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AT SOME POINT in the 1950s, to the excitement of my three sisters and I, Dad ordered Woman’s Weekly magazine to be delivered to our house each Wednesday. We soon learned it wasn’t anything worth holding your breath for. The zingiest bit was the washed-out pink and blue cover. The rest could never live up to such sheer lack of dazzle, however hard it tried. And it didn’t try. Things sped downhill as soon as we turned the front page. Printed in monochrome on poor quality newsprint, its joyless interior seemed a metaphor for the seemingly eternal bleakness of post-war Britain. Even by the austere standards of those times the periodical appeared dowdy and dated. Costing one groat, or fourpence in pre-decimal coinage, it arrived with Wednesday morning’s newspapers, looking so weathered it might’ve been lying on the doormat since the Great Depression.
Nights on the Arctic island of Værøy had me tossing and turning to memories of my childhood for hours, before finally dropping off. There were good memories and bad. With Dad gone a few years before, unpleasant things needed confronting. Not confronting them would mean continuing the public face of the good and decent parent my sisters and I had helped him foist upon friends and family alike. A myth we had continued to perpetuate long after his death. There had been the sort of omertá that accompanies most funerals; the unspoken mantra you mustn’t speak ill of the dead. Not that anybody says that about Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot. If nothing else, for peace of mind, I had to put things right in my own head.
Though vaguely aware something was wrong, throughout my teens and well into my twenties, I learned to push the more unpleasant memories of the past to the farthest recesses of my mind, where they were left to fester among the shadows of half-forgotten dreams and nightmares. On the rare occasions one or other would drift back, I would shut them out. But prompted by Dad’s departure, they had began to re-emerge with growing frequency. The gnawing guilt some of my recollections incited had me questioning their veracity. I felt I could no longer trust my memories, in spite of the fact my sisters’ recollections bore witness. Truth was, I hadn’t wanted to remember; it was too uncomfortable and too humiliating.
Decades later, inexplicable feelings of guilt still stalk my subconscious on a daily basis. At times, the dull ache devouring the pit of my stomach, reaches up to pull at my heart. Plagued by dark thoughts I was now struggling to find sleep on a small island off the northern Atlantic coast of Norway. Read more
Copyright © 2015 Bryan Hemming
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