Monthly Archives: January 2009

I’ve just watched the 2007 TV version of Oliver Twist, starring Timothy Spall as Fagin, and it gave me a moment of satori.

First, let me say it’s a very good series, verging on excellent, not least because of the ambition and ‘bravery’ it exhibits. Everybody who takes on the dramatisation of a ‘classic’ knows they are up for potential verbal assault, and anyone who attempts to change a ‘classic’ knows that they will be reviled for it.

It’s a given that you cannot touch a ‘classic’ without being slapped down for it. Not because of the mistakes you make, but just for the act of doing it at all. It doesn’t matter how many savers you put on by way of apology – “inspired by…”, “loosely based on…”, or even a desperate, “based on characters by…” – you will be punished. In fact, even announcing your proposed project as purposefully “new and different” in the hopes of pulling some kind of pre-emptive strike will only make matters worse for you. You have already bet on the lose-lose horse.

If I was to announce right now that DANNY V1 is being considered for a graphic novel (it is), fans, detractors and even people who have only heard of the novel, not read it, would immediately start to surmise the end result: how in God’s name would you make a graphic novel of DANNY? And who would draw it? And how long would it be? And how would they get that past a comic shop’s doors? And will you see the sex? And, and, and…… The conclusion would, of course, be reached that it couldn’t possibly be as good as the original and they shouldn’t tamper with it, and why did they have to make a graphic novel of it anyway?

I’ve never quite understood the public’s constant carping on this or that proposed TV/cine production. What the hell do they imagine is going to be left for them to watch if all the directors actually took the criticism seriously? Working in an alternate reality for a moment, where writers and directors actually listened to ‘fans’, and the public in general, that would mean that we’d still all be watching Shakespeare, with men dressed as women and only seven basic Greek drama plots in circulation. After all, that’s what entertainment would be if we always “respected the classics” – static, stale and dead. Nothing would change. Allegedly this is what the public wants.

My arse. They wouldn’t know what they wanted if it jumped up and bit them.

But my satori. It was this. The 2007 Fagin was written by one Sarah Phelps, a markedly working class, blunt author who obviously has a very firm handle on what Dickens was about, and exactly what is not relevant – for want of a better word – to a modern audience. In short, she took away the niceties of Dickens pandering to a Victorian readership and updated the story to modern sensibilities. And very well she did it too.

Predictably, the audience rating on IMDB is only 7.3 (go along and give it more stars, if you’ve seen it – help creative justice be done, and annoy the hell out the ‘leave our classics alone’ crowd.) That’s a good rating, but not quite great, dragged down by every fourth thread on the discussion forum shouting stuff of this ilk (sic), “Is there any period of English history that [the BBC] will not insert a non European ethnic character in. Yes thats right they have done it again with Oliver Twist in which Nancy is played by African actress Sophie Okonedo. All part of the BBC policy of altering the perception of the past to fit its PC agenda.”

Dear God, in Victorian London there were no black people. Who’d have thought it?

Aside from the fact that peterking7777 obviously doesn’t have a clue about Victorian London, and that he really ought to learn about it before shouting his mouth off (when do they ever?), does it actually say anywhere in Oliver Twist that Nancy isn’t black? Unless there’s a description talking about her fair skin and peachy cheeks, she could have been black.

But why, I wonder, is that so terrible when in Lost in Austen, for example, the actress who plays Elizabeth Bennett is clearly way too tall, not just for Eliza, but for the Regency period at all. In fact, the actress is too tall for anything historical and she would never get her rangy modern frame into the tiny kid shoes and gloves of the badly fed, unsanitaryily housed ladies of the period. Where is peterking’s rant on that glaring inaccuracy?

The idea that departing from a character’s looks (unless they play an important part) when translating to the screen is somehow unforgivable is utterly barking, not to say unattainable. Of course, the use of terms like “PC” in peterking’s post tells you that what we have here is a (not so very) closeted racist rather than an academic purist, but he’s very far from rare.

It would be nice to believe that peterking is outraged on behalf of Dickens. Indeed, that all these Outrageds of Scunthorpe care so much about the purity of the author’s vision that they simply must rush to defend it.

Not true. The real reason behind peterking’s outrage is a whole hell of a lot more to do with what Dickens stands for: a view of the world that peterking wants to be true. In the good old days (of child prostitution and turpentine Gin) everyone was white.

It’s hard for us now to appreciate that Dickens was in any way controversial in his own time, and it’s true that historical context shows up the disparities and the weaknesses in his fiction. London in Victorian times was heaving with prostitutes. It’s hard, in fact, to overstate this. As a general rule of thumb, in any poor district or slum all the women were prostitutes, even the ones in ‘gainful employment’. Was this because the Victorians were randier than any era before or after? No, although they were more sexually repressed – make of that what you like. But the fact was, that if a woman (or child) faced starving, or having sex up an alley with a ‘toff’ – guess which choice won?

Is this rampant prostitution discussed in Dickens, dissected, revealed? No. Do you imagine that if you dramatised Dickens’ and had some of the poorer women, the ‘good’ ones, also being part-time prostitutes, that Horrified of Burnley would take that lying down, it being historically accurate and all? Would he hell. Suddenly peterking’s argument would do an abrupt body-swerve. No longer would it be “lack of historical accuracy” but “unnecessarily graphic”, and “an insult to a master of literature”, and “pure sensationalism”.

In the eighties I found a set of “Life and Labour of the People”, a rare Victorian work on the everyday lives of everyday Victorian pond scum. Unfortunately I sold it, because it was a great book. (That and one on food adulteration, which I also sold, another great book. Regret parting with them both.) But it painted a picture far worse than Dickens, with starvation, and lead poisoning, and squalor, and violence not seen since medieval times – and not since. Victorian London was detestable. That’s why Dickens wrote the books. He’d been there, at the arse end of reality. But, for better or worse, he’d realised that he had to tone it down for his readership. There was no way the educated classes of the time were going to read the truth about prostitution, and gonorrhoea, and child labour, and gin shops, and the general filth, depravity and disease these poor sods lived in. So he wrote his sentimental version, his cleaned-up version, where unmarried mothers die repentant, and women never get drunk and aggressive, and kind rich people rescue all the poor, but innately genteel, Olivers.

It’s this aspect of acceptabilising (ah, Americans are loving my verbification skills right now) the uglier aspects of life that made him loved then, just as it makes him loved now.

This is the same difference between Charlotte Bronte (the ‘nice’ Jane Eyre saved by wealth) and the not nice Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights – no-one saved by wealth; in fact, pursuit of gentrification is what ruins them all). This is why, when the world and her pink-coated Chihuahua cloned the romantic ideal, they all chose to rewrite Jane Eyre and not Wuthering Heights.

When Sarah Phelps came to adapt Oliver Twist she decided to gritty it up, make it more resonant for a modern audience: There would have been black low-lifes round the London docks – why not make Nancy a half-caste? Oliver comes from the work-house, he shouldn’t talk like he was educated at Eton (the norm for ‘stage’ Olivers). Bill Sikes should look like he grifted on the streets, he wasn’t born evil. Fagin should have a fragile mental state, facing anti-semitism at every turn. Worst of all, when Oliver is ‘saved’ by the rich, it might just be open to interpretation that he has saved his own neck at the expense of all those who get left behind. In short, a Dickens where the rich get rich and the poor get poorer, just like real life.

All hell promptly lets loose – even here in Aberdeen where Max found it unacceptable that Oliver doesn’t try to save Fagin, in fact promptly forgets him, in his hurry to get back to his nice rich family and his nice suit of clothes.

So, not only was that too severe a picture for Dickens’ England, it’s still too severe a portrait now. Who cares if it’s real, we want Happy Ever After. No-one has a right to mock romantic novelists for this, it’s all around us.

And this was my satori: it’s exactly the same problem that DANNY hits, over and over. Look at this mini-review from Goodreads about Cult Fiction Kaye gives one star just to the idea of DANNY, a short idiot’s guide (that’s the guide that’s short, not the idiots) to The DANNY Quadrilogy, where you only get a 20-odd page excerpt from V1. The rest of the book just talks about the ideas in DANNY, but this was still Kaye’s response. “Vulgar, graphic, explicit and in your face objectionable.” Because, of course, violent sexual abuse is never vulgar, graphic, explicit or objectionable. Usually it’s wistful, covered-up, politely worded and tasteful.


The only place it can be, in books, in films, on television. In the real homes of the degraded and humiliated, the abuser takes out his penis and shows you it – flagrantly and without apology. He does not turn his back, put out the lights or murmur endearments. In the real homes of the abased and degraded, the abuser uses spit, rubs semen in your eyes and makes you sniff the unwashed parts of his body. In the real homes of the hurt and wounded, the irrevocably damaged, the abuser pinches your skin, burns weeping sores into your labia and makes you drink noxious substances till you vomit, then makes you sleep in the vomit. You don’t get the privilege of tastefully concealing garments, privacy, decorum and the protection of your delicate sensibilities from words like fuck, cunt, shit, piss, whore, slut, pig, bitch, bastard, bugger, suck, lick, come, screw, poke and prod.

But, of course, Kaye is right, she shouldn’t have to be subjected to this outrage, because even although she didn’t read to the end of the copy (no “fine print”, she just didn’t click on the “read more” button before she rushed to sign up for her freebie; lazy Kaye) she did see that it was described as “gruelling”. Of course, Kaye took the Random House meaning of that word – “This book contains 2 nasty scenes where the word fuck is used”. How audacious of me to rewrite the meaning of gruelling back to its original meaning of harrowing, relentless, exhausting, difficult, severe, harsh, arduous, punishing and backbreaking.

But, of course, poor Kaye is just another innocent bystander in all of this brutality, a member of The Great Reading Classes who, I’ve rapidly come to learn, are not who I thought they were.

Being well-read does not educate you; it educates you in the way of books. And that is a very specific and circumscribed world. Believe it or not, it is nowhere writ (other than in every publisher’s house style guide) that when I, or anyone else, writes the truth we are not allowed to write THE ACTUAL TRUTH.

It may be the fashion or the taste to write it to suit your audience (victim faction), or your era (D.H. Lawrence, Dickens, William Faulkner), or the BBC (any ‘hard-hitting’ drama you care to name), but I am under no obligation to do that.

Even more unbelievably, this does not then make my book an examination of the class system (Steven Hart), or objectionable (Kaye), it just means that it’s my truth. It may not be your truth, or what you would like the truth to be, but it is the truth. And what’s more, my truth is far more deserving of that name than theirs. When they can produce police records that show me abusers do tasteful things, refuse to use bad language and are never explicit in their sex acts then I will accept their values about my work.

Until that day, I reserve the right to be on the side of Sarah Phelps, defend the use of black Nancys, be unsettled by Olivers who are just a little smug, empathise with Bill Sikes who are perversely sympathetic, cry for the arbitrary injustice towards Fagin and applaud the swearing and sluts in Deadwood.

If I may just quote from the acknowledgement (to Nora Roberts) in How to Write the Perfect Novel (I do like to quote myself, however indirectly; it was Salman Rushdie who actually said this), “It’s very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it.”

Of course, all this book shutting is doing nothing for my book sales. Damn. Guess I’m just going to have to do a Dickens and rewrite DANNY to suit the tastes of the day. I’m thinking a mini-series on Nickelodeon, or a Young Adult abridged version, 80 pages, say. Or maybe an MTV one-off special. No, a talking book, in Braille. I could circulate it to the Women’s Institute. No, the Tunbridge Wells Reading Group. Ooh, and the Daily Mail. They could give excerpts away on Sundays in Tesco’s, and we could get the Blue Peter presenters to act in it. Yeah, whatsisname would make a great John……….

P.S. That reminds me. Watching OT, I was forcibly struck by what a good John Tom Hardy, who plays Bill Sikes, would be. He’s not as powerfully built, but everything else is perfect, including the full mouth and psychopathic eyes. I looked him up to see what else he’d done and found he’s doing a Wuthering Heights with the same director (Coky Giedroyc – a woman, by the way). Oh, excited doesn’t begin to describe it. I am baiting my breath even as I speak. They better be releasing it on DVD. And those of you who have TV, please let me know if it’s any good when it airs…


The Sea Monkeys of Doom

Well, How to Write The Perfect Novel is now live everywhere. What’s more, it’s already into its second edition. This, of course, is because I did indeed find a half dozen mistakes I’d somehow missed, plus a positive forest of commas and colons I absolutely had to add. Ah, that old anti-fan surely started something with her pedantry. I hope on her death she’ll at least be credited with creating an excess of commas in the prose of Chancery Stone. A fitting epitaph.

Anyway, second edition is all shiny and error-free. My apologies to whoever it was in the States who rushed out and bought one before they were officially launched. If you want a replacement contact Max at Poison Pixie and we’ll be glad to swap it for the ‘new’, revised edition. On the other hand, you own one of the only two printed of the ‘first edition’. I’ve got the other one, which we’ll be selling on Amazon shortly, complete with my yellow marker pen error corrections and some of me scribbles.

Anyone sad enough to want to own the copy that Chancery Stone corrected? Ah, you know you do. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you when it’s on. It’ll be dirt cheap – I’m not Sotheby worthy yet. (Maybe never will be. I reckon I’m too rude for ’em.)

Max has submitted the last, last (allegedly) draft of his Orkney book and, all being well, he should get the second of his advance cheques. A respectable sum, but only enough for one yacht or car – not both. Ah well, suppose you can’t have everything.

What’s more, despite my Skin Two ad doing quite well after all, he sold 75 copies of Illustration 101 last month. 75 of the motherfuckers. I find it hard to believe everyone was buying their granny How to Be an Illustrator books. We reckon he has to have been written about somewhere. Trouble is, sometimes it’s not on the web or, even if it is, it’s in some obscure personal site that never surfaces on Google.

This blog has also been having outrageously high ratings (for me) since Christmas (I think) and I’ve no idea where they’ve come from. Nothing on Google. Who knows? Who cares? The come, they go.

So, been writing Perfect Novel publicity, and we’ve already got four people waiting to review the book and we haven’t even promoted it yet. Nada. I wish I could get them as keen for DANNY.

We’ve even sold two copies – one in the US and one in the UK – without any notification anywhere – not even on this blog. Of course, could be this will be the only two I’ll ever sell.

Of course, DANNY’s been completely sidelined by this mother. I’m contemplating employing Gillian the typist to proofread DANNY V1 for the US edition so that I can just get onto V3/1. Oh yes, DANNY Volume 3, I remember that. That was that book I was supposed to be doing before writing non-fiction (not a biography, Jill) completely took over my life.

That and the rearing of Sea Monkeys, of course. Got them for my Christmas. And what a fucking nightmare they turned out to be, I can tell you.

Never, ever give your children Sea Monkeys. It will destroy their hearts and shrivel their souls.

I’d wanted Sea Monkeys since I first saw them, aged ten, on the back of a Classics Illustrated that my cousin Isobel had. What wondrous creatures. What lucky Americans.

I positively pestered Max to buy me some for my Christmas (I got an ant farm for my birthday). And after a thirty foot banner erected in the living room he got the hint.

I was disappointed when I got the small plastic kitchen canister which constituted their “Ocean Bubble Tank”. Yeah, right. But hell, these were Sea Monkeys.

I read the instructions, keen to start, and felt my first faint stirrings of unease. Monkeys liked the sun, but not direct sun. Well, not a problem; they’d be lucky to see any fucking sun at all here. It’s getting dark by 3:30. This is Aberdeen. In Scotland. Know what I mean?

Then I noticed the feeding instructions were different in the ‘manual’ (a four page tiny booklet) from those on the packets – and different yet again in the other instructions on the third leaflet. Damn, this wasn’t looking good.

Still, set it up, I did. I boiled my water, I let it sit, I did it all by the book/s. Finally, I get to stir in my egg mix. I watched the tank eagerly, waiting for my “Instant LIFE!!!”

An hour went by, two, three, a whole evening. No monkeys, no life. I went back to the booklet. What was I doing wrong?

SHIT! I hadn’t rinsed out the tank with hot water. Oh no. Heart sinks. Still, how dirty could it be? It had been wrapped in cellophane, nothing had touched it. Open tank, fill with water. In nature they had to cope with much worse than some packing dust.

BIG mistake. My Sea Monkeys were obviously the Weak Monkeys of Utah (where they come from). No life. No life the next day. Or the day after. Many times I went to the ‘book’. Each time I came out more confused than the time before. Was my window North or South facing? Did it make any difference anyway as my frames are higher than the height of the tank so, supposing they were in full belting sun for twenty hours a day, it still wouldn’t touch them. I tried them with lamps above the tank, terrified all the time that I’d fry them: “Sea Monkeys prefer cold” – yeah, but California cold. I mean, what the fuck is cold? In California?

Four days went by, five, I haunted the internet, finding in the process the Sea Monkey lady, a barking hypochondriac who sees people mocking her Sea Monkeys as “flaming”. Oh, if she only knew. I could lend her some of my “flamers”, show her what the real thing looks like; I’ve got plenty to spare.

I also found Netyfish, and Uncle Sea Monkey, and a million and one bloggers who had either failed entirely to raise Sea Monkeys (common) or had partial success (also common). Not so common were the people who had tanks of happy Sea Monkeys living long and glorious lives. And I think every one who did probably lived in California, or Mexico, or Florida. Anywhere where there was sun and heat. Not cold. And not Aberdeen cold. Or dark.

Eventually, when it was too late, I discovered that the Sea Monkey Corps’ idea of “cold” was around 70/80 degrees Fahrenheit – so far from cold it’s like calling Greece Alaska.

My Sea Monkeys were doomed. At around the fifth or sixth day I got a new problem. No monkeys, but lovely wispy clouds of white stuff like smoke in water. This did not look good. But was it supposed to be there? Nothing in book. Back to the internet.

No, no, NO, said the Monkey Lady – it will kill your tank. You must remove it immediately. It’s fine, said Yellowpencil of Birmingham: My Monkeys had the “white cotton” and they’re fine.

Liar. Sea Monkey Lady was right. But, unfortunately, I found this out the hard way.

On day nine, at 2:30 am (I keep late hours, okay?) I was standing in the kitchen peering at the tank without my glasses on (I have weird magnification eyesight when I’m not wearing optical devices. It’s my special power. Unfortunately I can’t see further than six inches from my face otherwise. However, if I ever want to be Super Mole I’m sorted.) when I spotted movement. I’ve got Sea Monkeys, I shrieked. I was so excited I almost cried. I thought I’d seen two, but I wasn’t sure.

I’d been aerating the tank with a turkey baster (don’t ask) for a couple of days – again, not sure if I was supposed to be aerating or not if the damn things hadn’t hatched – and all the cotton had broken up. So now it was little wisps and balls on the bottom of the tank. Couldn’t do any harm, I figured. Sea Monkey was swimming away, doing somersaults and body flips just like I’d heard. I was overjoyed.

Next day my joy doubled. I did indeed have two Sea Monkeys. God damn.

Didn’t last. After day five I had to feed them. Again, different instructions on the packet from in the book. Jesus Christ, they’ve been selling these things for fifty-one years – couldn’t they fucking agree on the ‘How tos’ on any two pieces of their merchandise? I decided to play it safe since I was told overfeeding was the worst thing you could do – they got half a tiny scoop of food.

Now what I’m not telling you about these trials and tribulations is my state of mind. I’m an anxious, depressive, compulsive person, okay? I have a terrible, terrible weakness for small vulnerable creatures. It’s almost a debilitating affliction. I don’t much like people and I am in no way soppy or sentimental about animals, detesting animal clothing (would you like to eat out a bowl on the floor, or shit in the park? – don’t answer that), cutie animal pictures, dog lovers in Labrador sweat shirts and people who breed animals for their interesting genetic flaws – like no fucking fur, or a pushed-up face that makes it difficult to eat. But, I simply cannot take anything smacking of animal cruelty. Or even distress. Just can’t handle it.

When I was a kid I would literally cry for hours, sometimes cry myself to sleep, over anything involving animal distress (children are a close second for me – you don’t hurt the kid, okay?) My father attempted to bully me out of it, by sneering, mocking and outright contempt. My mother used to just look at me with mystification, but agreed I needed to be ‘toughened up’. So toughen up, I did. I learned to hate people and kept my empathy for animals secret. This is how they make men, by the way. They take whatever sensitivity they show – aka ‘weakness’ or ‘being a poof’ – and stomp on it until the men are so flinty inside they are completely unable to empathise with anyone. They call this ‘being a man’. They then criticise them for having no empathic skills and being unable to “talk about their feelings”. The words ‘Make your fucking mind up’ come to mind.

But I digress, the sum total of The Worst Christmas Present I Ever Got, as I have christened it, was I couldn’t sleep. I mean worse than normal. I’m a poor sleeper at the best of times, often lying awake for up to an hour after I go to bed. But this was closer to two hours, and, worse, when I did sleep I could do nothing but have what I call counting dreams.

When I’m particularly disturbed or stressed I don’t dream proper dreams, only something that’s closest to a coded message, where I have to solve a puzzle, or say a word over and over, or get to a place and do a thing to make something ‘work’. Generally, these dreams will be haunted by words. It’s like they have a soundtrack where I’ll hear – in this case – the words ‘Sea Monkey’ over and over. (You’re right, that does just sound like a comedy sketch.)

They may not sound it, but they are deeply distressing and they make me wake up tired, with frayed nerves and very sore teeth (clamping them during the night). Think sensory torture – repeating sounds or lights over and over – and you’ve got the picture.

Well, that was me and the invisible Sea Monkeys. All day on the internet trying to find how to make things right, and all night dreaming about them in the most useless, repetitious and totally unhelpful way. By the time the first Sea Monkey disappeared – assumed dead – I was ready to kill myself.

Eventually, determined to save the life of my last remaining Sea Monkey, I took drastic action. He got his tiny self (about the size of a big pinhead) caught in some of the gunk, aka “white cotton”, and couldn’t get it off. He was lying down the bottom of the tank, listless. I leapt into desperate action, setting up a Sea Monkey surgery. I drained his tank, keeping him in a glass candle holder, and sieved his water through a tea strainer, ruining the possibility for any more Monkeys in the process – but this was life or death. Then, with the aid of a toothpick, I nerve-wrackingly cleaned the gunk anchored to his tail.

Result: one happy and liberated Sea Monkey, back to cartwheeling. I, of course, had to recriminate myself for not acting sooner (I hadn’t wanted to lose my remaining eggs). Guilt’s my next big thing. Just love that guilt. It’s what makes me the special person I am.

Next day – disaster. Sea Monkey (now named Gloria ‘I will survive’ Sea Monkey) has a small ball of gunk stuck to his stomach, unable to move it. He’s back to the bottom of the tank. I’m racking my brains. Obviously this lethal “white cotton” is really, really sticky – probably its means of survival – even in tiny fragments that can get through a tea-strainer. I set up the surgery again. No good. Unlike the first time, this is much too small and close to the tiny beast’s body. No way the plank-sized – relatively speaking – toothpick can get in there without impaling him.

I try everything: needles, nylon thread, bristle from a bottle brush. Everything is far too dangerous to him. I give up, but I clean his tank out again, this time siphoning through paper towel in the tea strainer so nothing can get back in there. The tank is scrubbed in boiling water with a toothbrush and a tiny bottle brush from my e-bay antiquing days. I put him back in his tank and go out to town, hoping he might work it loose himself.

And he did. God bless him. I strain his water yet again. It is now like crystal and I reward him with a quarter spoonful of food all to himself – fretting all the while that now I’m overfeeding him, of course. Now you see why I couldn’t ever be a mother. It’s overkill.

So, as at today, the Sea Monkey is still alive, all by himself in a tank now devoid of eggs and the possibility of anything else hatching. If he’s male, when he dies, the tank dies with him. Always supposing some other mystery ailment doesn’t get him first.

I wrote to the firm Max had bought the Sea Monkeys from and demanded my money back on the grounds of an absolutely miserable Christmas – not to mention Trades Description breaches. They’ve said okay, bless them. I will probably foolishly blow the money on replacement eggs to try again, and breed some mates for him so he doesn’t die of loneliness. All this for glorified fish food, too small to be seen with the naked eye. Some people never learn.

All I would say is, unless you live in California or your child has no heart, do not ever buy your child Sea Monkeys. The only thing they bring “instantly to life” is neurosis.

On the other hand, I am now something of an unintentional expert on Sea Monkeys. Feel free to send me any questions. And if Gloria makes it to adulthood I’ll be sure to post a picture.

P.S. Shit, I always forget this. The Perfect Novel is available as a freebie on Goodreads, but Max says there’s already almost a hundred folk up for it. Like I said before though, it’s a random selection, so you stand as good a chance as anybody. Here’s the link: I’m afraid Chancery Stone has mocked me, as well as Nora Roberts, in her new book, but I’m damned if I’m buying it. Thank God, I can get one free here. Jesus Christ, just went to get this link and see there’s now 339 people. Well, fuck me.

I Shopped My Mum to the Cops! My life story, as told by Take-a-Break

I hear a lot about the ‘unrealism’ of DANNY, in one way or another, and it got me thinking about the usual representations of abuse in ‘fact’ and fiction.

After that, I realised it’s time I made an effort to join in/ put things right. I should write abuse more accurately, more “realistically”. And to illustrate just how ‘accurately’ popular culture handles abuse I’m going to use “A True Life Story” – my own – as the basis for my mainstreaming forays into “gritty reality”.

Yes, here today (and possibly for a few blogisodes after this, if the fancy takes me) you’re going to see the full horror of my childhood laid out far more “realistically” and in a way you will all finally be able to relate to.

My ‘In the Style of…” series starts with Take a Break. I don’t know what the equivalent is in the US, or elsewhere, but if I tell you it’s the UK’s original and best “Real Life Stories” magazine, and features a weekly collection of desperate low-lifes getting a few bucks for their horror stories of abuse, murder, mayhem and dying children, I reckon you’ll know your own country’s version immediately. Think Jerry Springer in print and you’re close.

For the sake of brevity, and because evil mums are great, I have pushed both parents into one. I have also given my story the requisite happy, upbeat, positive ending. Unfortunately, it’s also not true, but I’ve come to realise that being truthful is not nearly as important as being “realistic”, and in the “real world” victims are always saved, and always learn A Life Lesson, so I’ve provided both. When I’m reincarnated I’ll be sure to get that right next time.

So here it is, I SHOPPED MY MUM TO THE COPS!, My Life Story as told by Take a Break…

“But Mum…” I cried, as I begged once again for my mum, Mary Henery (37), to let me go with my friends to the disco.

But all I got was a slap. “Didn’t I tell you to get that washing-up done?” Another slap sent me spinning to the floor. I lay there, trying to keep still, trying not to provoke her rage.

Why did Mum treat me like this? Why? I tried to be a good daughter. I washed and cooked and sewed and looked after my young brother, Andrew (7). But it was never good enough.

Every night Mum came in from work, stinking of perfume, dressed in sexy clothes I wasn’t allowed myself. “What have you been doing?” she’d snarl at me.

“N…n…nothing,” I’d whimper, trying not to cringe in case she struck out at me again. I soon learned to keep my head down and get on with my chores. From early in the morning till late at night I’d be doing all the things Mum should do but didn’t. She was too busy planning her latest outfit, buying sexy mini-dresses from the Bargain Centre (4) in Glasgow (938) and trying out false eyelashes to wear to that Saturday’s dance at Centre 1 (10).

Centre 1 was the Tax Office where my mother worked as a clerk and flirted with all the strange men she couldn’t seem to stay away from.

Years later, when my parents divorced, I was to hear from my Dad that my mother had always had a string of men, but then I never suspected. I just wanted her to love me.

Maybe if I tried harder at school? But I was already doing the best I could, trying to make Mum proud of me. But that night when she came home it was the same old story. “Get that fire made up”, “Isn’t dinner ready yet?”, “I told you to bleach those sheets.” It just never stopped.

I’d fall into bed every night and cry myself to sleep. Why couldn’t Mum love me? What had I done wrong? I must be a bad daughter. “If only I could change…” I shivered, as I turned over in my cold bed. Mum only ever gave me one blanket, and I wasn’t allowed a heater in my room, so I had to study up there every night, my feet wrapped in a coat, frost forming inside the window, trying desperately hard to please my perfect, gorgeous mother.

She was a real sex symbol, known in the district for her red hair and her short mini-dresses and her PVC boots. She even owned green satin hot pants which were all the fashion then. Other mums were dull and frumpy, and I knew how lucky I was, Mum told me all the time, but oh how I wished I had a loving, homely mum who looked after me and made me tea and cakes.

Instead I had to get my little brother up every morning for school and try and get him dressed and fed, then get myself out too. When I came home it was all chores then upstairs to study. I wasn’t allowed to go out anywhere. And the only clothes I owned were my school uniform and a cheap shirt I’d bought myself by saving up my weekly 20p pocket money.

I sighed and gazed out the back window as I did yet another load of washing, my hands red and stinging from the bleach. All my friends went to the Olympia Ballroom (19), but I wasn’t allowed. “They have knife fights there. You’re not going.”

But I’d never heard of any knife fights. Just like her excuse for not buying me any clothes. “Where have you got to wear clothes to?” she’d sneer, selecting a pair of huge dangly earrings from the porcelain bowl she kept in the kitchen sideboard as she applied more bright blue eyeshadow to her eyelids.

“Other girls get to go out…” I trembled.

“Other girls don’t get the benefit of an education,” she spat back at me. “Other girls are made to leave school at sixteen. Me and your father are paying to keep you on at school so you can make something of your life, not waste it in some factory.”

I cowered back from her distorted, rage-filled face. “It’s not fair,” I wailed. “I don’t have anything to wear. Look at these ugly shoes,” I pleaded, pointing at the big black policewoman’s shoes she made me wear. “All the other girls laugh at me.”

Suddenly she was grabbing me and shaking me, pounding my head and body with her fists, swearing, calling me filthy names…

“Oh no. No, Mum, no. Please don’t hurt me again…” I grovelled. But it was no good. She dragged me upstairs and into the bathroom. I knew I was going to die, but all I could think about was my little brother, poor little Andrew. What would he do without me to take care of him? Mum wouldn’t be there to feed him, make sure he got a proper lunch. I had to survive for little Andrew’s sake.

I struggled as she tried to shove my head down the toilet, but she was so strong, like a madwoman. “Mum, Mum…” I spluttered again. But she was beyond hearing me. She was insane with fury.

I had to stop her. I had to. I fumbled back with my hand and found the toilet brush. I couldn’t see, water was going up my nose, I was drowning. Oh no, I thought, as I began to fade away. I was dying. Then, suddenly, my hand found the handle. I swung it round and smacked her in the face with it, hard as I could.

I heard her gasp, her hold slackened. I struggled away from the toilet bowl and coughed up the water in my lungs. I had nearly died. I looked at Mum, crumpled there on the floor.

She was crying now, mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” over and over. But I knew she wasn’t sorry. I knew this time it had gone too far. Suddenly I was filled with a sense of purpose. I had to stop this. “I’m phoning the police,” I asserted.

Immediately Mum was clinging to my legs. “No, please, don’t,” she moaned.

But I pushed her off, mascara running down her face. “Yes, Mum, I am. You need help. This has got to stop.”

Mum dropped her head in shame. The true woman under the sexy skirts and garish make-up had been revealed. She was broken. I left her there in a heap and went downstairs and phoned the police.

Afterwards there was talk about me in the street, all over the district. How could I have shopped my own mother? But they didn’t know her like I did. All they saw was the beautiful façade she put on in front of the world. After the divorce, when all the stuff about Mum and her men came out, people would come up to me in the street and say, “You did the right thing.” But it was too late then. No-one had been there to help me when I was a lonely child going though hell.

I’m not proud of what I did, although I do realise now that it had to be done. Mum hadn’t left me any option. I tried my best, but Mum simply couldn’t accept my love. Really she was the victim. She had lost her only daughter just so she could appear young and hip and trendy and attract the men she craved.

Mum and I still aren’t talking, and my brother hasn’t forgiven me for shopping her – he was too young to understand – but I hope someday they’ll see I only did it because I loved them.

As told to Isobel Dalry @ Take a Break

NEXT WEEK! DARK HEART OF SHAME – My life as an Odyssey True Story