Phoenix risen from the ashes

Bath Chronicle 29/02/2000

Carolyn Burdet

TWO boys come running into the kitchen, eager to shoot the visitor.

"Pow!" says Leon, a who has come to play with Edmond, who is looking splendid if a little tousled in a vivid Red Indian headdress and muddy T-shirt.

Edmond's mother Rosie Venables is washing up the pots and pans to the strains of Schubert.

She turns her back for a moment and turns back find a cowboy hat floating in the washing up bowl.

The kitchen is the hub of the household, intimate and cluttered with children's toys, mobiles, a child's easel by the Aga and a dressing up box spilling cowboy and Indian outfits into the busy play area.

Doors open onto the long stretch of garden.

Rosie stays calm in the midst of this happy chaos by playing classical music and opera in the kitchen - on the advice of Gail Davis, a feng shui consultant based in Larkhall who specialises on decorative schemes to help make the most of your home.

"Gail thought the kitchen should be green, but I couldn't find a shade of green I liked," said Rosie.

Instead she painted it brick red. "Gail said that would be all right as long as we used the basement door as an entrance to the room," she said.

However, mindful of wisdom that the lavatory can mean the difference between flushing your health, wealth and energy down the pan or keeping it fresh and healthy, she followed Gail's advice to paint the bathroom and downstairs loo green.

Rosie called in Gail Davis for advice to stop the run of disasters that had been affecting her family in the form of accident, illness and then fire.

Ollie, their eight-year-old, is autistic and has also been seriously ill with leukaemia. And the house dramatically burnt down the first Christmas after they moved in three years ago.

The couple's second son, Edmond, was born in the summer of 1993, ten months after Stephen returned from the Himalayan mountain expedition with Chris Bonington, when he had fallen, believing it was to his death.

At this time Edmond's brother Ollie was a lively, articulate two year old, who loved trying to play the piano, copying his musically accomplished parents.

He seemed a robust, healthy child, but since his MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) jab at 15 months, he had been increasingly prone to bouts of flu-like illness. In Christmas 1993, he became ill with a fever, and spent most of the winter in bed, hardly talking and becoming lethargic.

By the New Year, he was a different child. He stopped saying words and seemed to find it hard to understand his parents. He was terrified of certain sounds and became obsessed with turning light switches on and off.

"His behaviour veered between manic hyper-activity and lethargic retreat," said Stephen. "By the spring of 1994, it was hard to take him anywhere."

In 1994 Ollie was diagnosed as autistic. His parents embarked experiments with diet, vitamin supplements, psychotherapy, and an education programme to encourage him interact with people.

Then he fell ill in 1996 and nearly died. They discovered he had leukaemia.

After three years' treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, spending much of the time by the hospital bedside, the leukaemia is now in remission.

So it is little wonder that health and safety were the concerns which prompted Rosie to call for some expert - if slightly unconventional - advice.

Gail Davis worked at reducing the damaging influence of the river flowing past at the bottom of the garden, by terracing the garden horizontally to slow down the flow of energy.

Although the consultation focused on ways to maximise the home's healthy chi, Rosie says wealth and abundance have also come to the family since they redecorated the house. "Before the fire, I didn't feel it was a home at all - it was horrible," she said.

Now Rosie says she loves being at home, although she can understand her husband's sense of adventure as she once had a yearning to go climbing.

"My weight-to-strength ratio changed after I had a baby and so did my sense of safety. But I can understand why my husband loves climbing."

Stephen now spends more time lecturing about his experiences, offering insights into team building and motivation in management training sessions, than actually scaling precipitous rock faces.

His photographs of wildlife and snowy peaks are up on the walls of the kitchen in the basement and at the top of the stairs, outside his office where he writes and runs a travel business, sending groups of adventurers on holiday to places he has explored. But he now enjoys spending time at home, gardening and playing the piano and spending a great deal of time with the children.

Although the upper ground floor has been knocked through, it is decorated to give the impression of two separate rooms. The music room, where Edmond does his violin practice and his father Stephen plays piano - is a cheery buttercup yellow, with a 'mural' of rainforest scenes painted on the piano itself.

But there's an invisible line over which the children do not cross. The damson-red drawing room has a distinctly grown-up feel, with its dark blue drop-arm sofa and neatly displayed antique silver trinkets lending a formal air.

Gail Davis says that walls that have been knocked down often leave a spacial 'imprint'.

Nevertheless this is a real family home. Everywhere, everywhere, throughout the house there are photographs of the children, of Rosie and Stephen together, and clip-framed colourful paintings by six-year-old Edmond line the stairs.

The boys have their own bedrooms upstairs. Edmond's room - a milky way of stars and planets - is painted a soothing shell pink. "He hasn't objected to it yet," Rosie chuckled.

His bed is in the most fortunate position in the house, in a spot which is said to create health, wealth and happiness. "He is very healthy and full of energy," said Rosie.

But Gail urged Rosie to move Ollie's bed. Gail explained: "Rosie put Ollie to bed in one place and he'd turn round during the night. He knew instinctively where he wanted to sleep, facing a better position for his energy."

She also advised Rosie to move her marital bed away from under a beam, which she said could lead to tension in the marriage.

Since the interior decor consultation, Ollie's condition has improved. His leukaemia has been in remission since last March and there are other ways in which the family's health, wealth and happiness have looked up.

While Stephen was fund-raising for the money to pay for a trip to America to take Ollie on an educational programme for autism, Rosie secured the funding from the local authority to pay for a home education programme for Ollie.

Rosie said: "As a parent of an autistic child, you set goals. I wanted Ollie to run up and put his arms around me - he did that after a month."

Stephen has written a book about his near-fatal accident in the Himalayas. "I still don't think it is wrong to take risks," he says. "Life shouldn't just be about staying alive until you are 70 or 80. It's about feeling alive."

A Slender Thread by Stephen Venables is published by Hutchinson at 17.99.  

[Home]  [Autism] [MMR/MR vaccines]