Toxic Tales

A month or so ago I was approached by Radio 4 to be part of a new series called The House I grew up in. “It’s in its second series” said Smita Patel the producer “thefirst one was nominated for a Sony”. My agent had been called, terms and conditionssorted and it was on. The programme is centred upon my returning back to TheHouse I Grew Up In. I can’t tell you how proud this made me feel. My past wasnot something closed off or ring fenced.    

Never an easy situation. It’s well documented. I was fostered and placed into care at 11years old. The House I grew up in was not a  safe place to be. But I had said yes because my past does not hinder my present, it is a part of me, and if denied would become toxic. The discussions with Patel began.  After confusion at where the address actually was, not 20 Osborne Rd but 2 Osborne Rd,   we began.

The the narrative of the piece started to unfold.  Patel  asked questions,  I gave answers and over the weeks  Patel began to shape  the programme. My past started to unfold into the present,   The Social Worker, The local Shopkeeper, The School teachers, The Neighbours.  Over a period of weeks the story was coming together and the calls kept coming. “your teachers remember you” said Smita enthusiastically., “your social worker says yes”. One teacher suspiciously pulled out of the interview.

Patel spoke in the way a news or current affairs worker, with  clipped assertiveness. Thequestion arose as it had to. None of these people were family. My foster father died some years ago, but my foster mother was alive. “Shall we find her” I paused. I replied  Ifyou would like to.   I was aware that the narrative path Patel was following was nudging towards  my foster mother, the surviving member of the foster parents.  

But I remained open to the narrative unfolding and had no reason to not want thefoster parents to be there if this is the route Patel wanted to pursue.  This programme was about the House I grew Up In after all. It all made sense that she may want to contact the parents that were in the house at the time.  What I hadn’t realised is that this developing narrative was somehow a revelation to Patel. shall we find her  she asked again I am not against the idea   I replied again.

I have managed my emotions throughout the conversations.  I have given Patel all the information available to me.  I had been courteous and understanding of what was developing before me.  I have been working at The Southbank every day meanwhile taking these calls that dug effortlessly into my past, without any resistance.  I had agreedto this process and carefully walked as Patel applied her not inconsiderable news skills. (A quick google would have enlighten Patel to my story, but still.)

The next phone call at about 2pm today began with the words  I think you should sit down.  I was perturbed by the idea that Patel thought any of this would be a shock. Havingsearched for and found my birth family around the world, finding my foster mother in the UK was never the issue. we’ve found her relayed Patel. I hadn’t asked Patel to find her.Patel asked me if I minded that she looked for her. She asked me if I minded, if we should. Each time I replied If you would like to, no problem, go ahead.    In the same conversation same tone of voice as  I think you should sit down I've found your mother"  Patelfollowed with  I  must tell you I have talked to my editor about this,  if you don’t meet her, inthe interests of balance, we won’t be able to make the programme”. 

For the first time I felt unsafe.  A fissure spun a hairline crack around my head and heart. Patel continued  clearly moved by the conversation she had with Mrs Greenwood  “shecried for thirty minutes on the phone” Patel  continued “she feels you have misrepresented her over the years. Do you still want to interview her? I must tell you, if you don't we won't be able to do the programme”. 

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