So, we had invited Bink’s “date” for the weekend.
That done, I rang our policeman friend. The one who had been our liaison officer when Bink disappeared, aged twelve. Who had then got involved the previous Christmas (2001) when, he told us, the Florence Nightingale Unit had reported Shaun for the mysterious mark on Bink’s right cheek. Or rather, wrong cheek.
I did it in that order so he couldn’t veto our invitation. (Look, Bink was just seventeen by now, right? Tell a seventeen-year-old she can’t meet up with her “boyfriend” and what is she likely to do? And wouldn’t that be a lot worse?)
Nevertheless I couldn’t help asking. “It’s not insanely dangerous, is it? I mean, he’s hardly likely to murder us all in our beds, is he?”
He deftly dodged this question, and asked about the arrangements. Boyfriend was arriving by car. After this – which we found hilarious – taking Bink to a museum for a cultural day out. Then back to our house where he would cook supper for us all.
“Good,” said my friend. “He’s not going to abandon his car, so they won’t disappear.” And a museum is a very public space, obviously. “As soon as he arrives, ring me with the number plate and I’ll run a check on it.”
Saturday dawned. Boyfriend due at ten o’clock.
Twenty past nine, Frankenstein’s monster rang. Somebody had taken a man’s voice box, put it through a mangler then a shredder then stamped on it a few times, then shoved it back in a throat.
“Ah,” Bink explained a lot later. “I didn’t think to tell you. He got in a fight and someone nearly strangled him and he can’t talk normally again yet.” Could have warned me I was going to be rung by the top-billing voiceover artist for the Hammer House of Horrors.
I directed him to our house and went to tell her.
I haven’t yet properly explained what a challenge it had become – and still is, all these years later – for Bink to wash. She often couldn’t do it at all for months on end; and when she did, it could take a long time. (I once knew her take a three-day bath. She hotly disputes this but we only had one bathroom in the Vicarage and I ruddy well remember.)
She was obviously making a monumental effort and having a shower.
“He’ll be here in about ten minutes,” I shouted through the door.
“Please can you look after him?”
“How long for?”
“Um... about half past ten?”
Great. Would that be am or pm?
Dr Frankenstein’s friend arrived, I showed him in, asked Shaun to make him a mug of tea or similar, and nipped upstairs to try and read his number plate from the window so I didn’t have to go outside with a clipboard and pen and suck the latter thoughtfully while circling his vehicle.
Now, Shaun has many fine and excellent qualities. Loads and loads. Give me a mo and I’ll be able to tell you one.
Glistening on his palate of colourful talents, however, is a very noticeable lack of the essential Flake White of innocent chit-chat and small talk which can make so many socially challenging situations go with a jolly swing. Curious omission for a vicar, but there we are. When he’s in the mood, he can be as full of bonhomie and yo-ho-ho as the next chap, popping champagne corks faster than you can dodge them. Even singing the revolting Irish songs of his childhood if you oil him well into the night. (Revolting in the political sense, as per the Revolting Pheasants of 1066 And All That, you understand.)
The rest of the time, he buries his head in a book. If you bore him for a nano-second, without even a by-your-leave or heads-up he will reach for the nearest print... even if all to hand is the copyright information at the front of a hymnbook or the translated-from-the-Lithuanian instructions for the new fire extinguisher in the vestry, and it’s in the middle of a church PCC meeting he himself is chairing.
Making tea for, putting at ease, asking about the journey of, wishing a pleasant weekend to, Central Casting’s latest offering for the part of Bogeyman to frighten the children, obviously didn’t feature that day as high on his list of things that would be more amusing than preparing the morrow’s sermon.
It was a lovely way to spend a relaxing Saturday morning.
Dashing between slightly crazed cheerful-chatting with a gravel-voiced deterrent for warning young people against getting all their surfaces tattooed, whilst surreptitiously checking he’s not nicking the spoons; hanging out of an upper storey window smilingly persuading passing parishioners that I hadn’t finally decided to give up and jump, while trying to read a number plate parked at an awkward angle for the purpose on the Vicarage drive; bashing on the bathroom door asking Bink how long she expected me to hold the fort, and did she realise quite what a complete freak her date had turned out to be; and ringing our policeman friend, who only now told me he had opted for spending the first half of his weekend teaching a bunch of thugs on exeat from Borstal how to kick a pig’s bladder around a footie pitch as a cheery brief break from stabbing each other.
What felt like about a week later, Bink emerged; the result came back from the touchline that the car was registered to approximately the right name, from approximately the right part of the country, with no murders recorded against the owner; and the two love-birds set off for a romantic day looking at nineteenth century piston engines in the Victoria & Albert Museum…