Michaelmas 2010 to Midsummer 2011.
So, Bink started at Cambridge all over again, aged twenty-five… but she had always looked many years younger than her years.
My father’s college. My father’s subject.
Ben went up to Cambridge at the same time, having done several years’ singing and music and bass guitar.
Alex had started all over again too, at Bristol. Fabulously sympathetic tutor; infinitely more understanding of his Asperger’s Syndrome than at Cambridge… which, as he said, was Cambridge’s problem, not his.
Rose moved schools, with a generous fee reduction thanks to Shaun’s job in the brother school. And Serena to London, new church, new job, new life.
My father more settled.
And Shaun...? like a wild teenager: congenial and clever boss; appreciative pupils; playing soldiers in the CCF every so often and sleeping under the stars. Loving it all.
Nothing could go wrong for us now.
Over the next few months, Bink asked our GP half a dozen times why she was sleeping so much. Even I asked him twice.
When you have five children, you don’t go in for possible, potential problems. You have enough, without.
So I didn’t realise she meant eighteen to twenty hours a day. Throughout her entire First Year. At Cambridge. Whilst trying to do a degree.
Even after studying the set texts with my father the previous summer, even with Bink’s capabilities, it’s hard to enjoy your time at university if you’re asleep for most of it.
Why the GP didn’t tell us will forever be a mystery.
Bink asked me just the other day, as we were sitting by the pub fire. Hard to work out whether, Didn’t know, or Didn’t care, is worse, isn’t it? He’d put her on it all: changed her to a cocktail of his favourites, as so many shrinks and doctors do.
It was a fellow undergraduate who told her. At Eastertide.
It’s the meds you’re on.
He was a university man himself, that GP. Must have been, to be a doctor, mustn’t he? Could he really not remember what it was like, student life?
Or did he think, if you have a mental illness, all you are fit for is zombiedom in pyjamas? Vegetables drugged into disablement: who cares? Keeps them out of the way, doesn’t it?
Obviously, he wasn’t going to help her.
So she helped herself. Over the course of six weeks, reduced all meds to nothing, and began to recover her life.
My memory of that midsummer 2011 is glorious. And desperate. Both.
Bink wanted to invite friends home for a post-exam houseparty. Any restriction on numbers? Of course not, Bink! All your friends are welcome.
That was when she told me she’d invited her entire cohort of fifty or something.
I wouldn’t normally welcome refusals... but I was quite happy with the final tally of a dozen or so.
She received her results for Part I. She had missed a First by a quarter of a mark.
You’re having me on, Bink: there’s no such thing.
I know, she said. They must have made it up, ’specially for me, and shaved it off my final mark. They couldn’t have me getting a First, could they? Not knowing anything.
Two of her essays came top of the whole university.
On a few hours a day. And next-to-nil knowledge of either language, in Cambridge terms.
It’s a shame, though, she said. A First means you get invited to a posh dinner and offered a really swanky room.
She came home before her guests.
You can help me get everything ready, Bink!
What do you want me to do?
(When, before or since, has Bink been well enough to offer? Not often, that’s for sure…)
You could start with the tennis court.
So she spent the afternoon with the line-marker, trundling up and down the grass.
In the years afterwards, I couldn’t believe such happiness.
The glorious weather. The togetherness of it. Bink able to do something as practical as mark out a lawn with white, wobbly lines.
So helpful. So able.
So happy, the two of us. Making scones for their welcoming cream tea.
How I longed for that time again, over and over again...
And when all her friends, her year group, fellow classicists, turned up full of youth and laughter, fun and frolics, bags dumped in the hall, bodies jumped in the pool, wow you have tennis! Hey, Bink…
Who should be tagging them... but Gatsby.
He was in his forties. What place did he have, with all these carefree First Year undergraduates?
The place he always had.
In a secret corner hidden away with Bink, most of the weekend, comforting her aching, awful, immobilising tears, while all her First Year friends enjoyed themselves in the sun.
And never knew.
Seeming such a saint. Helping so much.
Don’t you see?
We didn’t. Not really. I was uneasy – already, even then – but it took me a few years to work it out. In detail.
She had to be in tears. Because otherwise we wouldn’t have needed Gatsby.
I’m not saying he did it on purpose.
Just, he needed to be needed.
Just… it would have been interesting to know what would have happened, what happiness she might have had, if he hadn’t happened to be there at all...