Mid-February 2009, Monday morning
I don’t think I slept much, that Sunday night…
Nine o’clock the next morning, Lawyer Number Two. Not in yet. Ring back mid-morning.
Mid-morning, at last… I read him the email.
Forget it, he said. As soon as they know Shaun has a job, the deal will be off.
But what about all our trauma? The injuries Shaun has sustained? Everything our children have been through?
The church picked this fight with us: it wasn’t our idea.
(Or rather, Pinky and Perky, representing the church. As I’ve said before, most of the people of God in that place would have been appalled at what was being done to us.) Over and over again, I had begged: could we not be collaborative? They would ruin us, this way. They didn’t need to persuade us to leave. Why not simply help Shaun to a new job, as friends and fellow Christians?
Rather than shoving us to the gangplank and making us turn and fight...
Now that we had spent a considerable amount of time researching and detailing our grievances, we knew they were considerable. And legitimate.
Well yes, the lawyer said. If you really want to put your energy into a court case, for years and years to come. You could do that.
But I would let it go, he said.
(Yeah, well you probably have your own house, already.)
What the church is frightened of, is an Employment Tribunal, he said. And if Shaun now has a job to go to, there’s no case to answer.
If you remember, Lawyer Number Two had personal friends in the church.
“What your husband should do, Mrs Atkins, is get a job and take the money. Both.” I could still hear Mark Jones’s words (Lawyer Number Four) clear as the winter wind blowing across the Fens, as Serena and I had walked through Trinity a few weeks earlier.
Would you prefer, I asked Lawyer Number Two, that we take it to a different lawyer?
His relief was audible.
Mark answered immediately.
He had a few hours, to achieve the impossible. After getting up to speed. The meeting was at eight o’clock that evening.
Would he take it on?
“Yes,” he said. “I will.”
I sent him the email, received the previous night, adding the new condition: that the agreement would only be binding if Shaun had no job to go to. The challenge was to invalidate that proviso, without alerting them as to why.
As you see. Impossible. No way to do this.
Nevertheless, Mark is an absolute, complete, total, amazing, brilliant... every superlative I can think of (though he does split his infinities – probably a lawyer thing, to confuse the opposition) ... life-changing, wonderful genius.
Taking on a case like that at eleven on a Monday morning.
But even Mark couldn’t achieve the impossible. Presumably.
I felt sick all day.
That afternoon I was appearing on the Titchmarsh Show again. Second time in a week. Shaking far too much to drive. Too late to ask them to send a car.
Shaun drove me. He couldn’t have done what I was doing. And I couldn’t have driven. Teamwork.
All the journey there and all the journey back, on the telephone to Mark. He spent all afternoon on that letter. Most of it in his own, un-invoiced time... I discovered later.
I had to ask him.
I’d never felt so churned in my life. Head in a vice. Stomach going round a washing machine. And then shrinking in the tumble dryer.
Thus I would feel, if I were robbing a bank.
Pounding, non-stop. Tightened in a winch, and then some.
Thus must Bink feel, every moment of her waking life. And perhaps quite a lot when she’s asleep, too.
“Can I ask you a very important question?”
Mark is a highly principled Christian with impeccable integrity. This much was obvious.
(If slightly less integrity in his grammatical infinitives.)
“Is what we’re doing wrong?” I asked him. Were we being greedy? Should we just let it go?
I’ve never heard anyone so definite in his answer.
“Absolutely not.” Mark was very firm and sure. “Their lawyer’s duty was to get the best deal he could for the church. (Not a very good job done, in my view, but that’s not my business.)
“My duty, to get the best for you.
“You are not doing anything wrong.”
We got back in the late afternoon. Still much to do.
That cottage was so small, you could see right through the ground floor just by glancing in from the street.
Some instinct prompted me to send everyone upstairs. Just as well. When the doorbell rang, most insistently, we were able to ignore it. Without diving under the kitchen table.
Mark had drafted the letter, at last.
“Most disappointed at this extra condition being imposed... Last minute changes... Not the agreement... You have not remembered our conversation correctly... not an accurate record of it.”
Copy it out it by hand, by fountain pen, I told Shaun. (I didn’t quite add that he should flick a few schoolboy blotches on it, to make it look spontaneous.)
Email from Pinky just before seven. Have been trying to contact you for three days. Email, telephone, even calling at the cottage in person. Will assume the deal is off.
No time for that now.
Everything in A4 manila. Contract signed – two ways. Mark wanted the money paid one way, but didn’t want that to snag business so had prepared both in case someone baulked.
Here, Ben! Drive into Oxford. This must reach Pinky by eight. That’s when the meeting starts. In the church. If necessary, interrupt them all, to make sure they have it.
It must be in his hands by eight o’clock.
Then I rang an old friend, due at the meeting. Spoke to his wife. He’d had a prior commitment: it had been too short notice. She promised to bicycle to the church there and then, and make sure the documents had arrived.
Phew. All done.
Just after eight. Pinky’s number ringing mine. Over and over again. I can’t ignore people. No idea why. Weakness of mine.
Straight in. No pleasantries. “Has Shaun got another job?”
When I was about five, I lied to my mother that I’d cleaned my teeth. She knew immediately – my toothbrush was bone dry, and exactly where I’d left it that morning – and I’ve had a bit of a thing about lying, ever since. Can’t really do it.
Don’t believe in it.
“You’ll have to ask him,” I flustered.
All the time we’d lived in that cottage, we’d complained about the terrible mobile reception. You had to go across the road, to talk.
I love the way God uses our complaints, sometimes, to bless us.
“Hello?” I said. “Hello, hello? I can’t hear you. What did you say? Are you still there?”
I hung up. He tried a few more times, but I didn’t bother any more.
I rang Mark, never expecting him still to be in the office. (Or as he would say, to still be.)
I told him.
I’m sorry, he said. I tried.
(Gosh. A lawyer. And he really seems to care. Or even, seems to really care.)
They knew Shaun had a job to go to.
It was pretty inevitable, all along. There would not be any deal. Once Pinky had realised his mistake.
“Joanna,” I rang next door, to the Manor House. “Can we come over? We need cheering up.”