I'm not a huge fan of autobiography given that you know as you read that the content is exactly as Katharine Whitehorn's title suggests, Selective Memory, and the source for her quote from Jim Fiebig is the epigram for the book.
'If you can look back on your life with contentment, you have one of man's most precious gifts - a selective memory.,
It clearly becomes the privilege of the author to tell us as much or as little as they want as honestly or otherwise as they see it and Katharine Whitehorn has done exactly that and in the process has actually told us a great deal.
I think I was part of the post-Whitehorn era or again was so busy trying to sleep after a long shift back in the 1970's or coping with the three-babies-in-four-years in the 1980's that I sort of missed her. I'm beginning to feel a bit of a dullard about the 1970's feminist revolution or was it all being played out on centre court whilst I was involved in a minor match on the outside ? (Wimbers coming up, time to get tennis-y)
The book is a laugh aloud read as well as offering some serious commentary on the titanic battle being fought on Centre Court and Katharine Whitehorn was most certainly volleying up at the net and sending down those blistering forehand drives as she took on all-comers in Fleet Street, but also embraced a much wider sphere in her quest to get a woman's voice heard and more importantly listened to.
The battle undoubtedly had its casualties and it seems remarkable that through it all Katharine and her husband, the thriller writer Gavin Lyall, sustained a marriage of forty-two years before his death at the age of seventy. This must have been a marriage forged in the maelstrom of change and to their credit they negotiated a path and raised a family which Katharine recounts unflinchingly. Despite a successful writing career, alcohol and the ever-present spectre of failure were Gavin's demons, but Katharine paints layer upon layer, building up a picture of him as a lovely man, not without his faults, but with a wickedly quickfire sense of humour and well able to manage her fiery outbursts. Katharine is no slouch in citing her own faults either and you sense a couple who accepted each other for better for worse and everything else inbetween and honoured it. The book is a tribute to their tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness and rings true as a consequence because it was most certainly not all a bed of the proverbial roses; on one occasion it was in fact a bed concealing a melon so make of that what you will.
Katharine and I agree about a great deal it would seem. I am of the firm belief, as you know, that canvas is for painting on not sleeping under, Katharine goes a step further pointing out that
'the main point of camping is to remind one why they invented the house.
It could also hardly be imagined that Katharine and I might even vaguely know the same people but a name cropped up in her book, a journalist and editor (and previous girlfriend of Gavin Lyall's) by the name of Suzanne Puddefoot.
Talk about selective memory, I knew this name, it's memorable as were the circumstances.
There followed a fair old rummage around the archives and finally I found it. A very yellowed copy of the Tavistock Times dated February 15th 1980 (told you I never throw anything away) and there it was, me starring in a centre page spread on a day in the life of a health visitor for the local newspaper, and the reporter I took out for the day?
Could it be the same one?
More to the point what about that terrible picture of me, twenty six and
kneeling by a buggy chooking a baby's chin while a proud mother looks
on (I can even remember the baby's name!), I'm looking slightly
worrying and even worse I'm wearing, oh good grief, the embarrassment, a tartan-lined duffle coat.
I'm sure there's no way you want to see that picture, but you absolutely do want to read Katharine Whitehorn's book which has much nicer pictures and shares many moments that add up to this poignant one in the final pages,
'What does happen is that the good memories become a source of pleasure and comfort tinged with the same autumnal ache, the same regret one feels about having once been young, of the unreturning years.'