Sunday April 15, 2018

As our old photos go by on the screen saver, I thought 'what sort of parents were we?' Given our circumstances, without reference to our aptitude, our kids had a charmed upbringing.

We were, I see now, lucky to have no money, so first house a beautiful estate lodge, but sans electricity, drainage, bathroom or decent kitchen. We re-built it into a very desirable residence – the kids learned to climb ladders, mix cement, demolish chimneys and saw wood from an early age. Huge garden, earth heaps left over from grading tennis court to have mock wars in, trees to climb and endless friends – we were popular.

Chased out by the M25 just as we had got 5 children and a perfect house we acquired a 17 roomed mini-mansion, totally vandalised, no windows, plaster ceilings falling into breakfast cereal, and fleas and lice left by squatters. We discovered a Saxon moat, a duck pond (imagine the mess clearing it), ruins of an Elizabethan mansion, so the museum did a dig.

Always, cats, dogs, rabbits – then on to pigs, cows and horses at livery. With those came nubile teenage girls. The boys learned even more skills. I had to have live-in help (hated it) and foreign students to help our income. So we usually sat down 12 to dinner. Then came scout and guide camps, Young Farmers clubs – Bernard Cribbins lived round the corner, and came and put frog-spawn in the moat.

Summer holidays were out, so we hired places in Italy for a pittance and rushed off at Christmas in a soft-topped Land Rover, no radio, a pathetic heater, no game boys. We still don't know why we did not die of hypothermia in the Alps, or swiped off a mountain road by a juggernaut (pre-motorways). Then Italian cakes, rushing to the shore to check the catch of fish, in fact, not wearing rose-coloured glasses, bliss.

The Gardener
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