We have a friend, Simon Scantlebury: career coach.
We met when I booked him during Shaun’s breakdown of 2008. In a few sessions he turned the crippling and debilitating doubt you develop if you cross natural self-criticism with four years’ employment-abuse, into a confident certainty that he would get the very first job he interviewed for.
Which he did.
As part of his method of stiffening the sinews and summoning up the blood, Simon developed a quaint and amusing little theory that I can achieve the impossible.
He once made me write all the ridiculous impossibles I’d swung in my life into a list of twenty-one (this was before I got Bink a place in the Priory) which he now waves in front of his other hapless clients to encourage them to do the same. He insists I do it with a combination of sheer brass-neck-cheek and the insane belief that, this one time, I might just get away with it.
He claims I said this, once.
It’s all myth, of course.
I do it by ringing up absolutely everyone I can think of – instead of writing the next novel – and boring and annoying them into helping me find a solution.
(Simon’s favourite is: educating five children privately, on a clergyman’s income. I’ll tell you how it’s done, if you like. The children were at an awful school, Serena about seven, her teacher finally pushed me over the edge and I thought, This can’t go on. So I rang, in turn, the heads of all the posh schools in SW London, asking if they’d like to educate my children for nothing. The first nine thought I was completely barking, and politely hung up. The tenth said, What did you say her IQ is? Bet Wills and Kate never thought of that…)
That year, 2010, Bink expressed, more often than anything else, her wish to return to Cambridge University.
She had degraded in 2008 with a breakdown. Degrading gives your college the option of taking you back when you are well again.
She hadn’t yet been able to persuade them that she was.
(And her college hadn’t suited her anyway. Because we’d been homeless at the time of her interview, she had lost the medication she’d been taking. Because of this, she was suffering severe withdrawal and anxiety. Because of this, she was in a state of extreme shaking confusion. Because of this, she couldn’t hear anything she was being asked by her interviewers. And because of all this, she was pooled, and found herself at a college which didn’t really suit her at all.)
So she didn’t just want to return to the university. She wanted to switch to a different college if possible. Which is technically impossible. Without applying all over again.
When I have a problem to crack, I tend to try everything, however silly. (As evidenced by the above.) Say to the most casual five-minutes’ acquaintance at a party, don’t suppose you can help with this can you? (Now I think about this, my parents did the same.)
Serena had said, I think you should read classics, Bink. You did complain about the English course being wishy-washy.
Classics is much more precise. As is Bink. Very.
After all, Serena said, you’ve just covered all the New Testament Greek syllabus with Grandfather.
Thus it was that someone rang me back, in late July 2010, and said his college’s Director of Studies had just happened to tell him that someone had suddenly had to drop out of the Cambridge classics course, so there was an unexpected vacancy for the following Michaelmas.
Would Bink like an interview? In, like, a day, or something?
I don’t know anything! Bink said.
Come on, Bink, we urged her. You have small Latin and less Greek. Give it a go!
(I’m being a little disingenuous here. Bink had done Latin A level in 2005. And Greek GCSE in 2001. And, I can’t quite remember whether this was so, but after they’d covered the New Testament syllabus, it would be just like my father to have started on Classical Greek with her.)
I’ve forgotten it all... she wailed.
But she turned up anyway.
And came home with a place at Cambridge.
Really quite smart, Bink is, when she’s remembered to put her head on the right way round.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks into the course, the following Michaelmas, that her Supervisor said,
You weren’t making it up, Bink, were you?
You really don’t know anything...