It is a bit too hard to make it all the way up the wooden steps to Bedfordshire and I am now using the study to sleep and to write this story about some of the books and objects and paintings that I have collected over the years.
Ruth’s husband, Don, also died of prostate cancer. He was diagnosed very late and died relatively quickly. He was the kindest of men - even allowed Jack, as a very young boy, to drive his tractor round one of the lawns of their house in Polstead, the Suffolk village famous for Maria and the (Victorian) Red Barn Murder.
We spent many weekends, summer and winter, with them. All recorded in my photo albums, where we see dark hair turn to grey. Only Don seems timeless. He was fairly bald when we met him and never seemed to change.
He requested that Marianne read a poem at his memorial service. She read Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, which is about a walk in the woods. As one his many environmental projects, Don planted woodland after the great hurricane of 1987, when a lot of trees came down. In the same hurricane, a tree fell against Jack’s window in the front of our house. Nothing was broken. But, while all the debris was being cleared away, my son and I were in the street, and a local Polish builder stopped for a chat. For some reason I told him it was Jack’s third birthday. He gave the boy 10p.
A little while later, it was reported in the local press that the same builder had shot his wife and then killed himself at the bottom of the road round the corner. A story for Ruth. Although Ruth does not need any suggestions on plot from me. She has an endless fertility of invention and will be happy to perish at her keyboard.
Above the door of the study, a tiny three-legged stuffed alligator is nailed to the wall. God knows why I bought it. I was still at school, and went early one morning with some Dulwich neighbours to Bermondsey Market. I offered the man 9 shillings. He countered with 10s. ‘It’s a collector’s item,’ he said. ‘But it’s only got three complete legs,’ I replied. We settled on 9s.
I would no more buy a stuffed animal now than I would a machine gun.
When my dear friend and Hutchinson colleague Susan Hill died, in her will she stipulated that her cat Bernard should be humanely destroyed, stuffed, mounted in a glass case, and given to Paul Sidey.
As her executor, it is the one instruction I disobeyed. Bernard (minus one eye) ended his days peacefully in a cat sanctuary in Islington.
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