Early December 2012
I had no idea what Bink was going through. Not for a long time afterwards. I can only assume it was even worse for her than it was for me.
By quite some.
It was Saturday 1st December, 2012. Afternoon.
Bink’s Vice-Provost on the telephone. Quite an important chap. Wouldn’t generally expect him to have time for this kind of chit-chat. Secretaries, PAs, all that.
He wanted to know how he could contact Bink. (Your guess as good as mine, matey.)
He’d happened to bump into her the other day, he explained, and there appeared to have been an oversight in her first year and she hadn’t been invited to the Founder’s Feast, which every member of college was entitled to attend, at least once.
I knew all about the Founder’s Feast. Bink is a member of my father’s college. It’s quite a posh bash, posh nosh, world-famous choir singing the entertainment. Bink loves all that stuff, or used to.
Anyway, he thought this will never do, so he made sure there was a place for Bink that year, as it was her last. But he couldn’t get hold of her, to get the invitation to her.
Because, as I’ve told you already, Bink doesn’t do telephone. Or email. Or indeed, being generally contactable in any way whatsoever for the convenience of others.
Given as I could hardly tell a busy dude like the Vice-Provost to wander over to Bink’s room and rap on the door, even though it was probably only five minutes from where he was making the call, I told him to leave it with me and I’d see what I could do.
Bink hates surprises. One year (I think I may have told you this, too) Serena very sweetly arranged a surprise birthday party for her as she was one of the few members of the family who’d never had one, and she spent the afternoon at the top of the house sobbing with the shock.
Which I can kind of understand, because if all your favourite people suddenly turn up and you haven’t washed your hair and you’re wearing your worst lime-green jumper and icky slouching-trousers, it would be a bit minging. (Which is why, when I arranged Serena’s surprise 18th, we all fibbed and told her she was invited to the opera and they were really pricey stall-seats so she had to be dolled up to the nines.)
So Bink wouldn’t enjoy discovering at ten to seven that she was invited to be in college at seven for seven thirty, black tie. Even more than your average gal wouldn’t. I mean, I would find that a tad stressful and I’m not nuts. Much.
So the sooner I could get the message to her, the kinder it would be.
Nothing if not resourceful, me. And I was brought up in Cambridge and frequently witnessed my mother’s resourcefulness in similar situations. She used to say you can get away with anything if you have grey hair… as she dialled Shaun’s college when I’d barely met him and asked for his home address.
(Now I stop to think about it, her hair must have gone grey a lot younger than mine...)
So I rang the Porters’ Lodge.
They couldn’t see the colour of my hair, as they obviously could my mother’s, so it didn’t matter that it wasn’t quite right for that sort of stunt. Besides, they knew me of old. And Bink. More than once I’d baked a large fruit cake and dropped it off at the P’lodge to thank the porters for looking after Bink or helping me do so.
So I asked the one who answered if he could nip over to Bink’s room and tell her, please? The magic word Vice-Provost (or is that two?) immediately did the trick though he sounded like he was happy to, anyway.
(And yes, of course I was thinking what you’re thinking. Why didn’t the VP think of this himself, given that he must have had the P’lodge number and the porters would have jumped to his bidding without a second thought. I imagine because by the time you’re VP, so much of your brain is taken up with so much more important things like nuclear physics or the authorship of Gawain and the Green Knight that it hasn’t got room for common-or-garden-things like where you left your socks or how to get a message to someone a few hundred paces away. That’s Alex’s excuse anyway. And he hasn’t even reached VP yet.)
I would have loved to have heard from her. A simple thanks. Account of her lovely evening; what she wore; what the food was, and the wines; whom she sat next, and spoke, to... all would all have doubled my pleasure.
I contented myself with imagining it anyway, as I often had before.
The next day I received the briefest of emails:
Please don't contact me. I don't care how important you think it is.
No signature. No reason. No more.
Some time later (or was it that same day, first in Advent? Would make sense…) we were in Cambridge for Ben’s carol service. A treat to be much looked-forward to.
I’d baked something and so had his godmother, for a chaotic student tea in the basement kitchen of his digs, friends running up and down the stairs, grabbing gowns, dashing off.
Beautifully woven singing. Hushed candlelight in the tenebrous chapel.
(Presumably Bink invited.)
Afterwards his godmother hugged me.
I’m so sorry, she said. So sorry.
I hadn’t said anything. Presumably I hadn’t needed to.
All that hurt still written in my face.