Over coffee this morning Jackie and I spoke of large Victorian houses. She had spent part of her childhood in a magnificent mansion in Cator Road, Sydenham. Sydenham, of course, doesn’t have an elegant ring about it any more, and the house, like many of its generation, has been broken up into flats. Jessica had been born in a similar house in Nottingham, which she last knew as a children’s home; although it will not be that now. When I first walked into Lindum House in Newark, a building of a similar ilk, I had a very comforting sensation brought by an ambient memory of my Knight grandparents’ home in South Park Road in Wimbledon. That grand house and garden has, like most others in that street, been demolished to make way for a block of flats. My only clear childhood memories of 18 South Park Road are of coal fires at Christmas and, strangely enough, iron fruit bush stakes in the garden. I have a vague sense of wooden railings around an upstairs corridor. I had told Mum about my feeling, and when she first visited she said: ‘I’m not surprised. It’s exactly the same’. We always had open fires in the beautiful grates in Newark; although there was central heating, the earlier radiators having been provided by the Beeston Boiler Company, by coincidence Jessica’s paternal family firm. There were fruit bushes supported by iron stakes in the same position of the large Victorian garden. Sadly, Dad never got to see it, as he died two weeks after we moved. I’d have loved him to have enjoyed that relative of his childhood home.
Throughout the morning people were arriving to help prepare for the party this afternoon. Michael, Heidi, Alice, and Oliver had driven down early from Sanderstead for the purpose. Thea joined them when she and Adam arrived. Others, including Jackie and me, were in and out shopping. Just as I had been given on 1st July (see post), Mum received a surprise 90th birthday party. Yesterday’s rain having cleared up Michael arranged chairs in sunspots around the garden, and Jackie completed the garden room transformation. Alice had made four tiers of a sponge cake which she layered and decorated in situ at The Firs. Angela brought an array of her own home cooked Chinese savories and an attractive noodle dish. She really is a very good cook.
When Jacqueline brought Mum to the front door everyone was gathered in the hall to greet her with ‘Happy birthday’. From her children to her great grandchildren everyone was represented, and Danni gave her a large framed set of photographs, one of which each of the grandchildren had had produced of themselves. There was a last minute stress when my printer ran out of ink and Elizabeth’s kept jamming, but Danni, with Andy’s calm influence, stayed with it and completed the task on time. Unfortunately Louisa and her family were unable to come because because she has tonsilitis; and Malachi had to leave his mother behind because she is expecting his new sister quite soon.
As always with these events this was an opportunity for us all to catch up with each other, and particularly for the cousins to meet. It is very pleasing to see them all mingling and chatting in earnest. Mum was on good form and was not whisked away until 10.45.
Now it can be revealed that yesterday’s trip to Minstead and this morning’s conversation about grand houses were no coincidences. I had been circumspect yesterday because Jackie and I wished certain of my readership to learn face-to-face today that we have put a holding deposit on a flat to rent in Castle Malwood Lodge. Everyone is very pleased for us. We will be living in an albeit small section of a wonderful building in absolutely beautiful surroundings. Perhaps my recent forest walks will not have been in vain.