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A feeling of mystery

Christian de Duve

Scientist

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Buying a house on spec

Brian Aldiss - Writer

Margaret and I got married. She had a boy and a girl and they got on well with the earlier boy and girl. And by a miracle, the daughter, Charlotte, was born on the very day of the 10th birthday of Wendy, the older daughter. And this was regarded in the family as... well, I don't know, not exactly a blessing on high, but miraculous, as a sign of unity as I believe it was. And Margaret was very good about observing that unity.

By this time, I was affluent enough to look for a nice place on Boar's Hill. And on Boar's Hill, it happened there was a house and gardens called Woodlands for sale. I was then living in Charlbury Road in Oxford and was very friendly with the people next door, and in particular, the people next door included Charlie, who was an architect.

Charlie and I were thick as thieves, really, and so I said to Charlie, 'Look, there's a terrible hurry, because my daughter's going to have a reception in a fortnight. I must buy a decent place where we've got lots of grounds. Could you come up with me and tell me what you think of Woodlands?' And so we went round and we saw the couple that lived there; they were very pleasant. And then we went round the outside... beautiful grounds... and he caught me by the throat, and he said, 'Look, Brian, you've got to buy this bloody place!' So, we went in... I mean, it's the way these things turn out... we said to the owner, 'Yes, I want to buy this house. I can pay you immediately. The only thing is, you've got to be out by Monday'. And he said, 'Oh thank God!' He said, 'Actually, I've bought a house somewhere out at Southmoor – Kingston Bagpuize. I'm longing to get out of this house into the house in Kingston Bagpuize. Yes, I'll do it by Monday. Dora, bring in a bottle of whiskey!' So, in came Dora with a bottle of whiskey, and we all had a good drink, and well, as amiable as two people could be doing a business transaction.

And back home I went and said to Margaret, 'I've just bought a house, darling'.

So, we moved in on the Monday and on the Monday, I think it was on the next week, Wendy got married and had a reception in the garden. And she was marrying Mark – of course, the name is Mark! She was marrying Mark.

Mark had been in charge of the book shop in Hamleys [sic – should be Harrods]. I'd seen him there and liked him, and we've always got on well. Mark is a dear figure in our lives, and he was going to marry Wendy in style and was going to have a helicopter coming to land and carry them away. And that was part of the reason why we bought this particular house, so that there was room for the helicopter. However, things never work out as you expect, and the helicopter scanned the ground and decided the trees were too near and they couldn't do it.

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