AFTER FOUR YEARS of friendship, I was getting a bad feeling about my wife Krystina and Joseph. Things were happening between them, just odd looks and awkward silences. I became more and more aware of it, although there was no direct evidence of any sort to support my fears. Certainly, with Joseph’s wife Janet and me both out working all day while Joseph and Krystina were at home, there was plenty of opportunity for them to be together.
We had three young girls. Penny and Sylvia were school age, but our youngest daughter May was just three years old and, extraordinarily, Krystina was still breast feeding her.
Krystina was in her early thirties, a slim bottle blonde with a very seductive mouth. I think it was her teeth mainly, or the jaw line, but either way it sure worked on the men in her life.
Joseph was typical of his religious descent with curly hair, glasses and a moustache. Occasionally he would start to grow a beard, but he always gave it up once his wife Janet got into him. He was a well-built, extraordinarily fit, thirty-five-year-old and stood about six feet two.
We had a secluded half acre with our old Georgian cottage and our nearest neighbours (Joseph and Janet) lived a quarter of a mile away, just over the brow of the hill in a thatched cottage on their two-acre plot. They also had access to a very large wood that belonged to their neighbour Dr Austin, a prominent politician that owned the entire hillside behind them. Dutch elm disease had killed all the elm trees in his woods. He encouraged Joseph and me to cut down as much of the stricken dead elm as we wanted, and he even gave us his chainsaw to do it with. We had the trees free because professionals wanted him to pay for the removal of the elm, much to his chagrin, since Dr Austin thought that they would pay him!
Joseph and I had been logging one Saturday for firewood when I returned home. Our three girls were all at a birthday party in town. Krystina was nude sun-bathing in the back garden, stretched out, face upward like a starfish. She could not be seen by anyone unless they came around by the rear entrance. Apparently, she was not aware of my presence and I decided to retrace my steps and try a bit of subterfuge. I re-entered the side gate noisily and talked loudly to a fictitious Joseph. She must have heard me this time, but she didn’t even flinch. I would have expected her to try and cover up as quickly as possible. As she did not, I could only assume that she was pretending not to hear. It must have excited her to know that we were ‘both’ quite clearly able to see her naked. I was disturbed and shocked as it could only be interpreted as the height of brazenness. I said cheerio to the invisible Joseph and went inside to brood and fester over what had just transpired. I would have to find some other way of confirming my fears about them while all the time hoping that it was purely in my imagination.
It was over a regular Friday night game of poker a few years earlier, that I learned from a builder friend that my two-year-old house had risen in value by over fifty percent. This news opened a whole new range of possibilities for my family and me. My wife Krystina and I had two young daughters then, with a third on the way. Krystina had never liked that particular home, despite it being a large four-bedroom detached house, set in a quiet country village dating back to the fifteenth century. She had long wished to return to an older house of character, like the one we had rented in rural Somerset a few years earlier.
Huntingdonshire was full of history and we began our search for a new home, but it was Bedfordshire that came up with the goods when we came across a tiny isolated cottage just outside the town of Sandy. Sandy was sandwiched between the A1 highway and the main railway line between London to Edinburgh. The cottage was all that remained of five dwellings on the half acre plot. It nestled between two hills, with views to the south extending for almost twenty miles across the flat countryside. Downstairs consisted of the tiny front door entrance, leading right to the lounge or left to the dining room. The lounge had a bay window at one end and a very small fireplace at the other within a huge chimney breast. All the ground floor rooms had large flagstone floors laid directly onto sand. The dining room had the only internal door in the house. It was adjacent to the chimney and simply opened to expose a very narrow spiral stairs to the first-floor bedrooms. The stairway went through one hundred and eighty degrees to arrive at the first bedroom whereupon you had to walk around the chimney breast to find the second bedroom. The kitchen led off the dining room at the back of the house and then on to a half-cellar down three steps.
That was it, no toilet, no bathroom and with only two electrical sockets downstairs and one upstairs. Leaving the house by the kitchen back door you would find a ramshackle corridor constructed from corrugated plastic roofing sheets. A side door off this makeshift structure lead into the rear garden, or you could continue on towards what was originally an outside brick-built bathroom and toilet. The cottage fronted the lane with barely four metres of a steeply rising grassy bank between the property and the road. The rear and one side of the garden were quite substantial, which would allow plenty of room for extensions. The bottom of the garden had a brick structure that once housed two wash houses (they each contained the old copper laundry tubs and a hearth for a fire beneath). On the back of these two rooms were three toilets (actually just buckets for the night cart). The hamlet was called Sorden but my builder friend renamed it (within minutes of his first visit) to “Sodden”. Damp, you are not kidding, but it did lead to us exposing some beautiful timbers in the ground floor walls during the subsequent damp-proofing exercise. We also unearthed a substantial inglenook in the lounge area and a fireplace in the dining room large enough for a wood burning stove. In addition to the damp-proofing, we rewired and re-plumbed the cottage as well as extending it to contain new bathroom facilities and a further two bedrooms. The extension was on the ground floor and parallel to the road. By taking up most of the frontage with the road, we had a very private rear garden. The old toilet was demolished along with the plastic sheeting and the two washrooms became a workshop and a playroom. The three toilets at the bottom of the garden were remodelled as wood stores.
We enjoyed an idyllic lifestyle for almost four years with weekend barbeques, dinner parties and entertaining our friends from central London ‘getting out into the sticks’ for their weekends away from the West End. They were connected to the entertainment business, but I will introduce them to you later.