My children, especially my oldest daughter, had been through so much with a father who seemed incapable of putting them first, even for a moment, and a paternal grandmother who actually seemed to delight in digging the knife in and twisting it viciously. I never tried to shield them from the reality of the divorce. I felt that the best I could reasonably do would be to reassure them of my love and devotion to them and try to rebuild a strong family unit. I was so impressed by the way they all pulled together and the sacrifices they were prepared to make when our financial future was so uncertain.
When I got together with the man who was destined to become my husband, I wasn't sure what it would mean to my children They were very supportive and happy to see me so happy but would they feel that they would now have to share my time and my love? Would they be resentful or were their hearts big enough and undamaged enough to let someone else in? As he was living and working in Switzerland at this time I wasn't even sure how our relationship could work in a practical sense and whether he would be up to the challenge of being a father figure to another man's children. I was particularly sensitive to this after their own father had told them that if they could not accept and respect his girlfriend, he wouldn't bother with them.
This man was not a stranger. He was an old friend I had known at University many years before. I showed the children photos of us together. They laughed at my eighties hairstyle and how chubby I was.
They met him briefly when he brought me home from our romantic Paris break, when friendship first blossomed into love. They had some contact on MSN but the first occasion they actually got to spend any time with him was when he booked a short holiday for us all in a Bed and Breakfast in Lancing, near Brighton where his parents live. My girls had no reservations about going on holiday with a man they barely knew. I like to believe it was because they had complete trust in me but it was more likely that the promise that we would be visiting the Dr Who exhibition on Brighton Pier was enough to overcome any objections!
Right from the start it was a wonderfully relaxed holiday that felt very natural. My youngest was won over immediately by his tireless willingness to play 'thumb wars' with her. The other girls were completely sold when they found out he had bought tickets for us all to see the Rat Pack Show at the Theatre Royal. He took them sailing. We visited his parents who were kind and lovely in the way that you would want grandparents to be.
The slightly eccentric lady running the B&B with her yappy little lapdog, Bijoux, insisted on calling him dad despite our initial attempts to correct her. She couldn't quite get her head round the idea that we were vegetarian so breakfast would consist of her bringing out a huge pan of beans and slopping them on our plates with a bit of toast. It was sitting round that breakfast table with a glorious view of the seagulls on Lancing beach and the waves beyond with our ever attentive host yielding her ladle and asking More beans for dad? that I realised, without any doubt, that we could be a family.