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Author's Chapter Notes:

Additional lyrics courtesy of Jerry Rafferty and Rod Stewart


The wake began to break up in the early evening as people drifted away to make their journey home. Old acquaintances and friendships had been renewed over the course of the afternoon, probably not to the extent that they once had been but the first baby steps had been taken towards repair. The members of ‘The Gang’ left with a shared aim to teach Abigail about her mother; a motion firmly encouraged by Jo Maynard who declared that she fully intended to play her role in this scheme. Vi left feeling somewhat happier than she had done in a long time and with a promise to go to help Robert sort through Mary-Lou’s cottage that weekend. They’d planned to take Abigail and Vi’s youngest daughters, Livia who was Abigail’s age and Alexis who was three years younger to give Abigail the chance to get to know them.

 

 

In the privacy of her room that evening Abigail let the thoughts run round endlessly in her head. Closing the door firmly behind her she selected an LP from the collection on the shelf and removed it from its sleeve before gently laying it on the record player, which was her prized possession. She moved the needle to the right place and let the music of her favourite song fill the room. As the glorious opening saxophone solo sent its familiar shivers down her spine she flopped on to her bed, flat on her back, knees drawn up and hands behind her head. “Winding your way down to Baker Street, light in your head and dead on your feet, well another crazy day, you dreamt the night away and forget about everything.” Crazy day was an understatement she thought to herself. She knew so much more about her mother than she had done twenty four hours previously and there was a promise that she would know so much more. She couldn’t stop her thoughts churning, there was so much she wanted to know, so much she needed to know. You are half your mother. Jo’s words had struck something deep inside her, something that she’d known by instinct but something she’d never brought to her conscious mind. Mulling it over she supposed it had been something she’d always avoided thinking about so as not to upset her father. On the rare occasions she’d tried to ask about her mother he’d always changed the subject, or just given her answers that didn’t really help and left her even more in the dark than she had been before she’d asked.

 

The song faded out and Abigail slipped off her bed, lifted the needle on the record player and removed the LP. She slotted it back into its sleeve and pushed it back on to the shelf taking another one down as she did so. She lowered the needle on to a well worn track, her comfort song, the one she always played when she wanted to think about her mother. The music filled the room as she settled back down on to her bed and picked up her book off the bedside table. “When the rain came I thought you’d leave ‘cause I knew how much you love the sun. But you chose to stay, stay and keep me warm through the coldest winter I’ve ever known.” But she hadn’t stayed.

 

 

Abigail and Robert drove up to Mary-Lou’s cottage that Saturday. The fine weather from the funeral on Thursday had soon passed and the sky had clouded over once again and rain threatened. It felt more like October than early August thought Abigail as she huddled into her cardigan. They never talked much on car journeys, and even less when Robert had changed his car earlier that year to one with a cassette player in it. Music had always been a bone of contention between the pair as they had wildly differing styles. Abigail couldn’t see how her father couldn’t appreciate the lyrical genius of Simon and Garfunkel, the anguished torment of Janis Joplin, the catchy melodies of The Beatles, the raw emotion of Joni Mitchell, the pure genius of Elton John, the powerful voice of Barbra Streisand or the fact that she would do anything for Rod Stewart. She’d tried hard to drag her father out of his glam rock phase and constant listening to the likes of T-Rex and Alice Cooper, or the likes of Black Sabbath in his darker moods, but to no avail. There had been one agreement between the pair in the shape of The Clash. Abigail could still recall when she first heard them at the age of six when the raw anger of Janie Jones had related to something inside her. She still didn’t understand what it was, but she liked the music. Now they drove along, windows wound down with the London Calling album blaring.

 

A light rain had begun to fall by the time they arrived in the village and found the bed and breakfast into which they’d booked to spend the next couple of nights. The woman who owned it remembered them from their previous visit before the funeral and asked a few polite questions before they headed to the village pub where they’d arranged to meet Vi, Livia and Alexis for lunch before going to the cottage. They arrived first and settled down at a table by the window, casting a glance over the menu. Neither of them spoke but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. They talked a lot but there were times when neither felt the need to speak because there was nothing to say. Robert crossed the pub and picked up the morning’s paper as Abigail pulled her book out of her bag and buried herself in it. It was upon this scene that Vi, Livia and Alexis arrived.

 

Robert stood up and politely greeted Vi with a brief peck on the cheek as Abigail lifted her eyes over the top of her paperback. She recognised Vi from the funeral where they’d exchanged a few pleasantries and smiled politely at her. It was only on the second glance that she noticed the two girls standing behind Vi, who she supposed had to be Livia and Alexis. Livia was strikingly pretty, tall and slim with a mass of blonde curls tumbling around her face and deep blue eyes, almost a violet shade. She wore tight fitted blue jeans and a blue denim jacket over a red and white checked shirt. Beside her Alexis was a completely different story. She was much shorter, slightly plump and looked younger than her ten years. Her hair was a darker shade of blonde, but long and straight and worn back in a ponytail; only her eyes were the same deep shade of blue and twinkled with mischief. She wore a pair of slightly too big blue jeans and a baggy white t-shirt with a picture on that Abigail couldn’t quite make out. They both carried themselves with an air of confidence.

 

Abigail suddenly felt quite shabby as she looked down at her faded old jeans with the hole across the left knee. She had never really been one to take notice of her appearance; even at thirteen she remained somewhat a tomboy and the way she looked tended not to cross her mind. Her good friends out of school, the ones she’d played with in the street from being a small child, were all boys and so she’d grown up climbing trees, playing football in the winter, cricket in the summer, tennis when there weren’t enough of them and generally running herself ragged. She’d taken dancing lessons from the earliest possible age, studying ballet, tap and jazz dancing, but that hadn’t stopped her from being one of the boys. Neither had her music lessons, she’d begun learning the piano and recorder at primary school, graduating to a clarinet at secondary school. She’d been a Brownie and tried Guides but given it up after a year when she’d had a fall out with the Guide leader. Robert had always been mindful to keep her out of school hours occupied. Working as a consultant paediatrician meant he’d never been able to spend the time he really wanted to with Abigail. Single fathers were a rare occurrence and nobody really seemed to understand the situation he was in. It had been okay for the mothers to go home to their children but whenever he’d mentioned getting back to Abigail, wanting to take time off to be with her, he’d been met by a frosty reception. He was lucky in that Abigail had understood the situation and had never challenged him for not spending enough time with her and their relationship had never really suffered as a consequence.

 

 

After a slightly awkward lunch of strained conversations the five made their way over to Mary-Lou’s cottage. Abigail, Livia and Alexis headed off to the beach with tennis rackets and balls whilst Robert and Vi went to sort through Mary-Lou’s papers and possessions. Watching the girls go Robert realised there were marked differences between his own daughter and Vi’s. Beside Abigail, Livia seemed to be little more than a child in her views and ways; he’d never noticed that his own daughter had such a mature, almost adult, outlook and perspective on life. Vi had noticed it as well over the course of the lunch but in a way supposed that she had expected it given that Mary-Lou had been famed for having a more adult way of seeing things when they had been at school.

 

Robert and Vi made their way upstairs to the tiny study. Vi stood awkwardly in the doorway not really sure why she was there. Robert was flicking through the pile of papers on the desk with a look of determination on his face. In her will Mary-Lou had left everything to Abigail, save a few bits and pieces that had gone to Verity. For somebody who had only been too aware of their mortality there was still plenty that needed to be sorted out. Robert suddenly laid down the papers and extracted a sheaf of them, held together by a large paper clip, which he handed over to Vi.

 

“What are…?” she asked, taking them from him.

“Just read it.”

Vi’s eyes skimmed over the first few sheets and her eyes rested on the words “In the next pages I will attempt to recreate my life, as faithfully and as accurately as I can and hope that in doing so I cause no harm to anyone.” She looked up at Robert. “Autobiography?”

Robert nodded. “Not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but the essentials are there.”

Vi flicked over the pages only taking in the occasional word. “What do you want to do with it?”

Robert shrugged. “I suppose that since she left everything to Abby, it’s really her decision.”

“What about having it finished?”

“As a biography?”

“Well maybe…” Vi paused as a sudden inspiration hit her. “Maybe we could finish it for her. We could use the base that’s here and then ask people who knew Mary-Lou to contribute to it and write a piece about her.” Vi broke off and stared at Robert thoughtfully. “I think Abby would like it.”

“I don’t…”

“You can’t protect her forever, nor can you hide the past forever. Abby wants to know about her mother, this would be an ideal way.”

 

Deep down Robert knew that Vi was right but he was still driven by the desire to protect his daughter. He knew that she was growing up fast and that she was bound to ask questions, be curious about her roots. The funeral had made sure of that and even though she hadn’t asked him anything directly, he knew that the curiosity was burning away at the back of her mind. He’d always steered away from the awkward questions, and if he was truly honest to himself, it was because it was too painful for him to talk about it.

 

“Even if it’s never published Robert, it would still be something for Abby to have. She can’t remember her mother, this would be, well, I suppose, the next best thing.”

Robert stared at the floor for a few moments. “I suppose you’re right.”

 

 

For Vi the ensuing few hours were a trip down memory lane as she and Robert packed things away into boxes. Mary-Lou had kept so much from their schooldays that each new thing she uncovered prompted her to regale Robert with yet another story. It was clear to him as he looked at Vi’s animated face as she recounted the episode of Mary-Lou and Jo rowing on the Tiernsee and losing their oar.

 

“I wasn’t with them of course, I was back at the hotel with all the others worried to death about them caught out in all the rain. Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have worried so with it being those two, they always managed to land on their feet somehow and come up smelling of roses,” she said with a rueful smile.

Robert smiled up at her from the pile of books he was sorting through. “Seems like a wonderful place where you went to school.”

“Oh it certainly was,” replied Vi, her eyes shining. “And my girls seem to think so as well.” Robert gave her a quizzical look. “Oh Ruth went of course, Tacy, Cathlin and Livia are all there now, and Alexis will go next year when she moves up to secondary school.”

“But don’t you object to sending them all so far away? Switzerland, wasn’t it?”

Vi chuckled. “You’ve obviously not looked it up yourself for Abby then. The school moved back to England in 1974, it’s been based in the South West ever since, out in the middle of nowhere 20 miles or so from Exeter. You see, with the decline of TB there wasn’t much call for the San, and obviously the School got a good number of its pupils through the San and numbers started to fall anyway at the start of the 1970s. People just didn’t want to send their daughters all that way abroad so the School moved back here. I have to admit that I’m not sure that I would have sent my own girls that far away; oh I know I had a wonderful time there but the world’s changed so much since we were kids, values are different.”

“It never crossed my mind to send Abby to boarding school or to any sort of fee paying school. She’s always managed quite nicely at the local state schools.” Robert stood up and crossed the room to look out of the window over to the beach where he could see Abigail playing tennis with Livia and Abigail. “They’re perfectly good co-ed places; I’ve never been convinced by single sex education. Besides, I’m sure Abby would hate it, she’s always been one of the boys from a very young age.”

Vi stared at Robert. “And you’ve never minded that?” she asked with a note of shock in her voice.

“I just want Abby to be happy. Vi, her mother walked out on her and rejected her, if I were to send Abby away to school she’d feel that I was rejecting her too and she doesn’t need that. Boarding school may have done quite nicely for you and Mary-Lou, it might do equally nicely for your girls; but I’m afraid it’s not, and nor will it ever be, an option for Abby.”

 

 

The Chalet School, for somewhere that would form such an important part of my early life I was remarkably opposed to going. Of course with the benefit of hindsight I wonder why I felt the way I did. It was change; it was completely different to anything I had ever known in my life up until that point. In a few short months my life had been turned upside down and everything I had ever known had been changed for something different; I was having trouble adapting and adjusting to my new life. With the years I lost this aversion to change, but back then I thought the world was going to end. My time at the Chalet School was enjoyable and taught me so much – both educationally and about myself. It provided me with my first experiences of travelling and I loved it; the chance to live in a different culture firsthand. It proved valuable in the following years as I moved around. The Chalet School provided me with so many integral experiences and memories that I cannot imagine myself without them. The people I met at the time were crucial to forming me and I will remember them always.

 

The Chalet School had undergone so much change since its heyday in the 1950s. The decline of TB had led to declining numbers of pupils being sent to the school. Society had changed so radically as well in the 1960s with many parents unwilling to send their daughters all that way to get their education. Hilda Annersley, the redoubtable headmistress of the school had retired in the mid-1960s, followed by her co-head Nell Wilson a year later. Nancy Wilmot had taken over the helm with her good friend Kathie Ferrars as her deputy and it was in these positions that they still remained; a testament to their leadership throughout the turbulent years of the 1970s. As the need for the San had declined it had become harder for them to find adequate staffing there and the TB specialists had begun to feel somewhat out of place in the ever changing world of modern medicine. These days it remained in Switzerland as a leading research and teaching hospital attracting staff from all around the world to share in their expertise. TB had still not died out in the world and those who had specialised in the fight against it were often called upon to share their knowledge, particularly Jack Maynard long since retired but often in demand to teach. The school itself had left the Gornetz Platz in 1974 after a general consensus from parents that they would prefer their daughters at a boarding school in England. Even now the school retained its international thread and parents from abroad based in the UK were eager to send their daughters there. The general trilingual aspect of the school remained intact as well but the scope for the learning of further languages existed. Nancy Wilmot was now looking towards her retirement within the next couple of years safe in the knowledge that the School would be in safe hands and in a safe position.

 

 

Vi, Livia and Alexis left before Robert and Abigail as they were staying a couple of villages away. Abigail soon tired of hitting a tennis ball against the wall on her own and went inside to find her father. Robert was so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed his daughter’s entrance until she appeared at his shoulder.

 

“Is that her?” she asked pointing at the photograph in his hand.

 

Robert glanced up from the picture. Black and white, a young woman with short curls and dancing eyes, a face that had clearly stopped laughing only momentarily for the picture to be taken. She held on to the arm of the dark haired man with the animated face beside her. They were clearly having a good time.

 

Robert nodded in reply to Abigail’s question. “People in love do silly things,” he said quietly, half to himself.

“Walk under buses, burn their wings,” muttered Abigail in reply, almost under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” she shrugged. “Just a 10CC reference.”

“I didn’t think you… No, never mind,” he said waving his hand dismissively. “But it’s true. I was so crazy about your mother I would have done anything to keep her. But you can’t do that, we don’t own people, you can’t make them stay where they don’t want to be. People don’t belong, you can’t put them in a cage and expect them to stay as sooner or later they want to spread their wings and fly. Like your mother, she couldn’t be caged, she didn’t belong to me and I couldn’t stop her when she wanted to go. You have to let people go sometimes Abby, you have to let them spread their wings and fly away. You might not like it but you have to do it. Loving somebody means that you want them to be happy even if it means losing them. People are meant to be free, what right do we have to make them unhappy? Nobody has that right, nobody Abby.” Robert broke off to calm the lump rising in his throat.

Abby reached over his shoulder and took the photograph from his hand. “When was this?”

”New Year’s Eve 1969, the second time I ever met your mother.”

Abigail sat down on the floor at her father’s feet. “Tell me about it,” she said simply.

 

Robert sighed and looked down at his daughter’s expectant face and knew there and then that he had to tell her. “The first time I met your mother was in the summer of 1969,” Robert stopped as Abigail started humming a tune quietly to herself. He smiled wryly. “Wrong month, wrong year,” he said.

Abigail giggled suddenly. “Right decade though.”

Robert chuckled at her. “Fair point. Anyway, it was in London, some lunch party or another for a course I was on in children’s medicine. Your mother wasn’t meant to be there, she’d just gone along with an old friend – the only time they could meet up apparently.”

 

“I hadn’t seen Daisy Rosomon in quite a few years but it just so turned out that in the summer of 1969 we’d be in London for the same week. I was giving a course of lectures on a recent dig and she was on a course about children’s medicine having just gone back in to medicine after bringing up her family. The only free moment I had when I could meet her was when she had some lunch party to go to and she invited me along.”

 

“I quite literally walked into your mother’s life, really rather embarrassing but something we always looked back on and laughed at.”

 

“I lost Daisy more or less as soon as we arrived. So there I was, standing around like one o’clock half struck with a plate in my hand when somebody crashed into me sending my half-eaten sandwich flying.”

 

“Of course I had to pick the sandwich up for her, wouldn’t have been polite for me not to do so. When I looked up to see whose plate I’d sent flying I was stunned.”

 

“Dark hair, dark eyes, and an apologetic air about him, but there was something else and I didn’t know what it was. A shiver ran down my spine; well, I was an archaeologist, digging was what I did best and I intended to do just that with this man. So I made a wisecrack to put him at ease, just to show I wasn’t mad at him for walking into me.”

 

“We spent the rest of the afternoon talking and generally ignoring the world around us. She fascinated me; she had so much to talk about. I won’t say I was smitten, but I was disappointed when the afternoon broke up. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly.”

 

“I tried my best to put Robert out of my mind but every now and again my thoughts kept turning back to him and I couldn’t work out why. He was a nice guy, interesting, smart, funny, but nothing really special. Besides, I’d probably never see him again, unless my some twist of fortune.”

 

“I’d resigned myself to never seeing her and spent the rest of 1969 worrying about work and trying to get on, working towards my consultancy. Anyway, New Year was fast approaching and I had no fixed plans until I got a vague invite from a friend to one of his friend’s party. As I had nothing better to do I decided to go and see in the 1970s in London.”

 

“I came back to England to spend Christmas with Verity and met up with Clem who talked me into going to her New Year party. I didn’t really fancy an evening babysitting Verity’s kids so I accepted and headed off to London.”

 

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw your mother at the party, I swear my heart skipped a beat.”

 

“I never in a million years expected Robert to be at Clem’s party. But when he walked in through the door I knew that I had no intention of letting him go without a proper goodbye. As the night wore on I was acutely aware that neither of us had spoken to anyone apart from each other; but there was so much I wanted to say to him I couldn’t tear myself away.”

 

“As midnight approached we headed out on to the balcony to see in the New Year overlooking the Thames. As the chimes struck for midnight I suppose I got caught up in the festivities.”

 

“We heard midnight chime and toasted in 1970. And then he asked if he could kiss me. So we shared our first kiss as the New Year cheers echoed around us, overlooking the Thames as the fireworks exploded in the distance. It was magical.”

 

 

“We exchanged contact details when I left the following morning. She was heading back to her sister’s and then looking up a few old friends before trying to get some funding for her latest plan.”

 

“I’d come back to England with the express purpose of getting some funding for my latest project. I wanted to head to South America to follow in the footsteps of my father and the Murray-Cameron expedition. But I had no idea how much that party would change my ideas of where my next steps would lead.”

 

“Ten days later she phoned up and asked if I wanted to meet up at the weekend. It was proving quite difficult to get the money she needed to go to the Amazon and I guess it was pretty disheartening. I had nothing else planned so headed down to the south coast for the weekend.”

 

“That weekend was almost perfect, with the exception of the weather. Still we enjoyed ourselves, walking in the rain, talking of our plans, hopes, fears, dreams. I felt completely at ease with him and I was really quite sorry when the weekend was over and he headed back north.”

 

“If you believe my friends I was as miserable as sin away from her after that weekend. The agony of not knowing when I’d see her again was too much. I knew that we both had very different outlooks and ideas on where our lives would lead us; but there’s nothing in the whole world that can stop you dreaming.”

 

“By the end of January I had run into brick wall after brick wall and I was at the end of my tether, completely frustrated. I went to the one place where I knew I’d be safe.”

 

“It was pouring down with rain that Friday afternoon at the end of January when she appeared on my doorstep. I could hardly believe it.”

 

“We spent the evening curled up on his sofa drinking our way through a bottle of wine and talking. I had no idea where I’d go next, South America I decided would have to wait. In the end I stayed with Robert and worked my way around some northern universities giving lectures.”

 

“February 1970 was wonderful. We spent it getting to know each other better but nothing would prepare me for the way our paths would twist next.”

 

“At the end of February I was offered a place on a dig in Italy for a month. The catch being that I had to be prepared to leave on 1 March. For the first time I was torn over my work. Of course I wanted to go and I knew that really I couldn’t afford no to; but a large part of me wanted to stay with Robert.”

 

“I knew that she wouldn’t stay put forever, but even so it was a shock when she said she was off to Italy on a dig in a few days. At that moment I knew where my destiny lay and what I had to do. So I proposed.”

 

 

“The proposal was a shock, in fact, more than that. I hadn’t expected it in the slightest and I really didn’t know how to react. I know it was a spur of the moment thing, he was so afraid of losing me and if I’m truly honest I didn’t want to lose him either. I said yes but at the same time there was a small voice inside me saying that it wasn’t what I really wanted.”

 

“March was a long month, counting down the days until her return. I’d never felt that way about anybody before and I hoped I’d never have to again. It hurt so much at times.”

 

“I’d written and told a few people about the engagement before leaving for Italy and word had soon got around, largely, I expect, thanks to my Auntie Jo. The whole of March letters arrived in Italy wanting to know when the wedding would be and suggestions that it should be soon so it was over and done with. I did love Robert but suddenly I was beginning to feel trapped. The little voice inside me kept getting louder and it was getting harder to ignore it.”

 

“We planned the wedding for the first weekend in June in the hopes that we’d have nice weather. It wasn’t, it rained but that didn’t matter. It was the happiest day of my life. Your mother looked wonderful but there was something in her eyes that I couldn’t read. When I think back about it now I’m sure it was uncertainty.”

 

“Everybody loved Robert, thought he was wonderful. He was, I could hardly fault him but once the initial rush after the wedding was over I realised I was bored. My feet were getting itchy and I wanted to get out and on to another dig. But I couldn’t. I was pregnant.”

 

“I was going to be a father, it was the best news I’d ever heard and it had all happened so quickly I could scarcely believe it.”

 

“I couldn’t keep up with Robert’s excitement. Everybody kept telling me how wonderful it was going to be having a baby but I was never so sure. I couldn’t explain to anybody that I didn’t want to have a baby; I didn’t want to be a mother. I didn’t want restrictions being placed on my life. I knew I was being selfish and I kept on hoping that it would change when the baby was born, when I held it in my arms.”

 

“Abby, you were perfect when you were born. So tiny and beautiful, I couldn’t believe you were mine. I couldn’t bear to be away from you; without a doubt, you were the best thing that had ever happened to me.”

 

“I never felt that initial rush of love everyone talks about when they first laid Abigail in my arms. I looked down at this tiny bundle and felt nothing, I was numb. She reached up and reached out to me and I cried. I cried because I didn’t love her, because she represented the end of my freedom, the end of the career I’d worked so hard for.”

 

“I didn’t notice that she wasn’t bonding with you, if I had maybe I could have done something. Post-natal depression they call it, I’d seen it before but I never believed it would happen to me.”

 

“I liked Abigail very much, but not as my own child.  If she’d been someone else’s it would have been fine, I could have loved her. But she wasn’t someone else’s, she was mine, my responsibility, and I couldn’t take it. If she’d been a difficult baby I could maybe have understood my reluctance to love her, but she wasn’t.”

 

“You were wonderful as a baby, fed and slept at all the right times. Never caused any bother, hardly cried. That made it harder for me to understand why she couldn’t cope.”

 

“After three months I knew that I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t made to be a mother. The small voice that had tried to talk me out of my marriage now tried to talk me into staying and working it though with Abigail. I still loved Robert; surely I could learn to love my daughter? I’d tried to overcome my barriers, but I just couldn’t. I heard about the dig in Greece by pure chance and begged a place on it; everyone on the dig was sceptical about me going, convinced I’d run back to Robert and Abigail half way through. My friends couldn’t understand why I wanted to do it but they had no idea how I was feeling.”

 

“You were three months old when she came home and said she was off to Greece on a dig for six months. I tried to talk her out of it, tried to talk through things to work out where it had all gone wrong. But it didn’t work and I drove her to the airport to catch her flight. It broke my heart, but as we said goodbye there I knew I’d probably never see her again. We never bothered to sort out a divorce for one reason or another. I was left with you, at first there were times when I wondered how I’d cope but I loved you so much I knew we could get through anything. And we have, haven’t we?”

 

Abigail looked up from the photograph of her father, fifteen years younger, and realised how much older he looked now. She noticed that a tear had formed in his right eye and his expression was one seeking a reassurance that she loved him. Wordlessly she stood up and perched on her father’s knee, wrapping her arms around him as she did so. Taking his daughter in his arms Robert blinked back the tear that had formed, they so often did when he thought about Mary-Lou.




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