'And finally, not everyone’s being doing topical. In fact, here’s the rather lovely 6 Oxgangs Avenue devoted to the history of the development of the area, this week highlighting how the block of flats came into being. Could have been prompted by Who do you think you are? Or just a timely reminder that not everything worth blogging about is in the here and now.'

Kate Higgins, Scottish Roundup 26/08/2012

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Elephant In The Room-A Response to Liz Blades

Liz, thanks for your interesting comments re: The Andrew Duncan Clinic and associated experiences. It will be interesting to hear if my mother elaborates further. Her memory is excellent and also the overall experience is so ingrained.

Out-with the general principle of trying to be truthful I am unclear about my own motivation for being so open about my father. The subject of alcoholism is not something which I have ever really spoken about amongst friends or colleagues at all. However, when Fiona Blades and I have met up we've been able to be quite open-there's been no embarrassment discussing our fathers’ illness. Yet, if others stray across the blog on the Internet they'll be totally surprised. And, if I clearly thought through the implications for a wide range of stakeholders, including grandchildren and great grandchildren, I perhaps would not have gone there. That said, any story needs to be balanced-the bitter and the sweet; the good and the bad; and the ups and the downs of life.

Similarly, I have a specific vignette which I have been wrestling with for a while now. It is about a school-teacher at Hunters Tryst who was a war hero, but with whom I had a difficult experience and mixed relationship. I want it to be balanced, but honest too. Yet I'm conscious some of the teacher’s relatives may still be alive.

All that you say of the Blades' family's experience with Charles, we at 6/2 could empathise with and identify with. Looking back, if we had only all been more open with each other as kids, it may have lessened the burden-even removed it a lot earlier. However, Helen and Mother were open with each other, especially considering the existing mores and values at the time.

It's understandable why it was kept secretive, particularly when you are living cheek by jowl within the confines of a small community, amongst eight families in The Stair. To understand our reasons perhaps begins with what motivates people-acceptance and the need for approval; the avoidance of rejection; status and the need for social prestige; and also the era in which it took place.

For example, I hated the embarrassment. I might have some pals in the house and totally out of the blue my father arrived home drunk and unnaturally good natured and effusive. I'd try to usher my friends out of the house quickly before they might notice. The down side was his mood would then transform from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde. I would thereafter be on the end of some sarcastic cutting remarks and vicious looks which would then, more often than not, move beyond mental abuse. Another embarrassing incident was him coming into the classroom at Hunters Tryst Primary School to ask for the house key. He resembled a down and out and was drunk. His breeks were held up with a piece of string. I'm actually laughing at that particular memory, but it wisnae funny at the time.

Like 6/6 we didn't really see him drinking at home at all. It was hidden from view. Ditto on the bottles too; on one occasion I couldn't sleep properly because a bottle of vodka had been planked under my pillow, but I was too scared to mention it.

I'm unaware whether other families in The Stair knew that Charles and Ken were alcoholics. My impression is that it was kept quite well hidden, but perhaps I'm being a little naïve. Looking back I don't recall either being on the end of any social disdain or receiving any social empathy. I always felt I had a special relationship with Helen, so perhaps there's an inherent contradiction there, but I'm only surmising. Undoubtedly it was our mothers who suffered most.

Last, perhaps there has been a subconscious motivation to talk about the elephant in the room. In the decades since, as a family, we've occasionally spoken about the subject but usually tempering it with humour, which is a positive thing. Up until now my own approach has been to park the issue in the past and move on. After all, what else can you do? And yet, without being dramatic, I am aware that the whole experience at the time really was quite horrendous and undoubtedly has left its mark-both in a negative way, but also in a positive way too, in terms of trying to learn from the past and as a parent avoid making such mistakes in the here and now.

That's quite a heavy blog, especially with-oot many pictures-more like a sermon and not what I'd planned-just as well it's a Sunday!

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Yes Peter, you can't say the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I was initially reticent to engage with your blog for my own reasons and it has been quite challenging in the sense that it sets off certain thought processes, even although the events are consigned to history. Thus I understand why others may not be engaging, but that's not wholly important to the overall project is it? You seem to have steered a pathway that is inclusive and generally repectful :) with a historic perspective and an overriding PH experience.
As for the alcoholism, it was very much the post war era. My father had not dealt with his life pre-war, let alone post-war. He just stepped up his drinking to cope - I believe there was an element of Post-traumatic stress not dealt with - but it wasn't dealt with in any of the services was it? Still today soldiers return from Afghanistan etc, wives have to cope as best they can, children suffer etc. Thus I think there is very much a universal aspect to it.