• Oxford Together Stories

The Haven

I’

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m a sixty-two-year-old woman. You’re probably wondering why I’ve only got a bedsit at the top of a house. I had a rented house in East Oxford, and the landlords just weren’t keeping up. It was damp, there was problems for thirteen years. And then I was away and there was a massive flood. The tank fell through the ceiling and that was it. I just had enough. So I couldn’t live in it for a year. I’d been spending some time in Turkey and I realised that’s where all my friends were. So normally I would be in Turkey, avoiding all the hot summer here which we had the last couple of years. I can cope with it over there. It’s different when you’ve got all the air con and stuff. And then, just before Christmas, I had a chest x-ray. And my doctor said they suspected lung cancer, so I went through all the processes and in January I was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

My landlord is a very good friend of mine. I moved in with him because he’s ninety years old, to sort of look after him. It’s turned out the other way around, in a way. But there is a smell in this house, an eighty-year-old man kind of smell, pipe smoke and cooking, and I wasn’t eating, it was turning my stomach. I’m in the attic, in the heat and basically all I was doing was just trying to survive, not living, just trying to stay alive. I was going from the chair to the bed because I had no energy to eat. And then we had the lockdown, and of course, with the severe cancer, I’m still shielding basically. So I was shielding, and I was thinking, I’m just going to end up in this room for the rest of the year, you know, without going anywhere.

I said, ‘Oh, it’d be nice if I could have somewhere in the garden and I could just sit,’ and my friend said, ‘Why don’t you get a summer house?’ And it turned from a summer house into a sort of year-round building, as a log cabin. But there was a delay, Wickes weren’t answering the phone because they were so busy because people were doing their gardens and whatever, and they had the lockdown process as well, meaning the shops weren’t open, and things like that. Then Sue from the Oxford Hub rang me up. I wouldn’t have heard of them if it hadn’t been for the coronavirus. I speak to her every week and I feel like she’s my friend now. She put me in touch, and Mitch from Oxford District Services helped me. They kind of do all the jobs for the council that the council can’t do. And they had a bunch of volunteers who were a bit fed up with making kitchens and things, so they quite fancied the challenge of building the log cabin, because it’s a different kind of build. He said, ‘Well, look, we can build this thing for you, free of charge.’ It finally arrived and these guys from the Oxford District Services came round, rain or shine, and spent a couple of weeks building it and then they painted it. And it’s changed my life, basically.

I’ve now got a room with a day bed in it for when I want to lay down, a desk and a chair, and I’m going to use it for sewing or craft, all sorts of things. Or just sitting in there and getting some fresh air. Before I was going down two flights of stairs, maybe to sit in the garden and then I’d come upstairs and need something, a cup of coffee or whatever, a book or something, and it was up and down, up and down. And in the end it was just too hot to keep going up and down. So I just ended up stuck up here and I was getting very depressed. I’m not used to being here all year round, and we can get on each other’s nerves, if you know what I mean. We can argue like an old married couple. Because he’s been a single man all his life, he’s untrainable. It is a bit like a museum in this house. He likes browns, 1960s or 70s wallpaper and that sort of thing. No female thought has gone into it. I can’t see to go down the stairs. The carpets are brown, the walls are brown and it’s very gloomy.

My friend’s really happy with it because it means I spend more time downstairs and we can have a chat when he’s out in his garden and, and that kind of thing. So it kind of benefits him in a way and he got quite excited about it. The neighbours aren’t so excited about it, but that’s tough. They got a bit angry and came around and, well, that’s the first time I actually cried since I got diagnosed. Just came around and had a go at me, saying ‘You should have consulted us.’ But it’s up to him what he does in his garden. Even the man from the council came round to have a look when the work was nearly finished, just checking up. And he said, ‘Just tell them to build a bigger fence if they don’t like it.’ But that’s the only thing that’s put a dampener on it. Everybody has been so lovely and really kind. Even the nurses at the hospital know about it, they said, ‘Should we change your address now you’re moving into your little house in the garden?’ Everybody’s been following the story.

So I’ve had something to look forward to. And I love like creating a little home, cosy or just calming, just somewhere I can go and maybe listen to music or just sit out there and listen to the birdsong which is what I’ve been doing. That’s what I liked about the lockdown, the lack of traffic, the lack of airplanes, helicopters, sirens. It was just listening to birdsong, and just smelling the flowers, and the things that when you get a life sentence you really appreciate more than anything. I’ve got my thermos flask and a packed lunch and that’s it. Take a book or tablet or something down there. And just be, you know, just enjoying a jigsaw puzzle, that kind of thing. Just having a space, not being cooped up. I mean, people love their families, but spending months with them wasn’t the plan.

I’ve not quite finished dressing it up. I’ve got things to put up on the wall, I’ve put some basil in there. I put the curtains up yesterday, which are beautiful, which my mum made me. Laura Ashley, you don’t get many log cabins with Laura Ashley curtains. They’ve made it look lovely, beautiful, it’s just a little dream. I haven’t named it yet either. I thought about calling it ‘the haven.’ I’ve got to find a classier name than a shed!

I wouldn’t have much to live for without this happening, and to actually have good news come out of two pretty awful things, coronavirus and the cancer, is amazing. It’s just amazing that they could go this far above and beyond for me. You know, I thought that having support would just mean if I couldn’t get my shopping I might get some help with that. I didn’t have any quality of life before at all, and I now have a quality of life. I’ve never heard of anything like that before. I think it’s front page news.