The house took some finding, because it had to meet several fairly strictly defined criteria. It had to be nice, obviously. It had, preferably, to be detached – we’d both had enough of dividing walls – which was a bit of a constraint in Reading, where the nicest properties tend to be terraced four- or five-storey Victorian town houses. It had to be near enough to the town centre for shopping, and to commuting transport links. And it had to be the right size and shape for the fabulous parties we intended to throw.
I think we viewed around twenty, over a three month period. We actually made offers on a couple, which luckily fell through. Luckily, because out of nowhere the dream house suddenly popped up. I remember the viewing very clearly. We briefly inspected the outside – pre-war red-brick detached, imposingly deep front garden, a sense of solidity. When we got inside, we took one glance at the two spacious reception rooms, the elegant stairway and the galleried landing, looked at each other and just nodded.
The house was an executors’ sale, so there was no upward chain. You can imagine, if you haven’t done it, the complexity of synchronising two sales with a single purchase, so this was an added bonus. It was, however, also a wreck. Not structurally – it had, we were told been built by a builder for his own occupancy, obviously a good sign. It actually reminded me of the house I’d been brought up in in Bournemouth from the age of twelve, of which the same thing was supposedly true.
But it had been dreadfully refurbished in the 1950s, and then neglected over the years. Just to give a couple of instances: the lovely original brick fire surrounds had all been chipboarded over; and the bathroom was a plastic suite in yellow – yellow! There was no heating worthy of the name. And the plumbing and electrics were, let’s say, original.
We got rapidly in touch with a friend of Viv’s called Tony, and obtained permission for him to have a look. Tony was an expert plumber and builder, and the sort of guy who relished a challenge, especially for a friend. Having had a good inspection and an equally good think, he took us down a local Irish pub and gave us his views on what needed doing, together with a sensible price. We discussed it in a lot of detail over the subsequent days, but we knew we’d committed in our hearts from the outset. So we got onto the agents, offered the asking price, which was accepted, and moved in a month later, picking our way across the floor joists.