In the Easter Term of Bink’s first year at Cambridge, Serena invited her to the Trinity College May Ball.
Trinity May Ball is (Serena told me the year she invited Shaun and me) the second best party in the world… as you will all realise when you buy my new novel – out now! – because it opens at the Trinity May Ball.
(I appreciate I have now lost 95% of my readership, off to find the best party in the world. Those few who remain, you have made the right choice. From memory, it’s in Versailles or somewhere equally tacky. And the second best party, like so many second-bests, is miles better. Or perhaps you’ve all just scarpered to go off and buy the best book in the world. For the best Christmas present in the world. Or should that be “second-best”…?)
Anyway, earlier that summer I took Bink to choose a gown, in a gorgeous shop in Oxford’s Cowley Road which designed and made frocks to die for. We tussled between the sky-blue with the utterly stunning pinched waist and trailing train, and the simpler and even classier sea-blue shot silk.
We should have gone for the latter, really: it was a classic she could have worn for the rest of her life. But it was quite a bit more expensive. And hey! Bink was twenty two and hour-glass lovely... so we went with dramatic design.
Just as well. She has long lost everything she ever had from that era, so it probably wouldn’t have survived.
Other parents reading will understand…
In the selfishness of my own teens and twenties I could never even have imagined such vicarious joy. The exquisite pleasure of accompanying your daughters, as lovely as youth and springtime can be, to be dropped off at a ball... spending the evening luxuriating in the thought of their fun... wishing yourself an owl looking down from the branches of the trees... being so happy for someone else.
Is this what God feels, when we fall in love?
They came home a lifetime later the next morning, Bink’s train in several pieces, trodden and trampled while she was dancing.
What did I care? She was beautiful. And she had been dancing.
And other women reading will understand…
Bink had been ill from the age of eleven. She was now a young woman. Girls between ten and twenty learn an essential survival skill. We all have to. It seems that it’s very hard to teach it second hand.
My mother didn’t manage to pass it on to me. Nor I, it appears, to Bink.
When I was fourteen I went to my first proper dance. My friend Jennifer, a few years older, was having a really smart birthday party, and my mother helped me choose a long and lovely dress, as I had helped Bink.
A boy called Johnny invited me to dance. He was good looking, and charming, and about seventeen. I never got a chance to dance with anyone else. He spent the first half of the evening tonguing me and pawing me and making me very uncomfortable.
Eventually we were allowed to stop for a drink. And that was when Johnny made his critical mistake.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “You allow me to do anything I like.”
A lightbulb exploded over my head so loudly and blindingly I’m surprised it didn’t stop the whole party.
You mean... I don’t have to let you do all this creepy stuff? I have a choice?!
For the rest of the evening poor Johnny found himself dancing at arm’s length with the frostiest girl he’d ever met.
I was happy. And free.
And had learnt the first module of the most important lesson in a girl’s survival.
A lesson in which, the longer it is postponed, the higher the stakes.
It was a while before I realised quite how vulnerable Bink was.