Despite visiting almost every other house for sale in Cork, my parents eventually decided to return to the Edwardian semi-detatched house. They cleared up after the tenants who were dreadful and decided to extend.
My father’s cousin’s husband the architect was asked for advice and he provided a very elaborate, very expensive and very beautiful plan. In the end, largely on grounds of cost, they went for something rather plainer which was stigmatised as being like a bowling alley by the architect. Ironically, the builder’s cost overrun (100%) was such that my parents could easily have afforded to buy a much larger house and not bothered with the extension.
Unsurprisingly, when we moved in, the builders were still in residence and spent much of that fine autumn in our back garden, drinking tea and playing cards while my mother cooked on a camping stove.
Though I am very fond of the house now (it is where my parents still live and my favourite aunt lives next door), I did not like it when we moved there first (the favourite aunt only moved in some years after us). It was small and poky (though positively palatial compared to our current house) and we had too much furniture. We marvelled at my mother’s revelation that the last family to live there had had 6 children and no extension (something that no longer stretches credibility).
This was not the least of my misery, I was paired with a very bossy girl for cookery class and my sponge failed to rise. My father refused to take out a mortgage to cover the cost of the extension; he is not a big believer in debt. Throughout the 1980s he lay awake worrying about the enormous national debt (turns out he was right, the IMF was hovering on the doorstep). He was not going to add to the problem. He took out a short term loan. For the five years after we moved in, money was for the first time in my parents’ lives, and certainly the first time in mine, tight. This was largely due to my father’s insistence on paying back the entire cost of the wretched extension over the shortest possible period at the highest imaginable rate (I now believe that this is very admirable but I was not entirely convinced at the time).
For my confirmation, I desperately wanted a particular dress. It was very expensive and my mother promised to make me an identical one. But it was not identical and I was unhappy. My mother’s constant refrain was “for every pound you spend, your father has to earn three” (in fact that was only at the marginal rate but still 65% tax is 65% tax). This made for frugal years. It had a lasting effect on my sister who was at an impressionable age and she is still a big believer in savings.
The transition from primary school, where I was very happy, to secondary school, where I most emphatically was not, was very difficult for me. My mother was anxious to sympathise but as former star pupil, head girl and captain of the hockey team in her own school, she was singularly ill-equipped to do so. Unfortunately, this transition also coincided with leaving the house I loved, a sustained and surprising burst of poverty and, when we had just about got over the poverty, my father’s heart surgery.
My father had heart surgery in late 1985. At that time there were no such operations in Cork and my mother had to spend a great deal of time in Dublin. He was very sick, I now realise but at the time, I couldn’t help but be bitter that he had chosen to be sick the Christmas before I was to sit my leaving certificate (in retrospect, my school may have had an undue emphasis on the importance of examinations). Also, I was mortified that my mother made me ask the nuns in school to pray for him. I dutifully did though which shows I may have had the vaguest inkling of how sick he was.
In 1986, I finished school and went to college. I continued to live in my parents house where I was now, very, very happy. We were rich (relatively) again, my father was well again and I was in mixed classes for the first time since kindergarten. I lived happily in my parents house throughout my college career except for a couple of breaks living elsewhere which I will come to tomorrow. Possibly.