In the past five years or so, we have had six addresses, so you’ll understand when I say that we’re pretty adept at moving, but that we also hope this will be the last time. Catapulted by a tumultuous couple of years, we made the move from our lifelong homes in sunny, sandy Surrey, to the wet and wild Bere peninsula in West Devon in 2016. And from there back up to Exeter and a 1970s house with clean lines, gas central heating, a drive, a garage, an outlook over fields where young steers, Black Dexters, released out into the fields like a gang of marauding, wide-eyed toddlers coughed and huffed as they settled to sleep each night under our bedroom window. Life was good, but all my plants were still in pots, itching to sink their roots into the soil. I calculated that I needed 20 summers to see a garden grow to fruition and I might be cutting it a bit fine.
And then we found The Lynch, or rather, it found us. In a hotel room in northern Spain, on a holiday we’d booked not anticipating another move, we listened to news of home on the radio like the exiled de Winters and made plans for the house that wasn’t yet ours. We had dwelt in it in our heads so much that it felt as if we already lived there.
Once the house really was ours Mum travelled from Somerset, donning marigolds, along with our friend Danl, to help us clean. From the other room where she worked I heard Danl apologising, in her cheerful, sing-song voice, to each spider that she dislodged.
The house hadn’t been lived in since February and mould blackened the windows and walls, the garden knocking to be let in. Under the carpet in the back room, at the place where the floor falls away, I found a desiccated sparrow. Danl took it from me, casting it upwards to the shelter of the Holm Oak, with a blessing.
Moving day came in the middle of a week of Indian summer. “I remember you”, Mark said, climbing down from the lorry he’d backed nonchalantly from the tight bend of the cul de sac on to our drive, “we moved you in here. I remember your husband’s speakers”. Speakers that are 4’2 and filled with concrete, but that Glen won’t part with, because he made them with love.
The house is at the top of a steep road, on a raised pavement with no vehicular access. If you’re lucky you can park opposite on the road, but this still necessitates a climb, up or down the hill, to reach the house. Mark, Kevin and Dave hadn’t been warned. By good fortune and the kindness of our neighbours they managed to park on the road, working solidly in the heat to shuttle our belongings from the back of the lorry.
Midway through, a combine harvester appeared on the bend, a team of men in overalls and work boots going on ahead to clear the way, including our lorries. The driver of the combine stopped his careful journey between the parked cars and the high stone wall of the lynch to welcome us, cheerily, to the village, while his team clambered over the machine to adjust its mirrors, bouncing a parked car out of his way.
It was after 6pm by the time the lorry was empty and the men could set off back to Plymouth, still smiling.
And then it was ours. We breathed a huge sigh of relief; it was done. We were alone with the house at last.
Earlier I had arrived from the last, thoroughly cleaned house, leaving behind the landlady and her inventory, through the fields at the top of the village. I was holding a bunch of sunflowers that Emily, my oldest and dearest friend, had brought on her visit the previous weekend. I felt so happy, like a new mother, exhausted but excited at the beginning of so much that was unknown but that felt as familiar as breathing.
And that has been what it has been like in the few days since we moved in. Like a coming home. Our furniture fits. All the odd things I have collected over a lifetime of scavenging car boots, jumble sales, junk shops and recycling centres, fit. I have felt like Miss Avery, scuttling about at Howards End, finding that everything seems right in this quirky house. I asked for a house that had nooks and crannies; this house has little else.
It has wrapped its arms around us and welcomed us in, echoes of childhood homes making us feel safe, even though it is, in truth, very slightly falling apart.
The first night I took Coop up into the garden, climbing the steep stone steps gingerly in the dark and wondering how this was really going to work. At the top I found a sky buttoned with a box full of stars, the long grass hymning with crickets. I know there are going to be plenty of challenges ahead of us and sometimes I am going to cry and wring my hands and wonder what the hell we were thinking of, but I also know that it is going to be like welcoming a new life into our own, something that we are ready for, have longed for. It is a new beginning and I’m hoping very much for twenty summers to watch it grow.