Friday, 21 August 2015

A public disclosure that was never explained

My last post on The Samaritans brought to mind a unique event - the one and only time I've ever heard a record request on a radio show that was made by persons I knew, for someone I knew.

It was a very long time ago, in 1965. That's fifty years ago, when I was only thirteen.

It would have been a Saturday-morning request show on the BBC's Light Programme, which became Radio 2 in 1967. I was absolutely taken by surprise to hear this request read out on air. The presenter spoke clearly and carefully. I could make no mistake. The words he said were on the lines of 'This next song is for Betty [Surname], mother of Christine and Trevor, who are thinking of her, and hope she will be comforted by this record, which will mean a lot to her. It's Help, by the one and only Beatles!'

What, my Auntie Betty? And why this song? For the words were these:

Help, I need somebody.
Help, not just anybody.
Help, you know I need someone...help!

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being 'round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won't you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I've never done before.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down,
And I do appreciate you being 'round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me?

When I was younger so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down,
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me, 
Help me, 
Help me, ooh...

What was going on? I had no idea that Betty (she was an honorary aunt, really a close friend of Mum's) was in difficulties of any kind. What sort of trouble? Nobody had mentioned anything to me. How was it that her daughter and son (still teenagers) had actually managed to get a request played on national radio? And yet why would they wish to broadcast the fact that their mother might need help? It was a lovely idea, of course, dedicating a record to someone - but this wasn't a birthday request. Something bad had happened.

I was actually quite shocked. Plenty of people got their requests read out, but I never, ever thought I would hear one from people I knew. This was bizarre. Or at least it struck the thirteen-year-old me as bizarre, probably because I was already well into my own rather anguished teens, and not much connected at the time with goings-on in the real world. This was a jolt that reminded me that adults had problems I couldn't begin to guess at. Adults were such a puzzle, always hinting at things they knew all about, but which I'd never heard of. I couldn't imagine a time when I'd know as much as any adult did. This type of thinking got me down.

I wondered whether, if Mum had seemed poorly, I would have made a record request to show to her that her that I cared very much. But I knew that it wouldn't have occurred to me. I was curiously detached from my parents at the time. This is how it gets when you have built a shell around yourself. I do remember thinking that Christine and Trevor must be very grown-up, to empathise with their mother so much. The conviction that I was cold-hearted, and lacked the ability to demonstrate love and concern - that I was certainly incapable of putting my arms around my mother, or of accepting her arm around me - was very hard to live with. I despised myself.

I didn't mention to Mum and Dad that I'd heard the record request read out. I kept it a secret. In fact, this post is the first time I've ever mentioned it to anyone else. Funny the things you carry around with you for fifty long years before saying anything.

And I never did find out why Betty needed this kind of support and consolation. I can try a guess, of course. In 1965 she'd be in her mid-forties, and she might have been suffering from bad menopausal symptoms. But I don't know. Mum never said a word to me, although she must surely have been aware of Betty's problems. But that's how it was for that generation: so much was never mentioned, nor could be mentioned.

Betty died a long time ago, some years before my Mum did. I think she might have just made it to eighty.

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