A general mode of tetchiness rapidly transmogrified into an explosive compound of anger, frustration and despair. All of a sudden, slow oozing droplets of distress became a raging torrent of tears. The trigger for this outburst was the conclusion of Zadie Smith’s “NW”, as dramatised for lasts nights transmission on BBC2; the drama itself had plenty of pathos, quite brilliantly portrayed, but much of this, though moving, still left me as an involved observer of the characters lives but, far from an emotional wreck.
What really led to my emotional eruption was the closing scene where Natalie and Leah, regardless of their present more prosperous middle class status and location, almost yearn for the life and companions of their far from glamorous early lives together with their friends from that era. That early life was in Kilburn, an area with which I was quite familiar when I lived in NW6 in the early to mid-1960s. Even so, it wasn’t even the specific location that triggered my emotional collapse; their awareness of having roots in a community where friends and acquaintances retained significance.
It was almost as if a curtain had been raised on my social and emotional stage, a platform on which I stood alone and rootless. Having been born in Canterbury, where doodlebugs celebrated my nativity, I have absolutely no links or memories of this place. My parents moved us on a couple a couple of times in my early preschool childhood in Sussex and Hampshire, there was little chance of having or retaining any significant friendships. My clearest memory of our time in Bournemouth is playing with a toy red lorry whilst shouting out “mackerel, fresh mackerel” and misguidedly crunching an acorn or two. I also recall being in isolation hospital, together with my big brother, and seeing my parents on the other side of a glass screen, and also simultaneously remembering the excitement at having my very own tin of dentifrice.
From there, we moved to the industrial north, to parts of Lancashire, West and North Ridings of Yorkshire, and county Durham all before leaving school at the age of sixteen. Shortly after leaving school I travelled alone to the Sussex coast for my first temporary employment, whilst in the meantime my parents had moved to rural North Devon where I subsequently joined them and found further employment until I was able to start nurse training in Exeter. Since the age of 14, whilst a patient in hospital, I’d known that nursing was my ideal job but, sadly due to an inability to adapt to nightshifts it didn’t work out so, a brief return to N Devon preceded my move to London NW6 to work in Ministry of Labour HQ. Once again, whilst residing in the big smoke, my parents had moved on, first to Staffordshire then, three years later, to a small market town in rural Lincolnshire.
Having burnt the candle at both ends, indulging an appetite for various intoxicants and exotic substances, a mental health breakdown ensued and, I visited my parents for a few weeks rest. This rest swiftly took on another form as a cocktail of beer, spirits and sodium amytal, led to me putting my fist through a few windows before being picked up by the local constabulary, and a consequent period of sectioned containment in a psychiatric hospital on the edge of Lincoln. Ten months later I emerged back into the real world, returned to London, only to discover that I could no longer cope in that environment and, a return to Lincolnshire was in order.
From Lincolnshire we moved to a village in West Yorkshire from where I decided to apply for university to study Philosophy and Theology as a ‘mature’ student. Having received four acceptances, purely on the basis of interviews, I decided on University of Hull and one year after graduation pursued post-graduate studies in Sheffield.
I have lived in my present part of North Yorkshire since the late 1970’s but, it took considerable time before I took on any sense of belonging, eventually attaining a wide circle of friends and acquaintances through both my arts related and, subsequent, church related employment. My social life expanded greatly from the eighties of the twentieth century through to the early noughties of this century. Meeting ma belle Helen in the last year of the old century, and marrying her early in the first year of the present century, has been by far the most wonderful event in my life. My love for her grows with every passing day but, I still manage to upset her with an angry tetchiness that simmers just below the surface of me.
Since succumbing to moderate ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), late 2003, all contact with (apparent) local friends, indeed the friends themselves, have evaporated from my life. From being quite gregarious, I was transformed into a semi-housebound sad-happy git; no longer able to venture out to (or cope with) gigs, theatre, jazz venues or church services, even visiting the town centre (in the company of ma belle chauffeuse) can turn into a most daunting venture.
Where are my roots? I don’t seem to have them!
The church, where I had latterly worked as caretaker/ steward, turned its back on me because my illness, which lead me to an abrupt termination of employment, was interpreted by both vicar and curate felt as my deliberate letting them down. Indeed, when early in the illness I managed to attend a service, John the curate suggested to me that I was brazen/ had a nerve to show my face there. The only lay member of the church, at which I had been a housegroup leader, a group leader on the Alpha course etc., came to visit me was to invite me to be another bum on a seat for Back to Church Sunday. Localised secular friends have been equally negligent, since the illness took hold of my life.
Isolation, loneliness, is the baggage that seems to accompany the onset of this dreadful illness – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis