Joe and Mikey

In the winter of ’55 I became a chorister at Westminster Abbey, and boarder at the choir school. The school comprised only thirty six boys aged between eight and thirteen, whose rigid timetable included as much time at choir practice as in class. We were treated like army cadets, and discipline drove us. We were at an age then when war was on our minds. Most of our fathers had fought, and one boy had been born in ’46 after his father’s death in action. He always engendered sympathy when his mother came alone on exeat days to collect him for the three-hour excursion, while the rest of us were met by both parents. Sometimes I envied the drama of his father’s death.
Exeats were scheduled every third weekend, on a Saturday afternoon, and the boys looked forward to them with a passion. Three black marks on the board for bad behaviour between-times meant an hour less exeat, in detention, while our parents waited patiently outside in the car or strolled through the cloisters, and we lived in fear of losing that time with our families. The alternative was a beating by the headmaster, which was considered by the boys to be preferable to black marks. If we could have chosen, we’d all have chosen the corporal punishment over the emotional one, but the headmaster gave beatings for more severe misdemeanors like theft or bullying, while a black mark was given by the masters for talking in class, or running in the corridors. Beatings took place in the headmaster’s study, after classes or in the evenings, with a variety of sticks or a cricket bat.
Francis Talbot, the headmaster, was a tall and serious man with bushy eyebrows and thinning hair. He had been a captain in the army, and as a fluent French speaker, he’d apparently been involved in some very secret missions in North Africa in ‘44. He had served in the Eighth Army, in Algiers, and we boys made up more stories than could possibly be true about his wartime exploits, and enacted Monty’s battles against the Gerries, involving sand dunes and imaginary grenades whose pins were always pulled in the teeth. Despite his severe style, and his military ways, Talbot was considered a fair and reasonable man, and his beatings were always meted out in the name of justice.
One evening, I had been dozing, listening to whispering further along the row of beds in the dormitory. It was a Wednesday in February, and the bare room was cold, so I had my blankets pulled well up to my ears, and the hospital corners I’d made up that morning, among the best in the dorm, held the bedclothes tight against my legs.
The dormitory, one of four, comprised 9 narrow iron bedsteads on a plain wooden floor, interspersed with upright chairs. Each boy had to fold his clothes on the chair according to specific instructions, much in the way soldiers in barracks might, and each was inspected for neatness before ‘lights out’. The bathrooms for each dormitory included two baths and six washbasins in one room, so each boy was scheduled one bath a week, often shared with another child, and we queued for the toilet before the final bell of the day was rung by the duty master. It was an old hand-bell with a long wooden handle, carried from room to room by its clanger and shaken in each at 7.30pm to signal lights out. Using the toilets after that was forbidden, and wetting the bed, while not uncommon, was the subject of merciless teasing. I wasn’t known as a bed-wetter, and if I cried at night, with homesickness or a sense of rejection, it was something I did silently, under the pillow.
Mikey Johnson, in the next bed to me, was shifting noisily. He’d just returned from the bathroom, where he’d been to wash himself, and was crying quietly. Wednesday was Clinch’s duty night, which meant Mikey had just had a visit, as he did most Wednesdays.
Mr Clinch, the maths master, or Fiddler, as we nicknamed him, liked to come to the dorm at around 10 at night, once the matron had left for the evening, and when most of the boys were asleep. He was a large man in his forties, with lank hair and long fingernails. He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches, and a striped tie, hanging loosely over his paunch. He had a habit of pursing his lips, as if to blow a kiss, and he liked to hold boys by a shoulder while talking to them. Sometimes, when he came into the dormitory after lights out, he would just stand in the shadows, listening to the boys’ breathing and then leave silently in his crepe soled shoes.
Tonight, like many other Wednesday nights when I had been awake, Clinch stood over Mikey’s bed in silence, then slipped one hand beneath the covers to explore Mikey’s genitals, while he masturbated with the other. Tonight he’d made Mikey hold his penis when he came, breathing quickly and hard. I lay silently, shuddering in fear, unsure what exactly was happening, but knowing how scared my friend was. He’d told me this wasn’t the worst that could happen. That took place in Clinch’s bedroom on the top floor, under the eves. Now Clinch left Mikey in the bathroom and slid noiselessly from the room, presumably to go back to his own bed.
*
For over a year, Mikey’s life had been plagued by Clinch, and sometimes by a couple of his friends, who were not working at the school, but who seemed friendly with most of the staff, helping out with school trips and sports events. Mikey had always been a quiet boy, and the rumour was that his father had committed suicide when Mikey was a baby. I liked him for his gentleness, and he was generous with his pocket money when it came to the weekly trip to the tuck shop. We shared a private language and spent the hour of free time after prep each evening together, either on the roof playground, or in the school cellars, hiding from Loats, the school caretaker. Loats cleaned the boys’ shoes, and often bought Mikey sweets in exchange for some sort of game he played with him in the boiler room that Mikey wouldn’t talk about. The boys who knew about Clinch and Loats often speculated about whether they were in it together, whether Loats learned from Clinch about Mikey or vice versa. I wondered why he got the attention of both men. It was as though they both sensed he was vulnerable and accessible – but then in all likelihood, they had talked about him.
Mikey was my best friend, and he was one of the choristers in the choir. The choirmaster was always giving him the most difficult solos, which we all coveted. He had made a name for his performance of the Allegri Misereri, with its top C, which was always the subject of stiff competition among the seniors, when he was only nine. He’d also been chosen to sing the unaccompanied opening of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ on our Christmas carols album that year. He was hoping to go on to Westminster School after his voice broke, where he could train to be a tenor, and later he might get into Kings Cambridge, which had the best choir in England. Everything depended on a scholarship, as his family wasn’t rich enough to pay the fees. Mikey was bright, but I was ahead of him in class, so I always helped him with his maths, and his status in the choir gave me a reflected kudos.
I had been to stay with Mikey in Essex during half-term once, when my parents were abroad, and I enjoyed time with his mother, who was lovely, but somehow fragile. She listened attentively, and unlike my own mother, she didn’t smell of cigarettes and whiskey. My parents were always rowing, and as the fourth child, I was left to my own devices a lot. Once, they’d forgotten to come to collect me on exeat day, and had to be phoned and reminded by Mr Talbot. I sat alone in the classroom waiting over an hour for them to drive into London, and cried in self-pity, till we went to the local Wimpy for the remaining time.
The first time Mikey confided in me about Clinch and his friends, he said he trusted me not to tell stories to the other boys, though I knew that others had witnessed the Wednesday night visits, and had said nothing. He’d told me some of the terrible things that Clinch’s friends had made him do, and though I felt powerless, I sometimes fantasised about calling the police. I had considered telling my mother about it, though she never listened to me about what went on at the school. My parents actively condoned the corporal punishment, so I was not sure they would see these activities as inappropriate. I couldn’t write home about it in my weekly letter, written on Sunday evening in ‘prep’, as all the letters were checked by the duty master, who was usually Clinch. Mikey and I often talked about running away from the school together and living in the forest, but the choir school was in the centre of London and neither of us had any idea of how to reach freedom.
Some days Mikey would be called to Clinch’s bedroom for an hour or more, and would return to the dorm in tears, unable to move in bed without moaning in pain. Other times, he’d be called out in class to stand beside the master’s desk so Clinch could run his hand up Mikey’s trouser leg in front of the whole class while they kept their heads down, pretending not to know what was being done.
Mikey wasn’t the only boy who received this attention. Several of us had many times been ‘tickled’ by Clinch up the trouser leg in class while asking for his help with a maths problem. There were boys who thought this was some sort of fun, some sort of affection, even courting the experience. But I knew from Mikey how it could lead to more painful and awful punishments, and so I always held back, even when I wanted help with my work. Only the senior boys, in their long trousers, were left in peace, and they called Clinch a ‘shirt-lifter’, though I didn’t know why.
“Why don’t you talk to your mum about it?” I had asked Mikey. “Surely if she knew what Fiddler was doing, she’d come in to see Talbot and get him into loads of trouble.”
“I once told her a bit of stuff and she hit me and told me I was lying. She cried a lot, and I don’t think there’s any point, as she won’t do anything. She’s scared of coming into the school to talk to Talbot,” he said. “She’s worried he’d expel me and she’d have to have me at a day school, so she couldn’t work full time.”
*
On this particular Wednesday night, I took a chance and left my bed to sit beside Mikey in the dark silent dormitory, and ask if he was OK. Unfortunately, I couldn’t scramble back into my own bed before the Matron, returning to the surgery for something, saw me and dragged me by the ear down to the headmaster’s office. I can still remember the terror I felt as we walked the long corridor to the study door. While beatings were fairly regular for some boys, I had not been subjected to any nighttime punishment, which I’d heard was far worse than the daytime beatings, because pyjamas were less protective than trousers.
I can still feel the warmth on my legs from the small curve-backed bar fire by the headmaster’s desk that night, and even now, after sixty years, I have the urge to cough from the musty smell of books and the distinct smoke which pervaded his study, from pipe tobacco that Mr Talbot always kept in his jacket pocket in a leather pouch. The room was small and tidy, with its mullioned window overlooking Smith Street below. It was lined with shelves of cream spined paperback books in French, and wide grey ring-binders inscribed ‘School Accounts 1948’ to ‘School Accounts 1954’. On the shelves in front of the books were several small tribal ornaments, a primitively carved crocodile which must have been painted at some stage, a naked woman in ebony, her breasts pointed and her neck encircled by many rings, and a pale elephant in bone or ivory.
Across the room, behind the closed door, hung a large framed world map in many colours, identifying post-war political powers, and a green baize pin-board covered in timetables and notices. I could see the arrangement of thumbtacks there which someone had made; the shape of a question-mark, and the head’s mortar board hanging on the hook beside it, with the long black silk threads of its tassel hanging down. The image is as sharp as a new photograph, a super-real memory carrying more detail than I would have been able to describe five minutes after leaving that room. It’s a memory charged with emotions I haven’t felt since that night.
It was to be six strokes on the buttocks through the pyjama bottoms, while touching one’s toes, in silence. If you cried out, you had more strokes. If you didn’t thank the headmaster and apologise formally after the beating, that also resulted in more strokes. Six was the normal punishment for ‘talking after lights out’ in the dormitory.
“So, Weiner, what were you talking to Johnson about?”
I was surprised to have been asked anything before the beating. I didn’t expect to have any chance to explain myself.
“Nothing, sir. It’s just he was crying and I was checking he was OK, sir.”
I decided to say this much in the hope that the Head would understand I was only trying to be kind to Mikey.
“And what was he crying about?”
This question, which I saw coming, left me little choice. Either I’d have to lie, and perhaps be caught out because Mikey and I hadn’t worked out our story together, or to tell enough of the truth to help him, and myself, without spilling the whole story, which I just couldn’t bring myself to describe to the headmaster.
“Mikey…. Johnson, sir… well, Mr Clinch was… well sir, he was crying because he was upset by Mr Clinch, who was by his bed, sir.”
Was it enough? I couldn’t bring myself say more.
“What was Mr Clinch doing by his bed?”
And there it was, the perfect chance to tell the Head and be able to say later I’d had no choice.
“I don’t know sir. He was… well he was sort of undressed a bit, sir. He made Johnson…” “What did he make him do? Come on, out with it.”
“He, er, made him touch his thing, sir.”
And that was it. I couldn’t think of how else to say it, and somehow I just knew I had to say it. Talbot was silent. The cane lay untouched on the desk. He sat straight-backed at my side, his head slightly bowed. I thought then that I had done something right and in exchange, would be excused the beating.
Finally he spoke. “OK, Weiner, bend over.”
I was shocked to find out that the punishment was going ahead, despite my excuse for talking. I felt a huge injustice was happening, and I became angry, as I silently clutched my legs and heard the swish of the cane. I felt very little pain, and when I stood to say ‘thank you sir’ and ‘I’m sorry I talked after lights out’, Talbot could see my defiance.
“I know you consider that you should not be beaten for helping your friend, but you broke one of the rules, and if I didn’t punish you, others would feel free to break the rules. Nevertheless, you did the right thing in telling me what happened. Your honesty does you credit. I’ll trust you to keep this to yourself. Just you remember that there is no talking after lights out. If I hear you’ve been spreading gossip, you’ll be straight back here and it’ll be the worse for you.”
*
The next day, Mikey’s mother came to the school and after a long meeting in the headmaster’s office, with Matron present, Mikey was taken home for the weekend, even though it wasn’t an exeat weekend. He came back to the school on Monday, though he seemed withdrawn and dejected, and he didn’t talk to me. By the end of that week, he was gone, and I never saw him again.
I didn’t try to contact him, as I thought he must be angry with me for telling the Head, and I didn’t get the chance to ask him what had happened, before he left. We didn’t get to say goodbye, which felt wrong, but while I often thought of how our friendship had been important to me before that night, and what it had taken to break us apart, I made friends with other children soon after Mikey left the school. I thought of Mikey going to the local secondary modern and having to make new friends, which would be hard. I wondered if there would be teachers like Fiddler Clinch there who would recognize his vulnerability. I’d been teased a lot at home about my posh accent, and I wondered if he was being bullied and rejected out in Essex. I knew he wouldn’t be singing any more, and that he wouldn’t be trying to get a scholarship to Westminster School, or singing tenor at Kings College Cambridge. I might have saved him from Clinch and his friends, but in that moment, I had taken away his future, and I felt responsible for ruining his life, even though I knew nothing of his feelings.
Fiddler Clinch didn’t leave so quickly, and it was the end of that term before he was replaced. What had transpired between him and the Head, I could only speculate. The other boys gossiped about Mikey telling his mother and her telling the headmaster, as I held to my word and would tell nothing of what I knew, but Clinch went on to another prep school, presumably with good references, so we had no reason to assume he’d been fired. I spent the rest of that term avoiding Clinch whenever possible, as I was sure he would know it was me who had told Mr Talbot. Every time I was asked to bring my work to the front of the class in maths, I became more scared, and my marks went from the best to among the worst in the class. Fiddler didn’t engage with me at all, so I knew he knew it had been me, and he no longer visited the dormitory at night or touched any of the boys in class, and Loats disappeared, though I had said nothing about him. That made me think that Mikey had given a fuller account of what had been happening to him, during his meeting with Mr Talbot, and in a way, it helped me to get over my guilt about reporting him. Mr. Talbot took evening duties himself for a while, and he was very solicitous with me, as well as other boys who were upset by Mikey’s departure. Some of the time I felt empowered, and part of a privileged secret, and then I felt completely at sea with what happened as a result of my actions. Who was responsible for what had happened? Me or Clinch? Had Mikey wanted help? It was strange to feel so helpless once I had begun to open the floodgates, and to find it wasn’t about me. I’d have liked to have someone to share my secret with and ask whether I’d been right that night, but there was nobody.

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Dear Rachel

My dear Rachel,

I want to apologise for arguing with you the other day. I know that I shouldn’t drink because it makes me say and do things which I don’t mean. I haven’t touched a drop since you left and that’s over with now. You have been so very good to me these last months, and I know it’s a strain with a family to look after.

You are, of course, right about Emily. You and I know that she took her life, and that she was deeply unhappy when she did. What makes me saddest is that she was so young and had so much more to see and do.

You are, however, wrong to think I don’t love you. I love you, and Ellen, very much. I am so proud of you and all you have achieved. You’re so strong and independent, and I know you are a wonderful mother. I know I have not been a good father to you, and God knows I was much less a good husband to Ellen, and for that I am truly sorry. When Emily killed herself, I was heartbroken, and also scared of my responsibility for her unhappiness. I thought I might infect the other people I loved with my destructive influence, so I avoided you and your mum at the time you most needed my support. I know now that was wrong and that I could have helped.

I’m so very tired now, and I can’t turn back the clocks to make right what I failed to do. But I wanted you to know how much I love you.

Joe

If you see her, say hello

At eighteen, Joe decided to take a gap year after his ‘A’ levels, and he got a job working as a porter in a small and backward South London hospital for several months in order to save some money. Living at home was claustrophobic and depressing, but he was working long shifts in the operating theatre, and spending his evenings in the local pub with school friends similarly taking their year out. After eight months, he’d saved some money and wanted to see the world before going back into education. He saw a small ad in the paper for overland tours which sounded exciting, so he bought a ticket and boarded a bus to India. He’d been toying with a summer in the Greek islands, just as his elder siblings had taken some years earlier, but opted for the Budget Bus from North Totteridge to Delhi in six weeks (price £55), because he craved the exotic, and was traveling alone.
Moving from country to country and culture to culture, he shared the 1950s St Trinians-style coach, and the taste of freedom, with thirty other young travelers. The route into Asia was a hangover of the slow-fading sixties hippy trail, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a well-trodden path. The Beatles and the Maharishi, Tim Leary, The Naked Lunch, On The Road and so much more formed the backdrop to the journey. The experience was overwhelming, both culturally and medically, and after only three months, half the intended time, he was forced to return to face quarantine for typhoid over the summer. After losing three stone in three weeks in a campsite in Delhi during the monsoon, he’d had to fly home to find treatment. He spent that summer in London and had recovered adequately by September to take his place at university.

The decision to take the trip to India had been a watershed. In making it, Joe had cut the already thin emotional ties with his childhood home, and looked to his future. He was struck by the apparent indifference of his parents to his intrepid journey, as he set out alone with his rucksack and bus ticket. It was easier to make the grand statement about independence than it was to grow up overnight. In many ways, the culture shock of the trip, let alone his health scare, was compounded by the separation. Like a steam engine uncoupled from its tender, his momentum alone would not drive him forward, and on the journey, he stoked his furnace with all manner of fuel.
When he returned, it was clear that Wimbledon and all its associations were part of his past. In his Pashtun pajama suit, a rolled Kelim rug his only luggage, he crept back into the house, unannounced and exhausted. Only his father was there, and the house was cold. His parents were already looking to separate and his older siblings were all living away by now. He felt like the soldier in The Soldier’s Tale returning, long forgotten.
Joe had applied to Sheffield, city of his birth, for a BSc in psychology, because he’d studied biology and chemistry for ‘A’ level, and he wanted to move into something that didn’t echo his school subjects, something more cool. His elder sister, Jane, was studying psychology at Cardiff, and she seemed to be loving it, despite her baby son being looked after in London by their mother, Dorothy.
He was delivered to the halls of residence, on that first cold October afternoon by Dorothy, with a car full of his teenager’s belongings. She was silent on the journey, not because she was deeply saddened by their parting, but because she was also embarking on a new life alone, and leaving Joe’s younger sister, Lizzie, with her father. He was the fourth child to leave home, and so he was unceremoniously left to his own devices as soon as he could unpack the car into his room in the men’s wing. Ranmore halls were bleak three storey accommodation blocks, set in the grounds of a large estate, somewhere on the edge of town. Joe did his best to personalize his room with the books and records he’d brought, wishing all the while that he had a guitar to lean in the corner.
He had in mind to display himself in words and images like a young peacock, in the hope, held for several years, of attracting his first mate. An all boys secondary school, a shy disposition and next to no experience of girls left him little ammunition. India had taught him about many things, but sex was not one of them. He had a folder of sketches, and some carefully chosen quotations, written on bits of paper, Bluetacked to the wall, from Nietsche: “Is man merely a mistake of God’s or God merely a mistake of man” and Sartre: “Art is optimistic. Suffering is justified as soon as it becomes the raw material of beauty.” He chose a selection of Dylan and Neil Young albums to be strewn ‘casually’ across the floor. His yellow, grey and black spined Penguins, colour-coded on the shelf over the desk, bore testament to his literary aspirations, and supposed maturity, while two Picasso prints, Guernica and The Blue Lady, told of his artistic temperament. Now all it needed was a good-looking girl to adorn it.
The next day, he spent in the students’ union, signing up to a couple of societies: folk music and drama.
“Hey Man, why don’t you come along on the pub crawl for new members tonight?” said the bearded student behind the table in the union canteen had frizzy orange hair down to his shoulders and wore a denim shirt under his Afghan coat. The straggling wool of the mountain goat or sheep from which it was made smelt unpleasant. “We’ve got Long John Baldry coming in a couple of weeks and Planxty at the end of term.”
The Folk society met every third week in Ranmore Hall Bar for an ‘open mike’ evening with local bitter and an earthy clutch of enthusiasts. After the first hour of the first (and his last) session, and after four pints of Sam Smiths Bitter, Joe took to the mike for a rendition of ‘Where have you been all day, Henry my Son”, to which he had already forgotten the words, and which turned out to be a favourite of the society.
Drama was much more of a success.
“Hi, my name’s Rob, and I’m Chairman of the Drama Soc. If you join, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll meet the most attractive women in college, and get stuck into participating straight away, if you get me,” he enthused.
“I’ve never acted on stage. Does that matter?”
Joe decided on the white lie, in order not to set himself up, though he’d had bit parts in a couple of school plays.
“Nah. If you can’t act, you can always work back-stage. It’s fun and there’s loads of women backstage as well.”
That was just the right thing to say. Joe signed on the dotted line, paid his membership sub and agreed to attend a series of improvisation workshops, starting the next day. Rob outlined the plan.
“Well, man, they’re designed to engender trust, which is important for working closely with other actors. They’re all about free expression, and we work a lot on improvisation, voice projection, that kind of shit.”
What he didn’t say was that they were also meant to provide a suitable opportunity for second year male students to get off with ‘fresher women’. Rob himself was a muscular, square jawed post-graduate engineer. He’d been through a lot of fresher women in his time, and preferred the loose relationships of the drama soc to the intensity of the few women in his engineering faculty.
The workshops took place in the university theatre, a converted church, behind the union, which gave the whole experience an air of authenticity. Rob was an excellent tutor, and the majority of freshers attending were women, which meant he had worked hard all day to talk them into joining.
The fact that Joe was a year out of school and had travelled, that his hair was longer and his stories more extensive than those of other boys in the workshops, conferred status on his naivety. Games included ‘trust exercises’, where attendees paired up and one of each pair called to the other across the stage, who was blindfolded and expected to run towards their calling partner. This resulted in several minor injuries and a lot of laughter. Another involved the group forming a circle around one student who, eyes closed and standing at attention in the centre, was supposed to fall backwards or forwards, to be caught by those in the circle. The distracted or weaker members of the circle were apt to fail in their catching duties, resulting in more minor injuries and more laughter. Whatever this did or didn’t do to engender trust, the first afternoon session generated immediate friendships. As these were theatre workshops, there were also voice exercises, stage whispering to practise enunciation: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York” and various ‘Peter Piper’ tongue twisters.
The focus of the workshop each day was a series of improvised mini-dramas.
“Ok, so Joe, you’re a taxi driver, standing at the late night tea stand, and Nick, you’re the tea guy. Jane, you and Jenny, you’re a couple of toms looking for business.” And off we went into our reverie, smirking and stuttering our way through ten minutes of improvised drama, which normally petered out or ended in scuffles.
Jane was a slim, dark eighteen-year-old London girl, with large brown eyes and long lashes. She liked to lead the improvisations, with quick-witted repartee and a flare for the dramatic gesture.
Nick: “Right, that’ll be three bob, mate.”
Joe: “Come on you old git, one cup and a slice, that’s two and six.”
Nick: ”take it or leave it, mate.”
Joe pays imaginary coins across the counter and sips from his empty cup, making slurping noises to signify the heat of the tea.
Jane: “Hi lovey, got a light?” she sidles up to Joe and touches his arm. He looks into her eyes and there’s a slightly over-extended silence while he tries to concentrate on the scene.
Joe: “What’s your name then, beautiful? I haven’t seen you here before.”
Jane: “Why, it’s Dolores. What’s yours?”
Jenny: “Oy, keep yer hands off of ‘er ‘less you got the fiver.” Jenny lays on the accent like Eliza Doolittle, and she’s much more edgy and aggressive than Jane.
Nick: ”What’s your problem tonight, Patsy? Business a bit slow?”
Jenny: “An’ you can fuck off an’ all, Cyril” Jenny is really getting into her role, and pretends to throw Joe’s hot tea over the counter at Nick, but instead, sprays Jane and Joe with the brew. Jane, in shielding herself from the imagined shower, steps in close and wraps her arms around Joe’s neck.
“Oh dear! I’m all wet!” She gives him the biggest smile.
“Wow! I’m sure I’ve got a fiver here somewhere.” Joe’s arm slips gently around Jane’s waist and he leads her into the wings, stage right.
*
It was clear after the first day that the spark between them was strong. Rob had also paired with Jane for a couple of exercises, mostly as a way of demonstrating one or another game, and especially those involving physical contact. Jane was quick and funny, and she loved to perform. It was obvious she would go far in the drama society as a leading lady, and Rob was not the only ‘old lag’ who watched her with interest.

Walking back from the theatre Jane was animated.
“That was amazing, don’t you think?” She gesticulated wildly “I loved the one where we were made to lay with our heads in the other’s lap and have them rotate it.”
“Yeah, it was so hard to relax in someone’s hands and let them take the weight.”
He could still feel the warmth of her scalp. “You were great at it though.”
“Who’d’ve thought someone’s head could be so heavy?”
“Are you accusing me of having a big head? It’s all brains you know.” He laughed, wanting to just stop and kiss her in the street. “What’re you doing tonight?”
“Nothing much. You?”
They agreed to meet in the refectory at seven and spend the evening listening to music. Jane rolled her own cigarettes and Joe thought this particularly cool, so he would be trying to get the hang of that, among other things, and learning to inhale of course.
As the week progressed, they paired up for most of the workshop games, they began to touch more, to share private jokes, explore each other’s pasts and exchange cherished possessions. Each exchange told something. Each was a gift laid on an alter.
“Do you want to borrow Steppenwolf? It’s one of my favourite books. Have you read The Glass Bead Game? He won the Nobel Prize for that I think”
“Can I take Blood on the Tracks and listen to it this afternoon? I’ll bring it back tonight, if you’re around.”
And later, they lay close on the built-in bunk to listen to Dylan’s new album.
“ Oh God, I love this track. Turn it up a bit. He’s such a great poet . . . pass me the sleeve. ’Say for me that I’m all right, though things get kind of slow.’”

On the final evening of Freshers’ Week, after the last improv workshop and a few drinks in the Ranmore bar, they went back to Joe’s room with their new found friends, Nick and Jenny, to listen again to music. Though drinking in the bedrooms was forbidden, Nick had bought a naggin of vodka on the way back from the theatre, and they’d shared it from Joe’s tooth mug. By now, everyone was rolling cigarettes, and Nick brought out a tiny silver foil parcel of hashish. He’d scored it on his first day in the union bar – which seemed very sophisticated for a first year, but Nick was already 20, almost a mature student, and he seemed completely at ease. He pulled the gate-fold sleeve of Yellow Brick Road from the table and licked the glue on three Rizzlas to make a large joint, which he filled with rolling tobacco. He singed the small black lump of dope with his Zip lighter, and crushed the corner into powder, which he sprinkled onto the tobacco, without spilling a grain.
“I got stoned in Kandahar” Joe felt he had to lay down his marker. “I didn’t smoke then, so I just swallowed it. Afghani Black. About the size of a sugar lump.”
“Whoa…. That must’ve set you back a few quid.” Nick lit the joint and inhaled deeply. “This little baby was a tenner.”
“Nah, not in Afghanistan. It was pennies I think, ‘cos someone gave it to me. On the border, they offered to make me a pair of flip flops out of a slab of it the size of my shoe sandwiched between two pieces of leather. Trouble was, if you walked across, the guy who made the shoes would tip off the police, who’d throw you in jail and give the stuff back to him for the next dumb tourist.”
“Cool.” Jenny was pretty. She’d taken to Nick that first day, and the two of them were already inseparable. His age had been his winning attribute. In a room full of eighteen year olds, the twenty year old is king.
The air was thick with smoke, and they were all quiet as Dylan sang Tangled up in Blue and The Jack of Hearts. Joe moved to open the window to let in the cold night air, hoping that the smell of dope wouldn’t linger in the morning when the cleaners came around. Nick decided he and Jenny needed privacy for their increasingly explicit fondling, and dragging her from the bed, he took the dregs of the naggin and they left.
“That’s better. Just the two of us.” Jane was pretty stoned.
“Yes. No prizes for guessing what they’re getting up to.”
“No. Shall we see if we can work it out? An improvisation without words?”
“Mmmm, sounds fun”

And so, after the week of moving inexorably towards ‘the moment’, and when the night was dark outside and the wind blew sensuously, they made love, after a fashion. For Joe, it felt like surfing the perfect wave, surfacing after a high dive, something that had been thought of, dreamed of, for years. For Jane, it wasn’t something new, but it was nice.
Later she sat naked next to him, propped up by his pillow. He closed the window, turned down the volume on the stereo and re-started the second side of Blood on the Tracks.
Laying back against Jane’s leg, basking in the feelings of his conquest, but not wanting to talk about what had happened, Joe let the music seep into him.
“I love how he writes lyrics and his voice is great. It’s all over the place and he’d never win a singing competition, but you’d know him anywhere.”
Jane sang with the record “‘We had a falling out, like lovers often will.’ Will we?”
“Will we what?”
“Will we have a falling out? Now we’re lovers. Will I go to Tangiers? Maybe have an affair with a Bedhuin?” Ever the drama queen.
“That’s nice, just when we’ve met and you’re talking about going off and leaving me for some guy in a Kaftan.” Joe knew she was teasing, but his insecurity was close to the surface.
“Jealous? Mmmm . . . that’s kind of cute.” She laughed, stroking his hair
“What?? Cute??” He raised himself on one elbow, turned and scowled at her. She ignored him and continued to sing.
“I always respected her for doing what she did in getting free.”
But Joe wasn’t letting that one go.
“That’s the last thing I am. Cute is for lapdogs! So you want a lapdog who respects his mistress. . . ”Either I’m too sensitive, or else I’m getting soft.” Strange how the lyrics seemed to mirror their thoughts.
“Do you think I should get my hair cut short?”
He was staring at their bodies in the wardrobe mirror. It was the first time he’d ever really looked at a naked woman. The first time he’d had more than a surreptitious glance at one, anyway. That didn’t count the pornographic images in his friends’ magazines at school. It was a wonderful moment. One he thought, then, he should commit to memory in every detail and hold dear for the rest of his life. The man and his woman, relaxing after making love. After sex. Intercourse.
“Why would I care how long your hair is if I was off tripping down in Fez or somewhere with my new Bedhuin man?” she said, and his mind drifted back to their conversation.
“I bet he smells like a camel. How do you like the smell of camel?”
“Do you think Dylan was in love with her?” Jane’s mind was wandering again.
“Who?”
“His sad eyed lady of the lowlands? I read he’s so rich that he’s got houses all over the states and he keeps a different woman in each one.”
Joe wanted to get back to his India adventure. It was the most important thing he had ever done, until now.
“I once ate camel steak… in Kabul – not as nice as buffalo though. ‘Sun down, yellow moon . . .’”
“It’s like all great loves have to end in great heartbreaks.” She was drifting back to Tangiers. Joe stared unashamedly at her body in the mirror as she lay back, her eyes closed.
“God you’re so beautiful. It’s amazing. Where did you spring from?”
“I know, I am amazing. Call me Ophelia.” Jane laughed softly.
*
Two days later, it was the start of term. Joe spent his day in lectures in the psychology block, half a mile from the main campus, while Jane spent hers in the Tower Block, listening to her fellow music students performing on their chosen instruments, and herself performing on the cello. The start of the term had fractured their idyll and brought them down with a crash. After a mutual debrief that evening, they were both considering the prospect of spending the night together. Joe dearly wanted this to happen, but recognized the limitations of a night in a single bed, and the early start he had in the morning. Jane was somehow more indifferent to the idea, more fidgety. She hadn’t made the first move towards him when they met at dinner, and had sat between Nick and Jenny across the refectory table, rather than next to him, where he’d held her a space.

There was a loud knock on Joe’s door and he leapt up in surprise.
“Oh Christ. Who’s that? Pass me my shirt. You get under the covers and I’ll tell them where to go.”
It was Rob, standing in the corridor in denims and a great coat.
“Hey man. Just wondering if you’ve seen Jane?”
Strange. Joe didn’t think Rob was living in Ranmore Hall. Perhaps he was.
“Oh cool. Is that Blood on the Tracks?” said Rob. Joe was immediately wary of Rob. He’d been openly flirting with Jane in the workshops, and even today, Joe had seen them talking at lunchtime outside the drama soc office in the union.
“Oh hi, Rob. I . . . ”
Jane sat up when she heard Rob’s voice and made no effort to cover her breasts. “Hi Rob. Yes, I just bought it. Great album isn’t it. I’m decent. You can come in. Let him in.” Joe held onto the door long enough to see Jane lift the sheet and cover herself.
“Oh sorry, I’m not interrupting anything am I?” Rob knew full well he was.
Jane grinned “No. We were just listening to some music. What about you?”
“Hey, Jane, I was thinking of going down to the union bar and I thought you might like to come, talk about The Importance of Being Ernest. You know I’m casting it next week. I was thinking of you for Gwendolin.”
The drama soc committee had chosen two plays for this term, and had posted dates on the notice board for casting sessions. Jane and Joe had by then made enough friends in the society to find out that casting was never a totally open thing, and that the best roles always went to ‘insiders’ on a nod. Rob was to direct ‘Ernest’, and there was only one part Jane really wanted.
“Yeah, well, maybe another . . .” Joe tried half-heartedly to distract Jane from the obvious come-on.
“Who’s going?”
“Well, just you and me so far.”
It was eminently clear that Rob was neither subtle nor coy. He had wanted to get off with Jane since day one and here he was, barging into their love nest without a care.
“Look Rob, how about . . . Jane you don’t want to go out now do you? “ Joe began to sound a little desperate, more of a whining child than the man he wanted to be.
“Sounds kind of fun. I’ll need to get dressed.”
“Oh Grrreat!” This came out more as a bitter expletive than was intended.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Jane clearly couldn’t care less how he felt
“Well actually . . .”
Rob’s rich baritone cut across his last attempt to block their plan “I’m only borrowing her, man. Keep yer hair on . . .” And that was that, the beginning of the end, the writing on the wall.
“Give me a few minutes. Meet me down by the coffee machine in ten?”
Jane was already pulling on her jeans and looking for her socks, while Joe pushed rob back from the door in the hope of shielding her body from Rob’s greedy eyes. Jane just smiled and continued to dress.
“Cool. See you round, man.”
Joe slumped back onto his bed and stared at Jane in disbelief. How could she do this to him? What had their love affair meant if she could up and leave at the first opportunity? And what did Rob have to offer that he didn’t? Don’t answer that!
“You don’t mind, do you? I mean, Gwendolin. That would be great and he’s Chair of the theatre group, so, you know, it’d be good to keep in with him. Hey, you could audition for Jack or Algie next week.” Did she really think that would appease him? Frankly, it was an insult. Rob and his fucking casting couch!
“No thanks. Not my sort of thing. I’m not into that bourgeois shit. But who am I to stand in your way?”
This time, the venom was undisguised, and in the space of minutes, Joe’s newfound happiness felt it had been dashed to pieces. More than that, his newfound manhood was withering. He dropped his head into his hands and fought back tears.
“Oh don’t be like that. Anyone would think you had reason to be jealous.”
Blood on the Tracks. What a great name for an album. What an absolutely depressingly accurate fucking song! “and to think how she left that night, it still brings me a chill.”

Shaping up

It was 1970. Summer, and Joe had just finished five years at prep school, and chosen not to follow the majority of his class-mates into public school. They’d all sat the ‘common Entrance’ and their parents had all delved into the piggy bank for Eaton or Harrow or Westminster. They were destined to become tomorrow’s leaders – Conservative MPs, captains of industry – but Joe just wanted to fit into his anonymous family’s middling status without a sense of injustice. Know thy place. Believe that you have no entitlement and that hard work will earn you security, not fame and fortune. That came from Dorothy’s upbringing, not Tom’s. Tomasz had been privileged and his mother, Miriam, had expected more of his marriage. The chasm between Dorothy’s down-trodden father, a clerk in the civil service, and Tom’s globe-trotting business-man father, Otto, had somehow remained in Joe’s blood. You thikn it is just the expectations of your parents which you have to try and satisfy, but in truth, those expectations go way back, and Joe just couldn’t measure up to his father’s standards, while his mother had far too little expectation of him.
That July, he went home to Wimbledon from the security of his ‘home’ at boarding school and come September, after an uninspiring summer trying to adjust to home life, he followed both his older brothers to school in Kingston. Joe was thirteen and going into the third year at Tiffins, a state grammar school,rather than starting with all the other boys in first year. It was a better than average school selecting children from the local middle classes who had passed their eleven plus exams. League tables were just beginning to appear in the TLS, and Tiffins was among the top quartile of performers, ranked maybe 70 out of 300 independent and private schools, though far behind Eaton, Harrow and Westminster – you get what you pay for, and Tiffins was free.
His older brothers had both spent their prep-school years at Worcester, boarding, and both had adapted fine to the new regime, so Tom and Dorothy expected, of course, that Joe would also be fine, especially with the older boys to keep an eye on him. He just had to know his place and work hard for his security after all.

“Come on Joe, you can wear Jeremy’s old blazer. You know Tiffins isn’t as posh as Westminster, and lots of other boys will have hand-me-downs. Oh do stop blubbing. You’re far too old for that. Aren’t you glad to be a day-boy again?”

Joe almost failed the eleven plus because he had the ‘flu, and he was allowed to take the test on his own, in a small education department office in the local borough. When the tests were marked, and the educational psychologist met with Dorothy, she recommended he be streamed out of the grammar system, and put where he belonged. Dorothy wasn’t much of a fighter, and her own insecurity about educational failure was strong, as she’d failed to complete her own studies. He very nearly ended up in the local secondary modern school ,which would have placed him below the parapet,beyond the pail. Just that one moment, when Dorothy could accept the recommendation or argue against it would have changed his life.

It wasn’t as though the prep school had not done what it was set up for, at least for those who were being prepared for public school common entrance exams that is, but somehow, the eleven plus and the state school system was designated ‘infra dig’ and left to the side. While the prospective Eatonians were swotting every evening to try and pass their common entrance, Joe was excused from class because he wasn’t going to be one of the ruling class. Had he failed the eleven plus and become truly mainstream, he might have gone on to become a journalist or school teacher without a degree, or he might have become a full-time artist. Academic grammar schools certainly didn’t offer enough time to the children’s creativity, while the secondary moderns, later to be comprehensives, positively encouraged creativity, and Joe liked art more than most other subjects.

But something told Dorothy that she should push him up. Perhaps it was Tom’s expectations for him, or Joe’s fear of being dropped in the deep end with the rough kids. By the skin of his teeth and because Drew and Jeremy were already doing well at Tiffins, Joe was given the benefit of the doubt on the entry criteria, but not on whether he should be allowed into the fast stream or the slow stream once at the school. The fast stream meant more hard work and no time for art or music or dreaming, but it also meant a shot at university rather than the local poly or an HND in car repair. At 13, he hadn’t a clue about these things, but being fourth out of five children, and part of an intellectually aspiring family, he was under the cosh.

“I just can’t understand how you did so badly in the test, Joe. You might not be the brightest in the class, but I always had you down for a trier. Look, darling, it’s OK if you’re not academic, whatever daddy says. There’s lots of things you could do, you know, like umm….”

The transition from prep school to a public day school was traumatic enough. He’d long since had his local accent scrubbed out of him, along with the poor table manners, by parents and prep school alike, and been left with crisp Queen’s English and an accent that was ‘just so’. ‘Oy’d loik a sloyce of poy’ became ‘Ay’d lake a slayce of pay’ and blokes were were now chums or fellows, and fuck and cunt were not on the menu. Joe was walking a tightrope between the past and future, where bullying and ostracism were the penalty for mispronunciation or the wrong terminology. He was a quick learner when he had to be, and as soon as he arrived at Tiffins, he began to change, to become part of the scenery.

He’d led a cloistered life at the Abbey, and his naivity about all things teenage – pop music, fashion, girls, wanking and acting tough – was complete. Boys at the Abbey knew more about Carl Orf than Roxy Music, more about Billy Bunter than the Mods and absolutely nothing about the female anatomy. Joe hadn’t bought a record in his life, and his idea of stylish was green shoes and yellow bell-bottoms. But he was hungry for change. It wasn’t that he was unaware of the need to know, only the vastness of his ignorance. The new school was a huge place, and after having spent years in a school of only 36 pupils, he felt he had been launched into this turbulent sea without a paddle.

They arrived early for the interview, and standing in the vestibule outside the headmaster’s office, Joe’s mother wanted to smoke, but felt intimidated by the grandeur of the entrance, with its marble floor and ornate glass cabinets full of trophies. It was always the same, and Tom refused to take time off work to attend school meetings.
“Did you brush your hair before we left? I told you to wash your face. Come here.” And she pulled a handkerchief from her bag, wet a corner with her own saliva and went to scrub the supposed mark from his cheek. Joe recoiled , and was saved from this terrible embarrassment by the secretary calling them into the head’s office. Dorothy slipped the hankie back into her handbag as they shuffled through the secretary’s anteroom into the small, overheated office in which Brigadier JJ Harper stood to attention.
“Good morning Mrs Weiner,” he pronounced the name with its German version, ‘Viner’, rather than ‘Winer’, as if to suggest that the family had Nazi connections. Joe was the third boy with this surname to attend Tiffins, and it might seem reasonable for JJ to have come to terms with the name’s origins by now, thirty years after the Battle of Britain, in which he had fought. It might also have been reasonable that he would know by now that the family was Jewish, but his distaste had not changed.
“Good morning Headmaster. Thank you for seeing us and for taking Joe into Tiffins.”
Dorothy was not comfortable with authority, and her formal grammar and tightened diction made this evident.
“Now, we have a rather marginal score for young Joe’s eleven plus, so I’m going to take him through to our Mr Snelling in Maths to assess his knowledge. It shouldn’t take long, and you might like to wait in the staff room, Mrs Weiner.”

Joe was interviewed by Mr Snelling, the maths teacher, whom he later came to know as fartface, while his class sat in front of him with their heads bent over their problems. He asked Joe how he would establish the length of the hypotenuse on a right angle triangle, something he’d never had to do, let alone something he saw any point in doing. Maths was not Joe’s strong point – the teacher at Westminster had been fired for child abuse and none of the boys wanted to appear too keen on the subject.
Joe wanted to please, so he suggested Mr Snelling take his ruler and measure it the length of the line, if that was what he meant by hypotenuse. Joe had certainly never heard of Pythagorus. A condescending smile was all he got in return. Then Mr Snelling asked how Joe could prove that two lines he drew were parallel, and again he suggested measuring the distance between them at one end and at the other and if the two matched, they were parallel. Mr Snelling interpreted Joe’s guesses as intelligent enough to warrant a fast stream tag, and sent Joe back to collect his mother while he delivered his verdict to JJ.
Simply that. There was no need to talk history to the old dusty man in the staff room who knew all about history, nor to expound on his biological know-how. It was deemed, in a state grammar school of about 1000 middle-class boys, that maths would be a good enough indicator of intelligence, and intelligence would be a good enough indicator of success, and being successful, as far as Tiffins was concerned meant getting good enough A levels to be considered for Oxbridge or at least one of the Red Bricks.

Joe spent the years between fourteen and eighteen in a turmoil of spots and insecurities, of swotting for exams and rear-guarding against petty violence and bullying. Though nice schools hide the unpleasantness behind their facade of gentility and their uniform, and secondary moderns show the scabs and their bared teeth to the world, it’s all the same for teenage boys. They start from the position that the best form of defence is attack, and then overlay that with the wildness of their new fuel – testosterone. He started by throwing rocks and insults, and progressed to the sophistcated and cynical demeaning of others. It was a long and merciless process which lasted until he lost his virginity, at eighteen, at which point he woke up and realised that all his worst growing pains were behind him, and that there was more to the world than competing for everything. Nevertheless, it was those four years which gave him the weapons for politics, and showed him what was worth fighting for.

The school, with its high larch lap fence surrounding a clutch of pre-fabs and low-slung sixties concrete and glass structures, had only one a permanent nineteenth century red-brick building, with long wide corridors and heavy doors, wings and portico for the head teacher and senior staff only, to gaze upon their wards, grouped in the yards. The boys were not allowed through the front door, except on parents’ evenings, and then only accompanied by their parents. They used the two entrances at one or other end of this long building. At one end were the arts classrooms and the other the sciences. Joe was usually at the ‘other end’ because he chose to focus on science. Being academic meant choosing against art and geography, and studying chemistry and biology. It meant taking eleven ‘O’ Levels, when six were required and eight would have been normal. It meant a blur of teachers and lessons and homework. Joe’s form tutor was Rastus, the latin teacher. Firm but fair Rastus. It wasn’t his own name, but somehow it was how he was known. Was it Afrocaribbean? Not at all. Was it a reference to some Roman general? Probably not. Rastus is latin for rat. Rastus had hard hands and a traditional black teacher’s gown, dusty from the blackboard and conjugations, and no clear reason for his nickname. Perhaps it was his pointed nose and long top-teeth and the fact that he was usually poorly shaven enough to seem to have rat’s whiskers. More likely, he was just quick-witted and sharp-eyed. He was a stickler, born in the 1920s or early 30s, and having lived through the air raids, and by 1970, he was a dessicated fifty-something. Joe spent many a detention writing out latin verbs or translating sentences. Each time the work was done, Rastus would check it and send him back to his desk to re-write the full 10 sentences until it contained no mistakes, regardless of how long that might take.

At break-time, the boys clustered along the walls, scuffed their shoes on the paths, shoved each other onto the tidy verges with their metal edging, and ran only in short bursts to ensure that they were not stopped by the prowling duty masters. And when the bell rang at exactly eleven, set to a timer rather than waiting for a duty master to swig his last mouthful of staff-room tea before pressing a button, they reacted like pavlov’s dogs in the rush to get to their classes within the prescribed two minutes. Throngs of boys marching and dawdling, skipping and scuffing one another between the rooms in the minutes between physics and religious studies, between naked fear and torpidity.

Biggles, the physics teacher, once broke a one-meter wooden ruler across Joe’s knuckles while drilling onto him Newtons third law – something about actions and reactions equal and opposite – the force of the wood countered by the inertia of the bone. QED. And later, in front of the Rev Churchy Churcher, Joe gave a discourse on why religion is bad for people, an opiate of the masses – a quotable quote from Marx or Lenin or whoever. The Rev wasn’t a bad sort. He at least thought a fourteen year-old’s view on religion was valid enough to be given five minutes. But the seventies heralded discussion. Women’s lib and bra burning was already ingrained from the 60s, along with John and Yoko’s Bed-in and the news on Nixon and Vietnam, racial equality was coming and these middle-class educated leaders-of-tomorrow were being taught to scorn the racist comedy from Bernard Manning and Love Thy Neighbour’s Sambo and Honky, Jim Davidson’s Coons and jungle bunnies, and the skinhead chants and Enoch Powell. ‘Who’re you fuckin screwing?’ from the snarling mouth of a town boy, hanging around the gate of Tiffins, with a view to slipping in to the bike sheds to steal a bike.
Joe figured that meant ‘who are you looking at?’, rather than any reference to his virginity.
There was a union jack shaved into the boy’s skull. He wore the uniform: a Ben Sherman short-selleved check shirt and red braces and two-tone ‘tonics’, a pair of very short trouser with pressed creases, finishing above the ankel to display high laced Docs, highly polished Bovver Boots with steel toecaps and brick red shoe polish. He had a swastika tatoo on his neck. And to Joe, in his blue blazer and grey flannel trousers and ‘sensible’ black lace-ups, he was pure evil and the stuff of pant-shitting fear.

Joe began to watch the news, though his father regularly berated him for not reading a daily newspaper. Scargill was always on, making angry speeches which reminded Joe of the Nuremburg Rally footage. The family had to cope with power cuts and the three day week. Yom Kipur war and then petrol rationing in 1973, put so much on hold. Joe’s Mobylette, which achieved 125 miles to the gallon, was off the road, because of the lack of stamps.

Joe and Maria

Joe Weiner was certainly dying. Every morning when Rachel arrived at his door, he was weaker, less active. Multiple Myeloma first invaded his shoulders and crept unhindered through his vertebrae. It never slept, never retreated.
In some way he had completed his work. He’d built things, controlled people, manipulated and exploited situations. He’d towered over his colleagues, both physically and intellectually, ruled his roost. Looking back now, reading the carefully chosen anecdotes in his autobiography, he was struck by the truth that most or maybe all of it amounted to nothing. Who cares about the past triumphs of a mediocre political career? What difference does it make to the world when all is said and done? In the shadow of his cancer, Joe was trying to come to terms with that waste. A life of striving and all those meaningless achievements boxed up. What had he done with the truth of his life, but bury it and trample on it’s grave.
“I’m not sure I can face another bookshop full of vultures. They only care about who I’m going to give up, and what they did to whom, and I couldn’t care less about all that now. “
Joe flicked through a hardback copy of his book resting open from the night before, on the side table by his chair, before slamming it shut and pushing it away like a small child with a plate of unwanted vegetables. He even screwed up his face in disgust like that child. He would choose some excerpts later to read at Waterstones tonight.
The memoirs had been so long in the planning. He’d kept meticulous diaries throughout his career, with the book in mind. Writing the book had given Joe the focus to fight his cancer for months, given him the hope of some resolution. Each chapter had been fraught with the issue of truth. Each had biographical information on others, which was either damning or disputable, and within each anecdote, there lay question marks over Joe’s role. Getting it all down in black and white was meant to somehow crystalise and justify all his deeds and misdemenours, without judging them. He wasn’t looking to atone for his public injustices, and the rest was strictly private, off limits.
In drawing up contracts for his advance, his agent had attended well to his wish that this autobiography would be about his public self and not his private life. It was one thing to weave one’s way through the obstacles which others might raise in their criticism of one’s political decisions, and quite another to lay oneself open to personal disapproval, and worse, for one’s failings at home. Joe had always accepted that from those who knew him well. He’d chosen his path and avoided responsibility for his own family’s wellbeing in exchange for the high status and respect that went with protecting the social wellbeing of his voters.
From the start, when Ellen had become pregnant with Emily, Joe had been away a lot on Party business. His infidelities had been frequent, if meaningless and short, and he had quickly learned to ignore Ellen’s unspoken rebukes. She’d known pretty well every time he slept with a colleague or follower. He’d never said anything, or worn his guilt on his face, but she just knew. Perhaps it was his smell, or the clothes she washed. Perhaps it was just his coldness towards her when he returned from a trip.

In fact, the book gave scant reference to Emily, Ellen or his second wife, Maria, which suited Joe, and frankly his audience wasn’t interested in his family, or his personality, or, if truth be told, Joe Weiner either. It was the political arena he fought in they wanted to read about. The photos were all from state occasions, international summits, and even college rugby matches, but not from home. That had been agreed by the publishers on condition he spilled the beans on Major and Blair, on Heseltine and Prescott, and on anything else the lawyers could allow in.
Joe’s editor, who’d made his name with biographies of Tonies Blair and Benn, had insisted on details, names, but had never sought meaning. His wasn’t a legacy worth the record, and his autobiography was no more than fodder to the media cannon. It was an intrigue with a shelf life, out in August for the Christmas gift market, remaindered in March and pulped by July next. Unless he died first, in which case maybe reprinted after the funeral, to be advertised alongside his obituary in the Times.
Joe had begun by thinking he had to set the record straight for his detractors, and finished, wearily, with the comfort of his cheque as his only justification for the time and effort he’d given it. Time he couldn’t spare, effort he could barely make. And now, in the first month after publication, came the short and uninspiring PR tour. Tonight’s event in Hampstead marked its end, and a fitting place to hold the book’s funeral, Joe thought; he’d attended many such evenings for other Hampstead-based retired politicians and literati. Living in the borough almost demanded that one ‘had a book out’, and many had resorted to self-publishing if they couldn’t muster the interests of their publisher neighbours in the reams of self-agrandising waffle they had penned at their expensive walnut desks.
Besides the battles Joe had led in the public eye, he’d fought in private too. Over the years, he’d fought with his two ex-wives, and his three children. He hadn’t fought with his various grandchildren, most of whom he didn’t really know, because his daughters had done their best to hold their children back from their grandfather. Chloe, living in France now, had never asked Joe to visit, and hadn’t made any effort to share her family with him when he had ‘dropped in’ on her. Once he’d retired, he had made an effort to see Rachel’s children, but he knew Rachel and Richard didn’t want him to get too close, that Rachel took her children to see Ellen and never to see him.
His first marriage to Ellen had lasted over 20 years, but had ended within a year of Emily’s death, and as a direct consequence of it, and his second marriage to Maria had been ill conceived and brief. She hadn’t stayed around to witness his fall from grace in The Party, and his empty decline into drink, and Joe really had come to terms with that, even respected her for it now.
Rachel, now his eldest, still attended to his daily needs without rancour, despite the dispiriting lovelessness of their relationship. Emily had been gone over twenty years, though her name lived on in Rachel’s eldest. The naming of his granddaughter, Emily, had been discussed with Ellen, but Joe had not known until he attended her christening, and he had had to leave the church to get some fresh air in order not to retch when he saw her name in the order of service.
Joe’s first daughter, Emily, the one he’d loved so much as a child, the aunt that young Emily never knew, ended her life at twenty, while Joe campaigned for re-election in 1983.
Ellen had left Joe because he cut himself off from her after Emily’s death. She’d had ‘stood by her husband’ over his affairs, and various government scandals during his rise to power, despite her knowing that he wouldn’t be there for her if she needed him. She was a traditionalist, who had been brought up by devout catholic parents in a post-war middle class respectability, which set out a woman’s duties to her husband long before she met Joe. Ellen was clear that, like her mother before her, she must manage the home, ensure the children were well turned out and behaved with respect to their elders. While her parents had led respectable lives, she also felt it was her place turn a blind eye to her husband’s indiscretions. It’s true he brought home the bacon. His party had been in power since the early eighties, and he’d been in Cabinet for most of that time, so the income was assured – and when he’d finally lost his seat, there were oil companies and drug companies looking for non-Execs to open doors for them in Westminster, so Joe had continued to pay her alimony long after the children left home.
But she’d have given all that back for a chance to feel close to him when the world was falling down around her. All she craved then was the reassurance that he loved her, and that his suffering and hers could be shared. Instead she met with his wall. His busyness. His team of assistants and entourage of manipulators. He closed his door, locked himself in and continued fucking his secretary.
Ellen tried to compare her contribution to their marriage with his, in a meaningless equation that she knew could never add up. She passed those first months after Emily’s death cocooned in their Bayswater mansion, listening to The Archers, chain-smoking Silk Cut and fighting the urge to submerge her days in Bells or Johnnie Walker. The post lay unopened, the cleaner continued to polish the silver, and Rachel and Chloe somehow got themselves to school, fed themselves and did their homework around her.
She had tried to hold on to Joe then, but she felt exhausted and hadn’t the strength for him. As soon as he set foot in Westminster, he’d be completely cut off from their grief, taking solace in Maria’s bed or wherever they spent their time.
Within a few weeks, the bile began to rise, and Josie felt strong enough to insist Joe take his clothes and stay in his rooms in Westminster. In fact he moved out to Maria’s flat in Putney, and failed to see the children once in next three months, even though the House broke for summer recess and he could easily have taken them to a film or a play or something. Ellen’s devastation at Emily’s death, as well as her desperate efforts to calm and support Rachel and Chloe, had left her drained, but she was by then beginning to harden, building walls around her, which her upbringing and the last twenty years had taught her to do, and which allowed her slowly to learn how to function again. She took to walking the streets of West London in the cool evenings, renewed contact with her closest women friends and cut down on the drink and cigarettes. She no longer supported Joe when asked how he was coping, and only spoke to him when she needed money or documents signing. She refused to attend the functions he asked her to, leaving him to find himself someone else to do his bidding, someone who “didn’t know what purgatory it was to dress up and smile for the cameras while accompanying the dead.”
*
The day that Rachel accepted her place at Cambridge, and left for the Cote D’Azure for the summer to nanny for one of their wealthier friends, she packed Chloe, and herself off to the cottage in Dorset, dropping in to her solicitor on the way out of London to set in motion her divorce. Chloe could attend the local sixth form college while the house was being sold, and if Ellen could buy her own place in London before the year was out, Chloe could re-join her school friends at Latimer, and Joe could foot the fees as part of the divorce settlement. For Ellen, while she had no feelings of happiness, this gave her a sense of hope and allowed her to begin to look forwards rather than feeling herself to be drowning and having nothing to hold onto.
Joe’s career, and the demands on his energies in the months that followed Emily’s death provided enough distraction from his guilt, an anesthetic to his pain. The support he had looked for and found in Maria, his young assistant, allowed him to ignore Ellen through each awful step, and to rationalise his own part in Emily’s unhappiness. Maria, who was not much older than her, though wholly more mature, had met her several times at functions or at the house in Bayswater, when delivering papers, and she’d even chosen Emily’s birthday presents when Joe had been too busy to remember. After the suicide, it was Maria who convinced Joe of the ‘crash which had been waiting to happen’ and somehow that Emily’s life of selfish indulgence was her responsibility and not a product of his position and failure to hear her cries for help.
Maria had been at Joe’s side for some time before Emily died, and their relationship, well documented in the tabloids, had contributed to the pressure Emily became overwhelmed by. Her teenage years, like many of her privileged friends’, were spent juggling academic, social and sexual demands. Parties and prestige, self-doubt and insecurity were all held loosely in place by cocaine and marijuana, shopping and nameless sex. Ellen’s depression and her effort to keep a grip on her life with the younger children left Emily to drift from one party to another, one man’s bed to another. Everything she held on to came away in her hands, and by the time she jumped or fell into the Thames, high and drunk, her cries for help had long since stopped.

Once Rachel had cleaned up the breakfast and left, Joe lit a cigarette and stared out of the window, trying to picture Maria naked in his arms, in a sumptuous hotel four-poster, somewhere near Brighton almost two decades ago. He was still virile and strong then. His hair only peppered with grey, his back straight and his stamina intact. She’d been just 28 when they moved in together, shortly before his fiftieth birthday, and he was in love, or so he thought. Maria’s attraction to his power was as clear as her own ambition was, and Joe was happy to carry her along. It was thrilling to be seen as a couple, and for a short time, even the papperazzi were kind enough. Ellen was ensconced in Dorset, out of the public eye, and Maria provided a glamorous companion at several of the dress evenings after the elections. The exotic holiday in Italy, courtesy of a media magnate, changed all that. Joe and Maria fought through the whole time, and the final straw came when one of the tabloids caught Maria rubbing suntan lotion into the shoulders of an Italian waiter on their private beach during one of Joe’s days in bed with a hangover. They returned to London and to work without making any decisions, but when Joe was demoted to junior minister for the elderly in the following year’s re-shuffle, Maria started to show her distain for his fading glory. At 30, and with senior PPS status, she was attractive to and attracted by other younger and upcoming politicians, and Joe’s personal habits were wearing. The drinking was becoming a problem, and his mood swings increasingly frequent. From his perspective, Joe was not being given enough recognition by Tony, or respect by his colleagues for his years of dedication. He found fault with Maria’s work and was often enraged by her taking control of decisions which he felt should have been his alone. Maria stopped making any effort to cajole him, either at work or in bed, and for his part, the stress and alcohol had made him impotent so that it became embarrassing to be expected to perform. He moved back to his rooms in Westminster from Putney, and began to wonder whether to look for a house.

Joe had been called to speak at a conference in Scarborough, on the social welfare bill, and Maria had chosen to hold the fort in Westminster, when the deputy leader invited her to dinner to discuss a possible move into Number 10. She ended up in his apartment at Millbank, and accepted the job, along with the mediocre sex, assuming that somehow this wouldn’t reach Joe’s ears, and that the space it would give her would be good for their relationship.

Joe’s discovery of her activities in his absence was almost immediate, as he returned from Scarborough to a Cabinet meeting at which the Deputy Leader had been bragging to his colleagues. It was his embarrassment more than any personal hurt that had driven him to suggest a formal split. Not long after Maria’s move to Number 10, Joe was dropped from the Cabinet altogether and as a back-bencher, he had less exposure to Maria. His constituency took very little effort, though it should have occupied much more, and suddenly he found himself with time on his hands. Rather than finding the energy to build a new power-base, take up a new challenge or at least rekindle his interest in some of his existing responsibilities, he spent more time in his club. Chloe wrote to ask him for money, as she was planning to travel abroad, and he sent a cheque with a post-it note attached wishing her bon voyage. Rachel got engaged to Richard, and wrote to let Joe know, as she couldn’t face inviting him to the party, and again, his cheque book substituted for communication.

Joe turned again to the book of his memoirs, determined to find a suitably upbeat passage to read tonight. The invitees to the reading included two retired ministers from the Labour government in which Joe had been in Cabinet, neither of whom he wanted to see now, and some Trustees of the charity for the homeless of which he was lifetime president. Who else would come to the reading? Locals intent on a free glass of warm Chardonnay? Browsers looking for a book for the beach who had failed to get in before 6om? This group were the most disruptive in Joe’s view – they never sat still, and spent more time casting around on the display tables or reading spines on the shelves than listening to the speaker, and almost never came at the end to buy a signed copy of the book.

Rachel and Joe

“Dad, you forgot your pills last night. You have to try to remember to take them twice a day.” Rachel emptied three small pills from the Tuesday compartment in the dispenser and transferred them to the following Monday, the first empty box in the sequence.
“What’s the point of all that time in the hospital, and the expense, if you don’t keep up with the prescriptions?” She picked up her father’s empty whiskey tumbler, which lay on its side on the carpet beside his fireside armchair. “Did you go to bed last night?”
Joe slouched in the chair, a rug pulled over his legs. His brown wool cardigan was buttoned incorrectly so that one side pulled down and the other up. His slippers and the bottoms of his trousers were muddied, from walking in the garden without putting shoes on, and his grey hair was unkempt. He looked at Rachel through bleary eyes, whose whites were now a jaundiced yellow. He looked hung over but she knew he was being overwhelmed by the pain in his back, since he’d forgotten to take his codeine last night.
“No, love. I fell asleep by the fire. I just can’t seem to drag myself upstairs these days.” He stared into the burned out fire as Rachel tucked the blanket more tightly around his legs.
“That’s the drink, and you shouldn’t be drinking on this medication. You know that. Would you like Richard to organize a bed in the study for you?” Joe didn’t answer. He didn’t like Richard and wouldn’t accept his help.

Rachel was only thirty but had the gait and dress sense of a much older woman, something of a throwback, in her herringbone tweed skirt and pastel blue cashmere cardigan. She had bustled through the front door soon after 7am, dropping her shopping bag and handbag in the hall, and bent to pick up the post on the doormat, sifting through the circulars and personal correspondence to see if Joe had received any bills. Since he’d deteriorated, she and Richard had taken over paying his bills, after wresting control of his day-to-day banking from him.
Today, as always, she’d spent time the kitchen, cleaning the surfaces and cooking Joe’s bacon and egg, though he rarely ate anything for breakfast nowadays. Now she moved around him, wiping the dining table with a damp dishcloth and shifting chairs into alignment. Nothing had been used since yesterday, but Rachel needed to feel she was making a difference. She moved efficiently, cleaning up his dirty ashtray, opening the curtains and a window, and checking he was still coping, before she went in to work herself.
Each morning, Rachel tried to be in and out of Joe’s house in fifteen minutes. She rarely entered his bedroom, which she found hard to do, but it was a choice between paying a cleaner out of his pension, or doing it herself. She begrudged spending money on Joe, even if it was his money for now, and anyway, she knew it would be hard to retain anyone for long, given Joe’s living conditions. Really, he should be in a home or a hospital or hospice, but he was a stubborn old sod. She decided to leave the bedroom for the weekend.
“I have to take Emily to dance classes after school, so I’ll look in on my way home, about five thirty. Richard’s going to stay in tonight so I can take you to Hampstead for your reading.” Rachel stood looking in the mirror as she put on her coat and headscarf, reminding Joe of her mother.
“We’ll be leaving at six, so can you get yourself ready by the time I get here, OK?”
This had begun to create friction, as Joe might agree to prepare for an outing, only to fall asleep or become distracted, so that he was not at all ready when Rachel returned at the agreed time, and in a rush to leave.
“For God’s sake make an effort, dad, when you’re shaving. Last week at that college dinner, it was pretty embarrassing seeing you with bits of bloody toilet paper stuck to your chin.” She hated criticizing him. It seemed like bullying, now that he was so frail, and she felt it was somehow out of place, when she’d spent her whole life in fear of him. But since he’d become sick, she had effectively become the parent and he the child.
Really, Joe had it coming. He was always a bully himself, and she got precious little attention from him when she was growing up. What little time he did spend at home was given to her older sister, Emily, not her. When Emily died, Joe was just not there for Rachel or her mother. Now that he needed her and she felt nothing for him except a vague contempt, it was easy to push a little harder. She wanted to make him realize that he owed everyone, even if he was past the point when he could give any of them what he’d failed to give all his life.
Rachel’s life had swerved in Joe’s direction once he was diagnosed with myeloma. The family had assumed that she would look after him, despite her anger, and though her mother, Ellen, was in greater need of her company. Chloe, Rachel’s younger sister, was living overseas, and Joe’s second wife, Maria, didn’t involve herself. If Rachel could have shared the responsibility for Joe, or passed it on, she would have done so.
Ellen was at least independent though, and she loved her grandchildren. If it wasn’t for Ellen baby-sitting for her most weeks, it would be twice as hard for Rachel to spend so much time cleaning up after Joe. But Ellen wouldn’t want to hear that – she’d have lain down on the motorway rather than help Joe. Rachel understood the source of her mother’s anger, which seemed as strong now as it had been ten years ago, even though Ellen wouldn’t discuss Joe with the children.
“Leave it, Rachel darling. There’s just no point going back over old ground.” Ellen had barely spoken to Joe since the divorce, even when Rachel told her of his cancer. To Ellen, his behaviour after Emily’s death was unforgivable.
It had been six months since his diagnosis, and Rachel had found herself drawn into his illness, first as occasional chauffeur to hospital visits, or to pick up his weekly shopping, and later, when he couldn’t keep house for himself, as his daily skivvy. It was in her nature to be a carer. Since her early teens, Ellen had leant on her, and then she’d married Richard, who was pretty dependent in his way. Perhaps she’d chosen him for his self-pity. He certainly didn’t give her the protective support she craved. Like Joe, Richard was only really interested in himself, but unlike Joe, he hadn’t the charisma to make that attractive on any level. Richard’s best feature was his dedication to the children. Needless to say, Joe disparaged Richard to his face and behind his back, and Rachel often wondered how much longer she’d have to put up with the depressing dynamic between these two men. She knew that Joe’s death wouldn’t make everything right in her marriage, and she knew she couldn’t pretend that the current daily tension was just between her father and husband.
Emily had been gone over ten years, though her name lived on in Rachel’s daughter. Naming her child Emily had been discussed with Ellen, but Joe had not known until he attended her christening, and he had turned white when he saw her name in the order of service. Rachel chose the name in memory of her beloved older sister, who had fallen, or jumped, from Lambeth Bridge, while high on cocaine, and drowned.
Emily had been three years older than Rachel, and always more confident, and very daring even as a small child. Rachel had looked up to her throughout their childhood. She was a great performer in social situations, while Rachel had hidden in her shadow. Emily was the more beautiful, alluring even, while Rachel had only begun to lose weight and develop her looks when Emily died at 20. During their teens, Emily’s popularity and Rachel’s shyness were opposing forces.
“Oh come on Rach, let’s go to the rowing club disco on Saturday. Freddy’s going to be there and I know he wants to get serious.” Emily would be grinning into the dressing table mirror, while stroking her eyelashes with her mother’s mascara. At fourteen, she didn’t seem to care that Rachel, then only eleven, would be too young to get in to the disco, or that Ellen wouldn’t let her leave the house.
“Freddy’s brother is fourteen, so he’d be ideal for you, and he could bring you home, in case I’m occupied.” She cared about Rachel’s well-being to a point, but Emily had only one objective in life, and that was to push the boundaries for herself.
“You go. I’ll be fine.” Rachel would say. And that was usually what happened.
Emily died when Rachel was studying for her A levels, and Rachel’s life just seemed to fall apart. She took to staying in her room, staring at the walls, only venturing out to buy chocolate and biscuits. She slept most of the day, dropped out of school and had to repeat her final year. Despite everything, she managed to pull through the exams, and got accepted to do psychology at Oxford Brookes.
During her gap year, Rachel became pregnant, by a boyfriend she didn’t love, and the baby was due just before she was to start her college course.
Ellen, who was herself drifting hopelessly through her grief, offered to take care of the baby in Bayswater during term-time and Rachel could come home at weekends from Oxford, until things worked themselves out.

After a year of commuting at weekends to London to be with Emily, Rachel couldn’t bear being alone in Oxford without Emily any longer. She had been dreading talking to Ellen about taking Emily away from Bayswater.
“Emily loves her Gran, don’t you,” she said, “and it’s been wonderful knowing you’re looking after her so well while I’m away, but I can’t bear being there all week and her not with me.” Ellen sat stiffly in silence. She’d obviously been expecting this would come sooner or later. “Richard and I have worked out our lectures and we can manage her this year, and there’s a crèche on campus.”
“That’s fine, love, when you’re both settled in jobs and have an income, but it’s not an ideal environment to bring up a small child as students.”
“Mum, I know how much you love having Emily, and it’s great here, with the nursery and the garden, but she needs to be with her mother, now she’s learning to talk and walk. I don’t want to miss out on her growing up.”
Ellen smiled, resigned already to the change. “Emily will miss me and I don’t know how I’ll manage without her,” she said. Her whole body sagged and she looked suddenly much older. She stared out of the window.
“We’ll come home every couple of weeks to see you, and if you don’t mind the sofa, we’ll always have room for you in Oxford. It’ll be handy if you do come to stay, too.”
Emily spent the next two years in Oxford while Rachel and Richard both graduated and Richard found a job. Ellen came to stay as often as she could, but she was so depressed and had begun drinking heavily. It wasn’t good for Emily, and Rachel did whatever she could to put off the visits without being confrontational.

“Hi Richard, how’s the day going?” Rachel had the phone squashed between her ear and her shoulder as she opened the car door for Emily outside the dance studio. “Could you meet me at Joe’s at six on your way home? I want to move his bed down into the study, and I can’t do it on my own.”
Emily, like a sprite in her pink leotard and tutu, jumped into the back of the Volvo, still flouncing and swinging her arms after the class. She had an oval face and a shock of black hair, and every day, it gave Rachel a sharp pang, seeing her sister’s looks replicated in her own daughter. Emily hadn’t bothered to change out of her ballet slippers, which would need replacing before the end of the term at this rate.
“For God’s sake, Richard, not that again. I know he is, he’s my father isn’t he? He still needs looking after, whatever you think. And you’re doing it for me, not him.” Rachel was sick of defending her father to Richard and vice versa. It would be easier for her to keep them apart, but she sometimes needed Richard’s help, which meant walking the tightrope in an effort to keep the peace.
“OK, love. See you there. You know he’s got that bloody reading at Waterstones tonight, so you’ll have to take Emily home and I’ll take him, unless of course you’d prefer to… No, no, I thought not.”
She hung up, knowing full well that If Richard had to take Joe to his talk, she’d suffer for it. Richard would spend the night whinging about Joe’s bullying manner. Even though he was dying, he could still spit nails, and Richard didn’t deserve that. But just as she wanted to hurt Joe for all his carelessness over the years, so she wanted Richard to toughen up, and stop suffering for his placid weakness and lack of fight.

They got to Joe’s by 5.30, in just enough time to get him spruced up and ready to leave before Richard arrived to help move the bed. Rachel was hoping Joe would be dressed in his suit and just needing a once-over, so she would have time to cook Emily some fish fingers and chips at Joe’s before Richard took her home. Richard was apt to hit the wine and leave her in front of the TV till seven or eight, and not notice she hadn’t eaten. Richard worked in Human Resources, but dreamed of becoming a best-selling writer. He’d been trying to work on his novel in the evenings after work, and wasn’t getting anywhere as far as she could tell. At various points over the last two years, when he was sober enough after dinner, they’d talked about the plot, which she thought sounded two-dimensional. He was working through his father’s role in German politics, re-casting him as some sort of Nazi strategist, in a complicated plot-heavy thriller, despite his Jewish origins. As subtly as possible, Rachel had fed him her ideas, and he’d gone away happy for a while. Perhaps she should get co-author credits.
“Dad. Dad. Wake up! What the hell have you been doing all day? As if I need to ask.” Joe was sprawled in the armchair, and he stank of whisky and cigarettes. He had a damp patch on his shoulder where he had been drooling in his sleep.
“I’m completely bloody sick of your drinking. I’m sick of trying to make you comfortable and you not helping yourself one bit.”
She heaved at Joe’s arm to lift him out of the chair, though he wasn’t making any effort to lift himself. She gave up. Joe smelt as though he’d wet himself, and his half-closed eyes were sticky with mucous.
“Leave me alone. I’m not going to the fucking talk. I’ve got nothing to say. Get off me.” Joe didn’t slur his words, but his eyes were slow. “Hello Emm.” He added as Emily pranced into the room and tried to spin on one toe.
“Emily, take this into the kitchen and put the fish fingers under the grill. I’ll be in in a minute to start the cooker.” Rachel gave Emily the bag of food and waited while she left the room.
“How dare you. Who do you think you are swearing like that in front of my daughter, your own granddaughter?” Rachel was red in the face. “Do you think I want to waste my time coming here to look after you when you can’t be bothered? I hate you!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your way soon enough. I didn’t ask for your help,” he said with a grimace. “I can manage. You’re always bloody interfering. You were always the same, even as a child.”
“You selfish old bastard. You never cared about mum or me, did you? All you cared about was your bloody career, and screwing around.” She’d tried to keep the lid on her feelings. She hated swearing, and Emily was bound to be listening.
“What did you do with my glass?’ Joe stood up and searched the table. Rachel stepped across him and took his half-empty whisky bottle.
“Hey! You give me that bottle back or you’ll feel my hand.” Joe made a grab for it, and she stepped back out of his reach as he swayed and fell back into the chair. His impotence disgusted her. If he’d tried to slap her, she’d have hit him without a thought.
The doorbell rang and Rachel turned to go and open it with a mixture of relief and trepidation. She began to cry as Richard looked from her red face to the whisky bottle and reached out to hold her steady. She brushed past him and turned before he could comfort her, and opening the door to the under-stairs cloakroom, she quickly emptied the remaining whisky into the toilet.
“Right Joe. Richard is here and we’re moving your bed down to the study. Then we’re going to take Emily home, and you can get a cab to your bloody reading, or not. Please yourself.” She went into the kitchen and began pushing the frozen fish fingers, which Emily had arranged neatly on the grill pan, back into the Birds Eye box, which she stuffed back into the carrier bag. Emily looked at her mother and said nothing.
“What’ve you been doing to her, you old fucker?” Richard stood over Joe, clenching his fists and showing a rare attempt at confronting Joe.
“Leave me alone, Nancy boy.” Joe didn’t bother to look up to see the effect of his insult, but he knew it had hit home, as Richard retreated to the doorway.
“Right, let’s get that bed moved and get out of here.” Rachel barged Richard into the hall, and towards the stairs. She had heard Joe’s comment but said nothing. She too knew it was only said to hurt, but she couldn’t defend Richard on this one.
That evening and the following day, Joe pervaded Rachel’s thoughts. She couldn’t come to terms with his coldness and lack of appreciation for all she’d been doing for him. Despite the years of his inconsiderate behaviour, and of his desertion when she needed him most, Rachel couldn’t face the possibility that Joe didn’t love her. It seemed possible that he was overwhelmed with guilt, and that he saw her as an extension of her mother, and someone he couldn’t avoid in the way he had Ellen. The only answer she could come up with was to leave him to decide whether he would engage, and not visit him every day. She knew he’d be on the phone when the food ran out, or he couldn’t get a replacement for the bottle she’d poured away.

They had only once tried to talk about Emily since her death. Rachel and Richard had brought their daughter Emily, then three, to see Joe on his sixtieth birthday. Chloe was over from Paris, but she had made the decision not to see him. Chloe had a much tougher approach to Joe than Rachel did, and would never forgive him for the past. She was a chip off the old block really, and she’d told Rachel over dinner with Ellen that Joe could burn in hell for all she cared, though Rachel thought she said this mostly for Ellen’s sake.
Joe hadn’t seen his granddaughter since the christening, and now, as she played happily at his feet, he tried in his way to interact with her.
“Does she remind you of me at that age, dad?” Rachel asked. She knew he had little recollection of her early years, when he’d been in Westminster or his constituency almost all the time, and as she now knew, living with his secretary.
“I remember you when you were about four, looking just like this one. You were in awe of Emily then. She could do no wrong in your eyes, and we had the devil’s own job trying to separate you,” he replied.
“Why would you want to do that, dad? Did you think Emily was bad for me or something?” Rachel’s irritation was quickly stirred.
“No, love. It’s just that she was far too willful. Your mother couldn’t handle her, even then, and we just wanted you to have space to grow up as your own person.” Joe looked at Rachel a little longer than usual, as though he were inspecting her after years of not noticing her. Rachel blushed.
“So when I was a teenager, and Emily was living away, becoming harder to… you know, to predict, was I my own person then? Do you remember, dad?” She saw Joe disappearing into a reverie in front of her, hardly listening, and no longer looking at her.
“When Emily fell into the river…” Joe’s voice thickened.
“When she jumped into the river, dad.” Rachel could feel her anger bubbling up.
“We don’t know that, love. We don’t know at all. With all those drugs and drink inside her.” Joe looked suddenly terrified by the notion of Emily’s suicide, almost as though he hadn’t considered it before. “I blame myself for not being around enough, you know. I might’ve helped her.”
“And do you blame yourself for not being around for me and mum when she died?” Rachel had wanted to say that one thing for so long, and yet it didn’t feel in any way satisfying now.
Joe bent down again to Emily without looking at Rachel. “I think I know someone who might like a chocolate biscuit,” he said, and he went to the kitchen to fetch the tin, cutting Rachel off in the process.

For three days Rachel held off visiting Joe after the incident with the whisky. He didn’t call her, and she actually had a few hours each day without thinking about him.
On the third day, she was sure he’d need more food, and she had begun to regret the fact that they’d left him completely to his own devices, when the phone rang. The moment she picked it up she knew.
“Hello. Is that Rachel? Hello dear. It’s Mrs. Warburton, your dad’s neighbour.”
“Hello Mrs. Warburton, is everything all right?” She tried to sound calm.
“I was worried, so I used my front door key to check on him.” Her voice was even more shaky than usual. “Rachel dear. I found him in the chair. He was stone cold, dear.” There was a long silence. “The ambulance is there now, if you could come.”

Kynance beach

I think I loved Emily as a child more than anyone else in my world. She had wanted my love and attention more as a teenager, but I’d moved on, and failed to notice her falling through the ice. I did hear about the parties and the drug taking from Ellen, but didn’t intervene. When she drowned, following a crazy stunt in high heels on the parapet of Lambeth Bridge, the coroner’s verdict was death by misadventure but I’m not sure.
When she was born, I had just been re-elected, and I was hoping to be appointed to the shadow cabinet. I took rooms in Westminster, and attended every late-night vote. I cared more about my career than anything else. Ellen had inherited her parents’ house in Bayswater when her father died, and we lived in the mansion with Emily. It was only a short cab-ride from the Commons, but I was engrossed in Westminster, and I’d lost interest in family life. It was Ellen who looked after the children, brought them up, dealt with their accidents and growing pains.
I was on my way to Penzance one summer, to stay with Ellen and the children for the weekend. They were at the house we rented every year in The Lizard for a month, and I was only making the trip on their third weekend away. Sitting in first class on the Penzance Express, I was staring at the melamine paneled wall, and I was thinking how alone I felt. I was surrounded by people who wanted parts of me, and whom I wanted some of the time, but I didn’t feel connected to any of them. Maria was fun and sexy and she really got what I was about in my work, but she wasn’t interested in my feelings. If I wanted to talk about how upset I was with how I’d been treated, or what someone had written about me, she’d just tell me to ‘get over it.’
Ellen, on the other hand had only ever been interested in the real me, as she put it. She wanted to get past the front man, and she hated it when I used my public speaking voice with her, either cajoling, or when we were arguing.
“Don’t you dare use that tone with me!” she would shout. “I’m not the bloody leader of the opposition.”
Ellen just wanted me to go out and earn a living and come home and love and care for her, like her father had done for her mother. She was interested in our home, and cooking, and being happy. I’d gone down that path with her at the start, but I couldn’t stick it for long. She stopped coming out to functions with me, and hated me inviting Party colleagues for dinner and talking shop all evening. On one level I didn’t blame her really. Westminster was littered with divorced politicians. But on another level, I felt she’d deserted me.
As the train rattled through the Dorset countryside, I stared out of the window and saw my life rushing by. The fields and cows and little cottages were like the flickering stills from a silent movie, and I could see myself through the window, just like that, a life of movie stills, flickering images in which I appeared, but which held no meaning or feeling.
There was a cartoon-style map of England on the wall in front of me, with the train route drawn on it and little symbols for tourist attractions, and umbrellas on yellow beaches. I imagined myself there in it, a cartoon character of a politician, with a cartoon happy family sitting on a golden Cornish beach under an umbrella, and a cartoon secretary in a low-cut blouse, hanging out of the window of the little drawing of the Houses of Parliament. It made me smile, though I wanted to cry.
I arrived into Penzance at ten and Ellen was there to bring me out to The Lizard, where the landlady, Mrs Treganon, had agreed to babysit the girls for an hour. It had been raining and the light from the streetlamps and neon shop signs reflected in still black puddles as we drove towards them, and the wipers scraped noisily on the dry windscreen. I had no urge to talk, but it’d been three weeks.
“How was the journey down? Did you get any sleep?” Ellen looked tired, but tanned.
“No, I had reading to catch up on. You’re looking well, love. Looks like you caught the sun. Sorry I couldn’t make it last weekend, but the PM wanted to talk about the budget.” I would have gone on, but looking across at Ellen, I knew she wouldn’t be remotely interested in his views on pensions.
“Can we stop for one on the way? Maybe The Oak?” I couldn’t face sitting in the kitchen at the house in silence, and maybe the pub would break the tension.
“OK, a quick one, but I said I’d only be an hour.”
While Ellen went to the bar, I found us a table in the corner of the lounge, and the hum of conversation dropped as people recognized me. I could see people whispering my name to one another.
“How was the house? Did Jacko clean the kitchen?” she asked when she sat down. Jacko was our housekeeper who’d also been the girls’ nanny when they were babies. Despite her chain-smoking, and her tendency to swear under her breath in front of Emily, who was very interested in learning swear words, Jacko was a gem. I wondered how much she would talk to Ellen, next time they met, about my comings and goings while Ellen was in Cornwall.
“Yes, it was fine when I left yesterday,” I lied. The house had been untouched all week, and Jacko would have been fully aware I wasn’t living there. “How have the girls been behaving?”
“Emily’s like a cat on a hot tin roof. She’s a law unto herself, and I can’t control her at all. You can see if she’ll listen to you, but chance’d be a fine thing. Rachel’s fine, but she just wants to copy Emily all the time, I’m not sure we can stop her becoming another wild thing.”
Ellen had been at the farmhouse for three weeks, alone with three young girls and no adult company.
“Chloe’s teething again, and she’s not sleeping. Frankly I’m exhausted, trying to do it all myself.” Ellen was talking quietly, as the couple at the next table was clearly listening. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’ve had a tough week too, but I’m tired, and I just need a bit of time to myself. Can we go?” she said, draining her glass and standing up. We left quickly, and once we were back in the car, she started again.
“It’s fine for you, with your assistants and secretaries. You’ve got nobody to worry about except yourself, and I doubt you’ve cooked a single meal since we left.”
Ellen was talking, but I started thinking about last night with Maria. She was cooking Bolognese, in her dressing gown, and I was standing behind her with a glass of wine in one hand and the other between her legs. She’d pulled a strand of spaghetti from the pan and we’d eaten it together, one from each end, and kissed hungrily, and then we’d fucked on the sofa and ignored the pan as it boiled dry.
“Joe, did you hear me? I asked when you’ve got to be back by.”
“Not till Monday. I thought I might get the early train.”
We got to the farmhouse in a few minutes without speaking. We briefly considered having sex, but after Mrs Treganon had left and Chloe had settled, and I’d lammed into a bottle of red and by the time we got to bed, I was already falling asleep. Ellen wasn’t bothered, or perhaps she’d long since learned the signals.
Saturday was hot; somewhere in the high seventies. All I wanted to do was lie out on Kynance beach all day. Kynance was one of our favourites, with its white sand and breakers, and gentle waves and rock pools, ideal for the children. It was at the bottom of cliffs, about ten minutes’ walk from the car park, down a long flight of stone steps. Without children, this would be a lovely stroll, but with two small ones walking and another in the buggy, and carrying our lunch, the wind-breaker and towels, and the beach rug, it was an interminable sweaty battle. Needless to say, Emily would only carry the towels and her costume, and Rachel couldn’t manage more than her bucket and spade, so that left me with the buggy handles, and the beach rug across my shoulders, and Ellen carrying the windbreaker, lunch basket, and her handbag. Most of the way down, she had to walk backwards while holding onto the footrest of the buggy.
Eventually, we were settled between the cliff and the island, near one of the caves that were accessible only at low tide. Emily was intrigued by the caves, ever since Mrs Treganon had told the girls about the smugglers of Kynance bringing their bounty ashore and storing it in the caves, which supposedly led up to deserted farms in the hills. Emily was apt to disappear, exploring, and have to be fetched back every half hour, and she delighted in the retelling of these stories at night in the dark to Rachel, giving her nightmares.
Half-closing my eyes, as I lay across the beach rug with my head propped on a rolled up beach towel, I could see Emily, balancing barefoot on the top of the breaker, as though she was performing on the horizontal bar in a gymnastics competition. She was in love with Olga Korbut, along with every other seven-year-old girl she knew. She spent much of her time prancing about and flicking her wrists while pointing her toes, in that pose from the end of the Russian’s performance, or trying to master cartwheels and summersaults. Rachel was staring in awe from the beach below her. Emily’s wet hair clung to her long neck, and her lithe arms were outstretched to give her the balance of a trapeze artist’s pole.
Ellen lay beside me in her black and white striped one-piece costume with the frilly waistband, smoking Silk Cut. She had just turned forty, and after Chloe’s birth, she was very conscious of her stretch marks. I couldn’t remember the last time she’d worn a bikini. Now, stretched out in the sun, I was mesmerized by the crash of the surf on the shingle in the distance, and the cries of the gulls, and I was thinking of sex with Maria. The rhythm of the waves was sensuous, and everything seemed to combine to dissipate my stress.
“Look at me, Dad,” Emily shouted, standing on one leg on the top of the breaker, a stack of railway sleepers some five feet high. She seemed completely at ease, as the waves broke on the beach below her.
“Bet you can’t do this, Rach!”
Rachel stood watching, her mouth open in awe. Ellen, looked up from her novel, and shouted “Emily, get down from there at once!”
Just as I turned away to light my cigarette, Rachel screamed, and Emily toppled into the sea. I dropped the cigarette and my lighter, leapt up and covered the thirty yards at a sprint. As I got there, I could see her arms flailing in the water, and there, under the clear shallow wash of surf, was Emily’s face. Her eyes were open and her mouth too. She seemed to be screaming. Her black hair was swirling like kelp around her face. In that instant, I saw her death. I leapt through the rushing water, which only reached my knees, and half fell towards her, stretching out and catching her forearms as the water pulled her away from the shore. She came up, like a marionette lifted by its strings, and as she did so, water gushed from her mouth and she coughed and spluttered. Her long hair clung to her face, covering her eyes. I lifted her into my arms like a baby, though she was already tall, and her arms encircled my neck. She clung to me as I brushed sand from her face. I hugged her tightly and closed my eyes. When I did, I saw her under the water again, but now her mouth and eyes were closed and she was floating still. I opened my eyes in terror at the image.
“It’s OK. Don’t cry. You’re all right. Let me see if you hurt yourself,” and I checked her scratched hand. In the moment she’d begun to fall, I was there. It was real, super-real. The sounds and smells were more vivid, the waxy texture of her wet skin and its chill against my own were imprinted on me. All I wanted was to hold on to her, to hold on to that moment.
“It’s OK, Emm. You’re OK now,” I whispered, as I stood in the cold water and felt the sand pull around my ankles. “Daddy’s here.”
I wanted to carry her to the others on the rug, and hold on to them all. The sudden sense of my self in the moment was overwhelming and I wanted it more than anything I’d every wanted.
But as soon as we got over to the rug, Emily let go of me and fell into Ellen’s lap, who was ready to catch her in a beach towel. She sat on the open towel on Ellen’s knee to be dried, already smiling, while Rachel sat beside them and reached out to touch her.
“I thought you’d drownded,” she said. “Are you OK?”
“Did you see me, Rach? Did you see me dive off?”
“For God’s sake, Emily. You fell, and that’s because you’re forever doing stupid things just to show off.” Ellen sounded angry, which seemed unreasonably hard. “Joe, get off the rug. You’re dragging sand just where I brushed it to put the lunch.”
Within minutes, Emily was kicking Rachel with her sandy feet and sticking out her tongue, and the moment had passed.
I sat down and lit another Rothmans. I was smiling to myself, still held in the moment of saving Emily, and in her closeness, and Ellen started to shake her head. She said nothing, but I knew she was irritated by my pleasure. I looked at her and she smiled at me as she rubbed Emily with the towel, but it wasn’t a generous look, more a derogatory smirk. She pushed Emily off her lap and started unpacking the lunch, and Chloe woke and started to cry.
“Pass the bottle, Joe. And can you open this jar?”
“Give me a minute, can’t you.” I just wanted to sit and watch the girls play, but Ellen was bustling, moving on.
Later, once the girls had gone rock pooling, I couldn’t resist asking. “What was that face for earlier?”
“What face?”
“You know perfectly well what face. When I pulled Emily out of the sea. You’re always going on about me not engaging with the children, and when I do, you look like I’ve stolen something from you or something.”
“Oh for God’s sake. What do you want, a medal? Anyone would think you’d saved her life. It’s weeks since you bothered to spend time with us, and then when you finally do, you’d think you were a bloody knight in shining armour!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. She could’ve drowned, and you didn’t bat an eyelid. I came down to spend a weekend with my family and to enjoy the children, but you can’t resist sticking the knife in at every opportunity.”
“You only came because you ran out of excuses to stay away. You think you can waltz in and out of our lives when it suits you and spend all your time with that slut and leave me with all the shit…” Ellen was puce and staring at me, and people paddling in the sea had turned to watch. Chloe was crying, and Rachel had her hands over her ears, and her eyes tight shut. This was going nowhere, and I’d had enough. I got up and went for a walk up to the caves to calm down.
I was going to catch the early train on Monday, but by Sunday morning, I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I wanted to get back. I phoned Maria from the phone box in the village and then booked a cab to Penzance in time for the afternoon train back.
*
Our separation was incidental, almost. The flow of Ellen’s life had been permanently dammed by Emily’s death, while mine gushed on. Ellen had stood by me, publicly at least, over the years, but she knew that I wasn’t going to do the same for her now.
I can still feel Emily’s face buried in my shoulder. Her legs clinging to my torso like a baby chimp to its mother, as her warm tears ran onto my shoulder. I can still feel her cold wet arms round my neck, and smell the salt in her hair, as I carried her back to Ellen and the waiting towel. When I wake in the night, seeing her corpse on that slab, I try to feel her in my arms on Kynance beach, in the sun

Avoiding grief

I remember very little of the two weeks when we waited for the autopsy results. I can’t remember making funeral arrangements, but I must have done so, or else Maria took care of it. There were reporters camped outside the front door, and my press secretary was always in the kitchen drinking coffee and answering the phone without asking.
I could cope with all the practicalities, but I couldn’t talk to the children – Chloe and Rachel were bawling all day, and Ellen wasn’t fit to do anything. People saw her lying on the sofa and they skirted round her like a museum exhibit in a glass case. Nobody knew what to say. There was nothing to say.
The day after Emily was buried, I was making and taking calls for work again in my study. There was a knock on the door and Ellen walked in.
“Ok, I’ll ring back in half an hour. I’ll be in later and we can talk then. I’ve got to go now. Yes, thanks. You too.” I put the phone down on Maria and watched Ellen’s pacing.
“Can’t you take a bloody moment to grieve your daughter’s death?” she said.
“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to get through . . .”
“How can you do that? I mean, how can you work?”
“I don’t know what else to do. You look exhausted. Will you let me call the doctor for you? Perhaps he’d give you something stronger to make you sleep.”
“I don’t need bloody sleeping pills! I need to stay awake and stop seeing her lying there. I need you to stop making bloody phone calls and I need us to get away from all this. We need to get Rachel and Chloe away from those vultures outside.” She was pacing back and forth in front of my desk and every time she passed it, she stopped and straightened my papers, into parallel piles. “They can’t take any more of this, and nor can I.”
“I can’t just drop everything and go.”
“You can when it suits you. Look, we can go down to Rottingdean. We all need to be together now. You can leave the work to your precious Maria.” “Really? Do you think we should shut ourselves away at the cottage now? Wouldn’t you prefer to keep busy?” On cue, the phone rang again.
“Oh for God’s sake!” Ellen turned and slammed the door.
She needed to share her grief and to have some reassurance that I loved her. But I felt completely cold towards her. She took the girls to Rottingdean that afternoon and I didn’t see them again until a week after they’d returned. I’d moved into Putney with Maria by then, and coming back to the house to collect some clothes, I bumped into Rachel on the stairs.
“Dad, you need to come home. Mum needs you, and Chloe. And me.”
“Hi Rach. I know . . . It’s going to be . . . I’ve just got a lot on right now . . . I’ll call you in a day or two when I can and we’ll go to Rules. You like Rules, don’t you. Give me a kiss.”

Body

“Emily’s dead. She’s drowned.”
It was Maria, my PA, who told me. She pulled me out of the conference and just told me. I started to shake, and my knees buckled under me. I don’t know what happened next, but I thought I was having a heart attack.
I was away at the Party conference, and Ellen had called me several times and left messages, but I hadn’t called her back. I knew from the messages that it was about Emily, but I was up to my ears in meetings, and besides, I’d had it all before with Emily’s disappearing and her bingeing. And I just couldn’t deal with Ellen’s depression. When she was drinking, she could suck the life out of me, and I just wanted to focus on the conference. It wasn’t unusual for Emily to stay out overnight at a party or with friends. She’d always be home sooner or later for a shower and a change of clothes, so I ignored the calls.
Maria must’ve organised the car to be brought to the rear entrance at the hotel, and I was ushered through a passageway between overflowing food bins to the Jag, and bundled into the back and taken to Bayswater. When I opened the front door, Ellen was standing in the hall, waiting for me, but when I came up to her, and put out my arms to hold her, she turned away.
She told me how the police had come to the door. She’d recognized the policewoman from a previous visit when they’d brought Emily home after finding her asleep in a tube station. She’d apparently been stoned and incoherent. They could have prosecuted her for possession but because of my position, Joe Weiner, Minister of State, they hadn’t taken it further.
“I looked behind them to see if Emily was sitting in the squad car, but there was no-one in it. I asked them, ‘have you found her? Where is she?’ But I knew. I just knew.”
The room was silent. Ellen faced the empty fireplace and tidied the array of invitation cards on the mantelpiece. I poured myself a scotch.
“The policeman was saying something about the river police, and I hadn’t the first idea what he was talking about at the beginning. Emily told me she was going to a rock concert with some friends. Wembley she said. ‘What’s that got to do with the river?’ I asked him.”
We were taken to St Thomas’s, to the mortuary, to identify Emily’s body. We were led to a small empty room with a grey lino floor that curved up the walls at the edges, for sluicing, a drain in the centre, and white tiled walls. We stood over a trolley as the attendant lifted the sheet, which covered Emily’s body. She was naked, but he had the decency to show us only her head and shoulders. He looked like a serious lad, dressed in a lab coat.
“Is this your daughter?” he asked. I nodded, and he left the room.
Every time I close my eyes I can see her slack, heart-shaped, white face and the spread of her black hair across the bare grey metal of the trolley. I remember wondering why there was no pillow. She looked like she’d just washed up on a beach. I visualized her floating downstream in the Thames, like Millais’ Ophelia.
“We rowed the night before she left, you know,” Ellen said. “I told her she had to clean her act up, and the last thing she said before she walked out and slammed the door was ‘Leave me the fuck alone!’ Joe, those were her last words to me. And it’s your fault that I’ve got to carry that with me. It was always me having to handle her. Never you.”
Ellen’s face was grey. She had lines around her mouth, where she pursed her lips, and deep furrows between her eyebrows, and she had purple bags under her eyes from so much crying. I couldn’t bear to look at her.
“I didn’t call her because we’d had that row, and now she’s dead.”

Emily

October 26th
Today is my birthday, and it’s the first one I can remember when nobody wanted to organize anything for me. Mum bought me a card and stuck £100 in crisp new ones into it, same as last year. Dad didn’t write in her card (surprise, surprise) and he sure as hell didn’t bother to buy me one himself. Last year he took me to lunch at Rules but so far he hasn’t called – must’ve forgotten completely.
Rachel made an effort, with tickets for Swan Lake and a bottle of bubbly, and Chloe, bless her, spent all her pocket money on a Juicy C. purse, but it feels really hollow. What happened to the family? Why the F… can’t dad just come home once in a while and be here with us? Mum’s hit the bottle again, ‘cos there’s all that shit in the Mirror about him and his secretary. Sooo fed up.
Doesn’t help that Jason got me pissed last night and gave me one of his dive bombers. Woke up about 3am to be sick, and couldn’t remember getting into bed with whatshisname, but there I was. Nice though. And someone nicked my money. Or I spent it. Couldn’t afford a cab home and had to take Jason’s change to get the night bus. Yuk! Lucky mum was in a coma, so snuck in about 5.30am and just up and dressed now. Time to send a few texts and see what’s cooking tonight for the birthday girl.

February 14th
Four valentines from . . . whoever. Kiddy stuff. Who cares. I don’t give a flying F… Why should I? Dad pulled me into the study (!!!) after I got in this morning with a “What’re you on, Emily?” like I didn’t know my pupils were a bit saucerish. F… him! The bastard only ever speaks to me to tell me off for partying. What the F… is he doing with his mates all week? The papers hate him, and he thinks it’s none of our business? Mum’s gone into a downward spiral and Rachel is buried in her room all day studying. What am I meant to do? Told him I was fine and that he should pay more attention to his marriage. Got a clout for my trouble. Fuck you, dad!
How am I going to get that £500 for Jason’s mate? I can’t disappear, and god knows he’s had what he wants from me already, so I can’t pay him in kind. I don’t trust him. Maybe he’s working under cover or something. Jason seems cool with him but I’m not sure about Jason either. If his mate is a pig, and he’s into me for enough coke to party till Christmas that I’m supposed to have used, then I’m going to jail. Maybe Rachel would lend me her savings if I told her I needed it really badly.

May 25th
Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!!! Two weeks late. Sitting here with the test kit and can’t bring myself to use it. I know the answer anyway. Sick again this morning. Fuck. Who was it though? Jason’s always careful. I’m sure it wasn’t Leroy, even though I was way out of it. He told me nothing happened. What can I do? I’ll have to go to the doctor or pay for a clinic, and I can’t tell mum, and dad would go ballistic. Jason’s mate is going to kill me if I don’t get him the £800.
Phoned to ask dad for an advance on my allowance, but got Maria. Always Maria. And her trying to be all pals and smarming up to me and fucking my dad. Bastard. Does he care at all about us?