Saturday 28th January 2012.
It was almost exactly half way through her course – the January of her second year, during the fifth term of nine – that Bink had dropped out before, in January 2008.
We had said to each other repeatedly, Shaun and I, that if she could just get beyond that tipping point, just pass the half way mark through her degree course, just get beyond the moment at which she had crashed before... which she had lived to regret so much.
Surely, if she could only get over that glitch… well then, returning were as tedious as go o’er.
Shaun got back from work earlier on Saturdays.
School finished at lunchtime, and after clearing emails and cheering on a few Rugby matches he was usually home by teatime.
Most unusually we had a free evening that Saturday, two days after my breakfast with Bink.
Ben had invited us to a concert he was singing in, but seemed relaxed about whether we were there. And it was so rare that we could enjoy simply being together, no demands on our time, that I had lit a roaring ruddy fire in the drawing-room, and we were enjoying Shaun’s (and Gabriel Oak’s) idea of Paradise: either side of the crackling, clock ticking on the mantel, pot of tea between us, reading companionably.
Warm against the tea-time darkness. Hot drink, good book, unending evening before us.
Happens about once in several decades. If ever…
Can you come to Cambridge?
I closed my book, rather optimistically promised it another encounter soon, and hugged my mug of tea.
Do you want to go to Ben’s concert?
I just wondered if you’d like to come over and celebrate.
She had finished her essay.
If I can work under these conditions... with her DoS threatening to evict her, everyone seeming against her, the world wanting her out.
I can do anything.
I’m staying on.
There is, in Newnham, the other side of Coe Fen from Cambridge itself, a Mill Pond.
I went to school with Katie, whose family lived in the Mill House, facing the pond and including most of Mill Lane behind it. Her father was an eccentric Old Etonian musician, whose name most improbably was Ludwig. When we were thirteen they still owned the gratuitously large hall with its curtained stage at the back of the house, and I directed my friends in a production of Little Women there. It was our first encounter with boys: I’ve no idea where we recruited them from… but one of them contacted me again a few years ago, and sent me a song he’d written for me.
I still remember, and draw on, a lecture Ludwig gave, on my fifteenth birthday, about how to listen to several tunes of a symphony at once.
By the time we were eighteen Ludwig had, very sadly, had to sell, piecemeal, most of the house off, including their wild and rambling garden. Katie was often ill throughout our teens, and I marvelled at how much school she had to miss...
When we were not long married, living in Cambridge and visiting friends in London for the weekend, I jumped on a train on a spontaneous whim, without even telling Shaun, the weather was so brilliantly sparkling, just to be back in Cambridge to skate on the Mill Pond… All afternoon, no one knowing where I was. Figures of eights and whirling patterns and nothing but the wild white sky above me.
I also experienced my first and only sacking, there by the Mill Pond. I had completed my training as an actor, Shaun was training as a vicar, and I took a job as waitress in Sweeney Todd, part of a pizza chain. We received a new directive that clients had to be in and out of the building, fed and wined and having paid up, in under thirty-five minutes.
Spot checks were held to ensure we weren’t allowing them to linger and enjoy themselves...
Sweeney Todd is long gone with all of the snows of yesteryear, melted away with the ice of that glorious skating-winter.
That evening we took Bink to the Italian restaurant which had replaced many successors on Sweeney Todd’s site.
To toast her victory. Which she had, so preciously, included us in.
We never made it to Ben’s concert.