All too much
Jonathan was up and out by the time I came down for breakfast. He had left at dawn to travel up to Lord’s for the first day of the first Test Match against New Zealand. I envied him.
My own agenda for the day was a lot more complicated, having agreed many months previously to deliver a speech, and present an award, at the Fresher Publishing Creative Writing Awards at Bournemouth University. My lovely friend Emma Scattergood, who runs the Publishing Degree Programme at the university, assured me that she wouldn’t mind a bit if I pulled out, but I didn’t feel that was on.
Leaving my bike with Penny, I took a five-hour coach journey back to Poole. Emily had posted a suit and a pair of black shoes to Emma the day before, so that I could look reasonably presentable on the night. When I eventually reached Poole, Emma was there to greet me, clothes parcel in hand.
After that, everything went gradually downhill. Emily had clearly been in a hurry when packing my clothes, and the jacket and trousers she had selected were from two different suits. In fact, the trousers were from a suit that had mistakenly been put through the wash and had shrunk dramatically. The black shoes had no laces. And the shirt needed cufflinks.
I fashioned a pair of cufflinks out of paperclips, kindly supplied by the hotel reception, which at least meant that I could turn up wearing a respectable shirt. That apart, my only option was to wear my cycling trousers and shoes. I’d need to weave an apology and explanation into my speech.
While being introduced to this year’s publishing graduates at the university, I took a call from Zoe, my eldest daughter. My son Tom, who had been enduring a particularly nasty, cowardly spate of bullying at school, had gone missing. What should she do?
I gave my speech, but my heart wasn’t in it. My mind was completely focused on Tom, and I must have seemed like one of those people you meet at a party who pretends to be interested in what you have to say, but who isn’t quite looking you in the eye. I don’t recall whom I spoke to, or even who won the prize. I remember being asked to read the winning short story, but I couldn’t tell you what it was about. I looked a mess, in my slightly stained, utilitarian cycling trousers. In fact, every student in attendance was better dressed than me. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be there for my son. Not here. Not on my bike. No more lighthouses.
I chose to walk back to my hotel along the seafront. I got news that Tom had been found, and was safe and well. But I was tormented by a flashing light out at sea, which reminded me that, yet again, I was still within sight of the Isle of Wight. It was the bloody Needles Lighthouse.