Late summer 2008
Soon after the NLP week which the two of us did together, Bink was readmitted to the Bethlem Hospital for another twelve-week course of treatment.
Her first stay, two years earlier, had been life-changing, for all of us. She came home able to eat without gloves, help clear the table, even play the piano: things she hadn’t been able to do since childhood.
(I should perhaps add a rider that a twelve-week stay at the Bethlem Hospital won’t necessarily enable you to play the piano. If you’ve never done it before.)
But there was a strict NHS cut-off of twelve weeks, so despite her pleas, she was discharged only half-well. (And no: of course it doesn’t make economic sense. Any more than it makes clinical sense to take half a course of antibiotics.)
By the time she was re-admitted in 2008, so much else in our lives was unravelling it was impossible to keep an eye on every ball.
Her therapist came to visit her at our little cottage in Oxfordshire, to help transfer some of the skills he was teaching her to real life. I would have loved to have been there. But Shaun was representing his church at a conference in Jerusalem and I was covering the same event for Radio 4.
Bink often jokes of a conversation she had with her therapist at that time. She was explaining some difficulty she had with washing. Had she run out of shampoo? I’d have to check the details with her to get it right.
He suggested, as a solution, that she used the family shampoo.
“My mother,” Bink said, “washes her hair with washing-up liquid.”
This stumped even the OCD specialist. Eventually, he said: “Bink, I can only treat you. Not your whole family.”
She still laughs about it. So, of course, I do too. To keep her company.
But the process of reiterating it here for you has brought home to me the underbelly of the story...
They were desperate years, in that dear little cottage. Desperate. I was clinging on by my fingernails.
Five of the seven of us were clinically depressed.
Unbelievable though it sounds, I believe that for the three years we lived there I never prepared or cooked any food. I have no idea what we lived on, but I know this from another anecdote of around that time.
Shaun and I had been invited, together, to give an after-dinner talk for a church guest night some distance away: the first and only time we’ve ever had joint billing.
We arrived in good time, of course, and were introduced to an early guest. Angela: voluble, outgoing, huge fun. Heart as big as you like. I asked her what she did, and she told me she worked for a kitchen equipment company I’d never heard of. She was astonished, and said they were the best brand in the world.
After supper we were called on to speak. Interviewed together.
I can’t remember anything we said, but neither of us has ever seen any reason to be anything other than open and honest. I imagine the story of what we were going through didn’t sound a whole load of fun.
After we had finished, Angela asked us to hang on while she nipped home for something. I was longing to leave: it was late, we had a long journey ahead of us and we were both exhausted.
We waited. And waited. And waited. An agonising forty-five minutes.
At last she came back, took us out to her car and showed us a boot-full of brand new, boxed, top-of-the-range kitchen equipment: mixer, processor, liquidiser; attachments.
“For you,” she said. Then added unnecessarily, “If you don’t want it, you can eBay it all off again.”
I was stunned.
We transferred it to our boot, thanked her and drove home.
Her kindness lives on in my heart, over a decade later. What a friend we had found in a stranger!
In the middle of the night – sleep was a long-lost alien – I googled her company and totted up hundreds-of-pounds-worth or more.
But I didn’t cook any more!
I love cooking. Perhaps because of that, I couldn’t even imagine the little kitchen we had in that tiny cottage producing a meal big enough for seven of us. I could barely face going in it.
So I kept all Angela’s presents packed in their boxes, carefully stored in our garage, and started dreaming of the day I would have my own kitchen again...
Buy my own shampoo? I could as soon have flown to the moon.
Or written my next novel.