Hunter Davies’ empty love nest
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Oh what a mess I have got myself into. It was daft enough at the age of 84 deciding to start a new life with a new woman in a new house in a brand-new place. I knew I might fall ill – after all, I had a triple heart bypass op four years ago – or something simple could go wrong, like falling over, which I seem to do often these days, sometimes totally sober (how would I find a hospital or even a GP in a new town?). But I didn’t expect this to happen.
I suppose it all started when my wife Margaret died six years ago, after 55 years of marriage.
We met when she was still at school in Carlisle and I had just become a student.
After she died, I sold the country home we owned in Lakeland for 30 years and gave the proceeds to our three children.
After about a year on my own, I began to feel lonely: having to cook for myself and sleep on my own. I have loads of friends, an active social and work life and I did not plan to get married again. In my head, I am still married to my wife Margaret.
But I began to yearn to have a love heart, a kindred spirit, a companion – someone to go on holiday with.
For the last four years, I have had a girlfriend. We had great times, and holidays, but did not live together. We each had our own house and family.
We’d been going out for three years before we reached the stage of considering it.
Then we decided against it: I could not live in her house in south London; it was too clean and white and immaculate for me. I would be scared to sit down.
And she could not live in my battered Victorian house near Hampstead Heath in north London.
It was too scruffy; it would upset her. So two years ago, we decided to find a country cottage together, a love nest just for us where we could spend the rest of our lives.
I can’t remember why we chose the Isle of Wight. Neither of us knew it.
I was last there in 1966 when I came to interview the governor of Parkhurst prison, whose inmates at the time included the Great Train Robbers and a Kray Brother. Hard to believe the Home Office today would allow a diary columnist to go into a prison and meet the governor.
We first visited the island in the summer of 2020. It was still a time of high Covid and we had come on the car ferry to look at what sounded like a fab cottage in a place called Seaview. It turned out to be as attractive as the estate agents had promised, with a garden front and back.
Alas, we had not realised it was surrounded by a new estate. Who wants a love nest where prying eyes can watch your every intimate move?
On the way back to the ferry, my girlfriend found a terrific-looking cottage in Ryde.
She had gone on the Rightmove website before bed, as so many women of a certain age do before they go to sleep, a harmless bit of property porn.
We had not planned to be in a street in a town, wanting to be out in the country or by the sea. But it was only three minutes from a three-mile-long sandy beach – and all on the flat (I also had a new knee some years ago, so steps and hills can be a problem these days).
It was grade-two listed, a Regency gem and only £280,000.
In London, where I have lived for 60 years, you can pay that for a garage. In Mayfair, £280,000 will hardly get you a parking space.
We both loved it at once but then got into a bidding war, all-cash buyers.
People were flooding out of London to retreat to the seaside, so the estate agents boasted, having a beanfeast, enjoying the period of their lives. The price went up.
I bid £ being to th S£310,000 as my last offer, despite told a rival had bid £321,000. But then the owner decided to sell it to us. She is from Leeds, a good sensible Northern lass. She did not trust that the other bidder would complete. So we got it. Hurrah. We moved into the cottage two years ago, in September 2020. I decided to write a book about our first bid Hurrah decide – as that is my day job and has been for almost 60 years now with 103 published. Boast, boast.
I called it Love In Old Age: My Year In The Wight House.
The love refers to three things.
Love for a new house, love of a new island and love of a new woman. Now, two years later, I still love the house. Yes, there were damp problems and dodgy drains, but they are sorted. All it cost was money.
My heart flutters every time I come back from the beach to my cottage, through the front gate, down the tiled path and into the sweet little pink-washed cottage with its lovely Regency bow window.
So, ten out of ten for the house – and for the street and for Ryde. I have made so many new friends locally and been to so many events.
There is so much art and music, so much to do and see, so many lovely houses, handsome squares and buildings.
The Island is a gem. All of the English land year scape is there, without the hustle and bustle, the noise and grime.
I have explored most of it, well at least round the coast. It is a total delight, yet still so unknown to most people in England.
The Cotswolds, Cornwall and Lake District get all the attention on the travel pages while the Isle of wight, being relatively small, with a population of only 140,000, and a bit hard to get to, does tend to be ignored. Anyway, ten out often for the island as well. So what about the third element, the third object of my love in old age – my girlfriend?
Alas, we have fallen out. No need to go into the reasons, you would only be interested.
So nil points for my love life. That is all over.
Now I find myself back where I began, with a house which I love but no one to share it with. I have also got myself into another slight mess.
As part of that first mad year of passionate love, I decided to give something back to the island. I have begun the Isle of Wight Book Awards.
We have got support from excellent local sponsors and got two famous authors as judges – Alan Titchmarsh and Joanna Trollope – along with my good self. The first Grand Awards Lunch with 100 guests and a slap-up do at the Island Sailing Club in Cowes, with speeches and amusements, take place on October 12.
This is not my first literary awards. I began the Lake District Book Awards 38 years ago – and they are still going strong, with sponsors queuing up.
But I have just retired as a judge as I no longer have a house in Lakeland.
With the Isle of Wight, I saw myself living here for the rest of my life or longer.
What shall I do now? The Book Awards will go on, as they are clearly successful already.
And I want to be part of them. But do I want to live in this house all on my own? How will I find another chum to share my love nest with me?
That is my hope, my desire, my fantasy. Wish me luck.
- Love In Old Age by Hunter Davies (Head of Zeus, £21.99) is out now. For free UK P&P, visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832
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