‘Has anyone seen my iPad?’ I ask. We are in the middle of packing up Chipps Barton – the family home for the last 25 years for Julia’s mother, Olivia. She is 90 years of age now and we all feel (including Olivia herself) that it is the right time for her to move from Chipps Barton, her large five-bedroom thatched cottage set in its own grounds in Rodden, to a much smaller cottage (a kind of ‘mini-Chipps’ if you like) just next door but one to Julia’s younger sister, Livy, in Ebbesbourne Wake. Olivia, Livy, Julia and myself are all here – trying to be ‘helpful’ – as the three removal men pack numerous boxes and load the big furniture van. The whole move is going to take three days what with packing, more packing, and even more packing.
Chipps Barton has been on the market for three months and in all that time we have only had two ‘viewings’ but … the first people to view it fell in love with it and came back and made an offer (when they had sold their own property) which was accepted. At the same time, a lovely little cottage in the same village where Livy lives (and which she has had her eye on for some time), suddenly became available. Needless to say, Julia and I have been praying fervently about all this even before the possibility of Olivia moving was first mooted. We firmly believe that God has been, and is, in all this and both the sale of Chipps Barton and the acquiring of Vine Cottage have been little short of miraculous. Early on in this saga God spoke to us very powerfully and clearly one morning to assure us that Chipps Barton would be sold to ‘The right buyer, at the right price, at the right time!’ And we believe that (for numerous reasons) this promise has now been fulfilled.
Anyway, speaking of the need for miraculous intervention, my iPad has gone missing and nobody seems to have seen it anywhere? ‘Where did you last see it?’ Julia asks me. ‘In our bedroom!’ I reply. ‘Oh!’ says Livy, ‘I told the removal men to pack everything that was lying around in your bedroom … apart from the bed itself!’ I find Geoff, the removal man who packed up our bedroom. ‘No!’ he says, ‘I haven’t packed your iPad … I packed Olivia’s iPad … yours is downstairs in the living room!’ I run downstairs again and find Olivia’s iPad still on the coffee table in the living room. I run back upstairs again and find Geoff and explain that he has probably packed my iPad instead of Olivia’s and does he know which box he packed the contents of our bedroom in, and where said box is? There are scores of boxes! The removal van is already full of packed boxes! The chances of finding the right box are remote! But suddenly Geoff has a kairos moment and leads me to the very box. He opens it, searches the contents, and – miracle of miracles – finds my iPad! ‘Do you need your camera, as well?’ has asks, producing said camera from the same box!
Several hours later the furniture is all packed, and the furniture van has left for Ebbesbourne Wake. Olivia has said her ‘Goodbyes’ to Chipps Barton and she and Reggie Doggie have also left, being driven to their new home in Livy’s car. Only Julia and I are left. We are staying overnight because the removal men are coming back tomorrow to clear the garage and take all the garden tools, garden furniture, statues etc. We give the old house a good clean – Julia washes the kitchen and I hoover from top to bottom. When we have finished we go for a last walk up the lane – one of our regular and favourite walks – and reminisce.
We remember walking up this lane before my heart attack when I could scarcely get to the first gate into the first field we passed … and then after my successful heart surgery gradually increasing the length of the walk, gate by gate, until one day we actually manged to walk all the way to The Elm at Langton Herring (although we phoned Olivia for a lift back an hour or two later). Julia recalls how on that first walk (after the surgery) I took a deep breath and rejoiced at the ability to breathe deeply once again!
I recall our first Christmas at Chipps Barton with Ken and Olivia – they were younger then than I am now – when I spent the first few days before Christmas laying carpets (some of which are still there). I especially remember combining two old carpets they had brought with them from Blackladies Priory – a red carpet and a green carpet – in the large sitting room. The new carpets could not be laid before Christmas but the red and green combo somehow seemed fitting for Christmas. We reminisce about so many things, including our five years actually living at Chipps Barton when we left Beckenham and before we moved so Knaphill … so many happy memories and testimony to the kindness of family and friends, and the goodness of God.
We carry on our conversation sitting in the sunshine on the patio when we get back from our walk. We managed to ‘hide’ a bottle of wine from the removal men and Olivia and Livy, although we have to use our ‘tooth mugs’ to drink it with. There has been a short shower of rain and there is a beautiful rainbow over-arching Chipps Baprton – it is a kind of ‘benediction’ on our time spent there over 25 years plus. We are reminded of Paul’s words that ‘In everything God is working for the good of those who love him, those who seek to walk according to his purposes’ (Romans 8:28).
We wander up to The Elm for a final meal – scallops – our very favourite (well one of our many favourites) and the first meal we ever ate at The Elm 25 years ago. Eventually we go to bed. ‘Have you seen my hair brush?’ I ask Julia, ‘And my sleeping mask?’ ‘No!’ replies Julia, ‘And I can’t find my hair brush either!’ We look at each other, and burst out laughing. We both know exactly where everything is … in a box somewhere among the hundreds of other boxes at Vine Cottage!