Summer holidays 2003-4
“But that’s mad,” my mother said.
That’s right, Mummy. She is.
We were in North Norfolk, on holiday at my parents’ seaside house, and Bink needed to go back to our Vicarage in Parson’s Green, in South West London.
My parents’ holiday house hasn’t been updated since my grandparents bought it in 1948. They probably never updated anything from the house’s construction in the 1930s.
We love it. Though I confess, our daughter Rose did ask this year whether it might be possible for the house to be cleaned before we go next summer, if she is to invite any of her 16-year-old friends to come too.
It helps to see it as a souped-up beach hut. With all of us running in straight out of the sea and off the beach, it’s bound to be full of sand and seaweed.
I deduce that for the year in question Bink needed a shower: that house has never heard of a shower... or microwave, wifi, or any other gizmo; it never even had a landline when we were young, though it does have a telly and a toaster... broken. Bink hasn’t been able to touch the original footed bath for many years and indeed can’t now enter the house. When we go these days, my very kind sister puts her up in her house, a couple of hundred yards away and complete with working hoover and duster... and shower.
I can’t remember what happened – I don’t believe she did go back to London in the end, though she was certainly very distressed – but I do have other memories.
My parents held open house, as my father still most generously does in my dearest mother’s memory. Siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and strangers, and sometimes a general factotum. In my grandparents’ day this was Sybil, and we still have Sybil’s Room (aka the Boiler Room, counter-intuitively the second best bedroom, overlooking the sea) though Sybil must have been dead many a long decade now.
Because there were so many extended Briggses (my maiden name) Sybil would refer to Mr and Mrs Briggs (my grandparents), Mr and Mrs David (my parents: my father is John Davidson, always known as David), Mr and Mrs Stephen (my uncle and aunt), Mr and Mrs Davidson (my cousins)... and so it went on.
It’s not a large house, no: one of a small terrace on the cliff. But you don’t need much room in the summer, and my mother would squeeze lots of children head to toe along the balcony.
So of course, the deal is that we all muck in together. My memory of seaside childhoods is mostly of washing up.
And you all have to rub along together, too.
My mother had a mischievous twinkle of humour in her eyes always, as well as the kindest heart in the world – and most stimulating mathematical mind – and she would sometimes refer, privately to me anyway, to Dodie Smith’s play, Dear Octopus, about the tensions and loyalties, and inescapable ties, of extended family.
By the time Bink was 17, though she still loved coming she couldn’t help at all. The rest of us understood and didn’t expect her to.
Not everyone did.
There were plenty of us to clear up after meals and no more people could fit in the kitchen anyway, but nevertheless someone saw Bink sitting idle and said, “I wish I had OCD.”
Imagine if one of the teenagers had been in a wheelchair.
“I wish I were quadriplegic.”
It got worse.
An adult came into the sitting room and threw a teatowel at her. “Time you did some drying up.”
I don’t know how she got upstairs but that’s where I found her, howling – as quietly as she could – crouched in a corner of the balcony. If boiling water had been thrown over her she couldn’t have been in more pain. (The teatowel had already been used.)
My mother found both of us, sobbing together.
“I’ll have to go, Granny,” Bink explained. “I can’t stay here. Nobody will care, anyway.”
My mother sat down on the floor with us.
“I will,” she said.
At Rose’s insistence we took a picnic to share with Bink yesterday, and sat in the sun-soaked park next to the North London Priory, and lost a kitten up a tree. (Why did we have a kitten with us? It would take rather long to explain.)
She is off all drugs now except the Lorazepam, down to 2 mg a day. She hadn’t had any substances all day. She was sparky and full of smiles and hope, but by teatime jittery for her first pill. She took it, and blanked out behind the eyes.
By Christmas, by my reckoning, she will be clean. It will be very exciting to see the original Bink underneath.
She is in a good, safe place.