There were two Anglican churches in our local parish, one ‘high’ church with sung Eucharist every week, and the other more comfortably informal, where young children ran up and down the aisles and families took turns to choose their favourite hymns. It seemed we all had similar tastes in music, as Patrick Appleford’s ‘Living Lord’ appeared on the menu almost every week.
Our vicar was not a conservative stereotype, with his longish hair and flowing beard. He was diligent in his pastoral visits and often to be seen hurrying down the street, his beard and cassock blowing in the breeze. One morning, as he approached us, Nikki looked excitedly up from the stroller to say ‘Look mummy. There’s God’.
The children had a pet rabbit that happily hopped around the house and walled garden. I think I gave him so much freedom to assuage my conscience over the lack of attention I gave my own pet rabbit as a child. That rabbit was white and had the imaginative name of ‘snowy’. This rabbit bore a strong resemblance. Unfortunately a well-meaning neighbour came to visit one day and let her dog into the back garden, not thinking about the uncaged rabbit. I was out the time, but arrived home to find a corpse. Many tears were shed.
The garden was a joy of metamorphosis. It was spring before I finally cleared away all the brambles from the neglected slope at the back of our house, and to my delight, little shoots started poking up through the earth. Before long the garden was full of daffodils and heady-scented hyacinths.
For me, this was a really happy time: mornings at playgroup in an old church with grumbling radiators where the mum with the largest vocabulary of swear words was a titled Lady; after school playdates with no electronic devices; Roald Dahl stories at bedtime. But for Michael it was not. He wasn’t enjoying his job, and he found both the climate and the state of the house depressing. The renovation was just too overwhelming. For him, to come home every night and stand for hours with a blowtorch in one hand and a scraper in the other, watching tar-like black paint bubble off, was no life. I did what I could, but with four children between the ages of one and six, my input was confined to wallpaper-stripping. To make matters worse, we were very short of cash, and it seemed as if the only way out would be to sell the house.
When he came home one day and said that Anglo in Johannesburg was looking for architects again, I told him he should go ahead and apply. I didn’t think for a moment that they would pay our passage out there a second time, and in my naivety I thought it might just help Michael to settle if he realised there were no other options…