The Frying Pan

With Mum now living with Terry and embarking on a new life, I took one look at this picture and decided, “I don’t think so”. Mum had already given us up once to my alcoholic father who could barely take care of us, but he always paid our school fees and holidays abroad with the school to make up for his shortcomings. Meanwhile, the idea of living in a house with my mum’s new partner, two other grown men and my brother, was loathsome. I felt like I was left with a choice of the frying pan or the fire and I chose the frying pan, which was one step back from the fire. I said to my mother, “Actually, I will be staying with my father”, and I moved into what, in retrospect, was probably the most stable home of my childhood. What a frightening statement!

So we moved into The Regents in Edgbaston. The Regents was a very exclusive apartment building favoured by the sort of people who lived in Florida for half of the year then lived back in England for the other half of the year. It was full of old people because young people couldn’t afford it but there were some interesting characters in there who looked out for me during this period of my life. There was a beautiful woman, Cara, who lived in the apartment below us, she was years older than her husband, Paddy, who used to live in Ireland for most of the time; I think he had a second ‘wife’ and another family. I truly cherished my relationship with Cara; she would tell me wonderful stories of when she was younger and when her kids were young. She was always awake by 4 a.m. and asleep by 8 p.m., so whenever I had insomnia at night, which happened often, I would see her lights on and I would go downstairs and we’d chat over cups of tea. I had several of these wonderful older women in my life throughout my childhood and I give them credit for helping me to maintain my sanity.

Dad would be in his pyjamas, six days a week, with his glass of five-eighths whisky, three-eighths water, which I became very adept at pouring every day at his command. He would sit there in his pyjamas watching the news and scrutinising the stock market, and he would growl occasionally but he always put dinner on the table. We’d have fillet steak two or three nights a week, eat Chinese takeaway one night a week, and we would go to the local Rainbow Club for dinner about once a week as well. Dad was pretty good at making a roast dinner, I think he had finally realised that as a growing teenager with a former eating disorder, it was important that I had at least one decent meal a day. So he definitely picked up his act; it was still frozen vegetables but a better standard of food in general as I got older and, despite his drinking, he would always eat dinner with me most nights unless it had been a bad depression day for him.

My father was very proper in how he behaved. We lived in this large L-shaped flat with our bedrooms at opposite ends, and each of us had our own bathrooms. Dad would never come into my room – we had a cleaner so he didn’t need to worry about the state of it – but he would always stand at the end of the corridor and yell my name, and if I wasn’t there within ten seconds there was trouble yet he never entered my bedroom. My dad had very good boundaries and whenever he took me out to dinner, he was very clear in letting people know that I was his daughter, probably to ensure that no one addressed me as if I was a lady of the night. However, I do recall feeling grave concern for him many times in my life and, on one occasion, when he was out, I went through some of his belongings and to my absolute shock and horror I found a pistol. It was in the top drawer of his bedside cabinet, and I remember in that moment as a teenager trying to come to terms with life and the universe, thinking, “I wonder if that is for self-defence or if one day he will lock his lips around it and pull the trigger”.

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