Mad Richard – as we still call him, with great affection – was Bink’s maths tutor.
He is strictly teetotal. Which is just as well. Given that he behaves more superlatively sotted when completely stone-cold sober than anyone who’s ever been sober is liable to when blitheringly blind besozzled.
He was always late. But always. (Both eccentricities, his abstinence and his unpunctuality, possibly deriving from his Northern Irish heritage.) Probably because he was overrunning by several hours from his previous pupil, on account of being not just the best maths teacher we’ve ever come across – apart from my mother, who will always be unsurpassable – but also the most dedicated – see previous exclusion, above.
After a while he started bringing cake, by way of making up for it. Only, unfortunately, he would sometimes be further delayed by pulling into a lay-by to eat said cake, in the manner of Pooh on his way to Eeyore’s birthday. So he got into the habit of bringing two cakes. One for being late, for tea. And a spare to eat on the way, by mistake.
Not that it mattered. Bink was always in bed, whenever he turned up. So his first job was to get her out of bed. Once, she begged to be allowed her lesson in bed. Richard was a proper Protestant Ulsterman: it was about the only time he put his foot down.
He didn’t need to put his foot down over maths: he just enthused about it. Maniacally.
On an early spring evening, Bink and Richard were having their usual maths lesson, running around the garden screaming deliriously at each other, in the way of things. I’m not sure we ever quite ascertained why this was an essential aspect of every maths lesson, but there are many things in heaven and earth not dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy. Having completed this wholesome and invigorating routine so conducive to the sympathetic exercise of the little grey mathematical cells, they bounced through a window back into the house still yodelling at each other... and straight into the first – and last; and only – church meeting Shaun ever hosted in that house, which was being rented for us.
It was all right, though, because Shaun explained it to the assembled ecclesiastical committee. “That was Bink, having her maths lesson with her tutor,” he explained.
Bink never hung onto possessions.
In early adolescence this appeared to be the impressively efficient organisation of a teenager who kept her room excessively tidy. It was only later – several passports and birth certificates and almost all the presents she’d ever been given, later – that I realised it might be a manifestation of her illness.
Richard was teaching her something from a new text book. He took a break to go to the loo, and when he returned asked her to refer back to her notes.
“To what you wrote ten minutes ago.”
“You mean read it again?”
“I want you to look at what you jotted down just before I left the room.”
“I tore it out of my exercise book.”
“It was dirty.”
“Well, let’s have a look at it anyway.”
“It’s in the fire.”
After he’d got over this – or resigned to it: I’m not sure he ever got over it; he had his methods, Richard – he asked to see her text book.
He couldn’t find the chapter he wanted. “Where’s the contents page? Should be at the beginning...” He didn’t even ask where the front cover was.
“That was dirty too.”
“I was only out of the room for a moment! How much more have you burnt?”
Alex was due to start in Cambridge at Michaelmas, to read maths. I asked Richard if he would give him some refresher lessons. Rather rashly and to my astonishment, he agreed.
We tried to warn him.
Really, we did.
“Ach, nobody can be as bad as Bink,” he said cheerfully. (Or did he say, “as mad as Bink”?)
Richard turned up, late naturally, sometime around early-evening late-teatime. Ish. With or without cake. Half-eaten or not.
He gave Bink her lesson first, to allow Alex time to get ready.
Unusually – well... not necessarily unusually for Alex, but unusually for a human being – Alex was still in his pyjamas. From the night before. Even after Bink’s lesson. In the early evening.
Richard decided to let that one go, and asked Alex if he had his books to hand, as requested. Given that Richard had been late as usual, and had since taught Bink, I suppose there was a teeny, weeny, tiny, sporting chance that Alex might have had time to do this.
Richard let that go, too.
He embarked on the lesson. For the first ten minutes or so, he gave Alex an introduction to the work they were going to be doing, and how they would go about it.
Then he suggested Alex might want to get some paper and a pen.
“I’m sorry,” Alex said, coming to. “What?” From whatever planet it is where he spends most of his time. “Did you say something?” As yet unexplored by humankind. “Was I supposed to be listening to any of that?”
Richard never attempted to teach Alex again.
Even Richard had his limits.
So you see, there are other forms of madnesses. Besides Bink’s.
Obviously, there’s Richard’s. And... erm... Alex’s.
Thing is, not all forms of madness disable, do they? They don’t necessarily hurt. They don’t all cause terrible, screaming pain.
Which is when it matters.
(And if you want to know more about Alex’s creative, autistic kind of madness, you might be interested in this book he inspired.)