Haunted

I checked the outside temperature this morning before I could allow myself to turn on the heating. I was cold but didn’t trust my own internal temperature gauge.

As if I need external permission to make adjustments. Especially as I get older. 

My mother told me these things as I was growing up and now it’s my turn to pass on the message to my children.

Your body changes as you age. Your sensitivity to the climate changes. You feel the cold more, the heat less. You can’t eat as much and your passion for certain foods, especially the sweet ones, diminishes. 

Though it can be different for different people. My husband and I battle over the amount of chilli he adds to his cooking, or sumac or Aleppo pepper. He’s heavy on the spices. As he ages, he wants more. 

As I get older, I’m more interested in the bland. At least food wise. Not too many shocks in taste to assault my senses. While my husband’s appear to have become less sensitised. 

 I cannot suggest that my experience is universal, but I find my mother’s words resonate.

How I hated to hear them when I was young. How I hated her prognostications for the future as if she was ruling out other possibilities for me. 

I have a friend who has read much of what I’ve written and tells me that my mother remains an enigma to her. My father less so. 

Why does it matter? Why must I try to resurrect my mother on the page? To keep her alive for posterity. To flesh out her form. 

My mother was a short woman – five foot two inches –  made more so, in contrast to my father who stood a good foot taller. He was lean and she was round. Like Jack Spratt and his wife. 

Jack sprat would eat no fat, his wife would eat no lean and so between the two of them they licked the platter clean. 

Such a metaphor for a marriage of contrasts. My parents too. She religious to her core. He atheistic with occasional agnostic tendencies when he went on search for meaning beyond his own miseries.                         

My mother read newspapers, the Catholic Advocate, the evening Herald and the morning Age in much the same way my husband reads his newspapers from top to bottom.

My father read newspapers, too, but much like me, he often skimmed the pages as if he was in search of something else there. Skim along the surface of the words rather than embed himself in them. In a rush. 

My father’s state of mind is one I inherited with my determination to keep on the move, to flit from one thing to the next. 

Yesterday I read the story of one Celia Paul, a British artist who was once the lover/partner of the great Lucian Freud, the grandson of the great Sigmund Freud and a man whose art I admire but whose personality I loathe. 

Lucian Freud apparently has some forty children to his name. He liked to spread his seed. There’s a megalomaniacal quality to the man and the way Celia Paul talks about her time with him, reminds me of the oppression of my own father. 

These men who insist you take your place further down the table while he sits at the head.

Ironically, my husband prefers to sit at the head of our table too but he can shift around if necessary, but only if necessary. 

Celia Paul came into my mind as I was writing because she calls herself an autobiographical artist and her subjects are portraits of family, her sisters, her mother and her son, Frank.

She could never complete the portrait of Lucian Freud that she tackled towards the end of his life. 

Reading between the lines, where she talks about portraits as needing to be imbued with love – otherwise they become forced – she did not love him anymore.

Such prodigious talent and such a bastard. 

These things trot around my mind. Watching the ‘fictional’ story of one Patrick Melrose on my computer screen, the story of a man addicted to alcohol who manages to give up cocaine and other drugs for a better life to the point he can marry and have two sons of his own, but dogged by the childhood trauma of a father who sexually abused him, who raped him repeatedly when he was a small boy.

 The images won’t leave me. I woke this morning to let the dog out for a pee and when I climbed back into bed the images formed in my mind, that small boy and his father and I could not get back to sleep. 

Although the movie only hinted at what happened in the bedroom behind the closed door, my mind went into overdrive filling in the gaps. 

I had a dream once, many years ago where two men broke into my house and one of them threatened to rape my small daughter. I woke in a panic yelling at him. Did he not recognise the size of his erect penis while her body was so tiny? 

It’s this difference in size, this vast confusion between the body of a child and that of an adult that the father in the film, and my own father confused.

I have also had dreams in which I morphed back into feeling like a child, as I’ve watched my children when they were little trying to wedge their three-year-old bodies into a toy Barbie car. A car big enough for doll passengers but not for a full-sized toddler. 

In my own dream I was in Richmond and trying to fit into my red sports car parked on the street, a miniature Barbie car, my leg first, and I could not even get my big toe inside. 

An Alice in wonderland dream but at least in Alice’s story there is no sense that she hurts people the way the father in Patrick Melrose’s story hurts his young son. 

Even as I write these things I fear putting images into the minds of others, the trauma this arouses and at the same time, I reckon we need to consider this, otherwise we won’t do our utmost to stop it from happening again and again.

Not a great shot of the family into which I was born, including my father. I’m seated behind his leg. He had rushed into this spot after activating the camera’s timer, ready to capture us all for posterity. The insert in the corner features my father with my older sister in Holland during better times.

4 thoughts on “Haunted”

  1. I’m not sure my taste in food has changed all that much over the last twenty-odd years I’ve been with Carrie. Granted my diet improved on her arrival and new foods were introduced whilst respecting my peculiar tastes (or, really, distastes). I eat more spicy food now that I ever did as a child. My mother was a decent enough cook but her repertoire was limited and she had no sense of adventure. We never ate pasta (apart from minestrone soup) or rice (except rice pudding for those who could tolerate it). I was seventeen before I had my first taste of Chinese food and I’m pretty sure that’s be the first time I’d tasted duck too.

    Heat is another matter. We can never get the temperature right in this flat. I’m always too hot or too cold, never comfortable. I’m sure there must be a sweet spot but we’ve yet to find it how to hang onto it. Carrie’s always boiling irrespective of the temperature and I really don’t understand the physics (or the biology); why isn’t she dripping with sweat constantly because I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw her perspire. Bodies are strange things. They still hold some slight fascination but not much; there’re still a handful of actresses I’d be curious to see nude even though I can guarantee I’ll be disappointed. There’re none I’d be interested in sleeping with. My dad told me there’d come a time I’d prefer a cuppa to sex and he wasn’t wrong apart from what he postulated as my beverage of choice.

    I don’t think I ever saw either of my parents read a newspaper and, apart from the stories we were read as children, no fiction either. My mother only read religious books and my dad did too mostly although he did go through a self-improvement kick in the sixties with books like ‘Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics’ and various speed reading courses. The odd exception was a course on Kung Fu before it gained fame in the early seventies. (I don’t remember much about other than a heavy reliance on groin kicks which I’m sure I never saw Kwai Change Caine ever resort to no matter how many opponents he faced. What would Master Po have said?)

    As far as Lucian Freud goes I’m with you although it has to be conceded he had a decent side too (Nicola Bowery’s recollections her illuminating: https://www.phillips.com/article/15840995/sitting-for-lucian-a-british-models-memories-of-freud). I guess there’re few complete and utter bastards out there.

    1. Thanks for that link to Lucian Freud here, Jim. He comes out well in the eyes of Nicole, one of his sitters. As for the rest of our ordinary struggles, we go on. Happy holiday time to you, Jim. It’s just around the corner for us.

  2. I am glad to come back here and read your words, Elisabeth. It’s been a while since I’ve read blogs and write so little online these days. You inspire me. I read all the Patrick Melrose novels — and went to see Edward St. Aubyn read from them some years ago in downtown Los Angeles. I believe they are autobiographical which is hard to take — I stared at him when I saw him, struggling to understand how people cope and live and go on. Truly astounding and brave and beautiful.

    1. I know how busy it can be, Elizabeth, such that online writing becomes an almost impossibility. Still it’s lovely to see you here again and to visit your blog as well from time to time via Facebook.

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