What doesn’t kill you…
‘I didn’t think about sex – I just did it.’ Jeanette Winterson was talking to Alan Yentob on Imagine BBC 1 Tuesday 10.35pm – My Monster and Me.
She was born in
in 1959 to a woman who worked in a clothing factory. As she was illegitimate her birth mother gave
her up for adoption and her monster – Mrs Winterson - took her to live in the
back streets of Accrington, a soot-smutted Manchester Lancashire
town just over the moors from my own home town.
Jeanette wrote an award winning book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit when she was 26 which tells of her extraordinary childhood. The monster was her adoptive mother – an evangelical Christian and Jeanette was meant to be a missionary. She was ruled with a rod of iron – Mrs Winterson kept a revolver in the kitchen - and was frequently told the devil had led Mrs Winterson to the wrong crib.
Rejected by two mothers (she regards the writer Ruth Rendell as her third mother) Jeanette found relief in books. She demonstrated to Yentob how when she was pushed out of the front door she would curl up on the step. She said it was quite comfortable, sheltered from the rain and she could escape into her imagination.
Books transformed her life; she would hide them under the mattress – they were her ‘flying carpet ‘to get away from her dreary surroundings. She worked her way through the alphabet at the local library.
Mrs Winterson threw her out aged 16 when her attempts to exorcise Jeanette’s homosexuality failed. She lived in a borrowed Mini for two months and illustrated to Yentob how she kept things respectable by using the driver’s seat as an office – the large steering wheel as a book rest, the passenger seat as a dining room (never slide across – always go out of the drivers door and in via the passenger door) and the bedroom was the back seat with the boot as a wardrobe.
Somehow she got to
When the revolver appeared on the kitchen table Jeanette knew it was time to leave and was estranged from her adoptive mother until her death.
Jeanette had many affairs both in
Now it was to be a fresh start and she determined to find her birth mother with the help of Susie Orbach. Eventually she did find her.
The programme visited
When Mrs Winterson died Jeanette didn’t attend the funeral but sent flowers in the shape of a dog. The film ends with her visiting Mrs Winterson’s grave along with Yentob. As she said her mother was a monster – but she was her monster. Finally – left alone with her thoughts she suddenly steals a bunch of white flowers from the next grave and put’s them on Mrs Winterson’s grave.
As soon as the programme was over there was a footnote to say the flowers were immediately restored to their rightful place.
Jeanette’s memoir is Why be Happy When you could be
My next read I think, to fill in the gaps.