That first Sunday saw two further arrivals in Luz: my childhood friends Michelle and Nicky. Both wanted to be with me, and both were naturally very upset, for Madeleine and for me. Michelle, seeing my pain, struggled to contain her own emotions and needed support herself. Nicky’s empathy manifested itself in more practical ways – she was more likely to jump up and ask what she could do. Perhaps that was her way of coping. It was good to have them both there, even if it was just to hold them, or be held by them, when I needed it.Probably being phoned at 3am and told to pray had something to do with it
So grateful were we to have our nearest and dearest around us, we failed to notice that our ballooning party of supporters was becoming unwieldy. It took Alan Pike, who was keeping a watchful eye on us and our family and friends, to gently draw our attention to this situation. Alan was great at seeing and anticipating difficulties and at tackling them before they got out of hand.It seems to have been the one useful intervention he did make. I struggle to see what a large crowd of wailing relatives was going to achieve
Everyone had felt helpless at home and had rushed out to Portugal to take care of us and to do what they could to find Madeleine.Especially after being summonsed in the middle of the night
When they arrived, to their dismay they felt just as helpless – perhaps more so, having made the trip in the hope of achieving something only to discover it was not within their power in Luz any more than it had been in the UK. They wanted to be with us, and we wanted them with us, but the presence of so many loved ones, some of them in almost as bad a state as we were, was proving counter-productive.I'll be bloody surprised if he needed to point THAT out.
Alan pointed out that all our family and friends had their own needs but that ours, Gerry’s and mine, had to be paramount.
And we scarcely had the emotional resources to prop ourselves up, let alone anyone else. He planted in our minds the idea of reducing the size of our support group. Some people would be better off at home, he said, in their own surroundings and with their own support networks, and would also be better equipped to assist us from there. He felt, too, that we would function better ourselves within a more streamlined, focused team of helpers.Back on the bus, folks!
Listening to Alan, it all seemed so obvious. But of course, it left us with the problem of deciding who should go and who should remain, not to mention telling them. It was clear that our parents were struggling to cope and would have more help at home. Johnny, too, seemed like a fish out of water in Praia da Luz. Michelle was very distressed and had two babies in Liverpool who needed her. After giving the matter some thought, we agreed we would ask Trisha, Sandy, Michael and Nicky to stay on. But I was dreading raising the issue for fear of offending anyone.I'm saying nothing.....
When it came to talking about it, however, we discovered that Alan, who had spent time with our friends and family as well as with us, had already broached this subject with them, which made it all much easier. Having said that, we ended up getting down to the nitty-gritty rather earlier than anticipated – that Sunday evening, in fact – and not in the way we had planned, either. Gerry had gone round to one of the other apartments our party was occupying, where apparently something was said that annoyed him, precipitating the discussion we’d intended to hold in a rather calmer atmosphere.So Madeleine goes missing on Thursday, they spend Friday at the cop shop, folks arrive over the weekend, and by Sunday they have been asked if they would mind fucking off.
We can laugh about it now, but at the time, Gerry and I couldn’t laugh at anything. After the bombshell had been dropped, Gerry’s mum had turned to my mum and said, ‘Well, Sue – it looks as if we’re on the “Granny Express” home!’ We also heard that after Gerry left, there had been a few cracks about ‘Big Brother evictions’. However bleak the situation, whenever a roomful of Glaswegians and Liverpudlians is gathered together, you can guarantee some gallows humour will break through. Still, a decision had to be made and, as it turned out, it was the right one for everybody.I should think it was, seeing as 750 of your closest friends and relatives turned up in the first few days, and the only reason Aunty Phil wasn't there was because it would have meant offloading everyone's luggage.
As some of our family and friends prepared to return to the UK in a day or so, we were beginning to become aware of the help being offered locally. We had that Sunday morning experienced the warmth and sympathy of the Portuguese community and soon we would find supporters among the British expatriates living permanently in Praia da Luz, who organized a search of the area around Luz the next morning, Monday 7 May. The volunteers were joined by most of our family and friends, keen to do something practical to help while Gerry and I were tied up with Andy Bowes and Alex Woolfall.Honestly, you couldn't make it up, could you?
The remainder of our party – namely my mum and dad, Gerry’s mum and Auntie Norah (I’m probably best not describing them as ‘the oldies’) – walked down to a café near the beach. This day provided us with a good example of one of the disadvantages of a large group: unless it is coordinated with military precision, people do not always know who is doing what and tasks can slip through the net. When lunchtime came, Gerry and I were in the middle of another meeting when we discovered there was no one around to collect Sean and Amelie. We had to interrupt proceedings and go to the Toddler Club ourselves, phoning round our friends and family en route to try to get somebody who wasn’t too far away to come back and give them their lunch. A classic case of too many cooks. Or in this instance, not enough!Well, god forbid you should have to look after your own children for an hour.
Once we were left with our leaner support group, we allocated general roles: Trisha and Nicky took over the childcare, while Sandy and Michael dealt with mail, admin and finances. Trish and Sandy ended up staying with us for three solid months. I don’t know what we’d have done without them.Some fucking work, perhaps?