Christina Franks

Christina Franks, also known as Reprobate Mum, her blog documenting the trials and tribulations of bringing up children on the autism spectrum has attracted over 100,000 views and attention from across the world. She lives in East London with three children, a pug, and her somewhat beleaguered other half.

A former journalist, she’s written for the Sunday Times Magazine, Marie Claire, La Reppublica, The Huffington Post and Mumsnet as well as a host of other online publications about everything from relationships to money, parenting to sex and mental health. She  has other draft works in progress, including a parenting guide for rebel parents, and a novel about social media entitled ‘Status Anxiety’.

Christina Franks 07866623464

Links to published work:


Chapter 1 

On top of the world

April 2016

Are you in Bangkok tomorrow? So am I! Staying on Sukhumvit Road, not far from your show. What are the chances of catching up? Arriving after 3 local time. Hope to see you.  X

The text irritated him. On his way to one of the most important meetings of his career – his life probably – Martin had other things on his mind. In particular, he hated demands on his time that came out of the blue and didn’t form part of his schedule, which he stuck to with ruthless efficiency.

Sure, he tried to pay attention to what people wanted from him, but he had too much going on in his own head; things no one but he really understood. Even as a schoolboy, he was dreaming up ways to solve problems most people didn’t realise existed. It was just that his dyslexia – though that didn’t exist when he was a boy – meant he’d sometimes struggled to get his ideas across. In post-war Chatsford’s brand new secondary modern – he’d failed his 11 plus – he’d never forgotten being told he was too thick to join the Science Club. 

Frowning at the in-flight magazine tucked into the capacious cocoon of his Club Mile airline seat, Martin leafed to the tech section where an article about his latest device caught his attention. Glimpsing at the headline – ‘The Sonic Stallion’ – he was greeted by a stock picture of himself from some point in the last decade, holding expensive glasses frames in a pose that managed to make him look both avuncular and erudite, bathed in a futuristic halo. He was pleased with the images displaying his new ‘affordable’ range through an ultraviolet filter – phallic in shape, yet sleek with details inspired by the latest top-of-the-range Audi, or, latterly Tesla – cars to which he once aspired, but from which he now acquired speeding tickets at an alarming rate on the rare occasions he found himself on the M20. 

Yes, Martin had come a long way from Chatsford. Mostly, these days, that meant the Far East – on a plane, or in a skyscraper or a luxurious hotel. It was how he liked it: the obsequious service; the automatic deference toward tall, male members of his race; the chance to talk about the things he loved to people who wanted to know about them; the occasional brush with fans: the tech nerds – weirdy beardies who bought the latest gadget unquestioningly, and earnest youths whose exhaustive knowledge of product specifications reminded him of his younger self. He winced at the memory of Mr Blunt’s scathing assessment of the juvenile rocket designs he’d created back in fourth year. Wonkily drawn with enforced wrong-handedness, he was finally able to admit, 55 years on, they looked not unlike a Blue Peter-designed vibrator. Still, he thought, had it actually been built, that rocket could have put the first hamster on the moon. 

Now, on his way to present his new idea to none other than Escher Ericsson, the charismatic genius behind Vector Avionics, he had the chance to prove himself to be in the same league as his hero, never be made to feel stupid again. 

Sat on the runway – where was he, Dubai? – his irritation grew. These stop-offs were just a way of herding the masses through the glistening monuments to commerce that passed as shopping malls in this wretched part of the world. He didn’t know why they bothered: those chicken-class dolts en route to Bangkok looking for cheap sex and better weather couldn’t afford anything he made. 

These days, he’d rather not step out of the air conditioning for a second. And those lucky enough to turn left, rather than being shunted off the plane, were simply offered more champagne. He stretched his bulk into the dove grey leather of his airline seat. At just under six foot, his socked feet could only just reach the seat in front. He watched as the hostess with the cute rear flashed her manicured smile at him, only to draw the curtains onto First Class, a luxury to which he treated himself only to keep Suki happy. For everyday travel, it really was a rip-off. But from the cabin ahead, the tangy scent of whatever they were serving those further along made his stomach grumble. 

He summoned the hostess – this one had mild acne and just the hint of a moustache – and requested a bag of pretzels and a light beer. She eventually returned, brandishing a Bud Light and a ‘fun’ size bag of wasabi peas. Temporarily appeased, he tried to content himself by scrolling through the in-flight movie selection as the trolley progressed painfully down the rows, but none could hold his attention for more than a few minutes. 

Oh he’d spoiled her – Suki – bringing her home from Korea after a two-week courtship, along with Si-hoon and Ji-seul, who he’d valiantly brought up as his own – and who he was still forking out for long into their mid-20s. She didn’t appreciate what he’d done for them anymore; was always screaming down the phone at him when she didn’t get her own way. Right from the start, she’d stopped him seeing the girls – he’d had to sneak around to meet them. But then she fell pregnant, shortly after Lotte announced she was having his first grandchild, which put her nose out of joint. She’d written that bitchy letter calling Suki a gold-digger, which caused all sorts of problems. Lotte never had known when to keep her trap shut.

But then Luna was born, and he’d had someone new to spoil for a while. Sure, she had her moments of being a little madam, now she was a precocious 11-year old. The hormones were starting to make her head spin. He recognised it from those dreadful days when his girls were teenagers. He’d suffered enough of Suki’s hormones of late, just as he’d suffered Sue’s before her. She’d reached ‘that time’. He shuddered.  They may be peachy in their youth, these women, he thought, but they don’t half curl up like dry leaves when they hit a certain age.

“Good day sir.” The smiling hostess approached, head bowed, offering a bottle of Bollinger wrapped in a white napkin. “Would you like drink?” Her teeth twinkled at him becomingly.

He leered back at her with what he considered a winning smile, declining the Champagne with a wave of his freckled hand. 

“I’ll take a Diet Coke” he said, enunciating as only a Brit abroad could do.“What’s on the menu?” he added, suggestively. “Do you have pork?” he asked, chortling inwardly at his poor-taste joke.

“Not today sir…” The hostess responded, understanding he was teasing her, but not quite knowing how.

“We have steak with peppercorn salsa and a green salad served with wild rice,” she said, in a gentle tonal lisp, “or fried noodles with Shitake mushrooms and plum sauce. For dessert, we have chocolate and green tea mousse with raspberry coulis or fruit salad.”

“I bet you’re a bit fruity,” he persevered, hoping to elicit a giggle, and she obediently concealed her grimace with a demurely gloved hand, making glancing eye contact with the less attractive hostess pushing the trolley from behind. He gave up trying to flirt and, considering his blood pressure and the effect it was having on his love life, ordered the steak and fruit salad, tapping his knee impatiently while admiring the hostesses’ pert posterior as she bent to fetch his tray.

Tucking into chewy beef and waterlogged rice, he found himself thinking of the Suki he’d fallen head over heels with 12 years ago: creamy, almost flawless skin, and her taut, perfect little breast implants. Like creme caramels they were. Not a patch on Kath’s, size-wise – she’d been a fine-looking woman in her prime: solid, with sturdy thighs and a good, apple-shaped handful. Sue’s were pendulous and crêpey even in her heyday back when they’d met in the mid 80s; but neither had Sukis’ firm yet pleasing wobble. He sighed again. They spent more time in Korea these days, no doubt being fondled by whoever she was having a grubby little affair with. She must be seeing someone. She was spending more and more of her time, and his money, over there – taking Luna away in the school holidays. But no matter. It meant he could make the most of his increasingly frequent business trips.

The smiling hostess broke his reverie with the offer of coffee, her grin now fixed and dilated; the poor quality beans acrid amid the scent of businessmen’s sweat. He waved her on. Didn’t she know the water tanks in these planes have more bacteria than the loo seats? He’d read that in the New Scientist. But then, calling her back, he requested another beer, which she fetched with saccharine grace. 

The scurrying attention of fawning attendants. That’s what success bought you. He envied the oligarchs and businessmen who would drop into his shows with no time to dither over a purchase, but who wanted only the best: attendants at their beck and call making the arrangements and beautiful women wafting expensively in their wake. 

Of his success – and it was only just paying dividends now – he was justly proud. Like many men who’d grown up in ‘decent’ working class homes of his era, he was driven to value financial success above all else –  he remembered dear old Mum in her floral pinny literally crying over spilled milk. It was an era when treats were confined to a dozen sweets on Sundays, and shoes were always worn through. His elder brother Pete and sister Jacquie – God, she was a size, now!– with a decade or more between them – would pinch the crusts off his plate, no matter how Betty stretched the lard ration. He felt a sudden yearning for his mother’s baking, swiftly replaced by an image of her haggard face dusted with white hairs, morphined into oblivion at Medgate General. He shuddered. It was kinder she went that way, he justified. He’d had so little time to visit her in the end, once the Supakings – frugally smoked, half at a time – finally got Dad.

Oh, how his family disappointed him. Take his first wife, Kathleen, 8 years older, American. They’d met at a conference about semi-conductors; she writing for a trade magazine; he, just 22; browsing with a view to use them in his designs. Bowled over by his boyish enthusiasm for things she put into easy-to-read phrases without ever truly understanding them, and on the rebound from an affair with a dashing member of the American political class, Kath accepted when he’d proposed after two weeks. She spent the following six years complaining that British fridges were smaller than dog kennels. And then she’d deserted him. For his boss. Dennis. The monster. 

How could he not be the hero of that story? After all, he’d battled the courts to keep their two young daughters, putting up with all sorts: character assassinations and threats; having to work his way up from nothing – no job, only Mum and Dad to help out while he got back on his feet – until he met Sue of course. That was the family legend he’d handed down – and who could unpick the details now, what, nearly 40 years on? And he’d been vindicated. A man in his twenties winning custody in the 80s? Unheard of. He’d successfully avoided speaking to Kath for the entire duration of their daughters’ childhoods – an achievement he ranked almost as highly as his many accolades and industry awards. 

And now, Dennis was dead. Had been for, what was it, 10 years? A stroke, ironically,  robbing that gargoyle of voice and strength for his final decade. How Martin had chuckled when he found out. And now, even Kathleen was fat and old, despite her myriad attempts to hold back the years, living in Florida with some loud-mouthed nonentity who’d been foolish enough to marry her twice….

But then, Martin didn’t think of them much at all, these ghosts from his former life – except to consider how he’d done better than them all. He’d become, as he always said he would, rich enough to do what he pleased. Yet, though he now had more than his third wife could easily spend, Martin’s nagging financial anxiety was never quite sated. Having just forked out to buy Suki’s eldest daughter and her layabout boyfriend a London flat, his liquidity was, at present, being tested. No doubt it was a good investment, if he could get Ji-seul to pay some rent. It was just Suki kicked up such a fuss when he put his foot down. And while he used to like it when she was demanding it made him feel like a man these days, he just couldn’t be bothered to put up a fight. 

But with business finally booming, he, at least, wasn’t going to turn into his father – an old man at 60, who barely lifted a finger to do anything but watch Countdown. His own arthritis might be troubling him, but Martin had more up his sleeve than a hanky and a remote control. So much more, he pondered whether getting a quickie divorce might be prudent in the short-term. But then, he wasn’t really in it for the money. No. This was really going to change the world. It could make him famous – he could be the next Edison; the next Marconi; maybe even bigger than Musk…

He looked at his watch. This time tomorrow he’d meet Ericsson, his hero, with a chance to pitch his invention to Vector Avionics, the technology company capturing the public’s imagination with its battery powered plane designs. Escher would understand the revolutionary potential of his product, Martin thought,  with its implications for reshaping the world economy and saving the planet from the spectre of global warming. He just had to prove it worked – and for that he needed investment. He dabbed at his domed skull with the handkerchief he kept in his jacket pocket for this sole purpose

The problem with Suki, and all of these bloomin’ women, he realised rather too late, is that they just didn’t recognise him for the genius he was, for all they were happy enough to stroke his ego when he was giving them things. Still, what with Suki’s English being hit-and-miss, even after 12 years in the UK – it would be nice to talk to someone about his new invention.

He turned back to the text that had popped up amid temporary Wi-Fi access, wondering how on earth his daughter knew he was going to be in Bangkok, breathed a deep sigh and stabbed at the dancing letters with an arthritic forefinger:

Yes wd be gr8 to see you. Let me no when you’ll arrive. Will call with deets. 

The engines roared and he considered how he was going to tally the day’s meetings with getting enough sleep, and still have the energy for dinner tonight. Business is so much more straightforward than pleasure, he thought. I’ve just got so much to do, and so little time to do it. He’d just turned 70, after all.


They’d picked a place in downtown Sukhumvit, not too far from the airport; not too expensive, but glitzy enough – with a tastefully decorated suite and rooftop pool – to impress Jonah after his first long haul. It was quite by chance, Googling her father one boring day at work, that Lotte’d noticed he’d be at a show at a hotel down the road the day they arrived. It seemed like fate – that Dad was going to be in the same place at the same time, half way around the world. Given how bad things had got between them, it might be a good opportunity to make amends without Suki getting in the way. 

The trip, which Tom had thought through with his usual attention to detail, had been months in the planning. Arranging to meet up with Dad halfway round the world on top of everything else would be tricky, given how difficult he could be. Travelling with Jonah could be a challenge at the best of times, and Lotte’d fretted about how he’d cope with it all. It wasn’t so long since small changes in his routine caused him to melt down, and trying new things could often result in a tantrum of epic proportions. But things were getting much better of late with Jonah. And it turns out, he was fine on the plane – he watched a few movies, enjoyed the in-flight food with its plastic compartments and sachets, played game after game of ‘Jump’ on his phone just like he did at home, and only kicked the seat in front once when he lost. 

Lotte’s journey wasn’t nearly so smooth, despite the surprisingly comfy economy cabin. Since becoming a mother 11 years ago, she’d developed a healthy fear of being off the ground. And, without full access to the drinks trolley to soothe her nerves, she couldn’t sleep much with Jonah – long-limbed and fidgety – squirming in the seat next to her. But it was when they finally landed in Bangkok that she really started to lose her cool. With half a day’s time difference, and half a lifetime since she’d last visited, she had little idea what to expect. The text, sent on a whim before setting her phone to airplane mode,  had surprised herself with its off the cuff boldness. She had little expectation he’d clear his diary in order to see her. So when she connected to the airport wi-fi she was surprised – and not a little stressed – that he’d texted back to say that he would.

Of course, the traffic was chocker – past the multifaceted high rises that had crept up like stalagmites since her last visit, over 15 years ago. On newly constructed flyovers, pick-ups pressed bumper to bumper with flamingo-pink taxis. Things had changed since decorative auto-rickshaws, strung with flowers and idols, dominated the narrow detritus-strewn streets, which now seemed incapable of coping with the changing pace of the infrastructure towering above. 

They arrived at their hotel – a pleasant, relatively squat building on a nondescript side turning –  later than planned, and were greeted with friendly Thai hospitality they’d read about in the guide book: florescent satsuma and papaya mocktails served with deep wais – the head-bowing prayer gesture used in greeting, making them all feel like royalty. No wonder Dad likes it here, she  thought, grimly, as they were taken by a uniformed bellhop to their room for the night – a stopover en route to an island-hopping destination where they could indulge Jonah’s love of rock climbing. But rather than relax and enjoy the views across the burgeoning cityscape and the chic, comfortable East-meets-West rooms, Lotte instead connected immediately to the hotel wifi, beginning to fret when she saw a series of increasingly urgent texts and several missed calls from an unknown number. 

Let me know when your ready for collecting from your hotel. Don’t worry it won’t be a Tuc Tuc…

read the first text, along with two pictures of her father, looking noticeably trimmer in a dark suit,  accepting an award from two scantily overdressed Thai ladies.

Lotte, I’m holding a car for you

I forgot Tom’s surname… the driver just needs your name – senior moment

Shit Tom,” Lotte said,  “Dad’s waiting for us and he doesn’t sound happy… let me try and call him…”

But even with the long international dial tone, it took a while for the call to be picked up. 

“Hello – Dad? 

“Hello Lotte. Are you here?

“Yes – touched down a couple of hours ago. Just got to the hotel. Sorry, it’s later than I said – there were delays and the traffic’s been terrible…”

“Don’t worry”, her father said, in a pitch that failed to conceal his irritation. He’d probably been at a show all day – no doubt, she justified, he’d covered more time zones than them over the past few days. “I’ll send a Limousine”. 

“Oh, erm, wow. Okay. I guess we’ll need half an hour to get ready – is that alright?”

Call swiftly over, she began to frantically change from travelling clothes into an ensemble she’d cobbled together three nights before, hastily packing while working from home. She looked at herself under the luminescent lighting: plain strappy black dress – too tight on her post-flight bloat – a coral wrap, and sparkly sandals. Pale with sleep deprivation against her pre-holiday eyebrow tint, with dark shadows under eyes, she knew she looked far from her best. She dabbed at her makeup, glancing critically at her ski-slope profile duplicated into infinity in the reflected mirrors. 

“God, I look fat already,” she moaned. But as always, Tom told her how lovely she looked. 

She looked at him: his kind, crinkly face with its unfathomable year-round tan, wearing a too-loud shirt bought at a supermarket during a particularly broke patch.  

“Why are you wearing that?,” Lotte asked, unable to help herself from nitpicking as she tried to find something suitably smart for Jonah to wear amid a stack of beachwear. She’d not quite forgotten the explosive row they’d had just a few nights ago, one of several that had taken their toll over the last year. If anyone needs a holiday, she thought, feeling exhausted all of a sudden, it’s us. We should make the most of it. And then, at his bewildered expression she softened.

“Sorry. Thanks,” she smiled. It’s lucky my bile washes over him most of the time, she thought, guiltily. Perhaps I need to go a bit easier on him.  And then, muttering half to herself, “I guess I should appreciate being able to fit this while I can.”  

 “Of course he’d send a Limo,” she added, louder and more sarcastically. “Trying to show off to Jonah.”

Tom raised his eyebrows in agreement. “Oh, let him.” he said, in his conciliatory way. “Your dad’s obviously trying to be nice. Don’t let him get to you.” 

But the “Limo”, when it arrived was little more than a black Lexus. And the ten minute journey Lotte had factored from their hotel to Martin’s took nearly an hour through the grinding traffic, with her managing her father’s expectations all the way in a series of frantic texts.


Won’t be long. We’re not far but traffic slow


As the overcast heat faded into dusk, they finally reached an imposing hotel frontage. Stood on the grand staircase leading up to the lobby was a man resembling Lotte’s father, nodding graciously to the staff scurrying round him like he was a Titan. Despite the humidity, he wore a cashmere sweater thrown casually around his shoulders over his typical uniform of blue shirt and chinos. But his bald-since-youth hairline was now severely cropped at the back, making him look less like the friendly brother of an East Enders thug – as had once been the family joke – but more like their successful mafia overlord. Newly darkened eyebrows and a trimmed beard completed an altogether more sinister look, and as he walked down the stairs to greet them, he limped noticeably. 

Ushering them out of the car, and handing the driver a wad of notes, he seemed cheerful enough given how long he’d been kept waiting. But habitually impatient, he hurried them along as Lotte remembered him to Jonah, hiding behind his fringe, shyness augmented by the lack of a good night’s sleep. Tom, speaking in a more well rounded voice than usual, grinned politely. Lotte felt he looked mildly ridiculous in his garish shirt and holiday shorts in the gilt-accented foyer, amid the gleaming marble and fresh orchids, while her polyester frock, which had begun to chafe in the soupy heat felt suddenly cheap and thin in the lobby’s crisp air. She pulled her wrap around her, hoping no one noticed it was torn in places, with a tatty fringe where she’d put it through a wash to save on dry cleaning. 

But Martin was manoeuvring them into the elevator taking them, to Lotte at least, rather too swiftly up 50 odd floors to ‘his club’, where he waved them past the twin receptionists in Thai-style dress seated behind a heavy wooden desk into an elegant penthouse lounge where western businessmen lolled on low seating with much younger, mainly Asian women, and what few children were there were chided by matrons keen to keep their young charges under control. Lotte looked at Jonah, fidgeting in his collared shirt, with a sense of rising panic as they walked into the chandelier-strung dining area. 

Here, an extensive buffet was laid out. Sides of Kobe beef jostled with delicate black cod sashimi and iced oysters. Barbecued skewers of chicken, and scallops were cooked to order; salads of all kinds – Greek, Waldorf or Tricolour – were presented next to a comprehensive cheeseboard and every type of confection: layered jellies, mousses, petit fours, unknown fruits – spiky and smooth, great jars of sweets –

“Have whatever you like,” Martin gestured indulgently at the array behind him, and to the waiter, “we’ll have a bottle of the, um, what would you recommend​? Yes, the Latour.”

“Oh, you guys go ahead… I’ll maybe join you later…” Lotte lied badly, floundering at the first hurdle. Distracting her overwhelmed son from the luxurious spread with the promise of lemonade, she asked the waiter for a fresh lime and sparkling water.

“So, how are you?” Martin asked. It had, after all, been over a year since they’d last met –

that horrific family barbecue when Lotte had got so upset over, of all things, Luna’s crop top. She’d been made to wear vest until she was a teenager, no matter how sweltering it was.

“Not bad. You look well,” Lotte said, warmly. “You’re looking slim,” she fibbed, “which is more than I can say about myself…” She fished for a compliment that was not forthcoming.

“Well, you always did go up and down like a yo-yo.” 

She was so used to Martin’s lack of tact she, for once, allowed it to wash over her, though Tom gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

“You’ve done something different with your hair,” she added, with just a touch of irony given how little he had to do anything with.

“Ah, it had to go.” He said, smoothing the shine off his now totally bald head. “Business over here’s a young man’s game”, he explained. “If they think you’re old, you don’t even get a look in. They’ll think you’re past it…” He laughed as if this was an impossibility, displaying a set of grey slanting teeth.

“And how’s Luna and, um, everybody?”

“Oh, you know, pretty good, I think. Luna’s at secondary school now. Growing up fast – too fast, really. To be honest, she spends so much time with her friends – going into town… the cinema and that – I barely see her these days.”

Inwardly, Lotte seethed at the relative freedom he afforded his third daughter. She’d so rarely been allowed to just hang out with friends – what few she’d had. Any forays into adulthood had to be done sneakily, like the time she told Sue and Dad she was only going for a sleepover with the girl next door, but went clubbing instead.

“I think she’s getting picked on a bit at school…” Martin continued. 

Lotte couldn’t resist a victorious thrill that,  despite being her father’s golden child, Luna still suffered a familiar set of problems. Nodding, she composed her face into the neutral smile of empathy. “It’s hard, going to that school and living in that big house.” She herself had been teased at school for being posh because the house in which she grew up – all mock Georgian yellow-bricked grandeur: automatic gates and faux-Grecian columns holding up the porch. “It makes you a bit of target with the Medgate chavs.”

“Oh, she doesn’t go to Medgate Secondary. She’s at Middlesford Girls.”

She choked back a shock of resentment. Lotte knew the school – She’d longed to go there as a teenager – an exclusive private establishment set in a country estate near Middlesford Spa that she’d once taken scholarship entrance exams for, but in the end, even back then, Dad earned too much for her get a funded place. “Well that’s nice for her.” She took a small swig of Tom’s wine. He flashed her a warning glance.

“Well…” her father caught her resentful look and shrugged, apologetically. He couldn’t  afford to pay for it, he’d told her back then, and that had been that.

“Jonah’s started secondary school too.” She composed herself, thinking of the inner city comprehensive he attended where, before the holiday, she’d been hauled in front of the head of year after he’d tipped a desk over in detention. “Doing really well… when he wants to…” she trailed off, hoping her father would ask a bit more. 

But even now, Martin barely acknowledged his grandchild, who, wide-eyed at the abundance on display, barely knew where to look. They were all unused to luxury on this scale. On any scale really. The past few years had seen them scale back extravagances to the minimum. As they dropped down the socio-economic scale from Waitrose to Lidl, Lotte learned to penny-pinch the likes of which Tom’s mum, who re-used her tea bags and lived on 5 p.m. supermarket discounts, would be proud. Now, the hotel’s opulence felt almost stifling and Lotte needed a breather. She stood up to take Jonah over to the buffet to try and find something he’d eat amid the complicated offerings on display. She helped Jonah to sushi and cold meats, ignoring his protests at having to start with something savoury, returning to the table with her own plate half-empty, before allowing him to pile his plate high with puddings. 

“Is that all you’re having?” her father said, sounding disappointed, just as he had in childhood when she failed to finish her dinner.

“I think I just need to get something simple. I’m feeling a bit woozy after all the travelling…” 

“You okay?” Tom whispered to her, meaningfully.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” She threw him a tight smile. “Just, you know, a bit tired.”

Pleasantries apparently over, Martin began to talk about how well his business was going, and how excited he was about his latest project: a top-secret invention – something to do with wires – that he said would change the world.

“Whatever you do, though”, Martin cautioned, “you mustn’t tell anyone. If this gets out, it could be copied by a competitor before we have a chance to get it off the ground, which could lose us our advantage.”

Who would we tell? thought Lotte, nodding along with Tom to the complexity of Martin’s descriptions about copper particles and carbon nanotubes, barely absorbing a word. 

“Honestly, Lotte, if I can get the investment I need for this new project, the whole family will benefit,” he was saying, in the voice he used when he wanted to be taken seriously. But she’d heard it all before. The grandiose claims, the unfulfilled promises. She humoured her father for a minute.

“So, how much do you need to get this thing off the ground?” asked Tom, suddenly businesslike.

“About a billion pounds.”

Lotte choked slightly on her fizzy water. “And how are you going to find that?”

“We can raise the capital. Business is going well. Turnover’s several million a year.” 

She side-eyed Tom again, this time in exhilarating anger at the handwringing economies and sacrifices they’d made over the years. There’d simply never been any help from Martin, even when things had been tough. It was Tom’s thrifty mum Pat who’d bailed them out and paid their mortgage when Tom lost his job shortly after Jonah was born. Sure, there’d been the odd extravagant treat – the Christmas spent in a manor house hotel where they’d tried to play happy families until everyone had too much to drink; the lavish, poorly chosen gifts he’d sent over the years, like the expensive Hornby train set he’d bought eclipsing the plastic one they’d already given Jonah, during his two-year obsession with anything that ran round a track.  

  “That reminds me,” Martin said, twinkling suddenly with his old Father Christmas jollity, “I put some money in your account…” 

“Oh”, she looked at him stunned, simultaneously pulled by Jonah’s insistent tugs, her built up resentment violently deflated. “You shouldn’t have… we’re really okay… Tom’s job’s going well now, and I’m earning okay – we’re back on our feet…” She looked up at Tom, who was as speechless as she was. For all they’d kept up appearances, Tom was only just now earning what he had done a decade ago after years in and out of contract roles, and Lotte lived in fear of being made redundant. But she was proud that everything she’d achieved – a home, a family, a job even if she didn’t love it – she’d achieved on her own, or at least with Tom. It was just that what she’d gone through before she met him didn’t bear thinking about – she could never forgive her father for that. 

“See it as a belated Christmas gift. Things are going well and it’s time to start enjoying it”

A tax write-off more like, she thought, cynically. But she said, with cut-glass formality, a reprisal of awkward teenage Christmases where she’d thanked him so formally for lavish gifts that so rarely met her needs, “It’s really very kind of you….” 

Martin batted it away.

Yet all the while her fingers twitched, longing to check the balance on her phone. But there was no signal this high up.

Suddenly she welled up. Maybe she was being unfair. He was her dad Daddy – after all. Perhaps he’d just waited until he could give her something without Suki finding out? She’d always been so controlling of him, refusing to let Dad see her without accompanying him, as if Lotte was some kind of threat. But then, she’d only ever heard his side of the story, what with Suki’s English being what it was… Lotte tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. But it made her blood boil to see her posing online, swathed in designer clothes, or going on expensive holidays with her three kids, all bankrolled by her father. 

But then, could she really blame Suki? It was up to Dad what he did with his money, and if that meant making poor decisions, well that was up to him. And Jesus, she thought, we’ve all been there at one time or another. Made practical choices for our own reasons, good or bad.  He can’t have been easy to be married to, however spurious her reasons might have been when she met him. At least she’s stuck it out for, what, 15 years now? 

Steeling herself amid her internal turmoil, she went over to Martin to give him a hug. His scent was so familiar – comforting as only a father’s can be – but as usual, he bristled, turning his face away, patting her shoulder awkwardly, as he had done since she was a teenager.

“You’re alright. Well, anyway, let’s get some more food. More wine, Tom?”

“Why the devil not?” Tom, to Lotte’s annoyance, had acquired a bottle and a half’s flamboyance. And she was surprised to see her normally abstemious father drinking so quickly.

  “Don’t overdo it – we’ve got a flight to catch in the morning!” she warned.

Ignoring Lotte’s protests, Martin summoned the waiter and began ordering another bottle of wine wine and food – Thai chicken skewers, bowls of skinny fries, mocktails and ice cream for Jonah, who, like Lotte, was starting to flag. Having grown increasingly restless amid all the business chatter, he suddenly let loose an almighty shriek: “Muuum! For crying out loud, when are we going swimming? You promised!”

Hushing him and looking around embarrassedly at the suddenly silent dining room, she remembered her promise to investigate the rooftop pool. 

“Go on then” she relented, at Jonah’s increasingly insistent tugs and whispers: “go and take a look. I’ll be out in a few minutes. Get changed if you want, but don’t get into the water without me!” The time when, exhausted and at the end of her tether, she let her guard down when he was younger was seared on her memory. She followed him swiftly out to the marble clad, jasmine scented changing rooms, where deep pile towels were rolled and arranged into neat rounded pyramids, eased herself into the chic black costume she’d brought along specially and looked at herself in the mirror: breasts uncomfortably exposed by costume’s low cut style, belly rounder than it should have been. She sighed at herself. At least, she thought, it was dark outside.

Trying to relax and enjoy herself, she joined her son splashing around in the lamplit lagoon. Briefly, in the heat of the night, she soaked up the high rise luxury amid the backdrop of shimmering buildings, a dystopian skyscape that summed up her sense of dislocation, and tried to feel grateful just to be there. But with Jonah jumping a little too close for comfort – at one point, kicking her sharply in the gut eliciting a scream and a harsher reprimand than usually she’d dole out in public – she got out again quickly, girding herself against the inevitable comment about her fluctuating weight. She felt her father’s eyes scan her body, unseen since childhood, boring a hole into a previously unknown tattoo. She flung woven grey towels about herself, hastily pulling her dress over her costume, barely damp against the moist heat of the evening. Joining the others lounging on the rattan poolside seating, she summoned Tom, making noises about started to making a move before the evening – and their holiday – spun out of control. 

“I think we should head off soon. Don’t want to spoil the holiday. But it’s been lovely to see you…” 

But by then, Martin was regaling Tom with stories about life in what he called ‘the fast lane’.

“It’s like when you go past a certain wealth barrier, you’re part of this secret club where the usual rules don’t apply any more,” he told them gleefully, as Lotte cringed while he talked about smoking weed with the Bangkok chief of police, or worse; taking pills with women he met in Karaoke bars, or, as Lotte suspected, go-go clubs. It was as if she were the disapproving parent, and  she smarted at his hypocrisy. He’d been so fiercely anti-drugs; anti-swearing, anti-anything that allowed her to grow up when Lotte was young – losing it completely with her when he’d discovered her smoking tea she’d rolled up in a fag paper with a friend; confining her to her room when she got her ears pierced on a school trip to France; kicking her out when she snuck away from home for a night to spend with her first boyfriend.

She simply couldn’t understand why he felt the need to tell her this – perhaps it was just drunken honesty? What was the saying – ‘in vino veritas‘? And lord know, Dad couldn’t hold his booze. Or was it the bragging of a man who’d not had enough fun in his youth? But there was more to it than that, Lotte reasoned. He wanted to punish her for something. The thing that gives young women power over young men, and over which they can spend the rest of their lives getting their own back. 

“In fact, there’s someone in my room I’d like to introduce you to…” 

Lotte caught her breath. She had no desire to meet a hooker, and, though she tried not to judge women who commoditised their sexuality – it was often the only power they had. But this tiny chink into the state of her father’s private life was something with which she’d rather not involve herself. After all, until recently, his relationship with Suki was so inviolable Martin would accept no criticism of her spendthrift habits or divide and conquer politics.

Suddenly, the food and the cocktails and the heat; the dizzying heights and the lack of a good night’s sleep started to impinge upon her like the glare of a spotlight and she fanned herself furiously in the oppressive air – the wave of nausea she’d suppressed all evening erupted like magma, and the mocktail she’d been nursing repeated down the crisp white tablecloth and onto the teak poolside decking. Tom snapped out of his haze to fetch napkins and help mop her up the shock of grapefruit against the virgin linenn, but Martin had gone puce, looking at his daughter in disgust.

“What’s the matter with you, Lotte? I thought you said you weren’t drinking!”

“I’m not. I haven’t been. I… I’m… having another baby.” 

They’d barely even acknowledged it to themselves – the ball of cells which even now, was gathering consciousness, had exploded onto their horizon only days before. Two unexpected lines on a test bought on a hunch had thrown their once-in-a-decade holiday into jeopardy, scrambling to see what their options were before they left, and locked in terse negotiations ever since about a decision upon which their futures hung ever since. With Lotte’s mood ricochetting from wildly optimistic to unconsolable tears, and Tom flatly in denial, she’d felt as though their new found freedom was imploding into a slowly unfolding nightmare. 

She sat up, her cheeks burning as the waiters gathered round, assuming, no doubt, she was just another drunk Westerner.  

“Oh, well, congratulations, ” Martin said, curving his mouth into an indulgent smile, the detritus cleared away. “Of course, I’d guessed really, when you said you weren’t drinking –  and you can tell… when you went for a swim…” he motioned to Lotte’s stomach, which she’d concealed under her coral-coloured wrap. “When’s it due?”

“It’s a bit early for congratulations yet,” she retorted, flustered by the confirmation she was showing already. “We’ve only just found out. We don’t know what we’re doing… whether we’re going to … you know, keep it.” It felt hideous even saying it out loud.

“Don’t be silly – it’ll be alright. It’s lovely news! So my gift has come at just the right time.” Suddenly he sounded more like the father she remembered.

“I don’t know, Dad,” she countered. “It’s not been easy with Jonah,” she looked over at her son, still doing swan dives in the pool. “Shake those dice again, and you just don’t know what’s you’re going to get…” She thought back to Jonah’s gale force tantrums that far exceeded toddlerhood, and years of challenges that resulted in his autism diagnosis, something Martin had described as ‘semi-scientific mumbo jumbo’ which hadn’t existed when he was a boy.

“Well, like I say, life’s going to get better for all of us once I get this project off the ground. You won’t have to worry anymore. This is going to be worth billions.”

Suddenly, Lotte just wanted it to be true. For her father to be her childhood hero, swooping in to solve all her problems. Then she remembered the picture he’d sent of himself with the scantily clad women, and feeling sick again, she decided it was definitely time to say goodbye. 

“Don’t forget to check your account,” Martin said as she got up to leave.

“I won’t. Thank you so much. It’s so kind of you, and yes, good timing, I suppose, all things considered…”

“Just don’t tell anyone,” he said. “Especially not Suki.”

“Of course I won’t. I never speak to her…”

“I know, it’s just….”

“I won’t say anything…” she replied, conscience pricking at becoming complicit in whatever tissue of lies he was weaving. But thinking of the cash she’d bled out of her dad over the years, Lotte’s heart hardened a little. She gave Martin an awkward pat on the arm. “Anyway it was good to see you looking so… “ she waded through the sand of her tiredness for the right word, “…successful.”

 They stood up to leave, and Martin walked them to the foyer and as she said her final goodbye, she turned to watch her father’s rounded shoulders and unsteady gait as he walked away,  and found she was crying.