First half of 2005
No illness takes place in a vacuum, certainly not a mental illness. I was soon to estimate that Bink lost five years of recovery as a result of that move at the end of 2004.
The – very serious – mistake we made was to trust. Where no trust was due.
The most fundamental aspect of a Church of England minister’s remuneration is housing. Even more fundamental to what is known as a priest’s “living” than the stipend designed to be just enough to live on, is the housing in which the priest’s family is to live. So fundamental is it, that many positions of employment within the CofE now offer only housing, no more: known as “house” [in exchange] “for duty”.
So when Shaun was told that, although the new church employing him didn’t have a house for us yet it would soon, he trusted. ’Specially as the person doing the telling and offering him the post was not just a Christian but a member of the clergy himself; and not just a clergyman but a very old friend, going back decades.
And naturally, when Shaun told me all would be well (even though all looked very far from well indeed) I chose to trust him, as I always had.
And at first all did seem well; with Bink at least, if not with our situation. We moved into rented accommodation for the first eight months, with the idea that the church would buy a house for us before it ran out. (We had stipulated a house with two bathrooms, so Bink could have her own.)
Being in a very large (and rich) church in the centre of Oxford, our children soon made lots of new friends. Bink in particular: in place of a tutorial college for the last two terms of her A level course, I found tutors for her from within the congregation. Two of whom have remained close.
(This wreaked havoc with her disability benefits for about the next ten years. Despite her being registered to sit A levels that summer, someone somewhere refused to recognise that she was still pursuing the same course of education. This is neither here nor there except to demonstrate how utterly ball-crushing the benefits system is made to be. Shaun and I accompanied her to several tribunals, and even after it had been conclusively demonstrated and agreed in more than one of these that she was indeed still studying the same subjects with the same syllabus, it proved impossible to reinstate what she had been receiving and was entitled to.)
When the challenges in a family become tough, the emotional wellbeing of the whole often derives from the mother. How often have you read biographies in which she was the glue which held everyone together?
Two of our five children were now diagnosed disabled. We had a toddler. We were also responsible for two dogs, a cat and an au pair. (Our poultry had all been taken by a fox in the muddle which constituted our move.)
We were standing on a shrinking island with nowhere to live from the summer onwards.
We had brought clothes and books with us to our temporary accommodation. Everything else we owned, our new church had agreed to move and put in storage till we had permanent housing. Until it dawned on the treasurer that it would be cheaper to do nothing. So all our furniture and everything else we loved and treasured was still in our old Vicarage, waiting for our new church to move it all.
After a while, the London Diocese threw a considerable amount of it on a skip.
I rang a lawyer friend, crying too much for him to work out what I was asking. We did indeed have grounds for a claim… And by the time I had the resources to follow it up, it had timed out by several years.
More and more of Shaun’s working time was being spent viewing houses. Every suggestion I made – almost immediately, for instance, I’d found a large Vicarage with a peppercorn rent sitting empty in the centre of Oxford, considerably cheaper and more suitable than the house we were in – was dismissed.
Why? I truly believe, because I’m a women. That’s the kind of church it was.
A committee asked Shaun if he was enjoying the work. “The work, yes,” he replied. “I love it. But would you enjoy waking every morning to find your wife in tears?”
Initially it had seemed that the move could do Bink good. And if we’d had a suitable house to move into, I’m sure it would have done. But a looming fear of homelessness isn’t good for anyone’s mental health.
I was falling apart at the seams. And Bink’s seams were a lot more loosely sewn together than mine were.
I am not one to be coy about my daughter’s illness. But even I draw the line at details which compromise her dignity.
She had exciting and interesting new friends. She was doing very well at her studies. She was playing in the chamber orchestra, and singing in the choir, I had put together when asked to take over the music for the 11 o’clock service.
But privately, behind closed doors, she was reverting to the sanitary recourses of a trapped, desperate and very frightened feral animal.