OK, firstly please forgive this possibly garbled post. I have thoughts rushing at me and they are hard to catch. Bear with me…
I’ve had a weird year, not least because I turned 45. I was worried about this particular birthday because my dad was 45 when he took his own life. My birthday passed and it was OK. But it was when I was in Canada last month, on my own, that I hit his exact age, to the day. It was horrible. But I survived.
Now I feel like this age – 45 – is not a millstone but a milestone. I have survived. I don’t know what the road ahead will be like – I have more mountains to climb, that’s for sure. As we all do, in our own way. But I am still here and I have to make each day count.
My childhood is vivid and present with me as I grow older. Last week, I was in my shed/office (shoffice?) sorting through old postcards and I found this kitsch one of two kittens. I had a shock when I saw who’d sent it to me, back in the long hot summer of 1976. It was from a lady I knew as Auntie Wink. She lived over the road from our sweet shop in Torquay. We hung out. It was fun. Though her house smelt of cat pee.
Wink was the starting point for my first novel The Generation Game. I had no idea I’d kept the postcard. I was really moved to have it in my hand. I was back in her front room watching Bruce and Anthea, eating fish and chips. And I said a big thank you to her for making my book what it is.
And something more. This novel was published as a result of the Luke Bitmead Writers Award, a bursary for new novelists set up in memory of a very special young writer who sadly took his own life. His mother, Elaine Hanson, who set up the award, is a wonderful woman. And a survivor.
So I suppose what I am saying is two things:
1. We can never leave our childhood, however old we get. It shapes who we are, for better, for worse. And sometimes it comes back at us, in unexpected ways.
2. We are all connected.
And finally. Today I am giving a special thought to my dad. I wish you’d got some help, Daddy. Then you might still be here, with us, approaching your 80th birthday. That’s a lot of lost years.
And finally finally. Here’s my plea. If you are feeling suicidal or if you are worried about someone who might be suicidal, then please know there is help. Please call the Samaritans. Please talk.
So sad to hear Bob Holness passed away today. He was part of my cultural heritage growing up, hosting the fab kids’ quiz show, Blockbusters. It was comforting to watch, coming in after a day at school, before setting out on an evening of homework (yes, OK, I was a bit of a nerd but proud of it). Just the right pitch of questions for me as a a teenager. And who can forget the infamous ‘Can I have a ‘P’ please, Bob?’?
For those of you who have read my debut novel, The Generation Game, you will know that I have a mild obsession for quiz shows from the 70s ands 80s. In fact, one of my characters, an old lady called Wink, likes to watch Blockbusters of an evening. Well, it was was one of the best. And Bob was a gentleman who I rank up there with the greatest of hosts, even Sir Brucie.
My thoughts are with his family. He will be sadly missed.
Next year, the BBC will celebrate 40 years of the trailblazing children’s news programme, Newsround. Like many British kids, I grew up learning about current affairs from John Craven. Unfortunately he is now remembered more for his array of comedy jumpers, than for his news broadcasting.
But Newsround was a revolutionary idea that nearly didn’t make it off the ground. According to the show’s creator Edward Barnes, society believed that childhood was a golden age, a time when the young shouldn’t have to worry about the world around them. “Even within my own department there were people who said we shouldn’t be doing this,” explains Barnes, who was deputy head of children’s television at the time. “Why should we tell children about disasters and massacres and murders? They thought it was violating children’s innocence. There was a Victorian idea of childhood, that it is something to be protected and guarded – there was still a lot of that around at the time.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2011/nov/29/newsround-creator-edward-barnes)
Finally, adults realised that children need access to the news so that they can make sense of the world around them and be outward-looking.
Because of its late-afternoon scheduling, Newsround was the first news programme to break several momentous world events, including the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.
But it doesn’t stop with kids. If you are an adult and you don’t understand the intricacies of the World Trade Organisation or the Kyoto Agreement on climate change, then Newsround will explain the fundamentals in a simple, unpatronisng way.
One of the characters in my novel The Generation Game, an old lady called Wink, is a telly addict who never fails to watch John Craven’s Newsround – just so she can keep one step ahead. And to comment on those jumpers.
The John Craven Years is being shown on Christmas Eve on BBC2 at 7.oo pm. Forget the sprouts and tune in.