Friday, August 06, 2010

The Passion of Derek

If you are new to this blog and are unaware of the growing cult of Derek, then click here.

This week's installment takes us back to 1986, when Derek appeared to be assailed by a succession of doubts, minor illnesses and financial worries. Several people have commented on the improbable names of Derek's friends and I'd be inclined to agree, but my parents' social circle included a Dudley Futter, Sybil Liquorice and Cynthia Snodgrass (which I'd always assumed was a comedy name), so I remain open minded.

We begin with a heart-wrenchingly honest account of married life:

'Brenda looked most attractive yesterday. She made a new dress for herself on Saturday, and matched it up with green, heart-shaped earrings, and a green necklace. I suppose the colour was turquoise, but that is a difficult word to spell, so I have called them "green". Anyway, among the new choir members she shone like a star.

It has been good being at home with just Brenda. We have a natural comfort in each others company. We are like well-worn slippers. If there were only a physical relationship related to this fellowship, I should be the happiest of men. As it is, I weep inside and suffer quietly. A covenant is still a covenant.

We had great concern last night. It seems that the marriage of Mike Sheepwash and Hermione has run into major problems. Mike has been sacked from his casual job at Sainsbury's for daring to ask for some time off.
I cleaned the bathroom before tea; during my eating, I watched a film on televsion: "The Battle of Midway" and became quite angered by the unnecessary blasphemy that it contains. But the battle scenes were good.

I am not sure of my life at the moment. It seems prosaic and empty as though I had reached an end of things. Certainly I seem inhibited with the same old problems that have haunted me for years. I am a rotten missionary, do very little compassionate work, and seem hidebound by patterns and habits that I seem not to have the energy to break. The failures and disappointments of this year are heavy upon me. I seem to have nowhere to go in my life except the grave. And yet I have so much! Why must I be so hidebound by a sense of continuing failure? Surely there ought to be some fight left.

I browsed in my old journals this afternoon and perceived how boring, how inadequate a record they were. It is all such a mish-mash. Still, perhaps my children will find some comfort and joy in it. But I see now that I could never have made a living from writing.'

Some of Derek's entries are unintentionally funny, but these disarmingly honest extracts are terribly poignant. Here is a man in middle age, disappointed with both himself and his life. Derek clearly loves his wife, but feels starved of affection, let alone anything else. In one terribly sad entry, Derek notes the rare pleasure of receiving a hug from Brenda.

Derek's children obviously didn't receive much "comfort and joy" from the diaries, which is why they were thrown out. It might seem a callous act, but I'm not sure if I would like to discover a cache of diaries written by my father.

I should add at this point that perhaps there is an unconscious motive behind my decision to keep Derek's diaries. My father was also called Derek and must have been born around the same time. Like his namesake, he was a faithful husband, deeply religious and, on the surface, seemed the epitome of the safe, suburban, working man. But deep down he too was plagued by insecurities and unfulfilled passions and dreams. His life ended in illness and disappointment, but he derived some solace from a grandson that he never thought he'd see.

If all that has left you feeling thoroughly depressed and wishing you'd gone to "Chimps on Ice", I'll finish on a lighter note:

The office was rather startled on Friday afternoon. Mr Sumpter required me to go out into the country with one of the ladies to get an error corrected. I said that I was not happy to do this if it meant travelling alone with her. Several heads shot up. But the point was made, and now Mr Spry is going with her. One has known too many evil situations arising in the past caused by married persons being thrown together in lonely situations.


Grey Area said...

I can understand, up to a point - why these journals were discarded. I have all my parents letters to each other dating back to the late 1950's when they first met, and previously the letters my mother received to the American Air force officer she was engaged to for several years. I've read a couple - as has my sister - but they were too difficult to persue - her mental decline over the last 20 years of her life made them too painful for us to read - and this person was essentially a stranger. Even seeing how good her handwriting used to be is upsetting. I still have them and they are well looked after - but perhaps someone else should read them. I never will.

Mrs Jones said...

Poor Derek, and he was such a handsome chap too if the picture at the top is anything to go by.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Poor Derek. I wonder why Brenda went off him and why she seemed to think he should accept the situation. Even if it was down to health problems, she surely could have done something about them if she loved him.

I'm sure many a good woman would have given her eye teeth to be married to such such a decent and endearing man and appreciated him to the full if Brenda didn't.

His morality is commendable. On the other hand would it really have been so evil to find a woman in the same situation to exchange some mutual affectionate comfort with? Even as an act of Christian charity to a similarly lonely human being if he had to justify it?

I've read more than once that some relationships are even helped by 'outsourcing' what can't be had within the relationship, though I'm sure it's not an ideal situation. Then again, nor is the celibate marriage where one partner still retains a sex drive.

I find it amusing that Derek is obviously so terrified of being alone with a female who isn't his wife though. Is it THEM he is scared of or HIMSELF and what he might do? He comes across like a man expecting to be raped by marauding females at any moment! Or pounced apon by Dick Emery's 'Hettie' perhaps!

Anonymous said...

Talk about a life of quiet despair and desperation! No wonder Derek's children threw out the diaries!

Derek seems a nice man who deserved so much better. Perhaps he should have gone on the road trip and had a mad fling! Then perhaps Brenda might've (only might have, mind) appreciated what she would be missing if Derek were to leave and find happiness with someone else!

I do't usually counsel divorce as an answer, but in this case, it might have been better than the slow death Derek seems to be experiencing here.

Canadian Chickadee

PAL said...

This is a rich seam you're mining. Do keep it going.

JRSM said...

have to say poor Derek too! Not that I think an affair is ever the answer, and I suspect if he had ever tried that he would have been so ruined by guilt and grief that he would never have got over it.

How big are the Derek diaries? How many pages?

Anonymous said...

Your post certainly has provoked thought. Last night, as I lay not sleeping, I kept thinking about Derek and Brenda. My earlier post was more or less from Derek's POV, so this time I'd like to say a few wors in Brenda's defense.

Like it or not, we are all a product of our times. The photo of Derek looks as if it were taken in the early 1950's, a pre-birth control age. Since Derek and Brenda had children, perhaps it was further pregnancies Brenda feared, not Derek's passion.

In the still-shaky post war years, perhaps they couldn't afford to have more children, and she saw total abstinence as their only option.

Don't say, "There was always the Rhythm Method." The result of my one experience with the Rhythm Method has been voting for a number of years now. And perhaps Brenda had tried that, with an equal lack of success, which was how she got her earlier children.

So Brenda was left with the ooption of living with a man she liked and probably loved, without sex. By today's standards a seemingly intolerable situation, but perhaps more common than we'd like to think in those years.

Canadian Chickadee

Steerforth said...

The funny thing about Derek's diaries is how he manages to write so much whilst telling us so little about himself. There are thousands of pages in at least half a dozen huge, foolscap files, but it took me weeks to find out how many children he had.

95% of the diaries are generally mundane entries about Derek's local church, the successful or failure of his vegatables and long descriptions of minor illnesses. But it is that remaining 5% that make them so special.

As far as Derek and Brenda's relationship goes, I failed to mention one very key element: Brenda's mother lived with them and, according to Derek, was a generally spiteful, highly critical person who exerted an enervating influence on all around her.

I also think that Brenda suffered from depression - references to her moods and mysterious illnesses go right back to the 1950s. She is at least as complicated as Derek.

As Laura says, Derek gives himself away when he is reluctant to be left alone with a woman. It reminds me of a diary entry I published back in February:

"I set my lip on fire the other morning. And on Sunday night I had a dream. I became acquainted with an attractive woman with curly hair, but undefined facial features. I was much tempted by her and took her back to a basement with rusty radiators..."

Or this:

"I was much troubled by evil dreams last night. I tossed and turned upon my bed in a way I have not done for many years. I dreamt that I was at the office and kept calling the female staff by titles and names that were blatantly sexist and in transgression of the County Council's instructions in this matter."

An affair would probably have induced a nervous breakdown!

I don't know if Derek and Brenda ever resolved the lack of a passion. The last diaries - from the early 90s - were thrown away by someone from the warehouse. I don't know how the story ends.

Derek's constant succession of illnesses suggest that his passions were turned in on themselves, but I'll refrain from any further sub-Freudian analysis.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, poor Derek! If his live-in mother-in-law was anything like mine, then it's no wonder he and Brenda didn't have a very satisfying relationship. I don't know what Derek did to cope; I simply outlived mine.
Canadian Chickadee

Sam Jordison said...

"The last diaries - from the early 90s - were thrown away by someone from the warehouse. I don't know how the story ends."

NO! NO! NO! Oh no. Derek's tragedy has so many layers...

Sam Jordison said...

How much material is there in that 5%, by the way? Might it be big enough to produce a book. I know I'd want to invest in 'The Passion of Derek'.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Derek was like Walter Mitty and had a great fantasy life??
Canadian Chickadee

Steerforth said...

Thanks for the link Sam. There might be enough material for a book, albeit a short one. There are many entries that I enjoy reading, but feel are too rambling to use in the blog.

I have mixed feelings about publishing extracts from Derek's diaries. Am I abusing his privacy?

On the other hand, the diaries are his life's work and Derek frequently mentions how much he wants his family to read them when he's gone. From everything I've read of Derek's, my gut feeling is that he would rather see his dairies read by sympathetic strangers than no-one at all.

Sam Jordison said...

That's a difficult question re: the abuse of privacy.

I agree with your gut feeling. It's often seemed to me that Derek is desperate to be read, really. Better sympathetic strangers than no one, even if his family aren't interested. Surely he wouldn't have kept the diaries so long otherwise? If he wanted to be private, he would have destroyed them... wouldn't he?

I like to think that Derek would be pleased with the way we're reacting to them here too. Okay, we might laugh at him sometimes, but the overwhelming sense I have is of sympathy. I know I've found many of his entries very moving indeed.

Michael LaRocca said...

Chimps on Ice. Hee hee. Is that on YouTube?