Bink & her “date” returned from the V&A in good time for him to make supper.
There then followed a very great deal of to-ing and fro-ing of paraphernalia from his car. A packet of Basics mince. Ditto tin of tomatoes. An onion. Packet Basics white spaghetti. Half a clove (getting adventurous!) of dryish-looking garlic. A saucepan for the spaghetti. Colander for same. Another saucepan for the sauce. Even a wooden spoon. And tin opener.
He didn’t bring matches and a Primus stove, so he must have assumed we had a few items of abstruse specialist kitchen equipment ourselves.
I’m sympathetic here. Like you, I’ve opened the Delia, seen, “Preparation: 10 mins,” and written off the next hour and a half. We all know Delia is lying. And has been practising for decades, boiling an egg in 15 secs and defying physics.
Nevertheless, I’ve never known anyone take so long over simple spag bog as Bink’s date did that evening. But then, I’ve never known anyone boil the spag for a couple of hours with a view to bottling it for glue.
Still, all credit to him for living dangerously and having a go at something he’d never done before.
It just so happened that there was a programme on the telly I very much wanted to watch that evening. Doesn’t happen to me often, but there was a documentary on the life of Jane Austen which I’d been looking forward to for a while. So I lugged our black-and-white portable (the only tv we had) into the Vicarage kitchen so we could have a nail-biting white-knuckle evening on the edge of our seats together.
Let me give you a tip. Bloke in his thirties, tattooed from head to toe, voice like Beowulf's dragon on account of he’s recently been in a fight involving throat grabbing, drives several hours to meet your seventeen-year-old daughter... well, don’t be fooled by his claim to have spent the day ogling Queen Victoria’s children’s dollshouses. He’s probably now exhausted his appetite for culture for the next decade, and will want to get down to business.
After about five minutes of sprigged frocks, lisping English Literature professors from obscure universities, views of the Royal Mile and absolutely no sex whatsoever, the two of them excused themselves and withdrew to the withdrawing room.
Hoist by my own empire-line. I could hardly get the rest of the family to follow them, exclaim what a shame the programme was now over and ask if they’d like to play Snap!
So I made a pot of tea and laid a tray. As I manoeuvred the tray with one hand and doorknob with the other there was quite a lot of bustling and rustling, and by the time I’d got the door open they were on opposite sides of the room.
Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax couldn’t have looked more shifty.
“Tea!” I bellowed brightly.
There is a limit to how long you can hover convincingly saying, “Are you quite sure you don’t take sugar?” so eventually I had to exit again.
Leaving the door wide open. For a good five seconds.
The best I could come up with as a fresh strategy in the stress of the moment was the offer of a second round of tea. Not very original, perhaps, but Shaun (rather unfairly) studied the history of warfare before marriage, and often tells me that in the heat of battle the important thing is to do something.
This time, I didn’t have the handicap of being slowed down by the tea-tray.
I’ve never seen anyone propel himself horizontally from a sofa with quite such alacrity. He didn’t even stop when he hit the other wall but headed, red-faced, straight for the Vicarage front door.
It would have been quite an impressive exit. If he hadn’t had to come back, more a deep vermillion now, for the two saucepans. Then again for the colander.
Finally and one last time, for the tin opener and wooden spoon.
We laughed a lot over that evening... but it is not entirely funny.
Whatever it may feel like to the other half of the human race, women remain far more vulnerable in the mating game. And the mentally ill are among the most vulnerable in society.
When Bink was about fourteen she came home terrified. Most puzzling was her fear that Shaun would be angry. After much painful stammering she confessed to Serena and me that a stranger had given her his number on the tube. Though she had told him nothing, she was panic-stricken that he might somehow track her down.
All young women have to learn, from earliest double figures until well into adulthood, how to protect ourselves from sexual exploitation whilst still presenting that charm and deference towards the opposite sex which has been our meal ticket for millennia: such conditioning long outlives its usefulness.
Bink started to become ill at the age of eleven. She seemed simply to miss out on that critical sexual survival skill.
She was sexually assaulted as an adult in hospital. Also at university, the court case contributing to her breakdown and abandonment of her studies. After university she was exploited for years by a “friend” who wanted to marry her and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
If MeToo and Harvey Weinstein have taught us anything, it is surely that having to exchange sexual favours for anything other than sexual pleasure is not an acceptable bargain. Not for career, nor for companionship, nor (as in the last case) for a carer.
Alas, nothing in law regarding “vulnerable adults” enabled us to protect Bink from a predatory male any more than a predatory psychiatrist.
On that occasion in 2002, thank goodness, she was still young enough for us to have influence.
Her date had no reason to know I had rung the police on his account. But he had every reason to know that what he was doing was deeply wrong.