I don’t want to give the wrong impression with regards to my da. He was great as a da, you know? When he was the one taking me and mum out for tea on a Saturday afternoon, me in shiny black shoes and a dress with a sash, my mum wearing her real gold bangles and full make-up, calling us ‘his 2 ladies’, my da was a prince. All the waitresses, most of them 15 years younger than Da, and several years younger than Mum, thought he was charming and distinguished. They sometimes told my mother they wouldn’t mind having ‘one of their own’, meaning, well you know what they meant.
They were wrong, if they assumed my da was my mum’s sugar-daddy, though. For one, he was only about 7 or 8 years older than her (though, due to my mother’s old-fashioned notion of hiding her age, I’m still not sure exactly what her age was) and for two, the love between them was a tangible thing. I can remember sitting at the table, in one of the quaint little tearooms that so fascinated my mother, being complimented by the waiting staff on my pretty dress and the bows on my shoes, and wondering why my mum and da were just staring at each other. They did it at home, too, I guess—but I was an active child, outdoors riding or playing tennis or swimming as much of the time as possible, and it must have looked natural, my parents’ greedy, glowing mutual stares, across the dinner table, on my dad’s first night home from a week-long business trip. The business trips that, to a child, are probably unnecessary, and are just seen as proof that their parent doesn’t really care about them.
Thinking back, Da actually didn’t travel all that much; he made the odd overnight or 2-day trip to my nan’s horse farm, to pick up a few horses for one purpose or another, and sometimes spent maybe a week on the mainland of Europe, selling my nan’s horses to racing enthusiasts across the continent. But my mother never left the house, when I was there—if she even went grocery shopping, she took me along—so by comparison, Da was the more-absent parent. Which, to a child, is the more-interesting, but less-interested, parent.
And then Mum got sick, when I was 10-but-nearly-11, and she pretty much never left the house, whether I was there or not; and all of a sudden, Da was travelling twice a month, instead of 4 or 5 times a year, and then she died, just before my first year of A-levels, and Da sent me to stay with my nan, and, well, it didn’t give him any more, I don’t know, parental cred. I mean, I still remembered the 1st-class trips to Disneyland Paris, and the expensive family meals during which older-child me was allowed half a glass of champagne and a ‘meant-for-2’ dessert all to myself, and I still recalled the pony Da brought back from one of his business trips when I was about 7, a little black-and-white speckly thing known as ‘Cookies and Cream’ but called ‘Cookie’ until it had died, not long after my mother, actually; but it didn’t much matter.
Children can be bought, as much as anyone else; but the only currency they understand is time. And time has always been the one thing my da never has quite enough of.