Sunday 6 March 2011

Ordinary People’s Lives

Yesterday was World Book Night, and part of that they’re giving away books free. They requested people to volunteer to give away the books. Both Martin and I applied to this but only Martin was accepted (“mutter... mutter... mutter”). He was given forty-eight copies of the book A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett.

This long memoir was originally as part of his book Untold Stories and is the story of his parents’ marriage, but told in the context of their time and their family relationships. It’s a fascinating tale, as Alan Bennett places his parents’ marriage into the social context of their times, from their marriage in austere 1930’s Britain, civilian life through the second World War, through the changing social times of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and their retirement in the very different 1970’s (his parents’ fantasy of what a cocktail party involved was truly priceless).

First reading this memoir I was struck by the similarities between this and my parents’ lives, their relationships with own their siblings. Alan Bennett obviously had parents and family who liked to tell their stories, recount their lives; and the writer in him listened and remembered.

I wasn’t as fortunate, my parents would tell stories about their childhoods, but they were often along the lines “it was so much better when we were young”, my parents were great fans of the rose-tinted nostalgia, but they rarely told stories about how they met, about their wedding, their move to Liverpool, the birth of their children, etc... My mother did tell me some details when I was an adult, actually after I qualified as a nurse (after this my mother seemed more open with me over many subjects), but often these were only passing comments.

My parents met because they both lived on the same street in Barrow-in-Furness, though my mother first went out with my father’s older brother, Arthur, before dating my father. I have always wondered about this. What didn’t my mother like about my Uncle Arthur, though him and my father were very alike, how did my father feel dating his older brother’s ex-girlfriend, was he jealous of his brother for dating the woman he wanted? What were the dynamics going on at the time?

Both my parents are gone now so even if I had the chance to ask all my questions I can’t; but that still doesn’t stop my mind wondering about all of this.

I believe that we are very much the product of our upbringing and our environments, but that often we ignore this or even down place it, but also our environments change as we do.


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