We’ve been busy moving house on our beloved Isle of Portland, from my old bachelor pad to something a little bigger, and someday we shall retire there. The new place is everything a Portland house ought to be: twenty-four inch thick walls which render neighbours inaudible, and a handsome garden enclosed by limestone walls. We are very pleased.
We are also unusually conscious of its former occupant, Florrie Ansell. She was 98 when she died in March. Except for the last two years of her life, which she spent in a care home, she had lived there since she was born. It was her father’s house before her. When Florrie married Alec, she moved him in. When her father died in 1955 the first thing she and Alec did was install electric light, something her father had always taken against.
We are finding out more and more about Florrie. She taught piano on a little upright in the back room. If a pupil played especially well he or she was allowed upstairs to sit at the grand and talk to the cats. Florrie was always beautifully turned out, and she looked after her house beautifully, too. It’s gone a bit downhill lately and the roof is leaking a bit, but her pride in its appearance is plain to see. Her niece has asked us to hurry up and paint the front door and the window frames: “She would be turning in her grave to see them as they are now.” In truth, they’re not bad – but we have made them a priority.
Is Florrie’s spirit palpable? Not as a disembodied presence, not to us. But the house has a perceptible serenity, and we feel a strong responsibility to be respectful of Florrie and the feelings of all her friends in what we do to it. So the art deco fireplaces will stay, and the stained glass panel of the little Dutch boy in the hall door, together with the art deco bath, the sort of bath Bertie Wooster would have splashed about in.
Usually it’s only aristocratic piles that commemorate their former occupants. We know we have a duty to commemorate Florrie. It’s a duty we accept as a privilege.
We are the left-handmost of the lighter three-storey houses at the back of the photo.