Thursday 15 November 2018

#DavidLeitch - In praise of mentors

The idiomatic expression, The Apple Does Not Fall Far From The Tree, would be a very worrying one for me given who my parents were. I try very hard indeed not to be like them and to raise my children differently. Just as well that apple seeds are scattered abroad. In my case, to the UK, where, as it turned out, ten years later my parents returned along with (thankfully quite a bit later) other members of the family that are unmentionable. Of course my parents weren't all rotten, but they were rotten enough to me to cause serious harm. Thankfully, I had wonderful grandparents who taught me things and genuinely cared about my welfare rather than just their own. I also had extraordinary mentors.

I came to live in London alone, when I was 17. I will never forget the day I met David Leitch, my beloved Grandpa's nephew and a writer of some repute. Look him up. From the time I saw his hand (exactly the same as his uncle's) until the day I last heard his last words: "Emily, where have you been? Last I heard, you were living with a jazz musician!" before the phone in the phone box clattered to the floor in the phone booth, I adored him. David had been adopted out of the family by my grandpa's sister and his mother via an ad in the paper. I kid you not. You can read all about it in #GodStandUpForBastardsThere is a strong streak of child cruelty in the family. David was adopted by loving parents but, from what I understand, was never able to come to terms with his early years.

David appreciated who I was and tried to encourage me to aim high and to cultivate a life of the mind that would help me become what I eventually became. He was amused by my then modelling career and my 'topknot' - I'd knot my hair tightly on top of my hair with cut up knotted tights for height. He was amused by my Marlboro red smoking and some of my wisecracks, but what did not amuse him was when I did not think things through or gave answers that were not my own, but culturally acceptable norms or from wherever derived. As a writer he hated the contrived and shoddy thinking. He challenged me, and I grew better as a result.

He picked me up after my 19th birthday to drive me to Wales where we were to stay with his sister for Christmas. I was battling the after effects of too much alcohol coupled with LSD. On the way we discussed Catholicism. I stated  that Catholicism terrified me. He demanded to know why and then insisted I revise my explanation (the nuns at Catholic RE scared me with their garb, their statues of Mary and their stern expressions) and start again using the phrase: "From my perspective" or "In my opinion." He didn't let me get away with anything even as he drove me off to stay in posh country houses for weekends with people in the media that I was ignorant of. He helped shape me. I still miss him.