A COUNTRY PROSPECT
At first sight they knew they had to have Church Farmhouse. An ancient
drystone wall bordered the low eighteenth century building. Cushioned
with thyme, the uneven path wound obliquely through tangled plants
to a green front door with iron hinges. All the hues of grey, brown,
peach and ochre in the stone roof tiles were echoed in the mellow walls
of the building, as well as the soft grey paint on window frames divided
by stone mullions. To the right of the building a dusty, rutted lane
was thick with cow parsley and dogrose. All around stretched fields
dotted with cows and sheep, and along the main lane to the right, the
squat Norman tower of St Peter’s was just visible above the spreading
yews. Christine Anderson said it was impossible to imagine a more perfect
spot. Tony breathed deeply and said it would do them a power of good
to get out of the smoke.
Mr and Mrs Kendall, retired academics both,
were reserved at first, but warmed to the would-be purchasers’ enthusiasm
for their home. The Andersons made it clear their minds were made up,
even before they had inspected the warren of smallish rooms and the
farmhouse kitchen with enormous built-in dresser, deep belfast sink
and wooden draining boards bleached white by decades of scrubbing.
The handsome oak staircase rose in the middle of the hall, with barley-twist
balusters and a faded carpet caught in place with brass stair-rods.
The farmhouse had the patina of of lives that had found contentment
within those thick stone walls.
Kendall apologised for the state of some of the decoration, but Christine
Anderson said she loved it all, ‘just as it is’. She walked from room
to room, exclaiming over ornate open fireplaces, ‘quaint’ old baths
and basins, and - of course - the view, framed by thick, faded chintz.
The prospect of green farmland from the upstairs rooms was the essence
of all that foreigners admire about the English landscap.
The Kendalls were desperately sorry to sell;
they did not want to leave Little Bedcote, but felt it time to move
near their married daughter and her children in Edinburgh. Church Farmhouse
had become their home fifteen years ago, when the farmer, John Shipton,
gained planning permisson for a new bungalow . It was everything they
wanted, they said. The Andersons nodded.
‘It’s a very happy house’, said Mr Kendall.
‘Your loss is our gain!’, said Tony Anderson.
‘You have a beautiful home - quite perfect’,
Christine smiled. She looked past Mrs Kendall to admire her own reflection,
elegant in turquoise linen, in the slighty foggy glass in the recess
above the sitting room fireplace.
Everything was agreed over tea in the sunny rear garden: the asking
price, plus a sum for curtains and carpets which would not fit the
Kendalls’ new home.
‘Are you sure? Some of them are a bit worn’,
asked Mr Kendall, oblivious to his wife’s reproachful look.
‘Oh, but everything’s so tasteful’, breathed
Christine, thinking dubiously of items of furniture
in their town house, which had seemed chic
at the time. ‘And it all fits here, somehow. You know, as if it’s grown -
kind of thing.’
‘We’ll buy anything you want to sell’, said
Tony, rubbing his hands.
‘Well, we are moving
to a much smaller place, so there’ll be furniture too’, sighed Mrs
‘You just make a list, name your price and
we’ll do a deal!’, he replied.
Birds chirped in the beech and sunlight dappled
the white cloth laid with floral china. They looked towards the bottom
of the long garden, where a tall hedge lined the boundary, and cow
parsley stood four feet high, like foam against a dark sea. ‘We love
a wild garden’, Mr Kendall explained, ‘and especially as it hides the
farm. Oh, by the way the farmer has the right of way down that little
lane out there. It’s all in the deeds. No trouble at all. Shipton’s
a good enough chap but it’s quite useful not to be able to see his
house ‘cos, to be brutally frank, it’s not a thing of beauty. Made
a tidy profit on this one, mind - though it’s a decision most people
wouldn’t have taken. This place was in his family for three generations.’
‘Obviously a businessman too’, approved Tony Anderson, whose own fortune came
from the mechanism for folding beds, which he exported all over the world from
a factory twelve miles away. He was expanding Christon Ltd into cheaper foam
‘flop-down’ sofas and chairs as well. More and more single parent households
and the rise in the divorce rate meant an increased demand for that kind of furniture,
he explained to his wife, so the mail order business should do very well indeed.
Tony prided himself on having an eye to the future. A house agent he’d known
since schooldays tipped him off about a rundown property at a good price, which
a builder friend was converting into studio flats to double the investment. Now,
at forty five, Tony Anderson wanted visible proof of his success. This rambling
house - with its book-lined study, polished floors, collection of paintings and
drawings, and atmosphere of faded gentility - would do very well.
The house had originally been the rectory, which explained why it was slightly
grander in scale than a conventional farmhouse of the period. A Victorian rector
with ten children had decided it was too small, and so a much bigger, three story
house was erected at the top of the village in about 1867. Mr Kendall leaned
forward in his chair, not noticing Tony’s attention wander. ‘Now, of course,
the old rectory is a private house - it’s owned by a man called Simpson who has
a publishing company, ‘Pegasus Press’ - do you know it? The diocese must have
made a fair sum from its sale, and they built a new bungalow next door for the
rector - much smaller and cheaper to run, you see.’
‘Change and change about’, said Tony.
Cabbage whites rose in a cloud from the lavender, and drifted to settle on the
waving buddliea. ‘Will you do the garden yourselves?’, asked Mrs Kendall, adding,
‘It was our hobby’.
Christine shook her head, with a little giggle.’Well, I’m dying to move out of
town, and I’m certainly intending to throw myself into real country life, but
I don’t know much about gardening. Do you know a man who could come in and help?’
Mr Kendall gazed around at the herbaceous borders, fruit trees, lavender beds,
and rose garden they had created, and looked stricken. Then he nodded slowly.
‘Yes, I can give you the name of someone in the village. There’s Peter Tressick
- he does all kind of odd jobs, and he’s very active in the church too. I’m sure
he’d love some extra work.’
‘What about a cleaner?’, asked Christine, ‘and maybe a little woman who’ll come
in and do dinner parties for me?’ The Kendalls promised they would give them
all the advice and contacts possible, before they moved out.
In the next month Christine made a couple of visits, notebook in hand. Mrs Kendall
left her alone, once the lists had been agreed. Tony’s generous cheque purchased
the green velvet chaise longue, the huge carved wardrobe and matching dressing
table, two chintz sofas, an Edwardian king and queen chair with carpet upholstery,
a battered leather library chesterfield, two tapestry wing chairs, the early
Victorian elm dresser and dining table, with a set of ladder back chairs, and
an assortment of small tables and chests of drawers. At Tony’s request, Christine
asked if the Kendalls wanted to get rid of the books that stuffed the library
shelves, but their response had been a surprised (and to Christine, surprising)
negative. ‘Oh dear, we’ll just have to buy books by the yard’, she laughed.
As the Kendalls packed up their possessions, the house looked sadder. Christine
felt daunted by its empty spaces as well as anxious at the faintly musty smell
in some of the upstairs rooms. She was horrified by spiders who scuttled out
of cupboards, and the definite scatter of mouse droppings on the larder floor.
When the pictures were taken down the walls looked dirty, and she decided there
was something very unhygenic, after all, about the pitted flags of the kitchen
floor, and its surfaces of old tiles and wood. One night she returned to their
townhouse and burst into tears, sobbing that she could not cope.
‘But what with, darling?’, he asked, ‘Don’t say you’ve changed your mind!’
‘No - it’s not that’, Christine sniffed, ‘I know it’ll be nice - in the end.
It’s just that so much needs doing and don’t know what to do...where to start’.
Tony thrust a gin and tonic into her hand with a flourish. His second wife was
ten years younger - the secretary who had finally driven his first wife to demand
a divorce, whereupon she decamped to the Costa del Sol with their twin daughters
and his former business partner. Now Tony wanted another child, preferably a
son this time, and knew Christine was on the point of agreeing, even though she
worried about her perfect figure. The house in the country was all part of his
plan. The last thing he wanted to do was upset her.
'Say no more, Chrissie, I’ll sort it out. We’ll get an interior designer in,
so you won’t have to do a thing. Look love, we can afford it! We’ll turn the
old place into the smartest house in Little Bedcote - never mind how long it
takes. And we’ll stay here ‘til it’s all ready, OK? In the meantime, how do you
fancy a cruise?’ His wife wiped her eyes, sipped her drink, and beamed.
Amanda Santos was in demand ever since she appeared on a television
programme called ‘Star Sign Design’, which changed the sitting rooms
of two volunteers each week, when interviews and character analyses
by a well-known astrologer were interpreted by guest interior designers
of fashionable reputation. Amanda’s ‘client’, a Pisces called Tracey
Burdett, burst into tears when she saw the blue and green wave patterns
on walls stencilled with orange fish, fishing net curtains hung
with shells, driftwood sconces and coffee table, three piece suite
swathed with an infantile fishy fabric and a floor painted shiny
sea green where her slippers used to snuggle into a fitted carpet
of cream shagpile. Tracey’s husband comforted her by pointing out
how much worse it might have been had Ms Santos taken his own sign,
Scorpio. Still, the Burdetts said they were exploited and threatened
to sue, the story made all the popular papers, Amanda’s striking
blonde glamour and assertive personality was a gift to television
- and her reputation for daring was secure.
Reassured by the fact that they had heard of
her, Tony and Christine knew she was the person to transform Church
Farmhouse. The day after the Kendalls shed their tears and left,
Ms Santos strode around with the Andersons - who were secretly intimidated
by this tall woman, dressed in loose-fitting black, who informed
them that the chintzy country look was very dated now, the trademark
of monthly magazines bought by city people, and what was needed
was a bold, stylish approach. She stood in the hall, fingering the
barley twist balusters with a disapproving sigh, and gestured around.
‘The trouble is, I simply don’t feel that all this expresses you
two. When I meet new clients I trust my instincts, and for me this
is all too dusty, if you understand my meaning.’
The Andersons looked around. The house was
indeed dusty, with patches on the off-white walls and a general
air of melancholy. Their voices echoed in empty rooms; the old curtains
hung sadly; there was a whiff of damp; dead flies littered the window
sills. Tony folded his arms as if the decision were his own, and
said, ‘Definitely time for a change of approach’..
‘It wants...brightening up, really’, Christine
said nervously, relieved when Ms Santos nodded. ‘The thing is, Christine,
I only have to look at you and see we need considerably more sophistication
here’. Flattered, Christine glanced down at her white linen suit,
with shiny black buttons matching the high, strappy sandals, and
nodded. The designer clicked open her briefcase and pulled out swatches
of fabric, paint cards and a notebook, and began to talk unintelligibly
about colour keynotes and styling moods, while Christine daydreamed
about her cruise wardrobe. She told Amanda she trusted her judgement
totally, and would not interfere.
Meanwhile, saying that interiors were ’girls’
business’, Tony wanderered out to the garden and noticed with distaste
the wild flowers lolling everywhere, and mallow and buddleia waving
over paths so that he had to duck and weave. Like a jungle, he thought.
As if on cue the doorbell rang. He had arranged for the oddjob man
Peter Tressick to call and discuss work, and within minutes the
man walked through the kitchen door.
Now in his fifties, Peter Tressick had lived
in Little Bedcote all his life. He built walls for people, laid
paths, put up shelves, maintained gardens. In his own time, as dedicated
churchwarden, he strimmed the verges and the churchyard, and had
very strong views about the general appearance of the village. After
twenty minutes it was clear he and Tony Anderson understood each
other perfectly. The new employer undertook to buy a sit-on mower,
strimmer and anything else needed, agreeing with Peter that the
garden needed ‘a good seeing-to.’ Tony commissioned ‘a bit of a
patio’ where he could sit in the evening with a drink. They agreed
the hourly rate and the maximum hours in any week, shook hands,
and felt pleased with their transaction.
By the time the Andersons returned from their Aegean cruise at
the end of August, the transformation of Church Farmhouse was proceeding
at a rate which shocked some of the neighbours. The exterior was
repointed, and all the ivy had gone, since Amanda’s builder said
it was bad for the structure and encouraged damp. The window frames
and front door were white with laquered brass fittings. All the
old carpets and curtains Tony had bought from the Kendalls were
thrown in to the skip; the fussy barley twist balusters and brass
stair rods followed; the belfast sink was replaced by a double round
bowl in brushed stainless (with integral waste-disposal) to complement
the custom-built light oak kitchen units, set off by peach rag-rolled
walls. A cream Aga was installed, although Christine (unsure of
the uncontrollable creature which squatted in every proper country
kitchen) asserted herself for once and insisted on an ordinary gas
cooker as well. The old sitting room and parlour had been knocked
into one, and most of the early Victorian fitted shelves in the
study ripped out to make way for larger radiators. The bathroms
were refurbished with pale grey marble, and each bedroom colour-themed.
If Christine thought some of the colours too bright - the mediterranean
blue in the hall, for example - she did not feel confident enough
to demur. It was all so much cleaner and smarter, they agreed, and
Amanda Santos announced that she was as proud of this house as any
she had done.
But a war had broken out between the designer
and the odd-job man. She thought he was heavy handed with herbicide,
pesticide and strimmer alike; he decided she was a town-bred snob
with terrible taste. Caught between them, Christine and Tony lost
any remaining confidence in their own opinions, an anxiety expressed
in assertions of approval all round. If Tony was shocked to arrive
one weekend to see that the wild bottom part of the garden had been
napalmed, he did not say so because he thought the countryman must
know best - and in any case, he had given carte blanche. With the
undergrowth of cowparsley and wild hedgerow gone, the farm buildings
and modern bungalow were clearly visible through what remained of
the chopped hedge. But the new flagged patio pleased the owner of
Church Farmhouse. Peter Tressick had constructed it along the length
of the house, projecting four metres into the garden. The whole
place looked much neater,Tony agreed. At a deep level he felt it
belonged to him now, not those other people.
The Andersons moved to Little Bedcote early in October, when woodsmoke
drifted across the valley and golden leaves began to litter the
lanes. By now Christine had forgotten what the farmhouse looked
like before - impressed as she was by Amanda Santos’s selection
of tartan moire silk, purple and pink velvets, steel grey rouched
drapes, and rainbow of heavy linen button-top curtains that adorned
the old windows, keeping out the light. She had even grown used
to the matt black paint on the old oak staircase in the astonishing
blue hall. Alone in the day, she walked from room to room, realising
what they needed: more pictures, books, objets.
Amanda Santos promised she would find them, so each week a bulky
parcel arrived and Christine unwrapped a miscellany of purchases
which she obediently carried to rooms specified by the absent designer.
There were Georgian candlesticks (‘for the
drawing room mantlepiece’), a Victorian washing set (‘for the pink
bedroom’), a set of pewter jugs (‘for the dining room’), a collection
of photograph frames in inlaid wood, matt black, and brushed silver
studded with glass in various colours (‘scatter where you want.
We’re trying to achieve contemporary notes...’) , and two small
sculptures of naked girls with pert buttocks which Tony thought
very artistic. Mixed boxes of second hand books arrived, which Christine
stuffed in the remaining study shelves. A shop called ‘Illuminato’
delivered an interesting selection of modern and reproduction lamps.
And so it went on. Tony paid without protest, although the designer’s
bill made him sit down very quickly.
One day a young man in leather trousers arrived
with ten expressionistic watercolours resembling weeping flowers,
and a vast pink nude in oil, with purple nipples, eating grapes
on a blue couch. ‘Ms Santos thought this one would be perfect over
the dining room fireplace - because it’s all about food’, he explained,
with a flirtatious smile Christine found alluring. Thinking he was
a delivery boy she gave him a ten pound note for all the trouble
he took carrying in the works of art and giving advice on where
they should hang. She did not know he was Amanda’s intimate friend
- enduring the continuing stress of artist’s block and glad of the
opportunity to produce something easy for a very handsome fee.
The weather was mild, but Mrs Tressick, who
arrived every day to clean, made sure her husband filled log baskets
in the study, sitting room and dining room, and laid all the fires.
One evening, as Christine waited for Tony to come back she decided,
despite the central heating, that a fire would make the sitting
room cosy - just as she had imagined it, during the months of waiting
: the soothing crackle, the glow of orange light, the scent of burning
wood awakening inexplicable nostalgia.
When Tony Anderson walked into the blue hall
he smelt damp and smoke, then heard a sound of coughing and sobbing.
He threw open the sitting room door to be enveloped by acrid billows
which caught his throat, making him splutter. His wife came tottering
out of the swirling semi-darkness, face and hands smudged, fine
white ash like snow on her black sweater and in her hair. Tears
streamed down her face.
‘I can’t light it...the smoke just pours out
into the room...I opened the windows but it made it worse...Oh Tony,
I hate thiiiiiis!’
Tony led her to the kitchen and mixed a dry
martini, before telephoning Mr and Mrs Tressick
who were on the doorstep within ten minutes, ready to help. Peter
Tressick shook his head, cursing these old chimneys and the rooks
that nested in them; Susan Tressick cleaned the room, grumbling
that she had already done it once that day. ‘It’s all too much....’,
was her habitual comment on life’s complexities, usually followed
by long anecdotes about the wayward children, marital problems,
slow illnesses, and sudden deaths of people Christine had never
met yet knew she should be interested in, since that was part of
village life. By the time the Tressicks knocked on the kitchen door
to say they had finished, the Andersons had downed three dry martinis
each, which still failed to cheer.
‘You take a bit of advice’, said Susan, ‘You
get yourselves a nice gas fire like we’ve got.’
‘No trouble at all’, nodded Peter, ‘There when
you want it, and clean as anything’.
The log effect fires were installed within two weeks - so deceptive
that visitors invariably threw spent matches or scraps of paper
on to the flames which flickered realistically yet did not consume.
But once these last improvements were made, and the last few objets chosen
by Amanda Santos put into their designated places, then Christine
Anderson was like a child at the end of a party,
wondering why it was over, and who would play with her now? Unsure
of what to do with her hours she rearranged her extensive wardrobe
(unsuitable as it was for the farmhouse), gazed out at the empty
lane, and became neurotically aware of the din of country life.
It drove her mad. At first light the Shiptons’ cockerel rent the
air. Dogs barked. Cows lowed. The flock set up the demanding din
on the nearest hillside whenever it saw a human who might bring
sheep nuts. Tractors and farm delivery lorries groaned past the
house. All these noises, as well as the clang of church bells twice
on Sunday were an ear-splitting reminder of rituals, rural and religious,
that were alien.
When the November rain began in earnest, gusts
of wind made the felt beneath the old roof flap like a sail, and
sent one or two tiles spinning to shatter on the rough path, so
slippery now. Christine tried to raise her spirits by planning a
‘real’ Christmas, with the help of magazines devoted to country
living and interiors. She had imagined the village twinkling with
lights, holly wreaths on doors, frosted trees, neighbours knocking
with invitations, and carol singers - breath white clouds before
their rosy faces, as their voices echoed shared faith and common
memory, under the lantern glow.
But the rain did not stop, and she did not
know the neighbours, nor - she realised - want to know them. The
Rector had paid a visit - an enthusiastic young man who grasped
her hand and said, ‘Call me Dave’. His dumpy wife Jen trailed round
the village in wellington boots, bent over the old black pram, with
their three other children toddling behind like ducklings - occasionally
stopping to dash the rain from her round glasses. Christine told
the Rev. Dave, ‘We’re not churchy types, I’m afraid’, and refused
his wife’s invitation to tea, knowing they would have nothing to
Brigadier Stevens and his wife Hilda lived
in the Manor, and nodded to her at a distance, as if they had already
decided that a further acquaintance would be pointless. The line
of cottages called ‘The Batch’, was inhabited by a set of old ladies
Christine could not distinguish from each other, while ‘The Smithy’
next door housed a women in her late forties with long red hair,
whose purple, turquoise and green clothes and silver jewellery moved
as she walked. Sally Tressick sniffed when she explained that Liz
Woods was a potter, not married (this said darkly) but ‘with weird
friends’. Sometimes a group of them would walk past Church Farmhouse
with their dogs, laughing and talking as they picked blackberries
or collected wild flowers in baskets, while Christine peeped through
the window. She noticed that Liz Woods was friendly with Julius
Simpson at the Old Rectory, whose wife Bea was a famous childrens’
author, and whose brother Harry Simpson, an antique dealer, lived
with his male partner next to the Manor in ‘The Dower House’. (There
was more pursing of lips when Mrs Tressick divulged this.) Intimidated,
yet feigning distaste, Christine told Tony with some spirit that
none of them looked her ‘type’. He was disappointed.
Despite the unpleasant farm sounds, the Andersons
had maintained a cordial, wave-at-a-distance relationship with the
farmer, John Shipton and his wife Mary. Until the mud. One wet Friday
evening Tony stopped his Jaguar on the rough parking verge outside
their house, and stepped into mud - not the thin slick that was
everywhere in this weather, but great gouts of it, thick with straw
and manure. Cursing, unable to see in the pitch darkness of the
lane, he attempted to wipe his shoes on the sodden grass, which
made their state much worse. Walking quickly up the path he tripped
on one of the uneven slabs, slipped, and almost fell. Feeling foolish,
and all the more irritated, he pulled off his caked city shoes at
the front door, to be met by a discontented wife who moaned that
John Shipton had moved his cattle to their indoor quarters along
the lane that was his right of way, driving her crazy with the noise
and the smell, and spreading dung and dirt until she wanted to be
‘They’re horrible great things’, she wailed,
‘And right at the back of us now!’.
‘Why did Shipton let them walk all over our
parking space? The least he could do is clean up the bloody mess’,
‘I wish....’ She stopped and sighed.
He knew, but did not want it said. Moodily
they gulped red wine and ate their chops in
silence, the mournful sounds of restless cattle echoing over the
gentle patter of drizzle, like foghorns at sea.
Something was decided that night. Tony Anderson
had not built up his business from scratch without developing a
clarity of vision - not just of what he wanted in life, but more
importantly, how he could set about obtaining it by any means. Like
his idol, Margaret Thatcher, he was decisive and most definitely
not for turning. An unhappy wife who sulked in bed, farmyard stink
and mud everywhere was not how he had imagined his paradise. Therefore
he would act.
On Saturday morning he telephoned John Shipton,
whose reponse to the complaint was displeasing. ‘It’s my right of
way - remember? And if you move to the country you have to put up
with a spot of mud’, he said. Tony could hear laughter in his voice.
Angered, he told the farmer that the filth on the road and along
the side lane was dangerous and that he would be consulting his
solicitor. At that Shipton had the effrontery to laugh out loud,
whereupon Tony said something unpleasant about ‘yokels’. Voices
were raised, and receivers slammed down, but Christine felt an obscure
sense of satisfaction that something was being done.
Next Tony summoned Peter Tressick, and instructed
him to rip up the dangerously uneven and unnecessarily long route
to the front door, and lay a straight new path in decent, regular
flags, which would in turn mean moving the front gate, in the course
of which the crumbling dry stone wall might as well be taken down
and a new wall, properly built from clean yellow stone, erected
in its place. The front garden would be put to lawn, which would
look much smarter, they both agreed. The parking space outside would
be raised and gravelled, with a ramp one side and and built-up border
the other, which could be planted with heathers. All this would
be done, weather permitting, over Christmas and New Year while the
Andersons took a break in the Bahamas. For all this masculine decisiveness
Tony was rewarded by much physical affection from his wife over
On Monday morning he put through a call to
the local council, located the correct official, and made an appointment
for that afternoon. In the course of the meeting he discovered that
over the years one or two people had requested street lighting and
proper pavements along the lanes of Little Bedcote, but other residents
said they did not want to lose the rural character of the village.
‘I can imagine which ones they were’,
said Tony with contempt. He explained how he had fallen down in
the darkness and hurt himself, that his wife was afraid to go out
at night, that it was unacceptably dangerous not to have a pavement
on which to escape the heavy farm traffic, that the lives of the
old ladies in the village were at stake, that ‘real’ local people
like the Tressicks were on his side and would canvas support - and
finished deeply moved by his own litany of woe. He left with a strong
sense of a kindred spirit within the council offices.
The Andersons returned from the Caribbean at
the end of January, tanned and fit, to discover Peter Tressick halfway
through the work on the path and wall. But a letter of protest from
Julius and Bea Simpson lay on the hall table. ‘Listen to this guff!’
Tony laughed, ‘They’re on about “our heritage of drystone walls”
and “the essential character of Little Bedcote”. I’ll do as I please
to my own property, thankyou very much!’
Christine thought the clean new path a great
improvement - much easier to walk on in decent shoes, and in any
case the old wall would have fallen down soon, with no cement to
hold it together. ‘People should mind their own business about other
people’s improvements’, she said.
‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking
eggs’, Tony added wisely.
‘Got to move with the times,’ agreed Peter
Tressick, pleased by their praise of his work, ‘Village like Little
Bedcote’s got to look to the future, not be a museum.’
Also awaiting their arrival was a letter from
the solicitor informing Tony Anderson that he did indeed have a
case against the farmer, who had already been informed of the action.
‘He won’t want it to get as far as court’, he told his wife, ‘just
in case he loses. Let’s face it love, it’s a question of resources
in the end’.
The weeks passed, and the worst winter weather
came and went, but Christine discovered an exclusive country club
with a pool, health and beauty treatments, and excellent lunch menu,
which filled her days most pleasantly. Tony’s new line of foam bedsit
furniture did so well that Christon Ltd doubled its profits, and
Tony celebrated by buying them both new cars - a black BMW for him,
and scarlet Mazda convertible for her. As Easter approached he decided
he would investigate the property market further, as house prices
looked set to rise especially in the south of England. And all the
time he refused to forget his objectives for the village - writing
letters, making phone calls, and making a point of not acknowledging
his ‘snooty’ neighbours if he happened to roar past any of them
on his way to work.
Spring was warm; they even sat out on their
patio with drinks, despite the hostile presence of John Shipton
just beyond the hedge, and the distasteful sounds and smells of
his farm. Asked to let the hedge grow up a little, Peter Tressick
had still cut down all the wildflowers in the garden and outside
on the verges, even though Christine had dared to hazard the suggestion
that he leave them alone. He assured her it would be better this
way - ‘Otherwise they seed all over the place’. Christine did not
quite understand why that would be such a bad thing, but let the
Then, at the beginning of June two things happened
which confirmed Tony Anderson in his conviction that he was a fortunate
man. In the first place, he came home from the office one night
to find Christine dressed in something cream and clinging, a secretive,
knowing smile on her face. Champagne chilled in the ice bucket on
the coffee table; two cut-glass flutes stood ready. For a second
Tony panicked, thinking he had forgotten a special anniversary;
then he realised this could not be the case since his secretary
was so efficient, and his wife would not be smiling.
‘Guess what?’, she murmured, reaching up to
kiss his cheek. Something about her movement - holding herself in
a new way, proud yet fragile, so that her breasts jutted even more
sensually than usual. That glow on her face of excitement tinged
with nervousness was adorable, and arousing too....There was only
one possible answer to the mystery.
‘Do you think you’re too old to be a Daddy
again, darling?’, she asked archly.
A couple of nights later, when they had just
finished dinner, the telephone rang. When Tony put the receiver
down he turned to Christine with a puzzled frown. ‘My God! That
was Shipton. Did I tell you the case is about to come up? Well,
he wants to come round and talk to me - what do you think about
About ten minutes later the doorbell rang and
the farmer was standing on the doorstep, dressed unusually in a
sports jacket, and holding an offering of malt whisky To Christine’s
irritation Tony ushered him through to the study, dispatched her
for whisky glasses, then closed the door firmly. She wandered out
into the mothy warmth of the garden, and glanced through the study
window to see her husband handing the farmer a glass, with a questioning
look on his face. Then she lay on the sofa, with the door wide open,
turning the pages of a magazine and straining her ears. Bottle clinked
on glass again and again, as it grew later and later, and gradually
the mens’ conversation was punctuated by loud guffaws. She was dozing
by the time they emerged, stumbling slightly and exchanging loud
goodnights and congratulations as they pumped each others’ hands
in the hall.
The months revolve, and season blends into
season. All Tony Anderson’s energies were devoted to his business,
the new development and - most of all - to the new baby son, Anthony
Anderson Junior, who lay in his dark blue pram in French babyclothes.
John Shipton and his wife had concluded that
there was no future in farming, and it was
time to fulfil their ambition of running a little pub somewhere.
Over the months anger over the right of way had subsided as the
farmer realised that there was money to be made from his truculent
neighbour - a far more profitable venture than fighting a foolish
court case about a spot of mud. It was then he decided to tell Tony
Anderson that he had managed to obtain outline planning permission
to build on his land five years before. He knew the right people,
he said, so if Tony made him an offer he could not refuse....Well
then, everybody would be happy.
Of course, many people were not happy, but
their petitions and letters over many months
did not prevail. The Brigadier, the potter, the publisher, the writer,
the antique dealer and the gaggle of old ladies who did not want
change....all of them were dismissed by the council, and by the
‘real’ old village residents like the Tressicks and the Shiptons,
as antideluvian in their attitudes.
Little Bedcote gained street lighting, and
pavements too, making it a far more civilised
place to live. And although the Andersons admitted that the building
work on the fields that John Shipton had once farmed was rather
noisy, it would soon be completed - when the new development of
executive homes, most of them with double garages, would bring new
blood into the area. Christine was sure she would find friends in
the architect-designed dwellings, most of which had already been
Since no one else farmed in the village there was no more animal
manure and mud on the
lane, so that Christine’s new four wheel drive
(essential for baby paraphernalia) remained immaculate. When he
came home from work, early one warm Spring evening, and found his
wife at the gate holding up little Anthony, Tony Anderson felt tears
sting and wondered what he had done to deserve such happiness. Tenderly
he kissed his wife and baby. Then, waving a hand to embrace Ms Santos’s
farmhouse surrounded by Mr Tressick’s garden and handiwork, and
then the extensive muddy wastes of the half-finished building site
across on the hillside, he said softly, in a voice full of emotion,
‘This is what I’ve always wanted, Chrissie - security for the future,
a lovely place in the country, and a boy who’s going to inherit
the lot one day.’
Bel Mooney has asserted her right under the
Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988 to be identified as the author of