Academic year 2006-7.
That first Michaelmas Term showed Bink at her deepest Binkness.
On 7th November 2007, just over a month after she started at Cambridge, my father was due to turn ninety years old.
The trouble Bink went to – whilst also getting to grips with a new and extremely intensive academic course – was simply stunning. I wouldn’t be surprised if she spent ten or twenty hours a week, for that first half of term, setting it up.
She consulted me as to who were my parents closest friends. She made contact with them all to find out when they were free. She did the same with everyone in the family, including cousins, to find when the most people could be available. One guest was particularly difficult, and Bink changed the date half a dozen times to accommodate everybody.
She then overcame the logistical hurdle of booking so many guests into college dinner: students were normally only allowed two or three guests each. She organised it all with the catering staff, so that her dozen or more could have two long tables and we could all sit together in one party.
She paid for all this herself.
She liaised with her College Principal, to arrange for my father to meet her over drinks before dinner in the Common Room, along with other members of the academic staff she she thought he would like to talk to. I remember seeing a letter in her room from the Principal’s secretary, saying how much she was looking forward to meeting Bink’s family and particularly her father.
She devised a careful seating plan for dinner itself.
Finally, she wrote the invitations. By hand. On college card. Over and over again. Before she was satisfied that they were sufficiently symmetrical and contained all the right information and were beautiful enough.
The only thing I helped with – apart from providing numerous consultations, and fluff up a few cushions in her tiny bed-sitting room: guests were invited there first, before official drinks; as well as for coffee after dinner – was to ensure that the ridiculous little piano I’d had lugged into her room was properly tuned. One of the guests was the musician Sir David Willcocks, a friend of my father’s from university as well as colleague of many years’ standing.
The piano tuner was very nervous when I told him this, lest he didn’t get it right.
He really needn’t have worried. That piano provided quite enough excuses of its own.
As so many, many times before and since, I am struck by the paradox that is Bink – or has been since her early adolescence.
Mental illness is the most selfish sickness there is. You only have to have experienced a mild bout of depression to know that the first thing it does is turn you in on yourself. You become completely absorbed in your own sorrow. Blind to anything and everyone other than your own desperate need to survive and dogging, dreary pain.
Being as mentally ill as it is possible to be – and still continue to breathe – Bink is as capable of this as anyone else.
And yet this is not who she is. She gleams with the richest seams of pure golden kindness. No one else, in my father’s whole extended family of many capable people, bothered to arrange a ninetieth birthday party for him.
I think of other things she did in that first year at Cambridge. Providing a family close harmony group for the college garden party, for instance; as well as numerous other kindnesses, some too personal to mention.
All the while, covering the requirements to do respectably in the Cambridge English Tripos.
Whilst being very ill.