170. Out of turn

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It was a straightforward left.

Moulsham Street carried on up the hill, past the Cricketers pub over on the right. But I had to turn 90 degrees left, keeping on the pavement, into St John’s Road, Chelmsford. Nothing could stop me. Gradually, slowly but steadily, everything on the left came into view. My turn was definitely working, but somehow I was already halfway across the road. My companions were shouting stuff about being run over. Couldn’t they see that I was managing this complex manoeuvre on my own terms and with a fair degree of skill? I knew where home was, and each passing second took me nearer. I was on course now, but on the wrong side of the road.

My nephew-in law Mark Hanks later compared this deft display of motor skills in January 1997 to an oil tanker changing direction. The endless glasses of champagne at Iris and Roy’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and then the session at the pub may have been a factor.

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Next thing I knew was waking up next to Maureen in our bedroom. Sunday morning. Headache. Queasy stomach. And the memory of what I had done coming back. Oh shit! You knobhead.

After the big Dubber family do at Essex Cricket Club, Maureen and I, her sisters, their children and their partners, had adjourned to the Kings Head pub in Moulsham Street. Beers in profusion had loosened my tongue. I was happy, as the previous week had been far more stressful than usual, due to Maureen’s sister Marilyn, who had insisted on trying to mastermind almost every last logistic of her parents’ anniversary function. Maureen had been spitting blood about not being allowed to contribute fully. All of that was over now, but a thought entered my head while chatting with Marilyn’s daughter Julia and her boyfriend Ben.

“Back in a minute,” I said. Marilyn was a few paces away, chatting with her sisters.

“You allright Kev?” she asked.

“Yeah, really enjoying it. Brilliant day. But there’s something I need to say.”

“Oh. What?”

“You really upset your sister over the preparations for today. I’ve had to deal with her coming home and fuming about you having the last word on every little detail.”

Before I could carry on with my brilliant dissection of her mistakes, she let out a loud wail, and collapsed onto the carpeted floor. Where she continued wailing. People surrounded her, murmuring words of encouragement. She was taken outside into the cold air, while I found new companions to chat to. I could see the effect of my words, but felt that the honesty was a painful but fair trade-off.

There have been too many of these errors of judgement in my life.

If there is some kind of ‘St. Peter moment’ after death (standing at the Pearly Gates, awaiting the judgement?) my time as a dad may count for something. Three decades of being there for Lauren, Josie and Lauren. They have had the best of me: nurture and support, emotional and financial, never violent, and as non-judgemental as possible. Realistically my best achievement.

Back to the bedroom, where Maureen was rightly moaning about the family fallout from my remarks. I mumbled something about how Marilyn needed feedback about her domineering sibling behaviour.

“And I know about your phone call with Sue,” she added.

Being hungover dulled the penetration of that remark.

Sue, Maureen’s best friend for over two decades, had called to announce her pregnancy a week earlier. I answered the phone. Several months previously, she had told Maureen and I that Martin, her husband, had hit her across the back during an argument with a rolled-up newspaper, hurting her. How forcefully she did not say. She had referred to him as “that nasty man”. The intimation was that the marriage might not last.

Possessed of any normal wisdom, I would have seen the probability that the couple had made up, in a big way. Instead, I made a split-second but sober decision to remind her of what she had told us.

It wasn’t spite, or mischief. Nor devil’s advocacy. The need to be an honest mirror is the best way I can describe it in retrospect. It was a concerned “are you sure?” conveyed with massive clumsiness.

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A better approach might have been to congratulate her and then work in the newspaper incident later in the conversation. Or not to mention it at all? Still not sure on that.

Sue then phoned Maureen separately, upset about my seemingly cold remarks. Things were never quite the same in the friendship again, and fell apart completely almost exactly seven years later. Seven years.

Like I say, I have made big errors in this life.

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