Why do people hate family court?

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Background

In November 2018 I attended a conference about coercive control where I met Sarah Phillimore — an erudite and impressive barrister. Since then we have had several frank exchanges in online channels. We have differing perspectives on several issues around family law and people’s acceptance or rejection of it — specifically the ability of a ‘lay person’ to understand the complexity of the court system when they are having to deal with the most precious things in their lives. — their children.

As with any strong exchanges by people who are able to vocalise their opinions whilst retaining an open mind; I think it is fair to say we have both positively influenced each other’s thinking — certainly our debate and disagreements have been healthy and have  either validated our opinions or enlightened us about the possibility that there is more than one way to be ‘right’. Sarah and I both firmly believe in the pursuit of facts and logic to guide decision-making; we differ however when it comes to what ‘truth’ can be determined from those facts. Sarah is resolute that facts are facts and that, although laws should be challenged, ‘due process’ should seek to be upheld. My perspective is that facts, like data, can be creatively manipulated to substantiate the point the storyteller wants to make and also facts can be omitted or delivered out of context to tell a different version of events. The intent of the storyteller should be considered beyond the black/white law or rules. It isn’t always possible to uphold due process when cortisol floods the brain promoting the primordial survival instinct of fight/flight such that we see people run from the system. Plus morally challenging the law to evolve it takes a long time and expertise — people in an emergency situation don’t have the ‘lag luxury’ for the system to alter when they are threatened or perceive to be threatened to have their children removed from their care.

Furthermore, when someone is put under stress those stories can become embellished or  distorted so like ‘Chinese whispers’ the last person to hear the story is learning of ‘facts’ that may have significantly changed along the way. To an extent this is the drama of human nature; but when that happens in family court it is a dangerous practice.

Sarah asked me to guest blog on her resource dedicated to child protection services about our different perspectives. Below follows my response to the question; “Why do people hate family court?”. The online resource that Sarah manages is an excellent guide and I urge anyone involved in family court to read the content on the site

http://childprotectionresource.online

 

Why do people hate family court?

People hate family court for the same reasons they hate hospitals; something pathological has happened to you that you cannot resolve alone and you have to put your life in the hands of people who are deemed to be more expert about your condition than you are. If you’re in family court you’ve likely been through something painful, there’s no guarantee it will stop hurting and the interventions themselves cause bruises. There’s also a hefty bill at the end and the surrounding quality of life direct and indirect costs of loss of earnings and utter exhaustion. Plus … like lots of diseases, it might not go away, it might come back; next time it could be fatal.

Why the determined correlation with medicine? I’m trying to align what I know with what I’ve experienced – knowledge of facts and wisdom of interpretation. I’ve been a medical writer for 25 years following a degree in medical biochemistry and application of that in the research and development of medicines. My entire nature is that of enquiry and fact-based decision making and behaviours. I believe in logic, cause and effect, sensibly following ‘doctor’s orders’.

I’ve also spent too much time in family court as a petitioner which saw 18 hearings in 22 months. My faith in facts, practitioners and the sensibility of court orders was put to the test before, during and after every one of those hearings. It was like preparing for surgery.

Let’s cut to the end result to be able to get back to the original question of ‘hatred’: although technically ‘I won’ — as in the contact order I applied for (on police recommendation) was granted — the experience was like surgery without anaesthetic where you leave feeling as though the presenting diseases may have been excised but fragments of infection are lingering away in septic reservoirs leaving with you a body and mind too irreversibly damaged to recover and parent well. ‘Our case’ was just a lose:lose for the entire family. Both families; the old and the new and the penumbrae of families around us.

Our case had its ‘final hearing’ (an oxymoron if you consider that toxic parenting is a chronic condition) more than a year ago. I’m still haunted by the ghosts of hearings past and have my very own reservoir of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder leaving a lasting impression. The reality of the court orders is that unlike doctor’s orders, I’m already forced into breaking them and live every day with the fresh fear that CAFCASS will find me to be in breach and my ex husband will take me back to court. Because family court transacts on what has happened and assumes that children’s needs are fixed. Funnily enough, children grow and change whereas court orders don’t (without another set of injurious hearings reopening wounds) and as I now have a sentient, articulate adolescent determinedly refusing to stay at Dad’s house that essentially turns me into a criminal and opens me up again to allegations of the never-proved, academically derided ‘junk theory’ of parental alienation.

Like Andrew Wakefield’s infamous MMR causal link to autism saw him struck off yet the myths still perpetuate; parental alienation accusations conveniently drown out what ironically is ‘the voice of the child’ – child says ‘this is happening to me; I don’t like it’, CAFCASS officers respond with ‘they’re too young to know what they’re saying, they are the mouthpiece of the parent’. Pick a lane please. By all accounts, therefore, if recent judges’ blunt condemnations that ‘alienating mothers should be subjected to a three-strikes and you’re out’ – or imprisoned – then who knows if my next blog will be about life behind bars?

Therein lies the promulgation to distrust, fear, anger — hatred.

Despite living in purgatory, I have been able to step back and consider what in the hell happened there. My observations are that, like medicine, where a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment is sought through sedulous investigation of symptoms to reach a purely factual outcome – so too does the law of family court (specifically the implementation of ‘The Children’s Act’) rely on facts to achieve a sensible outcome that secures the best outcome for the child. As such, both the practices of medicine and law are ones which rely on its participants and processes being underpinned by integrity and accuracy. Trust should therefore be implicit.

However, neither medicine nor law accommodates human nature and emotions – which when put under pressure will contort and eclipse rational and logical decision-making. When afraid, hurt, confused or distressed the easiest of the emotion to employ is anger. Family court is that A&E part of the hospital where anger dominates; complex decisions are being made amidst a melee of jargon, allegations, process and manipulation. It becomes too easy to archetype ‘all mums are histrionic and cry wolf on domestic abuse’ or ‘all dads are intimidating and claim parental alienation’. However, this isn’t about gender – it is about which parent is the angriest parent in family court because they are more likely to be the one also prepared to be the most ruthless; to take the greatest risks. When parties enter the court they will each know how to attack and defend and how far the other is prepared to go.

The hate of family court is the knowledge that parties will default to their character type and court processes and practitioners by their very need to be thorough and percipient to protect a child have to also be open to the angriest party’s determination to exploit those people and processes in continued pursuit of punishment.

People hate family court because it prolongs the pain of punitive pursuit.

I could further my anecdotes and detail the utterly ludicrous allegations postured at me that I had to defend. But that would be pointless precisely because I was able to defend them thanks to a brilliant barrister and very caring solicitor who, importantly, were able to get me to listen all the while that my anger and fears were raging towards a maelstrom that possibly would have seen me lose custody of my own children and only be permitted supervised visits. If my ex had got his way and the full force of his anger and risk-taking of out and out lies had succeeded in influencing the judge as they biased the CAFCASS officer throughout proceedings then this story might have been very different indeed and even have seen our children placed in the care system. I won’t comment on the allegations because that’s the subject of a different blog (how narcissistic parents behave in court).

But that is why only relying on ‘facts’, denying how emotions can influence behaviours and seeing things in the fixed black/white process of the law is merely sticking a plaster over a seeping wound. People hate family court because it is sterile and doesn’t accurately reflect life outside the chambers. The law is fixed, but life is fluid. And people’s emotions over their children will always spill over … the angrier, the louder, the more heinous the allegations, the blunt threats and brinksmanship of disingenuous practitioners … when faced with the prospect of fight or flight, most mothers without strong legal support will run.

There needs to be allowance for the emotions of all parties and just as a good doctor seeks to help the physical and holistic needs of a patient; so too must family court consider the importance of helping and communicating that it should be a place for resolution rather than fuelling hatred. That can only begin when we seek to align knowledge of facts and wisdom of interpretation.

Checking for your check-mates

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Learning to play chess with love

I’ve felt hugely let down by a lot of people I trusted recently and this has led me to evaluate what I give to people and what I hope will be reciprocated when we choose to be someone’s friend. The ancient Greeks described seven types of love and of these – the love of altruism (agape) and long-standing friendship (philia) are quietly afforded King and Queen status. If life were a chessboard then all the pieces and plays are designed to protect and promote agape and philia. I’m only just learning to play chess – and being taught by my 10 year old son is proving to be quite the humbling experience. On holiday recently, we played every day and he took great pleasure in helping me ‘think ahead’ and also explaining where I’d gone wrong to end up in check-mate. My natural inclination is to stay very still on the chess board to try to preserve every piece. Sacrificing a pawn for the greater good is not a move that comes easily to me; my son laughed at how readily I’ll put the Queen into conflict and be prepared to use her metamorphic mimicry of all other pieces to safeguard the King.

I do this everyday; I contort myself too readily in my loyalty as someone’s friend to try to help them achieve their goals. My best friend of four decades described this more simply as “you always look for the good in people and you forgive over and again where others would just say that’s enough.” It sounds like a noble characteristic but in reality it makes me a doormat and shocks me when others don’t ascribe the same importance to this kind of love as to the others. I’m always in the mood for love – a giver not a taker – so it is little wonder that I’m left feeling short-changed or unexpectedly into check-mate by people I thought had my back.

 

Study the pieces to learn how to master the game

That said, perhaps I’m actually just assigning certain of these relationships the wrong love-label? Naïve love and playful love are ‘eros’ and ‘ludos’, family and love of the self are ‘storge’ and ‘philautia’ and ‘pragma’ is the long-standing love that has likely weathered all the storms of life and evolved through the other six types. When I think of my four decades of friendship with my best friend, we have been through all of that – and here we still are, from the romantic, physical butterflies of a new friend on the first day of nursery school, through our nightclub shenanigans playing in our teens, the strengthening of our friendship is now akin to siblings-status as we have nursed each other through goodbyes to parents grandparents and coped with all manner of rubbish that life has thrown at us. I can’t in all honesty expect more recently acquired ‘friends’ to be prepared to offer that kind of stoic support. Why should they? They give what they can as befits the longevity of our alliance. It’s more likely that I dive straight into friendships giving everything of myself and then find myself perplexed when the friendship pool is understandably shallow as I should have waded in more cautiously from the ‘learner’ pool.

 

Chess is about mastering your reactions

What is the measure of a long-standing friend, therefore? I have three who provide the following different kinds of love:

One is ‘storge’, the sister-friend where the friendship is completely unconditional – recently demonstrated because when my daughter expressed fear that I might die and she’d be left to fend for herself (a common concern for a child who has been the subject of toxic parenting), and upon hearing that she swooped my daughter up and reassured her “I’ll move to come and look after you and take care of you as your Mum would want – I’ll never leave you.” Unsuprisingly she is my children’s Godmother. As far as I’m concerned that is the adult version of adopting someone – I choose you as a member of our family.

One is ‘pragma’, the older brother friend where shared goals and duty help to keep me focused on the things that need to be done to get through life. He will always help but he will keep my feet on the ground. It might help that he’s a world class medic who can triage my needs and get me up and running again when life knocks me over. His sedulous nature is a citadel in a storm and I’ve taken shelter over and again in his common-sense accuracy to remove my fears. I credit him with helping me to retain residency of my children when outrageous allegations were being made about my parenting. He wrote to the court precisely outlining my capabilities and detailing my strength as a Mother. This is not a man given to florid storytelling but everytime I re-read that letter and see myself through his eyes I’m reminded that friends always step up to defend you even if they don’t necessarily agree with some of your choices. His praise is one that is hard to achieve but sincerely given.

The last of my ‘treasured three’ is ‘philia’; this is the philosophical friendship that seeks to keep things authentic and developing, striving to know the limits of my beliefs and defects and help me work past and beyond them. Again, this is a friendship of decades and I lean upon her insights for how other people behave and why and to help me swim away from the sharks in the water. At times this requires some brutal truths and insights – but they are always offered and seen through from a place of love. She helps me to find peace.

 

In it for the long game

With all of these friends there have been dark times — we’ve been at odds with one another and there have been periods when we have been too cross with one another to ‘socialise’. We know how to press all sorts of buttons. But when it counts they are there — the first question they ask is ‘what can I do to help’? and they give without expecting any return. That’s an unrelenting generosity — of friendship that is kinship.

What place then for the newer friendships – the eros, ludos, and philautia – excitement, uncommitted and self-love. Well each have their rightful place on the friendship chessboard and maybe those relationships will deepen and change … but I have all the pieces I need and in the right places for now … I’m in the right kind of check-mate

You can’t pick your family — can you?

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Wicked Stepmother?

Nah — I’ll be RockStar Stepmum thanks

It’s occurred to me that I don’t talk about the joys of the larger family that comes when you re-marry and along with the hot new husband come two gorgeous little people.

In our case they’re actually not little people, however, because they’re quite possibly the tallest kids in Yorkshire! This is a constant source of amusement to the Husband because my stepchildren aged 8 and 10 are already practically eye to eye with me and borrowing my clothes (step daughter that is not stepson although he has been known to have a go with my favourite heels to amuse his stepsiblings)! One of the great things about being a stepmum is that you get to know a kid on their terms – and you get to do all the fun parent stuff without having to worry about discipline. That’s their Mum’s and Dad’s job. It’s a bit like being a mischievous aunt who rocks up, laughs at all your jokes, takes you shopping or to concerts and then dumps you back onto your tired parent when you’re all pumped up from the outing! And because you don’t have to do discipline, you’re their immediate sympathiser if they need a reassuring eyeroll for some minor infringement of the house rules. Except if you mess my cushions up – that’s going to gain you a bit of an eyebrow raise.

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Free from responsibility;

Rockstar Stepmum gets all the fun parenting bits

One of the many things I love about my stepkids is that they’re just hilariously funny. Genuinely – they are smart with a brilliant, cynical set of wry observations on the world – exemplary at the one-liners. And they don’t have to like me at all but they seem to enjoy my company. Unlike your own kids, stepkids don’t really ‘moan back’ or complain … there’s a slight reserve in their responses because they save their complaining for Dad. So I get to run with my stepson without the inevitable moans and groans that my kids would raise and I get to talk science geeky stuff with my stepdaughter which she politely tolerates whereas my daughter would happily tell me I’m dull and return to endless YouTube watching of make up videos.

And then there’s the joy of seeing all four children grow to love one another together. We’ve been remarkably lucky that from the outset all four children and stepchildren naturally got along; we anticipated a few bumps and grazes along the way but it has been a totally smooth ride of their togetherness for almost five years. This is entirely down to their gorgeous personalities and they are sincerely nice kids who look out and support the best in one another. I blame the parents!

 

He ain’t heavy — he’s my brother: when the bonds are built not born

The boys are one another’s best friends – they are side by side on several sports teams, stand together during the school day as often as they can (a chronological age difference of three months puts them in different year groups although they are the same age – it is like having twins in spirit).  The girls have the perfect age difference to buffer from those alpha-female hormones and potential battles for house supremacy so my daughter gets to be Oldest Child and my stepdaughter gets to retain ‘baby’ status. Given that stepdaughter is glamorously raven-haired tall and daughter is cute-blondie Kylie-size, however … we all amuse ourselves with the likelihood that it will be the younger one getting the drinks in whilst the older one is constantly carded!

All four ‘blended family’ kids form their own support network dealing with the challenges of when the adults in their lives behave more like the children that they are. I’ve overheard them discussing and sharing problems and challenges and coming up with creative and impressive solutions to help one another traverse the sometimes muddy waters of their parents in new relationships or remarriages. At times my stepchildren have even stepped in to directly help me; that they all see each other every day at school and look out for one another is a security and a set of bonds that they’ve chosen to bind themselves together with free of adult interference.

As such, their relationship is happy, uninhibited, supportive and loving.

And full of lots and lots of laughter.

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I couldn’t have wished for a better set of siblings for my children. It is often said that you can’t pick your family – but they have and they’ve done an outstanding job.

I am not afraid, I was born to do this

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 10.11.30The eagle-eyed amongst you who have the pleasure (or misfortune) to know me, work with me, socialise with me, watch me in my ups and downs as I rollercoaster my way through co-parenting after divorce and recovering from a toxic relationship may have noticed something on all my other social media channels.

I’ve dumped the double-barrelled surname!

Ironically, the name that I’ve dropped is the name of the person who’s quote I’m using to lead this piece — ‘I’m not afraid; I was born to do this’ was said by Joan d’Arc as she determined to do her best to put an end to the dynastic power battles between England and France — as a teenager!

I’m not French. I’m not going to be burnt at the stake. Nor am I a saint (ahem). But I do refuse to be frightened by people who have more power, more money, more connections than me. Because I have the most wonderful and powerful thing on the planet — love for my children and an unrelenting, indomitable spirit to make sure that they are treated with respect, with care, with delight for the treasures that they are.

I kept the double-barrelled name after I remarried because I was scared that I would lose that visible ‘ownership’ of my children — that someone else might be thought to be their Mother. I kept the double-barrelled name after I divorced because I was worried that all the work I had done and the publications I authored during my first marriage would be lost from me. I kept the double-barrelled name because I’d been known by that surname for almost two decades though my late teens, twenties and thirties when I’d formed friendships with people or acquaintances had come and gone; because I was concerned that if people couldn’t find me with that name then I would become invisible to friends and to potential work partners.

Perhaps I kept the double-barrelled name because I was petrified of what was being done to me by a controlling ex and keeping that name visible was for my protection … an old coat that if worn might give me some warmth and shield me from the onslaught of criticism, allegations, accusations — threats to take away that which is the most precious to me — my children. The years of name-calling, demands, gaslighting, fist stamping, glaring, instructions on what to do, to think, to write, persecution that I was wrong, my efforts as a mum were shit, that I will never be loved, never be free, never be believed — they muddled my brain into thinking I was rubbish, useless, incapable. A bad mum.

The reasons for keeping that double-barrelled name — scared, worried, concerned, petrified — are the wrong ones. And I am no longer afraid.

Several people have encouraged me in this transformative thinking this week — a police officer, an officer from social services, a psychotherapist, trusted friends, my own Mother and my daughter. The current family dynamic is not working and it is time to end the dynastic battles even if that means I get burnt along the way. I’m not a 19 year old young woman who is going to be put to death for her beliefs. But I am a 44 year old Mum who is going to keep standing up for her children.

So bye, bye, double-barrelled fear and hello courage and resolution.

They were born so I can do this. But I’ll do it with a hat and a keyboard rather than a sword! I’m a talker not a stalker.

 

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“Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).”

 

What does this look like outside of a textbook or academic description?

 

I’ve been researching lots of people’s experience of parenting with a malignant narcissist in the mix and the stories are shocking in the lengths that people will go to.

 

So far I’ve heard of the following:

  • Telling a child they are a thief for accidentally picking up an eyebrow pencil that looks like a lipstick she owns.
  • Trying to stop a child from talking to their friends, their teachers, their therapist about their fears.
  • Diverting a child’s medicine from being delivered to her Mother’s house.
  • Calling a child a liar and saying that she will stop being invited to people’s houses because she steals things.
  • Repeatedly telling a child they are stupid.
  • Frightening a child that if they say what happens to them then they will get put into prison.
  • Leaning into a child’s face and saying ‘Watch it’.
  • Forcing a child to hoard food in their room.
  • Trying to convince a child that their parent doesn’t look after them properly — take the to the dentist, the doctor, or takes them to the doctor or their therapist pretending they are ill to get attention.
  • Telling a child that they are rude, that they require ‘basic training’.
  • Refusing to wash a child’s clothes.
  • Refusing to praise a child for an outstanding set of school results, watch them have a lead role in a play or achieve something they worked hard for.
  • Calling a child’s Mum a bitch, a slut, a liar, greedy, lazy, incapable — regularly.
  • Terrorizing a child that their mum is going to commit suicide.
  • Emphaisising the persecution of one child by favouring their sibling.
  • Humiliating a child by yelling at them until they cry and forcing siblings to watch.
  • Telling a child they cannot answer back, ever, that their opinions will not be tolerated.
  • Forcing a child to wear clothes that are too small, ragged and expose a maturing body.
  • Interrogating a child and confiscating their forms of contact until they admit something they didn’t do.
  • Telling a child they are going to have their parents and step parents removed from their job.
  • Behaving cruelly so that the child asks of themselves — ‘what is wrong with me that I’m treated like this?’
  • Telling authorities that the child is lying when the child tries to report or describe her fears.
  • Telling a child that if they don’t self-inject their daily medicitation then they will make someone they are afraid of inject them.
  • Convincing people in authority that the person trying to help the child is also lying.
  • Using every contact possible to close down any possible disclosures or ability to document the harm.
  • Overhearing kids discussing not buying a bath bomb because one has sensitive skin — and then reporting their Mother for ‘making them aware of ailments’.
  • Telling a mum she must not cry in from of her children as her mother was dying.
  • Discouraging a child from trusting a grandparent.
  • Encouraging a grandparent to participate in the persecution.
  • Removing a child’s individuality and personal characteristics by telling them they have to conform to what that parent wants and expects rather than what the child is or might want to be.
  • Bombarding a child with texts and their Mother with texts that if not obeyed they will be taken to court.
  • Refusing to agree a contact schedule and then making accusations of disrupting, witholding or interrupting contact when school, hobby, or holiday activities need to be booked.
  • Putting a parent under constant financial pressure so that they are afraid they can’t pay their bills or buy their children the things they need so they obey the unreasonable demands.
  • Frequently embarking on comms bombardments to child and parent to overwhelm them and then accusing them of harassment when they respond to the bombardment or try to defend themselves.

Seeking injunctions to stop lists like this from being written.

Control the child — control the parent — control their lives.

Coercive control. In plain view.

If music be the food of love

 

Soundtracks and sex

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 21.57.50I’m definitely a better second wife than I was a first wife. It would be easy to say I picked a better husband second time around but the reality is I was better able to pick someone more suited to the adult me than the barely-out-of-my-teens one. I met Husband1 at 19, cocooned in the pretend-adult environment of a university campus with little or no experience of life and its struggles and we married at 21. The world is full of childhood sweetheart stories and kudos to them; but I changed so dramatically through my twenties and thirties that it proved impossible to remain married to someone who remained psychologically fixed in both his and my naïve states. First time around I was also unable to discern between infatuation (which saw me contort too-readily to a shape that wasn’t me at all) and partnering with someone who had vastly different perceptions of what a relationship should be.

Ironically, my blueprint for marriage was based on watching my parents – the easy affection, the passion, the humour. There was so much music and laughter surrounding me growing up. That time when my Dad got jealous of a David Essex poster my mum put up in the living room – in response to him sticking the Blondie, ‘Parallel Lines’ album cover up (Mum being dark haired, Debbie Harry being — well the opposite) — and he burnt the eyes out with a cigarette! And then there was Dr Hook’s ‘A little bit more’.

As a kid I just thought it was a nice tune to sing along to; as a teen it was ultimate cringe when I realised this represented their ‘are you up for it’ soundtrack! It is the job of all parents to embarrass their children about sex. But it is also their responsibility to gently introduce young adults into what is normal, comforting and important in a long-term relationship. Sex is a key currency, an elixir that all is well, a place of ultimate intimacy to meet, refresh and remind yourselves that you synch beautifully.

I know now therefore that my sexless first marriage was always doomed! Forget being told that then boyfriend had a religious epiphany and wanted ‘no sex before marriage’ as he proposed … it was obvious that we were not meant to be as the first song we ever danced to was L7’s, ‘When we pretend that we’re dead’. What an omen!

I couldn’t have known that ‘no sex thanks’ was not for me; I was too young.

 

 Slave to the rhythm

In Shakespeare’s, ‘Twelfth Night’, Duke Orsino asks for more music hoping that it might turn down his frustrations of his courtship of Countess Olivia – to dampen his obsession with love in the same way that downing an entire box of Quality Street might curb your enthusiasm for confectionary. He asks, “If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.” I can’t say that ever worked for me. When gloomy, happy, seeking solace or comfort I’ll use music to match or to boost my mood. My first husband developed a habit of always turning down whatever music was being played when he walked into a room. I used to quietly accept that as a pure act of passive-aggression because he knew how much I loved to sing and dance. He also used to complain if I was reading too much — or writing, or wanting to study something, or bring my family to our home – he was generally all about controlling the volume of my entire life. I started to make little ‘good mood tapes’ and as the ipod landed, playlists that were my act of rebellion. Because they were musical overtures of the life I started to turn the volume back up on. There were fantasy playlists for the future relationship I felt sure I would have.

 

Turning up the volume of my life

When my decree absolute was granted, the second thing I did (first thing I did was treat myself to some new Italian lace lingerie – but that’s the subject of a different post) was buy concert tickets, musical festival tickets and create a whole new load of playlists. I was determined to be ‘play on’. In retrospect I must apologise to my neighbours because the house was a mini nightclub for at least an hour every day and both the kids and I would regularly dance on tables – just because we could.

And as for the second husband – there was a heartbeat missed and then in synch early days – when changing a duvet cover (a task I loathe) he stepped in to help and we both started singing the same song at exactly the same time – ‘I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day’. Now he can’t dance for toffee – but boy can he sing. And during our courtship he would call and leave me voicemails of all my favourite songs. One of our early text missives went on for three days – considering what the best opening line of a song ever was. We both agreed it just has to be ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ – and just like our relationship it’s a massive, dive straight in big, haunting tune with an unmistakable opening riff.

In fact, most of our arguments are actually about music. He favours Prince over Michael Jackson. (Wrong). He thinks the competition in the 80s was between Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. (Wrong – it was Duran Duran vs Wham — everyone knows that). He once got cross with me because I casually mentioned that Kelly Jones looked as good as he sang when we were at a concert – and I discovered he’d chucked all the Stereophonics CDs the next day (wonder if he burnt the eyes out first – OMG I’ve married my Dad – but that’s not a bad thing.)

Almost five years on and we still sing, create new soundtracks and even ruin songs for one another. He does that by playing ‘Club Singer’ and comedically wrecking my favourites; I do it because I’m just loud and tuneless. When I’ve been away working and I start to get back into ‘home mode’ – travelling back now as I am as I type this – it is as though every song I hear is compelling me home. And finally I have the soundtrack to a life that I love and is at maximum volume.

So slide over here …

You’re one of my kind.

Death and taxes — and CAFCASS

close up photography of brass bullets

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Suicide in the trenches

My children are currently studying poetry; my son is learning a Wendy Cope poem for his next drama exam. It’s called ‘Huff’ and he’s pretty impressive in delivering the rage that’s behind the poem. My daughter is studying the poetry of the first world war and her homework has been dominated by imagining what it is like to be in the trenches. I did feel that I’d perhaps reached ‘peak parenting status’ when she casually asked; ‘How do you spell caliginous’ for one prep. Ah — my love of words (and endless repeating of them) is finally seeping through the blood brain barrier (yes, I know it’s impermeable but I’m ignoring that). We’ve really enjoyed discovering poets together. It was a sad introspection, therefore, when a link between Cope and Sassoon — ostensibly two vastly different poets in style, subject matter and era — jumped out to me. Cope’s poem hits home because it is a woman describing her anger, and we really don’t like it when women dare to be angry. This is alarmingly repurposed into something pathological where a woman can be deemed an unfit parent for being emotional when enduring the trench warfare that is the family court system in the UK. Even under constant threat of bombardment and heavy artillery bombing a Mother is expected to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

We read Siegfried Sassoon’s, ‘Suicide in the trenches’ just before falling asleep and awoke to ‘World Mental Health Day’. As such, its been hours of media disclosures about living with mental health conditions and the very real life killer condition of ‘suicidal ideation’ that steals the lives of thousands every year.

In November 2017 I was in that place — that trench — where suicide was one of the few solutions to the fourth year of a war that I didn’t want to be in. The war for my children’s welfare. Faced with a Thursday morning emergency court hearing where an Officer of the Court proposed to the judge that my children were ‘at risk of emotional harm and foster care should be considered’ my entire world was blown up in front of me, shell-shocked (as also was my Barrister), I left that hearing and walked into the No Man’s Land of a weekend looking at my children playing happily, taking their Nana’s dog to a local show and pitch side during rugby training but all the while thinking “if my children are taken away from me, I just want to die. I don’t want to live if they are not with me.”

 

Dissonance deters disaster

When someone suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the brain trips into ‘dissonance’ as a protective mechanism. This is to prevent the memory of enduring an horrendous event from propelling the self into suicidal ideation. In my case, another poet comes to mind — and ‘I wandered, lonely as a cloud’ through the next few weeks, really quite detached from the world as I tried to come to terms with what had been done to us as a family and what was still being done and would likely continue to be done. At the same time, I was having meetings with my solicitor, barrister and doctor to try to solve the crisis we were in. I was quite literally in two minds — horrorstruck and practical. Both were needed to cope, to survive, to pull my children and I from the trenches of the Family Courts. I talked to Foster Parents who I knew — friends of mine and also my aunt to try to get an understanding of why this had been suggested by the Court Officer. Every one told me — they won’t take your happy, thriving children away from a Mum clearly providing excellent care, and care that has been ratified by a National Child Psychologist Expert and articulated over and again by the children themselves. I was counselled that this was likely just an act of brinksmanship; a tactic frequently employed to try to make warring parents capitulate and find a better co-operative solution for their children. Banging heads together, however, by threatening to put children into a care system is a high risk and morally repugnant thing to do to any parent. Fortunately,  I was ‘rescued’ by the judge himself who adeptly dismissed his officer’s wholly bizarre ‘recommendation’ and also by myself and the people around me looking after me. They were on ‘suicide watch’. I am alive to tell this tale thanks to my husband, my mother, two very special friends and sertraline — the chemical that was needed to help me remain calm as the battle continued. In retrospect, I totally resent the need to anaesthatise my justifiable rage to be able to ‘perform’ as the Cafcass Officer, the psychologist and other ‘experts’ dictated — as the ‘keep calm and carry on, Mum’ — expected to hear horrendous allegations and lies abut my parenting from my ex without an angry rebuttal, told that I should accept that bullying of my children was ‘different parenting styles’, instructed to be more flexible about my children’s care than the ‘opposition’ and be the one to back down because I am more flexible and it was observed that he was ‘fixed and immovable’. Dad was permitted to be angry about his rights. I was told to be yielding, to lower my standards about my children’s treatment whilst be held to a higher account on my parenting. Outbursts by Dad were highlighted as a noble demonstration of the strength of his love for our children. Outbursts by Mum were punished as symptoms of hysteria and emotional instability. Double standards prevail.

The only certainty in life

Change, death and taxes are often cited as the only ‘certainties’ in life. But I have another to add to that list — certainty that an angry woman will always be undermined and an angry Mum will likely be treated with dismissive disdain. Especially by Cafcass Officers — who ironically are usually women and often mums themselves. During my ‘friendly chats’ with an officer (another line from a Wendy Cope poem now runs through my head, ‘Never Trust a Journalist’), I would find my calm observation and responses twisted into a version of me that wasn’t me at all. When I became angry at the misreporting, inappropriate questions or blatant bias in the management of our case, my right to complain and request a less-conflicted officer (she had a previous working relationship with Dad’s family), the very fact that I dared to complain was attempted to be used as evidence of my inability to work with people for my children’s welfare. At the time, being a novice in the family courts, I was stultified and even a little bit ashamed of myself thinking perhaps I was being difficult. I know now that this isn’t an experience isolated to me but this catch 22 for mums being assessed by officers happens often enough for it to become a very worrying pattern.

Corroborated by thousands of cases, numerous reports and personal experience. it is a truth universally acknowledged (yes spot the steal!) that our Family Court system is flawed, susceptible to manipulation, failing to protect the vulnerable children it is supposed to be there to serve. It is no longer fit for purpose. The ‘Suffer The Little Children’ dossier prepared by the ‘Legal Action for Women’ group in 2017 substantiates this and describes the ‘badge of honour’ pervasiveness where an officer takes an ugly delight in removing children from their mother under the guise of ’emotionally unstable’ or potentially causing emotional harm in the future. The dossier should be sober reading for all participants in the Family Courts; it should be mandatory for officers. This was another criticism levied at me — if I refused to accept that my children should go into foster care, or refused to accept the officer’s recommendations then that would ‘prove’ that I might cause emotional harm to my children, I might stop contact, the children might be taken into Dad’s residency so let’s make that change ‘now’ so it isn’t a shock to the children in the future.

Yes. That was an actual professional recommendation.

Actually; that’s a threat … do exactly as I say or I will take your children away. Agree that I know your children better than you and what’s best for them or I will say that you are too close to your children and influence them.

When you relay that to anyone who has not been through the Family courts they simply cannot believe it; because it is an utterly absurd and illogical behaviour. People shake their heads and say — ‘but of course a Mum influences her children, of course you’ll be upset if it is suggested your kids would be better in a stranger’s care in a system known for exposing already vulnerable children to risk and abuse’.

For us — the notion that happy thriving children could be removed from their Mother’s care, against their wishes, when every piece of evidence from independent experts, teachers, the children themselves proved how well they were being treated is an obtuse uncertainty. However, what is common is how this one person can spend no more than  two 15 minute sessions with a child and come to a wholly bizarre and inaccurate conclusion then make recommendations about their lives that have to be given more significant credence to a family judge than the testimony of all the other people reporting. It was suggested, as if it were actually evidence that my children were ‘at risk of emotional harm in the future and had experienced emotional harm from discordant parents’. How was this conclusion reached — my daughter shed a few tears during an interview when she was repeatedly asked ‘but why don’t you want to see your Dad more; he wants to see you more?’ which made her exasperated and upset at having to explain again why she loved her Dad but just preferred to live with Mum. That’s a huge endeavour for an 11 year old to Coe to terms with and her disclosure, her ‘needs and wishes’ should’ve have been met with respect rather than dissected to force the answer that the officer wanted to justify her recommendations. My daughter was also distressed by the death — days before —  of her beloved Grandfather and her beautiful sentient nature of knowing of my grief meant that she was emotional. That was a natural response to the coercive situation she found herself in. That was not a reason to recommend she and her brother be placed into foster care.

A year later, I’m sat writing this in my family kitchen, about to collect my children from school, they are safe under a court order which sees them resident with Mum and a contact order with Dad – contrary to the recommendations of the Court Officer. My life is worth living because they are still in it. Around the country, however, this ‘happy ending’ is not echoed and there are many parents – Mums and Dads – who are still in the trenches of Family Court with questionable orders from officers hanging over them.

As we keep looking to our poetry books therefore, and we study good mental health, the rights of females to be angry and emotional as normal behaviour not a pathology, as we review the annals of poor-decision making by the Generals and Officers so poignantly described by Sassoon … here’s how General Haig’s behaviours have been recorded: “obscene ignorance toward the weapons used in WWI was disastrous; … he often pushed for large advances that led to massive casualties.” When the officers of the family courts push for changes that encourage what is tantamount to the ‘kidnapping’ of children from their mothers then I am going to stay angry and emotional. And vigilant. Although, just like in the trenches, nobody moves forward in such a war.

The times when you wonder if you should’ve stuck it out

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It was my daughter’s birthday at the weekend and I found myself hosting a very excitable bunch of Year7 girls for a sleepover and general messing-about and mayhem. Everyone had a great time — although I’ve never seen a table of food clear so fast (and our twenty-something millennial AirBnB guests must’ve wondered how their little annexe escape turned into a nightclub for a few hours). Inevitably I found myself looking at my daughter, dancing, singing, laughing in the middle of it all and doing as every parent does — wondering where the heck the past 12 years had gone? I still see that violet-eyed, fluffy haired newborn wrapped in a towel and remember the long Autumn nights and early mornings of nursing and the wonders of learning how to be a Mum. She made it pretty easy to be honest because she was that kid that slept through the night from 9 weeks old, only had one tantrum during the ‘terrible twos’ and is such a natural people-pleaser that her sentient charm is magnetic.

Which is why I just don’t understand how her Dad and her new Stepmum can be so rotten about her and to her. They have called her a ‘stupid girl’, described her as being rude to adults and even yell at her until she cries about her apparent poor table manners — which seem to amount to the crime of shovelling peas. There is absolutely no truth in any of these claims; logically therefore, they can only be mean to her because she has had the strength, resilience and will to stand up to them and state what they do that make her so unhappy. Like all bullies, they do not like home truths. They especially dislike being disobeyed. This triggers huge guilt in my head because if I had stayed married to her Dad then I might have been able to shield her from such maltreatment.

Guilty as charged

I’m told this is a typical ‘script’ for women who have been in coercive, controlling relationships — you berate yourself for not sticking it out to make it easier for the kids. Was it selfish of me to pull the plug on a relationship that was making me unhappier by the day — because that unleashed a fury that is now routinely transferred onto our children and also exposed them to having to deal with a Stepmum and step siblings who seem determined to be horrible to them because of me? Most perplexing is that it is my daughter in particular who is treated like a blot on their new landscape; my son isn’t given such a hard time. Perhaps it is because, just like me, my daughter will not bend to obey a tyrant — no matter how big, influential, aggressive or manipulative they attempt to be to intimidate her. Ultimately she serves as a regular reminder to them that I exist and I’m not going away. Unlike me, however, she doesn’t have to mince her words or play astute political games of ‘appease the Cafcass Officer because they might take a dislike to you and twist your words’; she doesn’t have to try to see things from the perspective of ‘alternative parenting methods’. No she just cuts straight to it — ‘they are really mean to me, they lie, they don’t care about me, I can’t trust them, I’m not going to stay with them again’. That then is the cycle of hostility we are in. There are no quick-fixes.  That said, when I reflect over this there is something liberating about hearing my daughter’s fortitude — she is writing her own script and I would do well to adopt her stance rather than trying to please and appease a couple of evidently selfish morons. She’s not sticking it out any longer; so maybe I don’t have to either? As a Mum tasked with always wanting my kids to speak up about injustice, stand up to bullies, say ‘no’ about things that make them uncomfortable and refuse to be mistreated, belittled or ignored — I am guilty as charged in making these key confidence and self-esteem lessons stick.

You can stick that

It is time, therefore, to let go of the guilt of ‘should I have stuck it out’; because the reality is that would have been worse for the children. They would have seen their Mother undermined, ridiculed, tormented in front of their own eyes. They would have had me constantly covering for someone else’s bad timings or inability to get them to the things they need to be at; they would have me making excuses for a bully who gets what he wants by dominance not collaboration. What template would that have provided for how a loving relationship should transact or how a parent cares? What they have instead is someone who battled hard to be treasured, loved, respected and treated as a person deserving of care. They see someone who picked a new Stepfather who treats them and me  — not as a sticky piece of gum on the sole of his shoe to be trampled into the ground — but as warm, loving, sweet and charming people happy to spend time with, nourish and love.

 

The times when I wonder if I should have stuck it out for the sake of the children have gone — for their sake. And if you don’t agree, well, sorry, but you can stick it!

The Stepmum rules

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Archetypes and attitude

My ex husband recently remarried and with that our children acquired a brand new Stepmum. That’s in title only, however, because, she has been in their lives for almost four years.  Similarly, I’ve been in ‘my’ stepchildren’s lives for about the same time. There are three ‘mums’ therefore in this story; so no wonder it gets a bit claustrophobic and emotional at times. I do wonder if ‘mum-strops’ have a specific wavelength — like the known phenomenon of females in the same vicinity menstruating in synch. The problems however aren’t that we are combining positive energies to generate a brilliant environment for all the children — the power of resonance — but that our differing attitudes are dampening one another out and the result is just destruction and damage.

 

Girl-code; amplified

During the past four years oscillating between:

— a mum helping my kids deal with a stepmum;

— and a stepmum learning how to help stepchildren deal with me

it is fair to say I’ve probably gotten it wrong more times than I’ve gotten it right.

There are no NCT classes to prepare you for step parenting. Although I do wonder if it would help everyone — especially the children — if there was a mandatory set of classes in grief counselling, shame and anger management that all parents had to attend when they enter into a second marriage with children in the centre.

In acrimonious family court cases there is something called a ‘Separated Parents Information Course’ that battling parents can be made to attend. But that’s not the same as the reality of learning how to be a decent Step-parent when your new partner and his ex are in a persistent state of discord and you’re left to try to be a nice person to their children or reciprocally, you’re trying to persuade the new stepmum to your kids that whatever your dislike of your ex or their version of you from your ex — you only want your children to be liked and treated kindly when they’re with the ‘stand in mum’.

When I divorced, my solicitor went to great lengths to ensure that the time my children spent with their Dad and me and the finances needed to look after the children’s best interests were firmly laid out and watertight for their benefit. At the time I challenged him, naive in the belief that ‘he will never let our children down; he’s a good Dad’. To which said solicitor replied; “this isn’t about you or Dad; this is to protect the children from the maturity or immaturity of the next wife”. At the time I found this to be a deeply cynical reflection and dismissed it as something that would never be necessary for our children. Sadly, his words have proved to be entirely true. In both ex-wife and new-wife, Mum and Stepmum role — I’ve been subjected to, possibly contributed to, some almost comedic acts of immaturity. At times I’ve had to question what I’m actually reading when a perfunctory reminder about a rugby match or a play rehearsal has been responded to with hyperbole, hubris and hysteria — of the playground variety; “he never found you sexy!”, “you’re a slut”, “you’re old”, ‘you’re ruined’, and the mesmerisingly juvenile “you’ve only got a 2:1 degree but you think you’re so clever; all you actually do is regurgitate other people’s work.” Urm — thanks for that, could you please just get my kids to practice on time tho? Cheers’.

 

Are all Stepmums wicked?

Whatever the reasons for these kind of outbursts — there are lots of archetypes of the ‘Wicked Stepmother’ in literature to reach to. They all illuminate women under the most hideous of lights.  Snow White’s Stepmum needed to be the fairest of them all; Cinderella’s Stepmum turned her into a servant in her own home and sanctioned constant bullying by the stepsiblings. It is a struggle to find any positive Stepmum role models. It is also difficult to find any descriptions of how hard it is to be a mum and relinquishing control of the care of your most treasured and precious children into the maternal space of another. I’m not undermining Dads by expressing that; but there is a certain kind of expectation, mother-to-mother, about how someone else’s children should be treated when they’re in your care. Its ‘girl-code’, amplified.

I asked my stepson about this recently; what is it like to have a mum and a Stepmum? He described it as like being on a really long playdate with someone else’s mum who will make sure that you’re ok and be nice to you. I thought that was a remarkably insightful response from a 10 year old. What struck me was the omission of the sense that a Stepmum might also love you. For me, I never want to put my stepchildren in the middle of a woman to woman competition. Their love and loyalty should be for their Mum and that’s natural and fair. The best I can hope for from them is that I might earn their trust and respect for trying to help them. Why should they love me, anyway? I will always be the person married to their Dad who is not their Mum? When you’re a Stepmum its like being on a 1-month work notice period ‘zero hours contract’ where you’re only ever as good as your last project or behaviour because they can terminate any relationship with you whenever they want to. They don’t need you; they’ve already got a perfectly good mum to love them to the moon and back. On reflection; I quite like living by the step kids rules not mine — they keep me on my toes.

Perhaps then, any training course on how to be a Stepmum shouldn’t be written or run by the adults but directly from the children? I’ll ask them to compile some rules and blog them soon. If we take that as a sensible way forward however, what scope will there be for my kids’ ‘new stepmum’ to continue with playground antics? I guess we will see and ultimately it is the children who will make their minds up. Not me.

 

 

 

The best of times

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It is a year today since we buried my Father.

I’ve been sad, of course, but mostly during the past 12 months my main feeling has been one of gratitude — we shared a truly wonderful relationship, underpinned by trust, positivity and the deep knowing that you are very, very loved for everything that you are and are not. Such a sense of faith in your Dad is one of the fundamental relationships in your life that sets the scene for many others. And so I have in equal measure found myself worrying about the state of my daughter’s relationship with her dad — my ex. As I have had an emotional year missing my Dad’s omnipotent love, my daughter has an an emotional year longing for that absence to be filled. Despite my concerns at how she has been treated, I’m aware that she will form her boundaries on what a strong relationship is with her future loves based on the enduring love that her Father bestows. It hasn’t been a good time for them.

Which is why I will never alienate my daughter from her Father. The claims that I do are ludicrous and it is evident that is the case. Because I would never undermine my daughter’s self-esteem by making her doubt her Father’s love for her.

I held my Father’s hand when he died; I had my hand on his heart as he breathed his last. My mother was on the other side. The three of us said our goodbyes and he died knowing he was loved and our time together was the best.

I want my daughter to have that same knowing. She deserves that.

So good times, bad times will pass — and below is the Eulogy I was proud to make at my Dad’s Funeral. It reminds me that these times are our best. I hope my children will always have the best of times with their Dad.

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Lawrence Arthur Upton

The best of times

 

There’s a card on a notice board at home that reads; ‘A Father is someone who lifts you up, and holds you there forever’. Of course, that’s what a Father is destined to do, and in my Dad’s case he literally did lift my Mum, Annemarie, up from the floor – coming to her aid when he was a Paramedic, not then sweeping her off her feet in the conventional way but looking after her and taking care of her and a three year old me – courting us by bringing her bags of vegetables and me bags of sweets. My mum has always lamented that the flowers he sent her were cauliflowers and it was me who got the good stuff. But that describes Dad perfectly – a mixture of down-to-earth practicality with a cheeky bit of fun. People always talk about his defining, warmth-inducing smile and his bright blue eyes – he made everyone feel welcome and saw everything that was good about other people. Which is why I would broaden the reading on that card to say: ‘Lawrence Arthur Upton was someone who lifted the spirits of all he met and would listen to you, forever’.

 

He could talk for England too; even a 10 minute walk around the corner to come and see us would likely take an hour because he would stop and chat to so many people along the way. Of all the things I’ve learned are important from my Dad – hardwork, honesty, humility – what resonates and what defined him was that it is always worth taking just that extra minute in your day to talk to someone. Eulogies are meant to contain a few references and stories that typify a person’s character; and as expected, therefore, it has taken an absolute age to try to filter those stories down into a reasonable time. Because so many people have wanted to tell me about the great times they shared with my Dad or the everyday small acts of kindness that he made time in his day to do for them. I’ve been reminded of just how many people Dad made time for. This is probably one of the reasons that he seemed to be known by so many different names:

 

  • ‘Lollipop’ to Corrie; a daughter of a family friend, who he walked down the aisle as her dad on her big day
  • ‘Loz’ to Tony, a neighbour who said ‘He was more of a Dad to me than my own, and when I told him that he said, ‘that’s all right then, Son’ and that’s how they went forward. Thank you Tony for helping us let Dad go with dignity.
  • ‘Laurie’ to many friends who filled his life
  • But Larry to his most special of friends — Gill, a late bromance which included a trip to Spain last year amongst many age-inappropriate adventures! Thank you Gill for all you did and we know you will continue to do for us.
  • ‘The Naked Chef’ to my Mum’s family – not because he actually cooked with out his clothes on (well perhaps that once) but he was renowned for his ‘full English fry up’ hospitality, he loved his food … a daily question to my Mum would be ‘what do you want for tea then’ and she would despair back, ‘you’ve just had your breakfast!’
  • ‘Sport’ to his beloved brother, Chris, which was a shared love of theirs – there wasn’t a single sport that he didn’t enjoy although he was determined of course that he would buy my son, Atty, his first Liverpool kit and take him to his first match at Anfield.

 

It used to make me smile how many different names people knew him by. Because that typified how many close and warm relationships he had. My Dad was one of those magicians who knew the value of time and how to make the most of it.

 

Time to listen, time to talk, time to care. Good times, difficult times, times when he was usually the first to take action and times when he would sacrifice his own needs in the service of others. Dad was the oldest of three boys, Lawrence, Chris and Alan and they grew up in post-war Doncaster with Mum, Effie Mae as a Hospital Matron and Dad, Arthur as a railwayguard. Little surprise then that Dad became a paramedic and then a fireman and then worked with his brother in the family’s haulage business. Dad always knew in those roles that time was one of the most precious commodities – whether that was delivering a baby, pulling people out of fires or getting a delivery of goods where they needed to be. He was a man who never wasted time but also knew the importance of pressing the pause button when someone needed his help or simply to enjoy the experience in front of him. In his youth he ran to rescue others; in his later years he watched as we ran in races, in matches, in fear to him. The last walk he took was holding Atty’s hand around the park. The last conversation we had was about Delilah’s school report and her acing her drama exam with a life on the stage predicted. He gave that the thumbs up. And his final word to me was ‘Home’.

 

Which is why, when one of my school friends sent me a message this week, it was as though Dad was taking time again, even from another place to lift my spirits. The friend said: ‘It’s funny, one of the earliest memories of my childhood is being with you and your mum and dad, driving a caravan up to Scarborough and all of us singing, ‘take me home country roads’.

 

And I recall such great times with my dad too. As a kid he would ‘chuck me in the back of his lorry ‘Laurie’ cab’ during long school holidays – and we had hours on the road together where he always let me take over the radio station. He had a catering unit for a while which he seemed to run mostly to enable good times with people rather than as a viable business venture – because he would pitch at music festivals and formula 1 grand prixes and invite people along to ‘work’ whereas we actually just watched the concerts or the racing – good times were more important than money! He drove me to numerous music, dance and drama festivals around the country when I was young and as a teenager was always the one me and my friends would pester for a ‘dadcab’ taxi into town and then not complain when we spent all our money and needed to get home after the nightclub closed. One of my favourite regular times with him was when he’d drive my mum to the local car boot and I would eyeroll and sigh how lame it was for a teenager to have to be dragged around with their parents on a Sunday morning – there was always a specific roundabout where the road would lead to Leicester and he would quietly say; ‘that’s the road you’ll be taking when you go to university’. His was a gentle encouragement, behind the scenes, no flummery nor pressure – but a knowing sense of what time would offer me and what he would do to make that happen. And we then spent much time when I was older where the reverse happened and he accompanied me on business trips – to New York for example. I would go off to meetings and he would simply busy himself and we would meet later – inevitably he would have made new friends chatting with people during the day. Many a time he would drive me to a meeting with some super important medical leader because I would be too nervy to drive and I’d come out of the conference at the end of the session to find Dad chatting away merrily to a world leader in neuroscience or some such … he made time for everyone.

 

These are my memories of times with him of course. And for every story I have, there are many more of all the times he had with others, with you.

 

As rose petals are confetti at a wedding thrown to wish good times ahead, memories are the mind petals that we scatter at a funeral to remind us of the great times we had.

 

Dad therefore, was a straightforward man who demanded little from those around him, but expected only the best for his wife, his friends, his children and his grandchildren. And he would always give them his best, without complaint and without concern for the time it took. He didn’t question the merit of driving to Leicester to rescue me from a giant spider when I was a student and trapped in fear in my bedroom – and he brought me a Sunday Lunch to microwave at the same time – nor the time to drive his grandchildren to school every day for years, the time to take us to matches, meetings, trains, airports, hospitals, the time needed to keep pulling pints at the rec long after the match had finished and he really should’ve been off his feet, the time taken to paint the fence of the ‘old lady next door but one who hasn’t got anyone to help her’. He gave us his time, his attention, his care – he lifted the spirits of all he met and would listen to you, forever.

 

It should be difficult, therefore, to not be able to call upon him to help, to rescue, to support, to listen. And it is strange to think that I can’t just call him or have him pop around to fix the gate or watch the footy with Atticus or listen to Delilah perform the latest lines of a play she’s in. Dad lived a long and happy life, and only succumbed to ill health right at the very end. His body ran out of time but his presence never will.

 

We gather here today to remember and commemorate his life and so many great times and that, therefore, is his legacy – to make and spend our time with the ones we love, never to waste any time harbouring ill feelings or letting the opportunity to smile, to chat, to show that we care pass us by.

 

We love you Lollipop, Loz. Lol, Laurie, Larry, Sport, Dad – and we close this moment in time with your favourite piece of advice and how you lived your life – ‘Let’s just get on with it…’