We had sold our bungalow a few miles away and were technically without a roof over our heads so we needed somewhere to stay while we found our feet.
This is where Christine Williams, who had been our neighbour for around eight years - moving next door after the death of her mum, became a crucial part of the renovation. Ages before we bought this place she promised to ease our journey by allowing us to sleep, shower, stuff our faces and abuse the wi-fi at her house for as long as we needed to. And we did just that for a little under two weeks, for which we will be forever grateful.
|The party conga was a breeze for Chris and Mickey|
I briefly mentioned our initial living arrangements somewhere in this blog at the time, but what I didn't say was that Chris wasn't at home because she was more-or-less permanently in hospital where she was receiving treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) which, for those not exposed to the condition before, is cancer of the blood.
Cutting a long story short, she was in hospital for a tremendous amount of time and saw good and bad days. She was only strong enough to breathe fresh air once in a while and I'm honoured to say that she sacrificed one of those rare opportunities to pop over to The Lodge. Although she had to wear a builders' respirator during her visit to help ward off the mould spores in the air, and although the house was damp and grotty, it stoked the boundless enthusiasm she had been building up for many months since she first saw the estate agent pictures online and before we had even put an offer in. She even started passing the time in hospital by writing a fictional crime novel around The Lodge called Pussy's In The Well. The fact that the title actually gave away the planned ending didn't phase her...
But the treatment didn't work.
Chris was allowed home to sort out her affairs and, as it turned out, spend money like it was going out of fashion, and in mid-July she threw a glitzy black-tie party at a posh country house down the road with food, fireworks and terrible disco music so she could see family, friends and those who had cared for her in hospital before she got too poorly to say goodbye properly.
Chris died at 2am today, aged 59.
I'm not one for soppy clichés about bravery and dignity in the face of death, but both Dawn and I are extremely thankful for her help, humour and generosity, especially during those difficult final few months.
|Hula Hoops... I don't even like 'em|
I'm sure that during her lowest private moments things were different, but Chris has taught us that there's no point in wallowing over the inevitable and it's better to have a chuckle about it now and then. For instance, when she tearfully broke the news to us about her illness I told her I was going to stick Post-it notes around her house on everything that we wanted from her estate, which was just enough to replace the crying with laughter. Just last week she mischievously bought a new mobile phone on a two-year contract, and when she said she wanted her ashes scattered on her beloved Skye in Scotland - and I suggested she leave some petrol money - she rolled her eyes and laughed along. Thankfully she seemed to appreciate my sarcasm.
And although Chris didn't believe in an afterlife I convinced her that she has to give us a sign if she ends up hanging around unseen. We went through the usual things such as unexpected and inexplicable noises, ethereal voices and rattling chains in the dead of night but she decided that something less ambiguous was required. So a single Hula Hoop crisp left on the back window of my car it is. Random, but necessary.
|Technically a Herb & Strawberry Trug|
Also, because she had been keeping up with this blog, Chris knew that she'd never be able to help with our work here so she told us to raid her unbelievably-cluttered garage and take whatever tools we needed, and with her late dad being a right old handyman there was plenty of stuff that we could use. In fact I've just taken a break from scraping the Living Room floor with her chisel knife to write this post.
Inside the garage we also discovered a brand new wooden vegetable trug which Chris insisted we liberate when we saw her for what turned out to be the last time on Thursday. I put it together on Sunday and it is now nurturing a host of herbs and wotnot in the Courtyard, courtesy of Dawn's green fingers. So technically Chris is even helping us to eat a little bit better.
I'm not really sure how to end this post, so I'll just say this:
Thank you from both of us, Christine. You were the best neighbour and friend that anyone could hope for. Dawn has lost a wine buddy and I'll miss your awesome chocolate cakes.
This post is, of course, dedicated to you.
I'm off to check the car now. You never know...