I wrote a letter to Alan Bennett and it was published in The Letters Page edited by Jon McGregor. Here it is:
Dear Alan Bennett,1*
As you know our chats have traditionally taken
place in the bath with Neal’s Yard foaming oil, so
writing a letter feels a little, well, upright.
You know my father is also an Alan. The
good news is that he is still very much here in body.
Good days his mind is too. The other day I noticed
how he has a similar soft pallor to his face as yours. I
suppose it’s the increased oestrogen that older men
produce, lending them a buttery softness to the
jowls and lips. Skin smooth as scone-tops.
Recently I opened your ‘Untold Stories’
found a one-day Travelcard dated 2005. I recalled
carrying the book, as hefty as a breeze block, in my
wheelie bag across the globe, as I was an air-hostess
back then. The weight was impractical but the book
served as a kind of anchor to home, albeit your
‘Mam’ and ‘Dad’. Then, you were the kind of Alan
I wished for in a father, because you had words,
oodles of them – and they spoke to me and in a way
no man ever had before.
Do you remember the ‘Shed Story’, in
March? I was back at Mum and Dad’s collecting
a trunk from the garden shed containing all my
diaries? Mum, the intermediary between me and
Dad, was out shopping. Without her we had to
communicate head-on. It was 5pm and dark. Dad
comes down to the end of the garden with me.
is a man who never touches, seldom kisses, and has
certainly never offered to help.
‘Here’, he says. ‘Let me.’
He takes hold of
the key for the padlock and I shine a torch on the
lock area. Over and over he misses by a centimetre
or so. I do not fail to appreciate the magnitude of
this gesture and, bathing in his attention, I let him
carry on missing the lock until I have to take control
of the situation.
This year has been a series of ‘Untold
Stories’ to most of my friends and family. But
you might recall the ‘Finger Story’ from July? A
quick recap: Dad was released from hospital after
another failed attempt at being diagnosed with a
stroke and he falls over getting out of the mini-cab
outside number 47 where they live. By the time I
get there, Mum’s face is blotched red with stress. In
the front room with Dad settled into his T.V. chair
I ask him how he is?
He holds up his forefinger. I
study it; crooked from years as a wicket keeper, a
long manicured cuticle; a tower of blood, bone and energy.
‘Chaos’, he says, keeping the finger raised.
His eyes dart about and then he
thinks for a long time. I can feel the urge in my
tongue to donate words, like you do when someone
is mid-stutter. But he is speechless and frustrated.
August – Dad gives me £50 ‘pocket money’
to spend in France.
October – Mum and I find Dad in the
Ladies stroke unit at the hospital. When we get to
his bed, he is all scrunched up far down the bed
uncomfortable. He tells me there is someone behind
the curtain who is listening to every word he says.
After I kiss him hello, I tell him I climbed
a tree for the first time. ‘A forty-year old woman!’ I
say. He comes back into his eyes and laughs.
As Mum arranges the biscuits on his tray
table he becomes distant again. I sit in the blue chair
to the side of him. As I do this, I realise the chair is
too far back and out of his field of vision. I decide
to test his memory to see if he can remember I have
come. I sit silently.
‘Where’s Karen?’ he says, after a minute or
two. And I delight in this, in him speaking my name.
I am a sad little girl, still wanting to be noticed.
Later that night, I am walking home from Mum
and Dad’s house. On the other side of the road a
driving school car slows down. The word ‘RED’
marks the driving school’s name on the doors and
on the roof. An instructor leans out the window and
makes a funnel with his mouth.
‘Ooooooh’, he says in a long growl. Then
he mumbles something equally sexual sounding.
It takes me a few moments to work out what the
words are. Then it clicks, he’s said ‘Hello sweetcheeks!’
I presume he is referring to my bottom. The
car drives off and I am left speechless.
I think of the
blocks of blood, bone and energy at the ends of my
arms. I raise both hands and shape my fore-fingers
and middle fingers into V’s.
Death is making a teenager of me.
I dart my hands up and down, flicking them
at the car bumper, over and over and for too long.
No words needed.
Speak soon Alan, probably Sunday when I’ll be in
for a long soak.
1*. Alan Bennett is a playwright and diarist
from Leeds. You probably knew that
already, but it’s best never to assume.
We will of course ensure that this letter
2*. Untold Stories (Faber, 2005) is a
collection of autobiographical pieces
and essays which followed the hugely
successful memoir Writing Home (Faber,
3*. The writer’s father has been diagnosed
with a condition known as ‘Lewy Body
Disease’, a form of dementia which shares
symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and
Parkinson’s, and usually involves having
Further information on
the condition can be found at www.