1. THE WORLD THE RIGHT WAY ROUND
Even later, when she found it difficult to see any good in her husband, Lucies mother, Jane, always acknowledged that Tim Blackman had saved their daughters life.
Lucie had been twenty-one months old at the time, cared for by her father and mother in the cottage they rented in a small village in Sussex. Since infancy, she had been stricken with fierce bouts of tonsillitis, which drove up her temperature and swelled her throat. Her parents sponged her with water to cool her down, but the fevers lingered, and when one had passed another would seize hold within a few weeks. One day, Tim had come home early from work to help Jane care for the needy child. That night, he was awakened by a cry from his wife, who had gone in to look at her.
By the time he entered the nursery, Jane was already running downstairs.
“Lucie was motionless at the bottom of the cot, and she was clammy,” Tim said. “I picked her out and put her on the floor, and she was turning gray in front of me, just the most sickly, blacky-gray color. Quite clearly the lifeblood wasnt being pumped round her body. I didnt know what to do. I was cuddling her on the floor, and Jane had run down to phone an ambulance. Lucie was completely quiet, wasnt breathing. I tried to force open her mouth. It was tightly shut, but I forced it open with two hands and held it open with the thumb of one hand and put my fingers in and pulled her tongue forward. I didnt know whether I was doing any good or not, but I did it, and then I put her head to one side, and then I breathed into her and then pushed the air out, breathed into her and pushed it out, and she started to breathe on her own again. I was sick with anxiety and worry, and then I saw the pink coming back to her skin, and by that time the ambulance had arrived, and the ambulance blokes were rushing up the tiny, weeny stairs, these great big blokes with all this huge, noisy kit on, big beefy chaps who were as big as the cottage. And they got their stretcher out and strapped her on and carried her downstairs and put her in the back of the ambulance. And after that she was fine.”
Lucie had experienced a febrile convulsion, a muscle spasm caused by fever and dehydration that had caused her to swallow her own tongue, blocking off her breathing. A few moments longer, and she would have died. “I knew at that moment that I could not only have one child,” Tim said. “I knew. Id thought about it before, when Lucie was born. But at that moment, I knew that if anything had happened to her, and we didnt have any other children, it would be an absolutely terrible disaster.”
* * *
Lucie had been born on September 1, 1978. Her name was from the Latin word for “light,” and even in adulthood, her mother said, she craved brightness and illumination, and was uncomfortable in the dark, switching on all the bulbs in the house and going to sleep with a lamp turned on in her room.
Janes labor had to be induced, and it lasted sixteen hours. Lucies head was positioned against her mothers back, a “posterior presentation” that caused her great pain during the delivery. But the eight-pound baby was healthy, and her parents experienced deep, but complicated, happiness at the birth of their first child. “I was delighted, absolutely delighted,” said Jane. “But I think when you become a mother, you … I just wanted my mother to be there, because I was so proud Id had a baby. But she wasnt there, so it was sad as well.”
Jane remembered little but sadness from her own childhood. Her adult life, too, had been marked by clusters of crushing, overwhelming loss, which had bred in her a dry, dark humor, alternately self-deprecating and indignantly defensive. She was in her late forties when I first met her, a thin, attractive woman with short dark blond hair and sharp, vigilant features. Her outfits were tidy and demure. Long, delicate lashes ringed her eyes, but the girlishness that they might have suggested was dispelled by a fierce sense of rightness and a scathing intolerance of fools and snobs. Pride and self-pity were at war within Jane. She was like a fox, a stubborn, elegant fox in a navy blue skirt and jacket.
Her father had been a manager at the Elstree film studios, and she and her younger brother and sister had grown up in the outer London suburbs, a strict and rather drab middle-class life of homework and good table manners and the annual summer holiday in a gusty English seaside resort. When Jane was twelve, the family moved to south London. Before her first morning at her new school, Jane went in to kiss her mother goodbye and found her asleep after a night of headaches and insomnia. “I felt that something awful was going to happen,” Jane said. “And I said to my father, ‘Shes not going to die, is she? and he said, ‘Oh no, dont be silly, of course not. And then I came home from school that day, and shed died. Shed had a brain tumor. And from then on my father was distraught. He was broken, a broken man, and I just had to be brave. That was the end of my childhood.”
Janes mother was forty years old at the time of her death. “My grandmother looked after us during the week, and at weekends it was Daddy,” she said. “I remember him just crying all the time.” Fifteen months after his wifes death, he married a woman in her mid-twenties. Jane was appalled. “But he had three children, and he just couldnt function. It was terrible. The truth is that I cant remember much of my childhood. When youve had a shock, and been through a time as painful as that, your brain makes you forget.”
Jane left school at fifteen. She took a secretarial course and found a job at a big advertising agency. When she was nineteen, she traveled to Mallorca with a girlfriend and stayed there for six months, cleaning cars for a living. It was before the age of mass British tourism to Spain, and the Balearic Islands were still a select and exotic destination. The famous Manchester United footballer George Best was a visitor. “I didnt meet him, but I remember seeing him in these bars, surrounded by beauties,” said Jane. “But I was very sensible, I was very careful. Ive got the word ‘sensible running through my body like a stick of rock. Everyone else might have been swinging but I wasnt. I was just very boring.”
In Mallorca, Janes virtue was tested by a young man, a nodding acquaintance, who appeared at her front door one day and attempted to kiss her. “I was absolutely mortified, because I hardly knew him, and it was the middle of the afternoon. He was Swedish, I think. I hadnt given him any provocation, and it made me very wary after that. I liked the sun and the sea, I liked being in the outdoors, but I cant say it was a wild time, because Im sensible. I never slept with anyone until I slept with my husband.”
* * *
She was twenty-two when she met Tim, and living with her father and stepmother in Chislehurst in the London borough of Bromley. He was the older brother of a friend, and Jane had already heard all about him. “People said to me, ‘That Tims a right one,” she remembered. “‘A right one for the women.”
Tim had just returned from the south of France, where he had been staying with a French girlfriend. “But he started flirting with me anyway, and I gave him one of my icy stares,” said Jane. “I think I was the first person in his life who hadnt fallen for him just like that, so I was a challenge. But I had no confidence, if Im honest. I had lots of very beautiful girlfriends who had men flocking round them, but at discos I was always the custodian of the handbags. Tim couldnt understand why I hadnt fallen for him hook, line, and sinker, and I couldnt understand why anyone would fancy me, and I think thats why I ended up marrying him.” The wedding was eighteen months later, on Tims twenty-third birthday, July 17, 1976.
Tim managed a shoe shop in the nearby town of Orpington, a relic of the dwindling chain of businesses that his father had once owned across the southeast. But the shop failed, and Tim found himself claiming the dole for six months. He ended up supporting his young family with odd jobs for friends and as a freelance painter and decorator. “We were living hand to mouth,” he said. “They were very tricky, very tricky times in the early 1980s, and we didnt know where the next fifty pounds was coming from. But we were in this lovely place with our baby, this Laura Ashley-style cottage, and it was a very beautiful life. I loved that time when Lucie was little.”
In May 1980, less than two years after the first baby, Jane gave birth to Sophie, and, three years after that, to Rupert. Tim found a business partner and moved from decorating into property development; in 1982 the family moved a few miles north to the genteel commuter town of Sevenoaks, in Kent. Here, their period of hardship at an end, Jane was able to create for her own family the childhood she had always wanted for herself, an idyll of flowers and pretty dresses and the laughter of little children.
The house where they lived, which Jane christened Daisy Cottage, overlooked a private prep school—Granville School, or the Granville School, as it insisted on being known. It was the fulfillment of all her fantasies, a place of such self-conscious tweeness that everyone who went there remembers it with a smile. The girls, as young as three years old, wore a uniform of blue-checked dresses and gray woolly bobble hats; at the spring festival, they put rings of flowers called chaplets in their hair. The school curriculum included the study of curtsying and maypole dancing. “Our bedroom looked directly over the playground,” remembered Jane. “It was so perfect—at playtime, Lucie would come and wave to me and I could wave back.” It was a school out of the past, out of the pages of an illustrated childrens book. “Like living in la-la land,” said Jane, “not like the real world at all.”
* * *
From the beginning, Lucie was a grown-up, conscientious girl with a childish earnestness that made adults smile. When Jane gave her peas to shell, she would examine each one individually, rejecting any that displayed the smallest sign of imperfection. She loved dolls and would sit alongside her mother breast-feeding a plastic baby as Jane breast-fed Sophie. “She was so meticulous and tidy and neat,” said Jane. “Like me from an early age.” Sophie, by contrast, was “stroppy” and prone to tantrums, which her older sister gently and skillfully defused. The two sisters shared a big old-fashioned bed, and one Easter Sunday they spent the entire day living underneath it, taking their meals there, reading their picture books, and tending to their toys.
Lucies school exercise books suggest how successfully Jane created for her children a world of innocence and delight.
Name: Lucy Blackman