A Tale Of The Unexpected
Our summer vacations nearly always ended abruptly. I asked myself why did Daddy takes us to such places, different all of them, off the beaten track. If it had been the South of France or a delicious Greek Island, I could have been happy but it was mainly some overpopulated South American city, Columbia mainly. We went there five times in all.
Now don’t get me wrong, Bogota has a lot going for it. It’s charming cobbled streets and multi-coloured houses could have you thinking you were in the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast, but you weren’t. And Daddy was always slipping away. Just when the family had decided on our daily excursion, his phone would ring.
‘I won’t be long, you go ahead and I’ll catch you up,’ was what he said to Mummy. And when he didn’t ‘catch us up’ it was always, ‘we’ll go to the ‘Neuve’ for dinner tonight to make up for it.’ A flash overpriced restaurant
Then the final phone call from his ‘agent’ would come.
‘Sorry, kids, we have to get back home. Urgent business I’m afraid.’
Daddy was an actor but very little work came from these hurried returns.
It happened in New York, Budapest, and St Petersburg. The one time we got to The Bahamas we only lasted the night and we were off again.
‘My agent’s got me work in Manchester,’ was Daddy’s excuse for that one.
Imagine having to go back to school and admit to your friends that instead of a week in The Bahamas, you spent five nights in Manchester. I got very good at reading up on all the exotic places I’d told them we were going to. I got caught out once pretending that we’d gone to The Great Barrier Reef in Australia when we’d been at Southend for the week. It turned out that Janey Mitchell had been there and staying on the same island that I’d pretended to be on.
‘I can’t work out how we didn’t bump into each other,’ she’d said with a look on her face that said, “I think you’re lying”.
‘Oh, we moved from island to island,’ I’d replied. If I didn’t convince her I did the rest of my friends, especially when I handed out postcards from Australia that I’d purchased on line.
Sometimes I’d suggest we stay on with Mummy where we were and Daddy could come back after his ’urgent business’ was completed.
‘No Sally, we’re a family, we stay together.’
The situation changed when my brother Michael and I got into our teens. Daddy and Mummy were busy making arrangements for yet another trip to Bogota. That was the final straw, or so we thought. I’d been invited to holiday in Spain with Janey Mitchell and Rupert was hoping to go to Paris. But it couldn’t happen because this time not only were we to go to Bogota, but the holiday would be extended to include Tijuana in Mexico and Johannesburg.
No amount of arguing on our part would sway them from their decision. We were to go with them. I was delighted when the stay in Bogota lasted just three days. Tijuana was another story all together. The beach at Rosarito was lovely and I’d managed to get Daddy to agree to my purchasing a bikini, my first ever. And, finally, I had a brilliant suntan to show for it. Johannesburg was just as dreadful as I imagined. But instead of four nights there, it was just the one. Daddy had got ‘the call’ early.
I should mention that throughout all of these holidays, Daddy and sometimes Mummy used to slip out from time to time. When we were young, that scared me. Rupert used to make up stories about ‘baddies’ coming to get us or monsters lurking under my bed.
‘We’re meeting a possible lead to a great job for your daddy,’ was often the excuse.
Heaven help us if we had to move to Bogota permanently. And Southend, although still in England, would see me losing face with my friends from Notting Hill.
I knew I could never put my children through all that Daddy had to do to get continued employment in the entertainment business, especially so because when we asked to go to the theatre with them we were told that the content of Daddy’s performances was not suitable for young children or, indeed, teenagers.
I worked hard for my A levels and gained entry into Oxford. I would study Medicine. I would gain my basic qualifications and hopefully go on to study psychiatry. Rupert was just one year behind me. Daddy was doing very well in his chosen career and they purchased a small flat for me not far from campus. They decided that I no longer would go with them on their overseas trips. Poor Rupert was alone.
You can’t imagine what it is like here in Bogota yet again without you to cheer me up. I stay in the hotel most of the time. I find it preferable than walking the streets dodging drug sellers and prostitutes, both of whom seem to find my boyish English looks a target. Thankfully I have my MAC with me and I’m getting on with my latest novel. You’ll remember it, the one I started last year in Budapest about Imre Nagy and his capture by the fascist police in the 1950’s. Daddy had promised to take me back there soon so that I can continue my research but it seems that his ‘gigs’ as he calls them have dried up there so it’s off to the library for me. I can’t wait for the next year to go quickly enough so that I can join you at Oxford and have the excuse not to go on these trips with the parents. Don’t write back to me here in Bogota because we’ll most likely be gone before a letter can reach me.
Your most unhappy brother
The next year went more quickly for me than I would have liked. One exam period melded into the next leaving me very little time for any sort of social life. But there was one boy who took a shine to me, and I found him somewhat interesting. He wasn’t actually a student but what they called a ‘junior tutor’. Felix Armstrong and I met in the common room each Tuesday evening to go through some of the more complex aspects of further mathematics, a subject more challenging than I had thought and a decision I regretted making.
When I introduced myself on the first evening, he seemed to recognise the name.
‘Sally Fairweather, you say? My father knows a chappy by the name of Fairweather. I can’t remember his first name.’
We both decided that as I grew up in Notting Hill and he in Manchester, his Mr Fairweather would be no relation of mine. Our tutoring sessions lasted just three months because Felix’s father had been sent to, of all places, Bogota, to work for a large tobacco company and Felix had gained a position as junior lecturer at the university there
It wasn’t long before Felix had joined me at Oxford. We lived together in the comfortable but cramped flat. It was wonderful to be together again and we spent many evenings going back over all the ‘exotic’ holidays we had shared with Mummy and Daddy. Six years followed when, every Christmas and Easter, we had to endure the stories of the exotic places Mummy and Daddy visited. Riga in Iceland was a new one and I asked about the language barrier but was assured that the style of performance his troupe put on was not overly reliant on language. At this stage, reader, you might ask why Rupert and I had still never been to any of the performances. The explanation is that we had grown so used to being excluded that our natural curiosity had abated. As we got older and thought about what ‘the style of performance his troupe put on’ might mean, we decided we didn’t want to see our Daddy in any uncompromising position.
I became a forensic psychiatrist and Rupert a journalist with ‘The Oxford Times’. This allowed him to supplement his income with some part time tutoring at the university.
Mummy and Daddy’s trips continued for another four years before Daddy decided it was time to ‘hang up the boots’, ‘skip the footlights’ as he described his impending retirement. I was happy about this as I had married and was about to have my first child. When Juliette was born I made a silent promise to her that I would never make her endure the types of holidays I’d had to.
One Friday morning when I was putting the washing on, the phone rang. It was Rupert.
‘Have you read today’s paper, Sally?’
‘I’m afraid not, Rupert, that’s one of life’s luxuries I no longer have time for,’ I replied with a somewhat querulous tone.
‘I suggest you do, because you’re about to get a phone call from Mummy. It’s Daddy.’
‘He’s not been killed has he?’ was my initial response.
‘No, nothing quite like that but perhaps he wishes he had been.’
‘What is it, Rupert, put me out of my misery,’ I pleaded. He read the headline. ‘No, not Daddy, he wouldn’t have done anything like that. An assassin you say? Surely it’s a joke.’
‘It’s no joke, Sally. He was a hit man for a gangland group based in Manchester.’
Straight away, the conversation with Felix Armstrong came back to me. There was a connection.
‘Where is he? And Mummy?’
‘Mummy was part of it also, although she didn’t kill anyone, she says she just kept look out for him.’
I couldn’t go to the trial and was thankful that my name was now Stephenson and not Fairweather. I’d lost touch with friends from school like Janey Mitchell so I had no explaining to do to anyone. I told all my new friends that Mummy and Daddy had died in a tragic accident.
It was some three years before I could face them. Despite my resolve to not get emotionally attached, I felt sorry for Mummy. She had lost face and was now, through Daddy’s terrible deeds, forced to live with some of most hardened women prisoners at HMP Bronzefield in Surrey. Daddy was at HMP Wakefield in West Yorkshire. Their travels were over, Daddy had played his last performance.