Three long hours later we were driving up a hill miles from London and anyone we knew in a part of the world we’d only ever shot through on the way to somewhere else. Ahead and on our left was a very austere, remote and clearly exhausted house. I think my first words were ‘That can’t be it, surely?’ As we passed a tiny dew pond with moorhens on it I remember next saying ‘What a shame’. But I know exactly when it was that Eeyore decided this was where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. (Preferably with me but frankly, I suspect that was negotiable.) It wasn’t when we went round the far too big, cold, dirty and un-commutable house, which was patently in need of the kind of money of which even Heather McCartney-Mills could only dream. It was in the garden, when Eeyore lovingly tried to reach his long arm around my elephantine waist and said ‘Damn. NOW what do we do?’ that I realised it had happened. Eeyore was hooked. We thanked the sad Vendor and left him disconsolately eating chocolate biscuits with his girlfriend in the narrow, long, high walled, bottle green tomb of a kitchen, and drove back in the rain to a children’s birthday party. It took nearly four hours, during most of which, in an unprecedented role reversal, I threw cold water all over Eeyore’s enthusiasm. He’s a man of few words, my Eeyore, and always has been, but for some reason on this occasion I chose to take his silence as acquiescence, not calculation. Big mistake.
Battle Commences Nothing daunted, there followed a ludicrous bidding war (for a wreck?!) during which Part II of the crisis became apparent and Eeyore threw all his natural, northern caution to the winds and chucked figures around in a way I thought only I could. The children and I carried on with our London lives, secure in the knowledge that this wouldn’t come to anything: I put the unborn baby on all the school lists, did the obligatory ante-natal yoga, booked in at Queen Charlotte’s – you know the routine. And then he rang to say the deadline for full and final offers was in five minutes; we had been outbid despite our absolutely ridiculous, unaffordable, way OTT latest effort; he was suicidal and going into a meeting. ‘Never mind darling’ I said, pulling a relieved face at my mother who was sitting with me at the nice safe kitchen table in W12. ‘It clearly just wasn’t meant.’ Three minutes later he rang back. ‘I’ve upped the offer and we’ll know tomorrow. Got to go: late for this meeting.’
And breathe …You can’t even begin to picture my panic. Two worst case scenarios: 1) we get it and have to live in it and freeze to death and no-one knows or cares, or 2) we don’t get it and I have to live with Eeyore whinging about it for the rest of our lives. I was also seriously concerned that this man, with whom I had lived for the past sixteen years and whose every whim and thought I assumed I could predict with 100% accuracy, was behaving so completely out of character that I could only assume he was having a breakdown. Or an affair – I wasn’t sure I minded much which. I too wanted badly to leave London, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there – I had somewhere warm and friendly in mind; somewhere clean and smaller and preferably done up, and somewhere with a non-Dickensian name.
But I wasn’t really worried. Dramatic domestic things don’t happen to us – we would be fine. We’d stay in Shepherd’s Bush, I’d bounce another pram up the front steps and take first babies, then toddlers, then increasingly reluctant schoolchildren to Dog Shit Park (aptly named, believe me) every day, and this silly crush would pass.
Ah, the innocence of – relative – youth.