I first began to wonder whether something was wrong was when Bink was fifteen.
With hindsight, of course, there were subtle indications long before. But that’s the thing about being a parent. It’s a bit like being a child: it was the first time we’d ever done this, brought Bink up, so we had no way of knowing this wasn’t how she was supposed to be.
We had no idea Alexander was Aspergic either: he was just... well... Alex. As he still so gloriously is.
Bink was such an extraordinary child – with such a finely-tuned sense of humour at such an early age that she used to wear a false nose, spectacles and a moustache when Shaun pushed her around in her buggy, turning astonished then amused heads; and once delightedly distracted an entire crowd of adults, trying to listen to Beethoven, with a far more entertaining performance – that we couldn’t know how unusual it was for a four-year-old to fear that the trees were after her; or a six-year-old to sob at bedtime lest she went to hell. We simply comforted and assured, as you do. Her godmother, a speech therapist, once commented on a tic, a smile which often spasmed Bink's face. We shrugged, and said she'd always done it.
Perhaps we weren’t being particularly dim. Even when she disappeared for two days, aged twelve, and was in all the national press, no professional showed any alarm or suggested a diagnosis might be in order.
And what good would it have done if we’d known, since no help was forthcoming even when we did?
By her early teens she was ringing Childline every Friday night, regular as clockwork. She often went to a call box on the corner of the street. Serena and I knew (I think once Childline rang back by mistake) but Bink obviously hadn’t wanted us to so we never told her we did. Already and for a year or two she had been getting up every morning at four to use the washing machine, and going to school in wet clothes: something we knew nothing of, though she says her form teacher realised.
Aged fifteen she was beginning to monopolise the bathroom. The day I realised this behaviour might not be voluntary was a Sunday.
We lived in the vicarage at Parson’s Green, Shaun being said parson of said green. A CofE stipend is... enough to live on. If you buy your clothes from Oxfam and beg your holidays in other people’s houses and a generous parishioner gives you a car. Certainly not enough to go to the pub. Not at your own expense, anyway. But that’s the thing about being a vicar: you – and your family – tend to be much loved (either that, or much loathed) and your flock often treats you.
That day it was indeed so. A bunch of friends was going to the White Horse after the morning service, and very kindly offered to buy us lunch. Bink knew this. And adored the White Horse: we all did. It was second home to the church, and the food was superb.
The pub is just over the road from the church and vicarage, so I went home several times to make sure she knew we were there.
She never made it. We got home in the late afternoon and Bink was still in the bathroom.
That was the day I said: “Bink, there are two possibilities here. Either you are being selfish, in which case please stop. There are six of us who use the bathroom. One person can’t have it to herself for hours without inconveniencing everyone else.
“Or you have a problem, and need help. Which is it? It must be one or the other.”
“I’m just being selfish,” she said quickly. “I’ll stop.”
A week later she came back to me.
“I can’t,” she said. “I have a problem.”