Short Cuts

Jenny Diski

I’m not good at forgiving. It’s always been one of the worst aspects of my character, and now that I am old, there’s no chance it’s going to get better. I won’t have a warm retrospective feeling about Margaret Thatcher. I don’t see Reagan or Nixon in a new perspective with the passage of time. And I still loathe my wicked stepmother. This last is what needs acknowledging, because as I read Mary Whitehouse’s letters, everything about her, except the trim tailoring, reminded me of my wicked stepmother.[*] There was the same quivering, tight-lipped prissiness, the untroubled moral righteousness, a desire for the respectable and normal so powerful that when she realised my mother would never ‘give’ my father (with whom she lived during his last decade) a divorce, she changed her name by deed poll as the least excruciating option. A great deal of my time and mind at the ages of 13 and 14 was taken up with hating her, and the loathing was, as she wrote to me later, understandably reciprocated. Discovering negations of everything she found proper and good became almost my sole preoccupation; luckily, that included reading books of any kind, but especially ‘grown-up’ ones, as well as smoking, wearing outsize men’s jumpers, hanging out in cafés, supporting CND and getting expelled from school. It’s true that as a woman of mature years I can now see her unenviable situation: an ordinary provincial English housewife in love with an ageing ‘cosmopolitan’ Lothario with whom she had nothing in common, except their equal desire for his material comfort in his later years, and in loco parentis to a furious, fucked-up teenager who despised everything she and her chip-off-the-old-block, conformist, Cliff-Richard-adoring teenage daughter smugly stood for. I do see how awful it was for her, but I hate her, still and nevertheless.

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