Intrigued? (How I do like coming up with titles for blog posts.)
Watching BBC Breakfast one morning, long before I had kids, I found myself getting rather offended. Now, these days I know that everyone seems to get offended by something or other that the BBC has or hasn’t done, but it wasn’t quite like that back then. So what was it that had me grumbling at the screen full of bile and indignation? A piece on ‘happiness – the causes of’ would you believe. The presenter of this two minute light-hearted piece was surveying what events or features of our life give us the most happiness, and, after considering a number of candidates (work? holidays? I can’t quite remember) he concluded that it was spending time with our own young children that hands-down wins the show. Now at that time, it didn’t look to me and my hubby like our house was ever going to have young children in it. So, here I am at 8.30 in the morning being told that the truest cause of happiness for people the world over was as a permanently-closed door to me. Cheers BBC, I feel great after that. I then did something I have never done since. I emailed the show, arguing that despite their attempt to be cuddly and heart-warming, they may just have succeeded in leaving a significant proportion of the viewing public feeling a bit, well, excluded. And blow me down if I didn’t get a response, from the producer no less.
Her name was Nicky Defago, which immediately rang a bell. As it turns out, Nicky is the author of an excellent book on choosing a child-free life; I had a copy on my shelves, (such was my attempt to view my experience from every angle in the pursuit of internal peace). Following a couple of emails, we ended up talking on the phone. So here we are, an involuntary childless viewer discussing a piece about children being the most enduring route to contentment, with a childless-by-choice television producer. Bizarre doesn’t even cover it. She was gracious and erudite, acknowledging my perspective and talking with me about infertility issues with genuine interest and concern. I finished our conversation full of appreciation for the democracy of the BBC and nose returned to the correct jointed position. And then blow me down if she doesn’t get back in touch with me later that day, to ask if I could be on the show the next morning to talk about latest fertility treatment advances!
Now, as it turns out, I couldn’t do it, and despite my ego bursting with ambition to go, I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t the best person for the job. I thanked Nicky for thinking of me, and filed the day’s experiences under ‘good for a re-telling sometime’. And I did switch on the next morning to see who they got in instead. And there he was, the fertility super-hero that is Robert Winston. Ah well, what a claim to fame, being replaced by him…
Now, at the heart of my anecdote is the frustration I felt at having the door of happiness slammed shut in my face, so to speak. It may, from where you sit, appear to have been a rather strong reaction. After all, I could have just switched it off, and respected the right of the BBC to be at odds with my own, admittedly coloured, views. And during those days I felt pretty angry and dark most of the time, so unfair did the randomness and cruelty of the Universe seem to me. Christmas was, back then, something to be endured and not delighted in. And even though my circumstances are now very different, my memory of what it was like to feel so, so ‘on-the-outside-looking-in’, is still very fresh. And Christmas will always be remote, unobtainable, even painful to many people in society. You’ve just split up with a girlfriend? Cue lots of adverts about buying the one you love a diamond. Your husband has passed away? Lots of images of whole families enjoying their Christmas lunch will help you feel even worse. You can’t have kids? Here’s a few hundred adverts with smiling children opening their presents with their contented parents looking on to rub salt in the wounds.
I often describe myself as lucky. My hubby says you make your own. But, getting back to the gosh-darn-it unfairness of life, I’d say lucky is just the right word. And if Christmas is making you wince this year, my thoughts are with you.