Monday, 20 March 2017

Nothing Is Sacred

Right now I’m travelling in New Zealand and staying via AirBnB with a nice lady who lives in Ngurawahia near Auckland. Last night I was making a cup of tea (that yummy liquorice one which keeps digestion operating at the optimum level) when the kettle packed up. 

I turned it on, stepped out of the kitchen for a few minutes and when I came back the other lodger said that the thing had been sparking and spitting water before the fuse blew, so she’d turned it off at the mains. After some brief conversation her and her uncle reset the fuse in the cupboard and the kettle light came on again. Problem was it was leaking and no longer heating up. One dead kettle. Not my fault but I was the one using it when it broke so it was the Manley thing to offer to pay for a new one. I asked the other lodger to let me tell our host that this had happened and she shrugged and said she’d keep out of it.

I told our host when she came back later and she said that she’d try and get the receipt (it was a gift from a friend for Xmas) and if it couldn’t be found, then yes, a new one would be appreciated.


None of that is blogworthy. It would be only mildly interesting if discussing it the very next day in a round up over a cup of coffee with regard to “What I’ve been doing the last few days”. It was a stroke of bad luck in that I happened to be using the thing when it broke down. My host was mildly put out by the inconvenience but said it was OK and didn’t make a big deal out of it.

Me on the other hand…

As soon as I realised what had happened there were at least 3 voices in my head that began chattering like orang-utans at feeding time. 

“You’ve broken that. Did you check there was water in it? DID YOU? You did?! Are you SURE? You know you break things. That’s what you’re like. You can’t be trusted. You’ll have to pay for that now. You’re going to be in serious trouble when your host comes back. You were supposed to be staying another week starting tomorrow. She’ll ask you to leave. That’s what she’ll do. First thing in the morning she’ll want you gone. You broke her kettle. That might have been a really special gift that she loved. Maybe someone gave it to her who’s now dead!!! You really are a clumsy, inconsiderate twat aren’t you?!!”

Etc, etc.

I was stressed beyond belief about this.The other lodger asked me offhandedly if I’d put water in it before I switched it on and I confirmed I had. I was already compiling a case for the defence should this come to a formal grilling later on. I remembered shaking the kettle to check it had water in it but not looking (“You didn’t look?!! You pillock!!”) and then switching it on. I had returned within about 2 or 3 minutes (“You don’t know how long? I bet you were out of the room for ages weren’t you?!!”) and then realised what had happened.

When the lodger and her uncle reset the fuse I remember I had nervously laughed and said “Bullet dodged. We don’t need to even mention this again do we?”…just as our host came back. I believed all it had taken to fix it was a fiddle with the fuses and I was stupendously relieved that my 60-something, vegan, Christian, church going, female host would never need to know. I continued to say that “I would have taken that like Gary Cooper had it meant owning up” and the lodger’s uncle had laughed and replied “Well you have to don’t you”.

But then it turned out to actually be broken and well…owning up was the thing to do.

A couple of hours later the host came back again and I showed her the ruined kettle, saying that while it wasn’t my fault I was happy to buy her another one as I was the last to touch it. She didn’t seem overly concerned and went out again a few minutes later.

I had a restless night where, up until about midnight, I half expected a gentle knock on the door and a quietly spoken “Err...Lance? I think it’s best if you move on tomorrow and stay somewhere else”.

I was stressed, anxious, paranoid, guilty and scared for being the “last to touch it” when the kettle committed sepuku.

It’s only today that I figured out why I had such a MASSIVE overreaction.

I was reacting to the situation like I did when I was 8 years old.

I’ll repeat that…I was reacting to the situation like I did when I was 8 years old.

As a kid I was terrified of putting a foot wrong or worst of all, actually damaging something. No matter what the reason, and whether it was my fault or not…I would get blamed 100% for it.

The reaction I used to get off my mother when I broke something was invariably a screaming tantrum followed by punishment and possibly having to pay for, and/ or mend whatever I had damaged.

This wasn’t some kind of parental guidance taken up to the max, with a stern lecture on respecting other people’s property and being careful. It was my mother using these events as an excuse to purge all her stress and negativity…on someone who she knew couldn’t and wouldn’t fight back. 

Her basic philosophy was that the last one to touch it, broke it. My earliest memory of this type of behaviour is when I was about 7 and I turned on the television in the lounge…and it blew a fuse. My mother immediately began screeching that I had destroyed it while I tearfully wailed that I had only turned it on and it wasn’t my fault. She refused to accept it was a coincidence and instead, in her never ending quest to Always Be Right, got an engineer to fix it a few days later and then came up to me to say “That man said you always jumping around upstairs caused the telly to go funny and weakened the electrics so it WAS your fault after all”.

I think what she meant to say was “I wanted to blame you so I deliberately told him that you jump around upstairs and then asked if that could have had an effect on the TV and he said yes”.

A year later or so later when I was 9 we went on holiday to my great aunt Phyllis’s other house** in Cornwall for the summer. While talking to my brother and eating an orange I dropped the plate I was holding and it smashed on the floor. My mother raged at me that I was careless and “always breaking things” and I felt like shit, guilty at having broken a plate with my stupidity, careless behaviorur, and utter Lance Manley-ness. I was having a cry around the back of the house when my brother came to fetch me saying “Mum wants to see you”. When I went to her she just screamed the same lecture again, making me cry even more. Later on she told me to walk down the road to Aunty Phil’s and apologise in person for my heinous crime. Feeling like utter shit I walked the 300 yards to her house and in tears confessed. She gave me a hug and said it didn’t matter as the plate was old. I felt slightly buoyed by her kindness and went home to relay the news that Aunty Phil said it was OK. Again, wanting to Always Be Right, my mother simply snapped “She’s probably just saying that. If it’s old it means it’s valuable and special. Until stupid people come along and break it”. A day later she took half of my weekly pocket money in order to buy tube of Super Glue. Two days after that at about 6.30am my brother opened a cupboard and two bowls from the same range as the plate, fell out and smashed. I could see the fear on his face as I ran into my parent’s bedroom to tell them what had happened, fully expecting there to be double the explosion. My mother simply grunted and then went back to sleep. My brother wasn’t punished or told off, and wasn’t made to pay to fix them. When I asked why, my mother replied “Those bowls weren’t worth as much as that plate”…which was a lie, and a very lazy lie at that.

(Not Aunt Phyllis...or me)

As the years went on this type of thing happened semi regularly. Whenever I damaged something she would shriek “IS NOTHING IN THIS HOUSE SACRED?!!” be it the dishwasher not completing its cycle because I had opened the door halfway through the wash (something the instruction manual specifically said you could do) or when we got a new edge trimmer for the lawn and I was playing with it and the plastic flex broke. This was meant to happen as the flex is designed to break and is on a reel inside a spindle. As I patiently opened up the mechanism to tease out more flex she was red faced and shouting “I TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH IT! I TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH IT! IS NOTHING IN THIS HOUSE SACRED?!!” 

If I broke or damaged or destroyed something I was never allowed to explain what had happened. I was simply shouted at and screamed at, again and again, that it was my fault…no matter what.

Conversely if she ever broke or damaged something of mine or my brother’s…or even my father’s, she couldn’t have given a rat’s turd.

Whenever this happened she would glare at us and go “YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE LEFT IT LYING AROUND!!!” and insist it was our fault for leaving it carelessly abandoned in a place other than where it was designated to be. One time she crushed a book I had put on the shelf in the lounge…by jamming another book in next to it. When I lamented her actions we had this conversation:

Mother: “You shouldn’t have left it lying around”.
Me: “Err…it’s on a bookshelf”.
Mother: “That’s not the bookshelf it normally lives on”.
Me: “So if it’s on a bookshelf but not the one it normally lives on then it’s been left lying around?!!”
Mother: “Yes, stop arguing!”

This went on until I left home at 19 and only ceased completely when I didn’t speak to her for a year after the death of my grandmother. 

Problem was that up until this morning, I had never made peace with this bullying, hypocritical behaviour and the parts of my brain that had experienced that treatment were those of a frightened little boy. 

At the age of 46 I was using a kettle when it decided to leak from the base and short out the fuse box. I offered to pay for it. That was the adult brain operating. My other reactions were those of the bewildered, puny kid, scared of demons & monsters, and most of all terrified of a spiteful, mean spirited, hateful woman who had vented her spleen at her kids by blaming them for everything that went wrong in her life.

Today me and my host went for a drive up to the local shopping mall (the biggest in New Zealand) and I decided to tell her this story, prefixing it with “This isn’t an attempt to get out of buying you a new one”. She said she’d noticed that I was clearly uncomfortable and embarrassed and noted that when I had told her the kettle was busted I was speaking “at the speed of an express train”.

Reflecting on that I know exactly why it happened. If I speak quickly there’s less of a chance of being interrupted and not being able to put forward my side of the story. A self preservation gesture from my childhood…one of very many.

I told her that basically I had felt like a scared pre-teen again and realised for the first time 100% that I have never got married or brought children into this world (or even had a relationship that lasted longer than 18 months) because I was petrified of reliving the same experiences as I had gone through as a boy. Further, I couldn’t bear the thought of having children and then helplessly seeing them suffer.

As a practicing Christian she’s in touch with concepts such as responsibility and being scared and said to me “That was the child mind speaking, now you need to speak with the adult mind” and got me to repeat that out loud. Later I told her that discussing this with her had more or less shifted my feelings about it. The imprints on my brain had finally been erased.

Typing this now it’s upsetting me to think back on all that Godawful crap and realise just how wretched it all was. The good thing however, is that by writing it down I can analyse it, move on and be free of it.

I wasn’t clumsy, or careless, or thoughtless, or evil, or selfish. I was a scared kid. Now I’m not.

And the kettle was a Russell Hobbs. Oh well, shit happens.


** Aunt Phyllis was minted. She owned 3 houses called "Veronica Cottage", "White Horses" and "Robin's Reach". Very posh.

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