Yet again (I’m afraid it is in the nature of memories shared every day, without hindsight editing) I find I have omitted an early August event which I found horribly fascinating, like a Spotted Dick pudding, its stodgy insanity spiced with black little currants of insight.
That summer, instead of staying with us in my father’s seaside house, Serena and Christian had gone Airbnb, and booked their own artists’ cottage a dogs’ cliff-walk away.
Lovely and tattily creative and within sound of the breakwaters.
And invited us all for a barbecue on Monday evening. Two days after the meeting with Bink and Gatsby, at my father’s.
With characteristic good manners and graciousness, they included them in the invitation. Serena would not find it easy, I knew. But at least this was one advantage of not having Rosie with us: we could not have included Gatsby, with Rosie there.
So we all tumbled over the cliff-tops, and the dogs, and arrived in the red-golden slanting sunset so iconic of that coastline, and sat in theirs-for-the-week garden and nattered and chattered while Christian and Serena thrummed to and fro from the delightfully grubby kitchen to the even more delightful clifftop garden.
Getting into the kind of discussion and debate we always have around an Atkins table.
And every time I said something to Bink or she to me, Gatsby translated.
She means so-and-so. Her argument is such-and-such. What she intended to say was doo-dah.
Now, my parents brought me up scrupulously well and by-and-large I know more-or-less how to behave.
Someone is annoying your head off your shoulders, you smile and smile and say nothing.
Hospitality is making someone feel at home when you wish he was.
Even the most boring person must be interesting underneath.
And so on.
But something about Gatsby’s dancing around between my own daughter and me, as if neither could understand the simplest sentiment either said to other without him as intercessor – and, frankly, as if she was his, not ours – touched a nerve. Now there’s a surprise.
Thank you, Jay. We don’t need you to interpret for us.
I admit it was rude. Debrett’s would have something to say.
As, no doubt, would my mother. Having said which, my charming and quite disarming mother was capable of quirky quips in her time, catching you quite off-balance and not completely believing what she’d just said could have come from under that innocent grey hair or out of that sweet smiling face.
Anyway, Debrett’s wasn’t there and neither, to my very great regret (she would have solved a lot of this) with my mother.
That’s it, Gatsby said. I’m off.
(Thank goodness for that... No, no, no, that really wasn’t worthy either... though I bet I wasn’t the only one who thought it.)
[Super-solicitous.] Will you be all right to get home, Lara? [Without me.]
Oh, sit down, Bink said. Not even bothering to turn and look at him.
Like a naughty little puppy. Straight back down again. Never referred to again.
If we ever needed to know who was in charge...
Next day, I got the one of the calls that all freelances get over Christmas or during their summer holidays. All the regular staff are swanning it somewhere exotic, a few poor hard-pressed and hard-done-by skeletal scribblers left in the office, so we come into our own.
I like these commissions. Partly because I’m freelance so I like any commissions. But also because you’ve only got till teatime, if that, so there isn’t time to agonise or turn an elegant phrase. You just have to chuck it out.
Bit like writing a blog, really.
I happened to be at top of the house – everyone else sunbathing with a book in the garden or building sandcastles on the beach or in town trying out ice-cream flavour number a hundred and sixty-seven – when Bink knocks on the door and comes in.
Can I talk to you?
Me to Serena, 7th August 2014:
She came round at about a quarter to five on Tuesday, mega-stressed because the fact that I’d snapped at Jay meant I was somehow still trying to control her or protect her or something which made her feel really patronised, so she felt she had to cut me out of her life for a long stretch all over again. I said, no it doesn’t, so she said, I knew you wouldn’t listen: I spent an hour talking to [her very sensible friend] trying to work out how to make you listen, so I said, ok, you talk and I won’t say anything. So she said the same thing over and over again for ten minutes with me saying nothing, and then the ed on the Mail rang and said she’d been trying to get me all day and needed 1200 words by 6.30 latest.
So I said, Really sorry Bink, what you have to say is far more important but this is more urgent so I’ll talk to you after 6.30. Oh but I’m really stressed and this has wrecked my day and is ruining my holiday and oh awful awful awful. I said I really can’t, sorry. So she lingered at the door to my bedroom for two more minutes to finish ruining her day completely. Can’t remember what prompted me (her probably) but I said, I wasn’t trying to protect you, I was just pissed off with Jay because he was rude to me and treating me like a child and I don’t like him. (Not true really, the last... but if it works, why not try it, eh?) In that case, she said, I don’t mind at all. Don’t need to talk to you at 6.30. That’s fine. Goodbye.
I tried to find her at 7 but she didn’t need me any more. Next day I said, do you want to talk about it now I’ve got time, and she said, No. If it was about you not me, it’s fine. I said, I really think it was, mostly. OHHH, she said, you said it was ENTIRELY.
Entirely, entirely, I meant entirely about me.
In other words, apart from the fact that the girl’s mad which we know already, given the chance, she would have talked about it for three hours and got even more stressed and exhausted and so would I. Given two minutes to get out of here, she solves it instantly.