All Fools’ Day, 2006.
That day, Saturday 1st April, was the day we moved in.
And that evening, we celebrated Bink’s 21st birthday.
If you’ve ever had a party on the very day you move into a new home... well, I was going to say you’ll know what it’s like. But you won’t really. Because either it was your first ever student pad and you had nothing to move into it other than a few mugs, a kettle and some books.
Or you’re completely barmy.
Or, I suppose, your life has become so surreal that nothing conforms to anything any more.
So there we were, marking Bink’s most significant milestone into adulthood, with a dinner party around our dear familiar kitchen table from the Vicarage which we’d had specially made, out of hundred-year-old pine, in the days when we had a home.
Boxes to left of us, boxes to right of us, boxes in front of us. Over, under and all around. Boxed in by cardboard… as wallpaper, and carpeting, and almost on the ceiling. Only a fraction of our possessions, mind you, from fourteen years in a six-bedroom Victorian Vicarage. (The rest, a kind new friend from the Oxford church had put in a barn on his farm. The garage was full of them too.)
Most of which were to remain unpacked all the time we lived in that dear little cottage. They took up less space that way, stacked eight or ten high against the wall in the hall. And the landing upstairs. And our bedroom. And the bathroom.
Shaun was never given the few weeks off to unpack which clergy are normally allocated between posts. And I never had the heart. Even if we’d had room.
After all, it would have suggested we might be staying...
Bink invited her A-level tutors, including the aforementioned Mad Richard who’d taught her maths. And another, who’d taught her Latin, also still a good friend all these years on. And her best friend from junior school, by now a medic at Oxford: the two had become inseparable as children, long before either was ill with painfully similar ailments, in their teens. The friend’s mother, still close and dear to us, believed they must have recognised one another, seen their mirrored futures, long before any of us had any idea.
And Bink’s new boyfriend… Wow! Where did that come from? I can’t remember where he came from, to be honest. But Bink now had a boyfriend. Training to be a vicar, as far as I recall. Celebrating his 30th birthday, more or less.
After a drink or two Ben told him, if he wanted to date his sister, he had to endure trial by arm-wrestle. Well now, this boyfriend had a gym membership, and body-building pretensions, and all that guff. So he could hardly say no to Bink’s baby brother. He rolled up his sleeve and furrowed his brow and gripped Ben’s arm... and sweated a lot... and concentrated a lot more... and grunted much.
While Ben continued drinking and chatting and joshing with the rest of us. Then suddenly turned, as if he’d forgotten all about it, said, “Oh, sorry,” and flattened the boyfriend’s arm on the table.
Someone’s telephone rang. For Bink. Some manic, babbling Chinaman, with terrible English, completely incomprehensible, extremely distorted.
After a number of Bink’s “Sorry?”s and “What?”s and “Could you say that again?”s, and us wondering how on earth this call had come from half way round the world (or had somebody ordered a takeaway round the corner?) someone, probably Alex, went out into the hall and started opening cupboard doors. And there, crouched on the floor, was Mad Richard on the other end of the line.
It was the last place in the world I wanted to be. (Well, except the house with the windowless room in the middle of it.) But I was with the people I most wanted to be with. Which is a bit better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick, without the people you most want to be with. Isn’t it?
On this morning’s Thought for the Day (which I can’t link you to yet because it was only half an hour ago) on Radio 4’s Today programme, Brian Draper quoted a Pole, exiled to Siberia, who lost all his possessions. “I have life. I have breath. I have shelter. I am here.”
I had my own mantra. It’s possible I originally penned it in the Vicarage, when Bink became ill and I first experienced depression, but it became much more important to me in that tiny little cottage. I stuck it on the wall in my new study, too minuscule to turn around in:
I have not committed suicide.
I have not committed adultery.
I have not been found out by the tax man.
I am a success!
(As Serena said, it was the “not found out” that was slightly disturbing.)
We still had a lot to laugh about.
[And the picture? This was the nearest I could get to Mad Richard hiding in the cupboard.
Probably something to do with politically correct squeamishness, but if you search on all the free photograph sites for “Mad Chinaman hiding in cupboard on telephone” – or even, “Mad mathematician posing as mad Chinaman… &c.” – there’s less choice there than you might think.
Besides, this is a pretty good likeness anyway.]