Every summer, late July to mid-August, we go to North Norfolk.
Have for generations. Ever since my father was a little boy, and his father invested in a swanky new motor car, which raced along the country lanes at an impressive twenty miles an hour or so.
So Nanny and Cook and the luggage took the train, the family took the motor, and half way from Norwich, where my grandfather was vicar, to Overstrand, near the sea as the name suggests, the train contingent would lean out of the window and wave their white hankies at the car contingent waving theirs from the level crossing.
In 1948 my grandfather allowed his love of sea bathing to persuade him into investing in a terrace house, right on the cliff, near enough for the waves to wash the upper windows with seaweed and occasionally thunder right over the roof in midwinter and break empty milk bottles on the front doorstep.
My father inherited the house, my parents continued the tradition of holiday hospitality and my mother often laughed that it would be cheaper to fly the entire extended family to Majorca for the least rainy month of a rainy English year than run that little house in the teeth of the elements for the remaining eleven.
We love it.
That year, 2014, we had fixed our holiday dates in my father’s diary well in advance, as he likes us to do. Arranged Rosie’s attendance at a Christian holiday camp around these. Put all the necessary plans in place.
When someone – I believe my sister (who generously gives Bink houseroom in her own holiday house two hundred yards from my father’s, without its associations with her illness; its lack of a shower and pockets of sand in the corners and original cobwebs dating back to the mid-twentieth century) – dropped the ghastly headline that Bink and Gatsby had rented somewhere a stone’s throw away, in between her house and ours, for the very dates we’d be there.
Gatecrashing a family celebration of baptism was bad enough. Rosie’s longed-for holiday, a new depth altogether.
Again, on the telephone to Bink’s therapist Helen, asking for advice. You don’t need to give anyone a reason, she said, not to want your child to associate with somebody.
Not wanting is reason enough. The parent paramount.
When the offspring is under eighteen, anyway.
It was out of the question that Rose should spend a week of her summer holiday fifty paces from another cobweb so noxious. Lured onto the prom for icecream. Pulled hither and yon in such a toxic tug o’ war.
We changed the week of her holiday camp. She would join us the following week instead.
No child should have her pastimes and plans so perverted by adult politics.
Shaun’s mother was having a significant birthday in late July. Coming over from Ireland. Shaun’s sister posted invitations on Facebook. The whole family. Plus partners, of course.
We knew exactly what that would mean.
“Partner” can be a passport anywhere.
You don’t need to miss the party, Rosie said to us. If you just want me not to see him. I can stay at home: you go without me.
No child should have to grow up before her time, either.
Rosie sweetheart, it is very, very generous of you – but absolutely and completely out of the question. We wouldn’t dream of going without you.
If Gatsby is going to be there, we all stay away and do something else together.
I don’t want you to change anything around us whatsoever, I said to Shaun’s sister. We just need to know, please.
Is Gatsby welcome at your party? If he just turns up, say?
Because if so, we’ll stay discreetly away.
Shaun’s sister is a teacher.
Child protection paramount. No question. Trumps everything.
Rosie comes before anyone.
But how to communicate this to Bink?
No one can get in touch with her. You have to wait for her to contact you. It has been like that for years.
Shaun’s sister tried every means of communication. Nothing back.
What was to stop them turning up together anyway?
As they had to the family christening...