Oh, no no no no NO! Please no. The £2bn allocated by Mr Hammond in today’s budget for mental healthcare is to be spent in A&E! Have we got nowhere?
It is not in A&E that we need the money! It is when a 15-year-old first goes to her GP, with a worried mother in tow, because she is dieting more than her friends and fears she is losing control.
Not two years later when she has dropped three stone and taken an overdose, because no help has been forthcoming. Because she “wasn’t thin enough.”
Well, let us wait and see. I am reacting to the early snippets…
Bink’s 17th birthday fell at around the time of our church weekend away.
(Forgive the latitude with chronology. Memories come when they will.)
If you have never been on one of these, you won’t know how much fun they are. It is a mega-mini-break: a beautiful venue booked; all your favourite people there; meals cooked for you; no responsibilities; holiday atmosphere; games and entertainment; and with Shaun is organising it, intellectually exhilarating talks.
When it is a proper parish church as ours was, a completely eclectic mix of people too. All ages, from teetering tots to doddery nonagenarians.
Bink said the only part of her personality not destroyed by her illness was her love of children. She wanted to do something for the church children that weekend.
So for her birthday I bought the score and all the instruments for Haydn’s (or possibly Leopold Mozart’s) Toy Symphony. The music group Bink herself had led in church had a handful of strings and a flute. The cuckoo, rattle and toy trumpet &c. were easily allocated. Which left no one else left to conduct: I don’t play a useful instrument. We even managed a scratch rehearsal the previous Sunday.
The idea was to perform it for all the children before their Saturday tea and bed.
Friday afternoon, and Bink wasn’t yet ready to leave. She had always been the organised one, ready before anyone. But now her rituals could imprison her for hours… or days. Shaun was in charge of the weekend so he couldn’t delay departure. And we only had one car.
So we all set off without her, arranging that I would return and collect her when she was ready. She said it might be ten or eleven that evening. It was a two hour drive. I stayed for supper with the others then turned round again.
Midnight. Bink still not ready. Nor by two am. Nor three. Nor four.
It was long after breakfast before she could leave. I hadn’t slept, I had driven several hours and I had missed the first evening and morning of the weekend.
But I got her there!
I longed for a bed but there was a complication with our accommodation and the person with the key nowhere to be found. Nor had I managed to make arrangements for our dog – there is only so much one human being can do – and found myself entangled in ugly nastiness with the management.
My head felt as if it was being held twenty thousand leagues under the sea, but all I had to do was keep going till the afternoon and I would feel I had swum the Channel.
We did it. Bink played her fiddle. I’d even found myself an old tailcoat in the attic. We performed. I was too zonked to notice whether the children enjoyed it… but I had succeeded at Bink’s birthday present!
That evening there were party games in the huge drawing room. I wanted to take part but couldn’t get myself off the sofa in the hall adjoining. I sat, numbed and listless, listening to the laughter and longing to join it.
For some reason long forgotten, at lunch the next day someone announced Serena’s recent exam results and there was a round of applause. I felt the uncomplicated relief of joy at an offspring’s normal achievements.
A few days later, dear friends called at the Vicarage. There is absolutely no blame attached to what follows: none whatsoever. I have done far more hurtful things myself, with far less excuse. They are much better people than I am.
None of us understands, until we have walked in someone’s shoes.
It transpired that we had long been hoiked onto a false pedestal. We were the Vicar’s family. They looked up to us as their model. I was the Vicar’s wife. They had always admired me. And now I had let them all down.
I had attended nothing over the weekend. I hadn’t taken part in anything. I had missed all the talks, and only shown interest in one thing: my own children. They told me as kindly as they could. They were deeply disappointed in me.
When Shaun came home I was still howling, alone, at the table.
Shaun is professional to a fault. He never criticises colleagues and never, ever upsets parishioners. I have never known him do anything like this before or since but he went straight round to see our friends and told them how much their visit had distressed me.
Very sad to say, shortly afterwards one of them had a child diagnosed disabled herself. A year later she referred to the incident again, distraught at what she had said to me. She had long since apologised and was long, long forgiven. But now she understood.
How dearly I would have preferred it if she never had! She used to bubble over with such mischievous joy and uncomplicated zestful irresponsibility. As did I once, I suppose.
We are both now wiser people than I wish we were...
Last year my father was 100 so I threw a party for him.
The toy symphony had another outing, the piece conducted – far better and hilariously – by Ben. Most of the silliest instruments played by the most proficient professional musicians. Half way through, the bass Simon Grant’s nightingale ran dry, and I had to grab it, mid-performance, and dunk it in my champagne.
Bink even played her fiddle again.
How good it was to laugh so much... without such frenetic and wide-eyed exhaustion.