I was brought up with routines. Meals at the same time every day. Holidays were a rented cottage in some dull place inland. Easter not summer.
Could we go caravanning? We could not. Camping? No.
This was because of my father. On birthdays, at Christmas he would hover on the edge counting the moments till he could retreat to his ‘study.’
He had liked us when we were little. Only then he turned cross. He didn’t believe in warnings or explanations. We knew very well what we’d done. Suddenly there would be no sweets. No pocket money. Or no TV.
My mother knew he needed quiet. Before each meal where he’d be present she would remind us not to talk. It was to do with his nerves.
But if he was away, my Mother would want to know all about school, and what we had done. At first my brother and I would respond gladly. Later we gave short answers. Both of us had withdrawn into the safety of private worlds.
I was shocked at my friend’s house when her Dad called her Mum, ‘Darling’. He touched her arm. I had never seen my parents behave like that.
I didn’t grow up in a family where people were easy together, where conflict could be faced and dealt with. I had to learn these skills later and it was a difficult process. Friendship still doesn’t come easily to me. It took me until my mid-thirties to form any kind of stable relationship.
Yet I almost admire my mother’s obstinate loyalty to the man she married. And my father did have positive sides to his character. He’d been a teacher and was astonishingly patient and helpful when I struggled with work for my maths O-level. Thanks to him, I passed with a top grade.
He also had a deep love of classical music. Beethoven and Schubert could reach him, give rise to emotions that couldn’t be expressed in any other way. I’ve inherited this responsiveness to art, which has kept me going through bad times – and through better ones.