99. Mum and Dad Split Up

Mum and Dad Split Up in June 1973

During this period, mum and dad split up. On 16 June 1973, grandad noted that “this week Roy left Sheila & the children & went to live in Norwich. Why I do not know”. There was no note of this by mum as she was not keeping a diary at the time. My recollections are of being called into a room to be told that dad was moving out. I think I understood broadly what was happening but not all the details and certainly not all the implications. Based on grandad’s diary, I had just turned 13 although, from memory, I was younger, 11 or 12. I know I was at secondary school (see Chapter 103) and we were living at Waverley Road. (see Chapter 102)

Grandad’s diary entries for 13-17 June 1973 including an entry on the 16th noting that dad had left mum

Did the Split Come as a Surprise?

Was I surprised by this or was it something I had been expecting? I am really not sure. From memory, I can’t say it was something I had anticipated although I knew there had been a lot of conflict and spectacular rows but I had not lived with any other family to compare it with! I can’t say I gave it a great deal of thought. It was just how it was.

Separate Holidays – Evidence of Drifting Apart?

Looking back, particularly through the lens of her earlier diaries, it is possible to see that mum and dad had begun to live pretty separate lives. For example, in the late 1960s, dad took Tricia and me on walking holidays without mum (see Chapter 92). Also, in 1970, dad took Alan and me on a similar holiday (see Chapter 106). In 1967, mum went on her own to Preston to visit the Leaches (see Chapter 92) and she also went on holiday with a friend to Iona in June 1969 (see Chapter 90). She went with Tricia and grandma to see the passion play in Oberammergau in 1970 and she took holidays on her own in both 1972 and 1973 (see Chapter 107).

Among mum’s papers was a looseleaf folder with details of the holidays mum took in 1972 and 1973 with other members of Park Lane Methodist Church. The holiday in 1972 was to Scotland and  grandad did refer to it in his diary saying that “Sheila & Robin went to Scotland”. The holiday in 1973 was to Wales and this was not mentioned by grandad in his diary. On the front of the folder, mum has marked both of these holidays as “just me”. The holiday in 1973 was in May, the month before mum and dad split up.

Conflict and Arguments

Perhaps this was evidence that mum and dad had drifted apart although I am sure I did not think or realise this at the time. Mum did record some of the conflicts that there were between her and dad (for examples see Chapter 74 and 88) but these were not a dominant feature of her diaries and these were occurring well before they decided to split up. Grandad’s diaries did not record these conflicts at all. He may not have known about them. However, I am sure he would not have recorded them even if he had. I have some memories of arguments and conflict but while these are quite vivid these are not particularly clear nor are they clearly divided into before and after they separated.

Why Did They Split Up?

Grandad noted that he did not know why mum and dad split. I confess I don’t either. As far as I recall, I was not given any explanation at the time nor subsequently. But, I confess I didn’t ever ask. I found it easier not to address the subject explicitly. I also imagine I would have got at least two very different stories! Regardless, the separation cast a long shadow over me and my life in the family. I adopted an approach of not speaking about it, or the other parent, to either  mum or dad. I have also taken this approach in other family conflicts. The only exception was much later when either mum or dad was ill enough to be in hospital. Then, I let the other know that this was the case.

This approach was a coping strategy which I kept up pretty much until after both my parents had died. However, in later life, particularly after dad’s second wife Heather had died, mum and dad were able to meet each other and interact quite civilly. At this point, they lived quite close to each other and I was some distance away. This meant that I was able to meet them together rather than meeting them separately or as part of a larger family gathering as I had done previously.

Taking Sides

It is fairly clear from his diaries that grandad sided with mum on this issue. This is unsurprising as he was her father. He refers to the split as dad leaving mum and us. At one level, this is a factual statement. However, it does perhaps carry some implication of blame and/or responsibility and is not the way I would now describe this.

Grandad Notes that the “Grievance” is not Likely to be Resolved

Grandad makes few references to dad, or mum and dad’s split, subsequently. In July 1973, he noted that dad had the car and went to Kirkby. That same month, he noted that mum was thinking of moving (see Chapter 102) and that she also came to see grandma and grandad to explain the situation. Following that, grandad noted that “S & R do not look like making up their grievance”.

Grandad’s diary entries for 25-31 July 1973 including an entry on the 27th noting that mum and dad were unlikely to be able to resolve their grievance

Grandad Stops Referring to Dad by Name

In August 1973, grandad noted that dad no longer came when we as a family went to them for tea. And that is the last time, grandad referred to dad by name in his diaries. Any subsequent references are either by implication only or in reference to us children as “their dad”. For example, on Christmas Eve 1973, grandad noted that they were not coming to us on Christmas Day as had been their practice. I assume this was because dad was to have been there although this is not stated explicitly.

Grandad Refers to Dad as “Their Dad”

In August 1973, grandad noted that Alan and Elizabeth had gone to Butlins at Clacton with “their dad” (see Chapter 106). He also noted somewhat bitterly that “Sheila had to part pay for them”. In September 1974, grandad noted that Alan and Liz did not come for tea as they “had gone to their dad’s at Ilford”. The following month, in October 1974, grandad noted that none of us came for tea as “Sheila & fam went to Ilford. Sheila came home but the children stayed”.

Grandad’s diary entry for 12 August 1973 noting that Alan and Liz had gone on holiday to Butlins in Clacton with “their dad
Grandad’s diary entry for 1 September 1974 noting that Alan and Liz did not come for tea as they had gone to “their dad’s” in Ilford. One odd things about this entry is this is the only time ever I have known anyone to refer to my sister as “Pat”. Both of my parents, particularly my father, disapproved of this abbreviation. Might this be why grandad used it here?

Blaming Mum

Over the years, particularly as a teenager, I oscillated between blaming one or other parent primarily for the split. I mainly lived with mum and I did not find her easy to live with. So, I guess I tended to blame her. I certainly wanted to leave home as soon as a I was able and to live a reasonable distance away! I think I might have worded this more strongly as a teenager, e.g. “as far away as possible”. That may well be one factor behind me going to university in Newcastle!

When I visited dad, we tended to do “fun” things together. I found him more permissive and understanding of the kinds of things I wanted to do as a teenager! Perhaps it was inevitable as a teenage boy that I might have had more conflict with the parent I lived with than the one I only saw periodically.

My Siblings Dealt with the Split Differently

However, although I cannot speak for my siblings, I don’t think they necessarily all responded in the same way. Alan managed to have good relationships with both mum and dad and he did not seem to have the same degree of conflict with mum that I felt I had. I think this led to the perception, at least with me and Liz, that he was mum’s favourite! In my view, he was later aided by distance as he moved to live and work in the United States.

Tricia managed to maintain a good relationship with mum although it was sometimes stormy! It may have also been aided by the fact that she lived a long way from mum, in Switzerland. She had a more difficult relationship with dad and particularly with Heather, dad’s second wife, who Tricia never seemed to accept.

Liz was much closer to dad and in later times her relationship with mum broke down completely. In my view, this was not aided by proximity as mum and Liz lived in the same village. Liz was the only one of our siblings who did not move away from Norwich.

Blaming Dad

However, there were times, perhaps particularly in my post-teenage years, when I blamed dad for “abandoning” us as he seemed to have chosen a freer life with fewer responsibilities than would have been possible if he had been “shackled” with family responsibilities.

Blaming Myself

Of course, there were also times when I felt that I was somehow to blame for my parents splitting up.

Shared Responsibility

Over time, however, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to assign all blame or responsibility for the split to just one of my parents. I certainly no longer feel that I was to blame in any way! Clearly, I now have many experiences of different couples breaking up and I have also been married myself for more than 35 years! I think I believe now that when a relationship breaks down there are likely to be “faults” on both sides. That is certainly the conclusion I came to many years ago in relation to my parents. I simply tried my best to have a reasonable but separate relationship with each of them. I believe I largely succeeded with that, certainly in my adult years.

Different Personalities

So why did they split up? I did not, and probably still do not, know. They were certainly both very different personalities. Mum was very organised and time conscious while dad was much more relaxed and spontaneous. These differences did lead to conflicts but there are many examples where people with very different personalities have made a relationship work.

Mental Illness

Was mum’s mental health a factor? Certainly, she had longstanding struggles with mental illness and these were evident in the 1960s (see Chapters 78 and 88) and subsequently although she did not openly acknowledge these. From my own experience, her low mood and high levels of anxiety could make her very difficult to live with. Perhaps dad found this all too much. There have certainly been times when I have blamed him for leaving us children to cope with that situation as best we could.

Shirking Family Responsibilities

At times, I have thought that dad found family responsibilities too much and he was able to enjoy a freer, less constrained lifestyle after he “left us”. It is true that, during the years he lived on his own, he was out most nights. But, I don’t know if this was a life he preferred over living with us or just the way he chose to live to avoid the loneliness that he might otherwise have experienced. He always made time for us to visit him and he engaged with us at all our major life events, e.g. at school, university, weddings etc.

Multiple Factors?

I imagine that there were a number of things that may have played some part in the decision to split up. In the end, those reasons probably don’t matter that much to me and that is, at least part of, the reason why I never asked about them. In the end, mum and dad decided that they could not live together and they decided to separate. As children, teenagers and adults, we were left to make the best job we could of the situation we were in. We were in a better position than many. In my case, I believe that both my parents loved me (in their own ways!) and I was able to have a reasonable relationship with each of them throughout my life. This did require a not inconsiderable amount of work on my part and presumably on theirs too!

Other Parties?

I guess one question that has to be asked and answered is whether there was someone else for either of them particularly as this is commonly the case when relationships break down. The simple answer is that there was not. Dad moved out to live by himself and mum lived alone for the rest of her life. However, I suspect the reality is more complex!

Dad Did Later Remarry

In dad’s case, he did later re-marry. But, he only met Heather many years after this. So, their relationship was not a factor here. However, I believe it was in the breakdown of Heather’s own first marriage.

Verity Gibson

At the time, dad was friendly with someone called Verity Gibson. I think dad knew her through his involvement in the Liberal Party (see Chapter 112). Verity is not mentioned in the diaries but I recall meeting her on several occasions. From memory, she lived off Newmarket Road at 12 Albert Terrace. I recall that she had two children. One of them was a daughter called Ruth who had a serious, possibly congenital illness. I understand that Verity was the first wife of Ian Gibson. He later became Labour MP for Norwich North. At that time, I think, dad described him as an International Socialist.

From the Wikipedia account, it seems Ian Gibson was a member of the Socialist Workers Party before joining the Labour Party in 1983. Wikipedia indeed notes that his first wife was called Verity and that she was a social worker. I have found some details of her work as a social worker. She also stood as a liberal candidate for council elections in 1971. Wikipedia also notes that Ian and Verity had two daughters – Dominique and Ruth. Ruth sadly died in 1993. She was 26 having been born on 11 December 1967. From memory, I think dad told me that he would have been interested in a relationship with Verity but that she only wanted him as a friend.

Dave and Jean O’Neill

Another couple I recall from dad’s involvement in the Liberals were called Dave and Jean O’Neill I believe. I have found some details of Dave O’Neill including that he was district councillor in Bungay in 1989. I also found an article from 1972 in which dad, Dave O’Neill and Verity are all mentioned in terms of campaigning for council elections. Dave stood as a candidate for the Liberal-SDP Alliance in 1982. Jean O’Neill is mentioned in a press appeal to Liberal voters in 1975.

A Later Letter

Much later, I also vaguely recall receiving a letter when I was a student from a woman who claimed some kind of relationship with dad. She might have lived in Ilford although by this point dad was living in Birmingham. I confess I had no idea what to do about this letter so I did nothing and I heard nothing further! I don’t recall any more details.

Robin Harrison

In the early 1970s, mum certainly had some kind of relationship with Robin Harrison.

Robin in Grandad’s Diaries

Robin is mentioned a number of times in grandad’s diaries.

The First Mention

The first mention of him was in March 1970 when he brought grandma home after she had been babysitting for us while mum and dad were at grandad’s (dad’s father’s) funeral (see Chapter 100).

Tea at Grandma and Grandad’s

Robin sometimes came with us when we went to grandma and grandad’s for tea (see Chapter 106).

Giver of Lifts

Robin also transported various people between grandma and grandad’s and ours. These people included grandma, grandad, Amy, Auntie Dolly, Phyllis Attwood, Tricia, me, Alan, Liz and Kathryn Leach. He also sometimes gave lifts elsewhere. For example, in November 1971, Robin took grandad to Sergents in Costessey. In April 1972, he took grandma and Auntie Dolly to his parents’ home.

Gardener and Handyman

In March 1970, grandad noted that he cut down four small trees in the front garden because Robin had said they were elm trees and grandad did not want them to grow too big. He was also concerned that they needed too much moisture in the summer and this was causing brown patches on the lawn. In April 1970, Robin brought a chain saw to cut down the tree stumps and grandad paid him ten shillings for doing this. The next month, in May 1970, Robin cut some branches off a tree for grandad at the bottom of the garden.

In November 1970, grandad noted that he had gone to Waverley Road to pull down some panelling in the attic and that Robin came later and helped. In December 1971, grandad noted that Robin brought him an iron plate from Boddy’s. That same month, grandad and Robin worked together to cut up some wood for Waverley Road. In March 1972 and February 1973, Robin pruned roses for grandma and grandad. Grandad noted that Robin charged £1 for this in 1973.

Mum, Dad and Robin Sometimes Did Things Together

In July 1971, grandma babysat for us while mum, dad and Robin went to the pictures.

Grandad Made Robin a Case for His Picnic Stove

In June 1972, grandad noted making a case for Robin’s picnic stove.

Mum and Robin Went on the Same Church Holiday in 1972

In May 1972, grandad noted that mum and Robin went to Scotland. This is the trip which mum made with people from St Peter’s church and for which I have a folder of notes and postcards (see Chapter 106). As far as I can see, Robin is not mentioned at all in those notes.

Robin Moved to Poringland in 1972

In September 1972, grandad noted that Robin had moved to a flat in Poringland. I have vague recollections of that happening but I do not recall the flat or precisely where it was.

Robin is Not Referred to in Grandad’s Diary After February 1973

The last reference by grandad to Robin was in February 1973.

My Recollections

I recall Robin clearly. He was around a lot in the early seventies although I cannot recall if he actually lived with us. I know he took Alan and me fishing and I still have a picture of two perch that he drew for me. I also have a painting of Iona that he did for mum (see Chapter 90).

Painting of two perch by Robin C Harrison that he gave me in the early seventies

An Artist

Robin was an artist although I am not sure if he made a living out of that. His full name was Robin Christopher Harrison and he signed his paintings Robin C Harrison. There are details online of some of his paintings selling. It seems he died on 5 October 2010 aged 79 meaning he was born circa 1931.

His Father – John Cyril Harrison

His father was the relatively well-known wildlife artist John Cyril Harrison.

Illustration by Robin’s father J C Harrison in the 1927 book by Seton Gordon “Days with the Golden Eagle

Starlight Art Gallery and Office Services

Robin and mum ran a business together for a short time. This was in St Gregory’s Alley and was called Starlight Art Gallery and Office Services (see Chapter 105).

Photos of Robin

I thought I did not have any photos of Robin but I noticed that he appears on a number of photos of the trip mum, Tricia and grandma made to Oberammergau in 1970. I remember his car and there is also a photo of that.

Tricia, grandma and Robin on the trip to Overammergau in 1970
Robin, grandma and Tricia on the trip to Oberammergau in 1970
Our back garden at 19 Waverley Road with Robin’s car parked in the background

An Angry Incident?

I have a vague recollection of an incident with mum very upset yelling at dad saying that Robin had to leave. I really do not know if this is a genuine memory. If it is not, I am not sure where it came from. I wondered if I had read it in one of mum’s diaries but I do not think that is the case not least because mum was not keeping a diary at that point. If it is a true memory, I have no idea what had happened. Clearly, at some point, Robin stopped being part of mum’s life and ours. I have no idea why. As far as I recall, nobody ever explained this to me and I did not ask.

An Affair?

I have always assumed that mum and Robin had some kind of affair. They were certainly close friends. I don’t, however, have anything that really establishes this. I never asked mum about this nor have I discussed this with my siblings. But, even if this was the case, I am not sure this would have precipitated dad’s departure in June 1973. Presumably, he was aware of the nature of mum’s relationship with Robin. In addition, it seems Robin may have been out of the picture some time before this point.

Dad Moved to London

Whatever the reason or reasons, dad left and he did not return. Initially, he lived in a flat in Norwich which I recall being on Whitehall Road. It may have been linked to his friends Dave and Jean O’Neill as they lived at 34 Whitehall Road in the 1970s. I don’t recall what number he lived at.

He was only there a few weeks or months as he moved with the Norwich Union to London. I vaguely recall him being in lodgings in Purley initially but he then moved to Ilford/Newbury Park. He was certainly living there by September 1974 which is a bit earlier than I recall. Grandma noted that I visited London on 29 July 1974 and this could have been related to dad living there. I seem to remember that he bought a house in Lancing Road. We continued to have a lot of contact with dad, visiting him in London and him visiting us, for example at Christmas.