Rose was sixteen the other day.
We spent yesterday on the river, the five of us: Alex came from London, and Bink booked a college punt. She actually managed to book it. I simply gave her the number and she rang the Porters’ Lodge.
What can you say about an afternoon on the river that hasn’t been better written by Kenneth Grahame?
Yesterday was the day of Cambridge’s Strawberry Fair. Rock music already thumping from Midsummer Common when we met Bink off the Chesterton Road. The Lower River squirming with tourists and hen parties and chauffeur-driven mega-punts with improbable running commentaries.
Have you heard of Eton? Sister college... 1441... Excessively rich and smart school where all the royal family are educated.
(Er… no. Founded for the poor boys actually. And as far as I’m aware, no royal until William. This generation’s William. Not the fourth or the Conqueror or WilliamandMary.)
I am reminded of commentaries we Cambridge-bred come up with. There are forty four colleges here... but thirteen of them are secret. That’s the window where Henry the sixteenth used to meet his third mistress of the night. Punts were invented by Oxford and Cambridge monks as their vessel of war when they met to fight battles midway between the two cities.
So we pulled our punt up the rollers at the Mill Pond for the Upper River, drifting through the soft June snow floating on the air from the willows, and the quieter river traffic on the way to Grantchester. We pitched our picnic nearly as far as Paradise, Alex pausing his punting to read another chapter, In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water.
Why are you so stressed? Bink asked.
How can she be so ill, and so observant?
You never even said sorry, Bink. We arranged to meet in college at midday. We were delayed a whole hour by car breakdown, and you still weren’t ready. Or answering texts. Or telephone calls. And you weren’t in college. I told you we didn’t want to drive out of our way... and you weren’t even ready when we called at the house. I’m just so tired of it, whenever we meet.
I’m sorry. It didn’t occur to me. But you’re disappointed in me, whatever I do.
That’s not true. If you’d been where we arranged. When we arranged. Just once.
That’s why I didn’t want to agree to come.
Why you don’t agree to come, and then do it?
Some people can’t be on time, Alex helps out.
Really? What did you do to try, Bink? How do you go about being on time?
I set my alarm for ten thirty. And eleven.
That’s not really enough time, Alex explains from experience.
Did you ask your hosts to wake you up?
I didn’t think of it.
I am not angry any more. She has said sorry. She has tried to explain.
We meet up with Bink’s friend, for tea, at the Mill Pond. Where I used to bike over the bridge to get to school. So exhausted himself, trying to get her up that morning, that he’d had to give up, go home to rest, and miss the trip with us. He joins us now... with the eccentric, beautiful, silky cat we gave him to thank him for helping Bink into the Priory. He carries the cat in a bag with him wherever he goes, and lets him out to stir up the pigeons and run back to him when he shakes the Morris dancer bells on a stick.
But very, very sad.
I want to say, for the first time I face up to this. But it’s not the first time, is it? You face up to things slowly. Step by step. Year on year.
I face up to Bink’s never being well. Usually, people think Bink is sixteen herself. Yesterday, she looked her age; looked like a grown up; looked like someone who can’t wear normal clothes.
I face up to a lifetime of the kindness of others. Never having work. Or marriage. Or children of her own.
Each of our children is (genuinely, truly; not just because some of them sometimes read this blog) the most gifted of all our children. Each of them has gifts the siblings haven’t.
Thus, Bink... the most gifted of our children. The most charismatic, energetic, able to do anything.
A life-long invalid.
What’s the matter? Shaun woke this morning and held me and asked over and over again. I shake and shake and can’t stop.
What’s the matter?
But I think she is getting better, he says.
It’s just going to take a very long time.