The phone rang, and I answered it.
It was mum.
“Now listen!” she said. “We need your help.”
It was surprising that mum should phone, because this was during one of those periods when dad had banished me from New College. I had been ostracised six months previously, and wasn’t anticipating any contact from them for some considerable while.
Nevertheless, mum had phoned.
“We’ve just heard that Granny has had a fall” she continued, “and we need you to go over to her flat and make sure she’s alright.”
Granny lived a mere 100 yards or so from New College, which begged an obvious question: Why don’t you go there yourself? You could go there now. It’s only down the road.
But I didn’t ask that question. I didn’t ask it because I already knew the answer. Granny had been exiled seven years ago in 1980. Dad had no intention of seeing her ever again, whatever the circumstances.
Which automatically meant (in keeping with my parents’ internal constitution) that mum had no intention either.
Mum and dad, frankly, couldn’t have given a damn about Granny.
Which begged a supplementary question: Then why do you want to make sure that she’s alright?
I didn’t ask that question either, because I knew exactly why mum was simulating concern. It was purely for the sake of appearances. There were many occasions when she explained her principal, abiding maxim…
“We must always be seen to do the right thing.”
Or, in its other two variations…
“We must always be seen to be correct.”
“We must always be seen to do what is right.”
The key word there is “seen”. Mum felt entitled to behave however she pleased outside of public scrutiny. The important thing was for her and dad be “seen” to be respectable, civilised human beings.
Mum was planning ahead. She was preparing for future eventualities. It might be that Granny had been seriously injured. It might be that someone would subsequently ask how she and dad had reacted to Granny’s injury. Mum wanted to be able to say: Well we were very concerned, of course. We immediately rushed round to make sure she was alright.
In effect, she was asking me to validate this cynical lie. She was asking me to occupy the position of “We”.
Granny’s flat was about one and a half miles distant from where I lived. I didn’t have a car so I set off on foot. In retrospect I feel ashamed of myself for being an obedient accessory to mum’s connivance. Maybe I should have declined her request, and left her to find some other way of digging herself out of the hole that she and dad had created for themselves.
But then again, if Granny really had suffered an injury then someone ought to go and see her.
When I arrived, about twenty minutes later, there were several people standing in front of the building. Other residents, perhaps. I asked them if they knew whether Granny was ok. Where was she? Was she here? Was she in hospital? What had happened?
One member of the group said that she was alright, but was now in bed and asleep. She was on no account to be disturbed. There was the distinct sense that these people were regarding me with disdain. I wasn’t welcome here. Perhaps you’d better go.
So I walked back home. I wasn’t allowed to visit New College under the terms of my current exclusion, so I walked back home. There I could phone mum and tell her that Granny was in bed and uninjured.
On the way back, I thought of a possible explanation for the way those people had behaved towards me. Maybe it was one of them who had phoned my parents to tell of Granny’s accident. Maybe they were expecting dad to arrive and show concern about his mother’s condition. That would be a reasonable expectation, wouldn’t it? Well … not if you knew dad it wouldn’t!