This book this afternoon is a book of Tales told by the Master of the Monologue, someone who has always fascinated me a man who tells it as it is. His name Alan Bennett, you may have heard of him, I am not sure. One thing is certain Alan Bennett is unique.
ALAN BENNETT – TELLING TALES
Alan Bennett recalls his childhood in a sequence of tales that are funny, touching and told in his unique style.
Hampered, as her sees it, by a family that never manages to be quite like other families, he recounts his early years in Leeds – a place where early in life one learned the quite useful lesson that “life is generally something that happens elsewhere”. Hiking every Sunday, trips into town and teas in cafes, it’s an ordinary childhood – his father a butcher, his mother a reader of women’s magazines who dreams of coffee mornings, cocktail parties and life “down south”.
Alan Bennett relives family crises, early pieties and the lost tradition of musical evenings round the piano, with the wry observation and ironic understatement that has earned him a place in the forefront of contemporary writing.
Here we have a snippet of one of Alan Bennett’s Tales – PROPER NAMES
My Parents names are Lillian and Walter, Lil and Walt as they call each other. Except that they don’t very often, particularly after my brother and I are born, which somehow puts paid to their names. When we come along, Walter and Lillian are buried and thereafter they are almost always called Mam and Dad, not merely by us, but by each other, their names deferring to their function as parents.
Occasionally, though, function forgotten, they resume their identities and become people again and it is always at times of pain or stress. As when, sometime in the early forties, Mam has the last of her teeth out. Dad has had all of his taken out at one go when he is twenty-five, but Mam loses hers more slowly, until one of her front teeth having decayed so spectacularly it looks as it is may snap off, she has all of hers out too.
After this wholesale extraction she is in terrible pain. Someone tells her that cigarettes help and we come home from school to find her crouched over the fire inexpertly puffing at one of Dad’s cigs (the first and only time in her life that she smokes), her legs, as women were in those days, mottled red and black from sitting too close to the fire. When Dad comes home, he isn’t Dad but Walt and she is Lil, holding his hand and weeping by the fire with a vinegar and brown paper plaster stuck to her aching face.
The next time Mam is Lil is just after the war when Dad, who is unemployed and has been ill on and off for six months, collapses one Sunday morning in the street in Armley and, having managed to reach the house of a friend, he lies on the floor crying out with excruciating pain.
He is a patient of Dr Moneys who hitherto dismissed his symptoms as “wind”, prescribing what Dad calls “another bottle of that chalky muck” and which my brother or I are sent down the road to fetch from Timothy White’s the chemist. The chalky muck doesn’t do the trick and whatever it is that has felled Dad to the kitchen floor, it plainly isn’t wind.
Dramatic though the circumstances are, a doctor is not lightly to be called out on a Sunday morning, though how really a doctor does “come out” particularly at night or out of hours, is what makes him, irrespective of his diagnostic skills, a good doctor, and certainly a good doctor to be with – “He’ll always come out”, the highest praise a patient can bestow.
This is 1946, on the eve of the introduction of the National Health Service.
The above is just a little taste of one of his Tales.
Alan Bennett is one of Britain’s best-loved and most highly acclaimed writers. His stage plays, include FORTY YEARS ON, THE OLD COUNTRY, KAFKA’S DICK, A QUESTION OF ATTRIBUTION, AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD, THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III and his adaptation of THE WIND AND WILLOWS for the National Theatre. Feature films, include A PRIVATE FUNCTION, PRICK UP YOUR EARS and THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE. He has written many plays for television, including the eight plays published by BBC Books in OBJECTS OF AFFECTION in 1982 and two TALKING HEADS series (1988 and 1998). He has also published a best-selling collection of diaries, reviews and reminiscences, WRITING HOME.
I was reminded when Alan Bennett mentioned the Chemists “Timothy Whites”. I was about 2 years old, maybe not even that and my Mother was going to take my sister who is four years older than me, and myself out shopping I suppose, she asked my sister to wash my hands. My sister got a bowl and took the kettle of hot water off the stove, I remember as small as I was being told to put my hands in the bowl (I would listen clearly as smacks would come quickly). My little hands were in the bowl and the next thing was this PAIN this terrible PAIN and I was screaming so very much. My sister had poured the entire kettle of boiling water on my hands. My mother covered my hands with a tea towel I think, put me in my push chair and along with my sister ran me down to the Chemists – Timothy Whites, I remember her running with the pushchair telling me to stop screaming, people I suspect were looking. I recall this man in a white coat he was very gentle as I was still screaming and he took the towel off my little hands, they were so RED, I remember this so so cold white stuff put on my hands and he gently wrapped up my hands. Today, I don’t have any scars on my hands but my skin is so thin I can take the hottest water now and I don’t really feel how hot it is. Not the first so called “accident” caused to me by my so called sister. Probably a lot of my spinal problems are due to being pushed down an Iron staircase at school and being unconscious, my sister was with me. I am deaf on my left side and suffer with Meniere’s because of my sister’s fists – but always my mother would say I caused it all. You may ask did my Mother like me, well NO she waited nearly 30 years and my Father’s Death to tell me she did not. Families?
I hope you enjoyed the little snippet, here is something else for you to listen to and enjoy, its “Thanks” to Hugh Terry on YouTube. Its called the TELEGRAM, I think from the series Talking Heads.