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Stoney Grove
West Sussex

Dear Amy,

What an extraordinary few weeks we’ve had…a bewildering mixture of the mundane and the bizarre… I’m finding it hard to keep track of everything. Maybe putting it on paper will help.

Where to begin? Simon is being wonderfully efficient. He’s taken charge of the repair work, and has sent off for the building inspector to make us a comprehensive list of what needs to be done, and in what order. Once we have the list, we can get started.

I think it would really help if we knew more about this place. Simon says I can’t cross the street without knowing when the pavement was laid, and by whom, but it does seem that we should find a context for the house before we start hacking it to pieces. I've started to do some serious reading about 18th-century landscapes, and am going up to London in a few days to the British Library (in that horrible new building) to see some original site plans drafted by Culpability Heath. While I'm there I'm going to meet up with Emma Knytleigh, a graduate student at Cambridge, who is doing a degree in post-medieval history and has agreed to research the property. She’s coming to Stoney Grove in a few weeks to get started. It will be good to have someone here that’s under 60 to keep us company!

We actually have a staff of two, Shirley Johnson, the housekeeper, and her husband. They came with the house—literally. We’re legally bound to keep them on, and I don’t mind, except that I always have the feeling that I’ve done something wrong when I’m around Mrs. Johnson, and I haven’t managed to get much more than a grunt out of Mr. Johnson.

Puckering is an odd little place. It’s split into two villages, Upper and Lower. Upper seems to be filled with what passes for old money in this area of Sussex, and everyone is very....polite. Lower Puckering seems more of a fun place—there’s a great pub there that we’ve gone to a few times, and a good Indian take-out, but it’s also quite poor. I thought maybe we could hire some people that live at the local council estate (a sort of government-backed lower income housing area), at least part-time, so I put an ad in the paper a few weeks ago asking for cleaners. No one ever responded, and in the end Mrs. Johnson mentioned that she had some nieces who might come in, as a favor. They did a good job, but I can’t send for them every time we need something to be done. Mrs. Johnson isn’t up to much these days, and seems to spend most of her time grumbling at her husband and drinking tea. A lot of tea too—every time I go near her she’s trying to push a cup my way. Frankly, I don’t care if I ever see the wretched stuff again, or at least not until summer when I can finally make her happy and ask her to make me a big pitcher with ice.

The weather is beginning to warm up, and I have to admit that I’d much rather be outside than indoors wiping cobwebs off of everything. I can’t quite get used to the size of it all, and also to the fact that the house is curiously public. Yesterday I bumped into a total stranger, a man named Jerry, carrying furniture down from the attic. He told me Mrs. Johnson had asked him to take it to be restored—I didn’t even know we owned it. I asked him to show me what else was up there, and we poked around for awhile and found a great oil painting of a little boy.   It looks really old.  I had him help me bring it down, and I've got it propped up in a corner of the study.

The grounds here are so beautiful. We’ve got sheep, and huge fish in the lake, and lots of ancient trees in the woods. We desperately need to hire at least one groundskeeper, but in the meantime, I've started clearing some of the old walks. You can still see them, although they’ve started to grow over. Yesterday I borrowed a chain saw from Mr. Johnson and spent a few hours opening up a path that leads down to the River Puck.

This is where the bizarreness comes in. As I was working, I kept hearing crunching sounds in the woods around me. At first I thought it was squirrels, or birds, but every time I looked up, there was nothing there. At one point I could have sworn I heard someone singing in Latin. (I told this to Simon and he said maybe it was one of my nuns…). Anyway, I left the chain saw out and went in to get lunch, and when I came back, it  was gone. I looked everywhere for it, and finally decided I'd just have to go and confess to Mr. Johnson that I'd lost it. But about halfway back to the house I heard some more rustling around, and when I went to investigate, I found the saw under a tree—full of gas. When I returned it, I asked Mr. Johnson if he’d been down by the river at all, and he said no, he’d spent the day picking peas. So—our first mystery. It makes the place feel almost gothic.

On a more mundane front, there’s still no sign of Simon’s family visiting. I'm beginning to think he’s ashamed of me.   I've asked him several times if he’s called them, and he keeps changing the subject—usually to sex (the house has inspired him).  Sometimes he’s so hard to talk to. This is especially true when I mention his family. Do you think you could manage a visit sometime soon? It would be great to talk to you!

Hope everything is going well. I’ve enclosed some pictures to give you a  sense of my new world (and to lure you here). I still haven’t figured out  how to be a millionaire, and I certainly don’t want to be patronizing, but  any time you’d like to come, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want,  and I’ll happily pay your airfare.

Write to me soon.


P.S.  I've enclosed some pictures of the house and grounds so you can get a sense of Stoney Grove.

Stoney Grove daffodils             Stoney Grove view             South Front