When she came to stay with me - aged about 12 - in my basement flat, she brought her younger brother with her. A slight, pixie-like kid with a mop of white-blonde hair like his father's.
As we walked along the streets - her making up lost time by asking me all sorts of questions about blood-relations she had barely met but which made up an extensive if hazy family tree from which she hung from one outward branch as a seemingly forgotten fruit - her brother would stroll on ahead, wrapped in his own thoughts and acutely aware that I was her father and not his. It was just convenient for his mother that he should tag along while she visited another part of the South.
Halfway through answering another question, I noticed him begin to veer uncomfortably close to the edge of the busy road, so shouted at him to stop right there, but he was not listening, so deep in his thoughts was he.
Knowing that I was too far away to physically prevent him from stepping off the kerb, I feigned extreme anger and shouted so loud at him that it would freeze him in his tracks. It was better than watching him be killed by a passing car.
Of course, he burst into tears at my outburst, but it did the trick and I only had to explain and console him for a few minutes before it was all forgotten. He has forgotten it, but I never will. My heart was racing at the time.
Later that evening, they both had a bath before going to bed, and he - being the youngest - had his before she did. When he had got out of the water, he called to me in a tearful voice so I went in to see what was upsetting him. It was pure anxiety, as it turned out.
"There's something wrong with my willy," he sobbed, but could not explain precisely what.
I asked him to show me what was worrying him, and when he pulled his towel away, there was a perfectly normal little thing which showed no signs of abnormality at all, and I told him so. This was the second time in one day I had to console him.
He went to bed, and she and I stayed up late into the night, me drinking wine and her just looking on as we chatted. As I opened the second bottle, she said, "You must be really thirsty!"
Having been apart from so long and at such a distance, the only way I could really relate to her was as an older brother. I did not have the right to behave like her father, and I know she would not have expected that, even if it were truthfully possible.
I slowly watched her natural interest in her father turn into a childish infatuation for a make-believe hero, and before we went to sleep, she said to me, "Oh I wish we could get married." What a strange combination of naivety and dimly understood beliefs about human relationships.
Years later when she could justifiably be called an adult, she suddenly said to me, "I am so glad that you didn't abuse me when I was a child."
Under what circumstances does a child say something like that to a parent, even if the parent is a comparative stranger?
Her childhood past is a closed door to me, only opened a chink every now and then for me to glimpse tiny parts of it.
She went through a very tumultuous period with her mother, probably reflecting the same tumult that her mother went through with her father, and her mother only told me small, disjointed snippets of both relationships, usually dropping them into ordinary conversations with no relevance to anything previously talked about. For instance, a telephone conversation with her mother, around the time when daughter was in early teens:
HER: "My finger is almost healed now."
ME: "What happened to it?"
HER: "Oh, H and I were having a huge argument a couple of weeks ago, and she went to her room and tried to shut me out by slamming the door on me. It chopped the end of my finger off."
Brown Betty, and the question of Tea. - [image: Résultat de recherche d'images pour "kettle with seive on spout"] In my opinion there is only one pukka type o...
13 hours ago