see past the damp peeling wallpaper and the smell of mildew and rotting plaster. I could see children running through bright rooms to the large family kitchen, where the aroma of freshly baked bread would mingle with the herbs that were hanging to dry. However, my father, ever practical, saw it for what it was, and after a long silence, said ‘Well, it’s a lot worse than I thought.’
It was actually uninhabitable, as the kitchen and bathroom had to be completely gutted. There was dry rot, wet rot, woodworm, and every other scourge common to old houses, particularly one that had been standing empty for the past twelve months and prior to that accommodated an elderly lady for most of her life.
So once more, the children and I moved back in with my long-suffering parents while Michael set about replacing the kitchen and bathroom. If we could wash and eat in relative cleanliness, we could work on the rest of the house while the children were in bed.
But it was a long tiring process. Fortunately we made friends with several other young families who were renovating old houses, so we managed a social life even in the drabbest of surroundings. We baby-sat for each other, collected each other’s children, and competed over interesting and exotic school lunches. And we looked past the grey plaster where many layers of flock wallpaper had been painstakingly stripped off. Possibly if I could turn back the clock, I’d go back to that time.
One morning the bell rang and I opened my front door to find the children’s head teacher standing there with a child each side of her. They both had nits, and I hadn’t noticed. Suddenly I was excruciatingly aware of the state of the walls behind me. The teacher probably thought we were squatters.