After everything we’ve been through with E, I really thought we’d seen it all.  We’ve had a secret marriage, a year of no child support and mortgage defaults, a complete refusal to communicate with me, at all, about anything ever (including messages regarding his child’s mental health crisis), we’re also resigned to the fact that he’s now not seen any of his children for over two years and this is unlikely to change. I honestly thought there was nothing left that he could do that would surprise me.

Well, that serves me right.

Back in December we were all on a lovely even keel.  I’m finally doing a job I absolutely love (I work in the Learning Support Department at an Upper School), Oldest Daughter was up at St Andrews starting her PhD, Oldest Son was at Newcastle starting his maths degree, Youngest Son was starting his A Level Studies and Youngest Daughter was happily incubating grandchild number 2 (I KNOW – how brilliant is that?!).  I was already in what the kids call ‘Christmas Madre’ mode – decorating and planning Christmas (something of a challenge given that I’d received no child maintenance payments from E for the last two months, but I had a bit put by, so we were ok for this year) and (apart from the nagging anxiety re the child maintenance), E was almost 100% absent from our daily consciousnesses and we were all very happy with this.

One December morning, I woke up at 5am (I’m a very early riser) and checked my messages.  As I’m an early riser, I also go to bed fairly early (I have been known to retire at 7.30pm), I usually tell Youngest Son I’m going to bed ‘to read’ but the amused look in his eye says he’s not fooled and he knows I’ll be fast asleep within the next ten minutes, which means I do sometimes wake up to a volley of messages from the night before.  This particular morning there were about ten messages and they were all on the Group Chat that the kids and I share on WhatsApp. 

Feeling slightly apprehensive (lots of messages can mean there’s been a bit of banter but can also mean that someone’s had a problem), I opened the chat.  All of the messages were from Oldest Son, and they’d all been sent at around midnight the night before.  Oldest Son had done a search for his dad’s name (given the time he’d sent them, this was presumably after a night out) and saw that he’d discovered that E had appeared on the channel 4 show Countdown. He’d had found the episode link, the stats regarding his appearance and various other information about the episode on a fan site.  He’d sent screenshots of everything and a link to the episode.  E’s episode had been back in April, and Oldest Son asked “how tf did we not know about this?”  I think, behind all the banter that followed, was the fact that this brought home to the kids the extent to which E had estranged himself from them, meaning that they didn’t know anything about it.  This was funny (it was actually really funny to watch) but it was also a shock for them.

I was still digesting Oldest Son’s messages, when my phone pinged – Oldest Daughter was also awake.  Whilst Oldest Son had focussed on the score (to his delight E had lost quite spectacularly), Oldest Daughter honed in on the fact that he’d met Susie Dent, and then asked “why is this more shocking than finding out he got married?” adding “this provides so much material for my ongoing absent father set”.  The chat continued with Oldest Son noting that “signing up for a famously intellectual TV show and losing 102-53 is such an E moment’ and Oldest Daughter gleefully saying that “people at Friday night drinks are gonna lap this shit up”.

In the meantime, I’d found the episode on All4, and, in between showering and getting ready for work, I watched it.

It was a strangely discombobulating experience.  Apart from the online lecture that was so gloriously disrupted by Youngest Daughter in 2019, I’ve barely heard E speak since he left in January 2017. I’ve only seen him in person twice since he left (once when he dropped the boys off – when I asked him if it was true he was married – he just said ‘sorry’ a few times and didn’t answer the question) and then at our court appearance couple of years later (where he didn’t even look at me).  So, seeing him and hearing him was in itself a really strange experience.  Firstly, how he sounded was a surprise.  I was expecting E’s assertive ‘look at me’ tones, but for some reason, on TV, whilst the same over-confident vocal inflection was there, his voice sounded subdued and tinny. He sounded like the stereotype of the accountants he explained that he trained (to Ann Robinson’s glee – she was quite keen to find out if he trained them to be interesting…). 

But it was how he looked that gave me a real shock. 

If the E that had had affairs and flirted with various students had been a bit of a Don Juan, the E that I was looking at (possibly because of his unfortunate choice of a khaki shirt and his new specs) was definitely more of a Don Estelle.  Unfortunately, for him, unlike Dorian Grey, E doesn’t have a portrait in the attic and he now looks like everything he is and everything he has done. Looking at him on TV, all I could see was a charisma-less little heap of a man and I couldn’t believe that someone like that, someone who seemed so oddly powerless and pathetic when confronted with Ann Robinson and a talented opponent in the form of the other contestant, had caused so much distress, so much hurt, so much pain.

There were a few delicious moments in the episode; I laughed out loud when the one of the guest presenters discussed being a parent to five children, and why she was determined to provide stability for her kids because of her upbringing in a single parent household, and wondered how E (also a parent to five children) had the brass neck not to blush or look at least a little ashamed, he then made up a couple of words – in a vain attempt to get the longest word – resulting in a fabulously low score (and a very unimpressed Susie Dent) and, despite a very quick solving of the conundrum at the end, he managed a decisive loss.

The kids were watching at the same time as me and I think they experienced a similar mix of pain and glee, but they dealt with it with their usual humour.  By now Youngest Daughter had woken up and was mostly refusing to believe what she was seeing – whilst sending video clips of what she was seeing – and Oldest Daughter was coming up with anagrams for us to solve (FEEDDATE, clue ‘make sure to feed your date or you’ll be…. DEFEATED’) and suggesting that her brothers make the most of their current hairlines because, if they take after their Dad, the future of their scalps is not bright… 

The day then went on as usual, but with all of us feeling just a bit off balance.  Oldest Daughter texted later to say she’d told one of the other PhD students about it and they’d laughed with her about it, but also commented that they’d assumed she didn’t have a dad from the way she talked about home – they thought she’d always been in a single parent household.  The next day, the Group Chat was back to our normal, with Youngest Son lamenting the fact he can see his breath on the air in the living room (rising energy bills plus no child maintenance payment means we can’t afford to put the heating on most days) and all of us speculating about snow, looking forward to Christmas and wondering if Youngest Daughter’s baby would come before or after Christmas Day. I had initially worried that this might cause a bit of a setback for everyone, but we soon went back to normal (with a whole new set of E jokes to refer to when needed).

For E this will doubtless join the lexicon of life failures that he talks about as if they were successes (for example, when he describes his Cambridge interview he neglects to mention that he didn’t get a place there).  This will become an “I was on Countdown you know” tale that will fail to explain that he lost by some margin). 

As for us, we’re still on our lovely even keel.  This has made me realise how far we’ve come. Whilst there’s still a lot of hurt that we all have to deal with, things like this don’t cause long term upset anymore (three or even two years ago it might have been very different).  We’ve all accepted what kind of person E is and know that we’re better off without him. This is just another thing that we’ll shelve in the ‘Unbelievable E Shit’ file, whilst getting on with our lives.


2 thoughts on “Countdown

  1. Oh, I found the episode! And E. Well, well, well. Watching soon.

    Honestly, they’re so full of it, these abandoning cheaters. Glad you guys are doing well. You’ve been through hell, but those kids are just fab. Well done. Hope your new grandie is doing well.


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