Long Crendon Ladies Breakfast

Posted at 09:00am on 21st June 2008

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What an interesting and enjoyable couple of days we've had, my Better Half and I, away from home and away from our respective computers. For me, it was a rare opportunity to exchange the solitary slog of the written word for the altogether more interactive power of the spoken word. The event, a Ladies' Breakfast near Oxford, attracted around sixty women of all ages and status. Having gorged ourselves on large helpings of pancakes and strawberries laid on by the catering team, I thought I'd begin by letting my audience know that I used to be a Weight Watcher lecturer. A guilty giggle filled the hall! But when I did an Asda-type hand-tap on my gluteus maximus, the guilt subsided. As I said to them, the truth is in the wording - 'used-to-be' being the significant phrase.

I moved on in my talk to the snail patrol regularly conducted by my BH and three-and-a-half year old grandson (one of twins) before the bi-weekly walk to nursery. The snails, picked off the plants, are lobbed into the road - designated a mollusc playground by the twins - where their options are broadened from the narrow life of plant-eating, to those of being squashed by passing cars; becoming breakfast for passing birds; or hot-footing it back across the tarmac to wreak their revenge on our garden. "Sometimes," I said to my audience, "the thought crosses my mind, Thank you God that I wasn't born a snail."

Which brought me neatly to other things I'm glad I wasn't born. The mother of some of the teenagers knifed to death, for instance. Or the father of some of the kids wielding the knife. "Can you imagine what it must be like," I asked, referring to recent newspaper reports, "to be the parent of a young adult whose life has been brought to an abrupt end?"

Of course - I can. And having lost a daughter in sudden, shocking and suspicious circumstances, I then proceeded to tell my audience about the novel I've written, which was inspired by my experiences. "You go through a painful post mortem," I said, holding up the book which has that as its title. "You ask yourself Why? Why did this happen? What? What did I do wrong? And Where? Where should I have gone for help?"

The point is, of course, that whilst I accept that there are probably many very sincere people in the business of helping and supporting those in need, most of the agencies I turned to for help when my daughter was at the height of her heroin addiction, were a complete and utter let down. They're all - from the Police, Social Services and Courts - either under-resourced, or hamstrung by political correctness. And the Child Psychologist - well, my daughter summed him up. "He was a weirdo," she said. "Needed psycho-analysing himself, if you ask me." That was before she kicked her habit, put herself through college, and settled down into a regular home-maker with her partner.

Which makes it all the harder when, five years into a happy and fulfilled life, she was found dead. What you're left with, when the Why? What? and Where? go unanswered, is the conclusion that you’re probably asking the wrong questions. That’s when you realize that Who? might be a more appropriate response. Who can I turn to? Which, as I said earlier, makes me thank God that I wasn't born a snail. Because if my daughter's life was like that of the Prodigal son, and I was a parent in pain, how much greater is His pain for us. And I, at least, have a human capacity to exercise faith and prayer.

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