Wednesday, 23 November 2011

We Need To Talk About Dad

We Need to Talk About Dad, Channel 4, 21 November 2011

This film left many questions unanswered about what had happened to cause a loving father in a 'perfect' family to smash the wife he had always adored over the head with the blunt end of an axe. Most unfortunately the eldest son, Henry, who was 16 at the time, witnessed the immediate aftermath of this atrocious act and has been trying to live with the impact of it ever since, including protecting his little brother who was then just ten.

The whole of the film really boiled down to one conversation which Henry had with his estranged father, now living in Germany (he came back into the family after his release from prison, but in the end his wife asked him to leave). Henry finally confronted him, seven years later, in an effort to talk about the incident which had changed his young life forever, but which everyone seemed reluctant to confront head on. His father's explanation, as far as he could explain it at all, was that he was under such pressure to live up to the image of the 'Sunday Supplement Family', as his own wife dubbed them, where all in their world was perfect and secure, that he wanted to burst the very bubble which he had helped to construct. The psychotic episode which resulted in this assault on a person who he had loved and held so dear was potentially brought on, he felt, by the death of his own father - a father who had never given him anything meaningful (emotionally I presume) and who he clearly blamed for the suicide of his sister at the age of 18. And yet in the months before his death, he had felt the need to still appear to be the loving devoted son. He summed things up as feeling as if the world was just taking from him all the time and giving nothing back.

While feeling deeply for Henry who had borne his own pent up feelings for the last seven years with no-one in a position to share them with (including his own desire to burst a similar bubble that had been built around his younger brother to carry on and pretend that all was all right with their world, despite their father not living with them), it was this last admission by the father which really struck a chord with me. Furthermore, this new knowledge encouraged his son to reflect on the fact that, if nothing else, he had learned that life is rarely genuinely perfect and even the people you most trust and who most try and protect you - your parents (when they are good, loving parents) - are as vulnerable as any other human being on this planet.

I will never forget, in the depths of my depression, the same feelings of the world and everyone just seeming to take from me without apparently giving anything back. I felt I was just giving, giving, giving in every area of my life and that I was having the lifeblood sucked out of me. Everyone hits rock bottom in different ways and we all have different levels of tolerance and fortitude. And it is a sad truth that if you are one of life's givers, someone who just 'copes' and stoically gets on with things, then people just continue to take. Until finally you collapse under the strain. Mercifully I never took an axe to anyone's head, but I have come close to some alarmingly fierce moments of anger and potential loss of control. I also remember thinking about my girls and their tender years and innocence - that they had no idea what a terrible state their mother was actually in, barely able to get up in the morning to feed them breakfast. If there was anything which drove me to get better, to learn how to mend and what steps to take to make sure I never end up in that bad, bad place again, it was the desire to be a good mother to my girls. I didn't want them to remember me as a basket case, yet I wanted them to know me as a real human being - with weaknesses and imperfections - and to understand that life is not always easy or indeed does not always turn out as you might expect. Most of all I wanted to be there for them - totally present in mind and emotion, not just physically.

It was interesting to note that both the parents in the film tonight had suffered at the hands of their parents - parents who had let them down. It was this that drove them so relentlessly - and ultimately unrealistically - to be the perfect parents, living the perfect family life, for their boys. And it was ironically this which led to the collapse of the castle in the clouds which they had built for themselves. There was much to reflect on in this sad, sad tale where a young man was still struggling to come to terms with the isolation he feels as a result of that one horrific day when his world and all his preconceptions of family life and relationships, of love, trust and respect, crashed around his feet.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

New 'Fridge Food' Post

Where's the Town Crier when you need him? Oh yey! Oh yey! I have just written my first new Fridge Food in 8 months!

This appalling neglect is not through lack of interest - merely, as ever, lack of time. I am so often cooking at the end of the day when the girls are around and wanting help with things and questions answered and forms filling in that by the time the next day comes I have already forgotten what, exactly, I put in the meal. I often take a photo if I think it's turned out ok - my cameras and phone are littered with shots of tempting little meals thrown together from the fridge - but that's no good if I can't pass on how I put them together!

Anyway, last night I was determined to remember and today you have the result.

Cottage Pie is hardly a new creation - in fact it's as old a the hills - and it is certainly an old favourite of mine. However, normally I start it from scratch, but this time I was true to its origins and made it using up some leftovers. Jolly satisfying, jolly tasty and much quicker than cooking it all from a zero.

Click here and all will be revealed...

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Lest We Forget

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the eleventh year of the 21st century, I was watching two veterans share in silence the experiences and memories of war. As Doug dabbed with an age-warn hand at the tears dribbling down his cheeks with his perky checked hanky you could not help but weep with him. Mike stood stoically alongside him, both so smart and proud in dark suits, white shirts and red ties. They had been helped up from the squashy sofas of the This Morning studio just before the chimes of Big Ben rang out eleven times; but now they were standing tall. When Doug was asked what the eleventh of the eleventh meant to him, he replied, quite simply 'Freedom'. When Mike was asked what got him through it he replied, equally simply, 'Willpower'. As they quietly shook eachother's hand you could feel the shared weight of memory between them.

These marvellous men deserve our greatest respect. They will never forget the horrors they saw, the hardship they endured and the friends and comrades they lost in the fight for freedom. And neither should we.

Sadly war continues even into this new century. It seems that Fallen Man will never learn to live together amicably, despite the ultimate sacrifice that men and women are making across this globe on an almost daily basis. Will the Age of Enlightenment ever really bear fruit? I fear not.


Related links:-

The Royal British Legion:11-11-11-11
Henry Allingham
D-Day 65 years on

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Golden Days

Only 10 days ago, as we started some tree work in our garden and as I drove around the highways and byways of Cheshire and Derbyshire going about my business, did I think to myself 'Gosh, how the autumn colours haven't really appeared yet'. And then, suddenly, last week I became aware that there was much that was golden around me. The deep reddish gold of the beeches and the cherries, the startling reds and oranges of the acers, the yellowing of the horse chestnuts and silver birches, the red berries in the rowans were all suddenly warming the world around me even as the cooler winds came and the nights were growing longer. 

And so, this week, I now feel that summer has truly said goodbye and those memories of beaches and long evenings have slipped to another part of our world - even though, just two weeks ago, I was still basking on golden sands in southern Spain and bathing in clear Atlantic waters. 

Yesterday was Hallowe'en where the Autumn colours glow orange with pumpkin lanterns and the fruits of apple bobbing bounce red and russet in the bowl. I am reminded of our wedding day, on 31st October 1992, where the reception was dressed and adorned with all things Harvest and Hallowe'en. Food was served in hollowed out pumpkins and spread on broad autumn leaves. The air outside was sharp and chill, the sun soft in a sky of intense autumnal blue - a precursor for so many good things to come in the approaching festive season and in all the years to come. I can hardly believe it was 19 years ago.

Last night I had planned a lovely meal at home. We were going to eat and finally sit down to relax and watch one of the many programmes that are recorded and unwatched on our television. A quiet night in, of which we have so few. N promised he would be home in good time after a very early start that morning. The girls were going to carve pumpkins and do apple bobbing. As ususal, though, things did not go according to plan: L came home from school, burst into tears, got into bed and was later sick. So at 9 o'clock when I'd hoped to be eating with N, having shared the bottle of prosecco I had chilling in the fridge, I was actually running up and downstairs with buckets. N was still in Leeds and the beautiful, romantic table setting that E and G had so lovingly prepared - full of nightlights and confetti and wedding souvenirs - was haunting me in the kitchen. I did not know whether to go ahead and cook the meal I had planned or just settle for warmed up leftovers from yesterday. N was in a crisis meeting and I couldn't get hold of him. The tears welled and all the disappointment of so many times like this which have peppered our lives in his dedication to his work came flooding over me once again. E picked up on my vibe and she sobbed as she said 'I just wish I was little again when Hallowe'en was fun and we bobbed apples and ate red spaghetti and went trick or treating'. It broke my heart that she has got to that age where she sees and understands so much more of the world around her. She is no longer oblivious to the things that go wrong in adult lives, or the things in the world around her which are less desireable. It is called growing up. I hugged her hard and wiped away her tears and told her that I promised we would do another Hallowe'en when L was feeling better and that we would do some apple bobbing too. She chuckled and smiled through her tears and I was just glad that I was still able to reach the child in her and that she could draw comfort from some motherly reassurance that 'all would be well'. 

In the end I decided to press on with cooking the meal - and I'm so glad I did. I sent E up to get ready for bed and had just said goodnight to her when N came bursting through the door. I said she could come back downstairs with us and share in our little celebration for a few minutes as she and her sister had so wanted to do earlier in the evening before it all went wrong. So despite the late hour, she watched us drink our prosecco (with all the memories it brings of our fantastically happy times in the Italian Veneto at the beginning of the 90s and, indeed, her birth in Milan in 1999) and her father opening the present her mother had bought for him: a large black and white framed photograph of the Grand Canal in Venice, taken by a photographer local to us here in the High Peak. It was a photo which I thought evoked the misty wistfulness that is Venice - until N peered at the people in the gondolas in the middle distance and saw that they were crammed with Japanese tourists. Suddenly the magic dissipated but best of all, N had made us laugh. We giggled till E was wiping away tears. It was lovely that she was there to share the moment with us. Our eldest daughter, on the cusp of her teenage years, witnessing a special moment in her parents' lives. Two people who have stuck together through thick and thin, who have tried to stay true to their wedding vows of 'for better for worse' and who, despite life's continued adversities, still find togetherness through laughter which was where it all began nearly 29 years ago. Golden days indeed.

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