Thursday, December 06, 2012

What Doesnt Kill You...


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 Manchester 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 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 Oxford University and loved the ‘five floors of books’, the beautiful town, the acquisition of knowledge and like minded friends.  Whilst at Oxford she asked Mrs Winterson if she could take a friend home and surprisingly was allowed.  The friend was of mixed race and Mrs Winterson provided lots of tins of pineapple and copious duvets on the bed because ‘they feel the cold’.

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 England and Paris.  She said she always felt most lonely when she was in a relationship.  When a six year relationship broke up she felt she was going mad.  Her friends knew she was in a dark place but didn’t know how to help her.  She tried to kill herself in her car in the garage - unaware that her cat was with her and when she fell to the floor the cat scratched at her face until she got up and opened the doors.  She said she would never be in that place again.  This was a new beginning.  Oddly as she was relating this to Yentob there was a movement on the darkened screen and one could just make out a cat moving to sit by her.

 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 Paris where Jeanette had found succour in the shop Shakespeare and Co, renowned for harbouring writers sometimes for years.
There she found loving friendship, was fed and looked after although they had no idea of what she was going through at the time

 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 Normal?

My next read I think, to fill in the gaps.

 

 

 

 

23 comments:

Scarlet Blue said...

You make the programme sound a lot better than the BBC trailers. I wish I'd watched it now.
Sx

Pat said...

Scarlet: thanks - that's nice to hear. You could probably still catch it on those repeat progrmmes.

savannah said...

i ahd to look her up, sugar! thanks for the tip. xoxoxo

Vagabonde said...

I read your last posts – we walked on the High Line in New York and I wrote a post on it – it was copied after a park in Paris (http://avagabonde.blogspot.com/2010/10/parks-nashville-and-new-york.html ) on which we walked in May 2011 but I have not written a post on that one yet.

About Jeanette Winterson – what a terrible childhood. Her book must be an interesting read – don’t know if I am up to so much sadness, and meanness. I think when people are ├╝ber religious they don’t realize how cruel they can be. I was just reading on the web about a 7 years old in Nevada who was beaten to death by his parents after failing to read the Bible.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Oh Pat...what a story---And you tell it so well, my dear...I want to see that show and read her book. What a Horrific early life! How DID she get to Oxford---that is remarkable! Thanks for writing about this extrodinary woman!

Luna MoonLightandShadow said...

Winterson is definitely one of my favourites. I'll have to google the bbc documentary. Thanks for writing about it. :)
Luna

Chef Files said...

Pain has always been one of lifes most prolific producers of hidden talent.

Nice wee post hen.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

This proves what I've always suspected: Evangelical Christians are bats and cats excel at self preservation.

Perhaps this is a sad thing to admit but I've had far fewer affairs than most. I found them too draining in the end. I found both dishing out rejection and being the recipient equally exhausting. I wish I could have had caviler sex like a lot of people. (I was originally going to type "a lot of men" but this post disproves that notion.)

Gadjo Dilo said...

Winterson's life-story has always fascinated me, but I confess that I found her Sexing The Cherry possibly the worst novel that I've ever tried to read.

A revolver in the kitchen, eh? And to think I sometimes make criticisms of my mum....

Pat said...

Savannah: she's worth the effort I think.xoxox

Vagabonde: oddly when she was speaking of Mrs Winterson there didn't seem to be any animosity more like speaking of a sparring partner.

Naomi: I have just downloaded her memoir onto my kindle, in part, to discover how she got to Oxford.

Luna: I hope you find it and I hope I didn't miss out anything important. It would help if I could easily read my scribble.

Chef:you are right. I got the distinct impression that she would not have been able to write as she does without the influenc of Mrs Winterson. And the constant iterating of bible language as she grew up can't have harmed her creative flow. As she says Mrs W's 'the Devil took us to the wrong crib' is the beginning of a fairy story in your head.

UB: oh we must compare notes sometime:) It's not sad at all IMO. It's good to know where you've beeen.

Gadjo: I don't know it but the title would put me off.
I look forwsrd to reading the memoir 'Why be Happy when You could be normal?'
Sounds like you should write your own although getting it published can be a long winding road.

lom said...

Sounds fascinating

LL Cool Joe said...

I read a review of the programme and thought it sounded very interesting. :)

"Rejected by two mothers". As someone who is adopted with adopted kids I try not to view birth mothers giving their child up for adoption as rejection. I try to look at it as the most loving thing they could have done in the circumstances. That's what I tell my daughters.

I often think that I wouldn't be here now if my birth mother had had an abortion.

Guyana-Gyal said...

What a sad story. A child is such a precious gift, I can never understand how anyone can abuse a child.





Pearl said...

A fascinating story...

Pearl

Pat said...

Lom: it left you wanting to know more. Well me anyway:)

Joey: what a wise Dad you are. Im hoping in the book I will learn more of how the meeting with her birth mother went.

GG: it is a credit to Jeanette that she didn't seem bowed by her childhood. To me it seemed she had had more of a battering from her later life. But then who knows where cause and effect erupts?

Pat said...

Pearl: thank you:)

GYPSYWOMAN said...

what an incredible story - and as someone else commented, told so beautifully by you, pat - an amazing woman who lived a life few of us can imagine i'm sure - thanks so much for sharing her life with us -

About Last Weekend said...

Wow, what a lyrical and beautiful review, it really makes me want to read this. I bought Oranges but never read it, now I need to.

Pat said...

ALW: you and me both - after the memoir.
Thank you for the kind words:)

Sharon Longworth said...

She's a remarkable woman. I bought the book for Philip last Christmas - and he absolutely loved it. I only caught the first half of the programme, but your post has reminded me I need to go and catch the rest of it on i-player. Thank you!

Pat said...

Gypsy: so glad you dropped by and read it.

Sharon: what a great gift. It' a treat I'm looking forward to.

rashbre said...

I also saw it. That 'Imagine' is a good series. I re-watched 'Oranges are not the only fruit' a few months ago too. Still stands up excellently.

Pat said...

Rashbre: I ought to watch Oranges again. The first time two of the actors put me off and I suppose I wasn't ready to accept that that could happen so close to home.