Monday, 16 May 2016

HAPPY AND CONTENT AT 50

CARPE DIEM
New writing commissions, moving in with Dawn, being a Dad and getting married. And it's only May.


In the art room, May 2016. (Image: Dawn Tomlin)














Last Wednesday I was ambling through Soho, got caught in a downpour and ducked into a nearby restaurant. There I had an early lunch (an omelette), checked up on emails through my laptop and read the booklet for a new Doors re-release I’d bought in Sister Ray. The latte was particularly good. When the rain stopped, I searched out presents for my step-daughter, who turned 16 last Thursday.

Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? I suppose it is in the broad scheme of things. But if you rewind a year, the contented emotional place I’m now in was almost inconceivable due to my depressed state of mind.

As regular readers will know, back then I was being slowly ground down by the monotony of daily job applications slaved to the Department of Work and Pensions, which you have to do to get the pittance they expect you to live on. Nice meals in Soho were the stuff of increasingly distant memories, as was spending a few recreational quid in Sister Ray or the Vintage Magazine Shop.

Today, being in a good mental place isn’t solely because I’ve got myself working again on my own initiative, after all the advice and restart courses of the DWP yielded precisely nothing. The fact is, too many good people have died this year. 2016 began appallingly with the death of David Bowie, my generation’s John Lennon. Then there was Prince (57, only six years older than me), Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Guy Hamilton, Anthony Valentine, Sylvia Anderson… on a personal level, several people in my life have either passed on or will be soon, all of them too young. After a boozy night out in the Sherlock Holmes – something else that’s been a rare pleasure over the last three or so years – I staggered back to my partner Dawn’s place, where I’m now living. We talked all night and at the end of that night I asked her to marry me.

A year ago I wouldn’t ever have ever considered tying the knot again. True, turning 52 later this month and everything I’ve discussed above was playing on my mind, but what finally made my mind up to ask for Dawn’s hand was the lady herself. She doesn’t have a cynical bone in her body, always looks for the best in people – even when the evidence to the contrary is stacking up so much it’s about to topple over – and has a wonderfully endearing joy in everything. I took her to her first Doctor Who convention the other week, and she was bouncing around like a wide eyed twelve year-old at the prospect of all the autographs she was able to get from people who’d worked on the programme! I remember that feeling from years ago and seeing Dawn so happy made it real again. It’s a good thing to have back in your life.

Not bad, Rob.
(Image: Robert Fairclough)
Then there’s Rose and Poppy, Dawn’s children by her first marriage. Rose is 16 and her life is just about to start. Poppy is 9 and has always longed for a Dad (her ‘DNA Dad’, as she calls him, doesn’t count for reasons I won’t go into here) and has fought her own battle to come back from a dark place: she was bullied so much at school that Dawn decided to home-school her for two years. I believe that children respond instinctively to the goodness – or otherwise – in people but, even so, when Poppy started calling me ‘Dad’ and held my hand on a day trip to Shakespeare’s Globe, I was more than a little disconcerted. Now Poppy’s back in school, loving it and I was overcome when she bought me a small trophy cup with the engraving ‘World’s Best Dad Ever: Robert Fairclough’. We all feel so natural together as a family that making us one officially seemed like the most obvious, not to mention joyous, thing to do.

I was never sure I wanted to be a father and, at 51, thought it was too late. Because of my mental health issues, at the back of mind was always the feeling I wouldn’t be able to cope with children and I’d let them down. However, Dawn says I’m a natural and ‘the house’ none of them wanted to stay in for long is finally a home. She prefers being there now to the Centrepieces Mental Health Arts Project that took up (too) much of her time.

What convinced me I could be a good father was an outing a couple of weeks ago to the Cartoon Museum in London. It's currently hosting an exhibition of illustrated Doctor Who book covers – extended to the end of June, which indicates how popular it’s been. I grew up with those novelisations as, in a world without DVDs, they were the closest you could get to watching Doctor Who stories again. Even before the books appeared in 1973, I remember Dad found me the hardback of Bill Strutton’s Doctor Who and the Zarbi, first published in 1965, in Gorleston Library. I loved that book and would gaze at the marvellous John Wood illustrations in fascination. The planet of Vortis with its giant ants and man-sized butterflies was a world I longed to be a part of.

Happy famiies. (Image: Mike Kenwood)
Anyway, in the 1970s the company Target republished Zarbi in their first year of releases with a fantastic new cover by Chris Achilleos, giving me another reason to love the book. Strutton’s Tolkien-esque universe was a formative part of my childhood and helped to give me a love of reading generally. I wanted to pass this enthusiasm on to Poppy, so during our visit to the Cartoon Museum, I bought her a reprint of Doctor Who and the Zarbi and wrote this on the title page: ‘To Poppy – My favourite “Dr. Who” book, from me to you. All my love, Dad. XXX’

Maybe this parenting lark isn’t so hard after all.

It’s easy to say that life’s worth living again and I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but what’s really amazed me over the last few weeks is how fast your life can change. In my case, when positive things started to happen, another wouldn’t be far behind. Today I’m sitting typing this in our shared art room, The Stranglers, Bowie and Joy Division thundering away on the stereo behind me, as I think about designing The Callan File, the writing commissions I have on for Doctor Who Magazine and SFX, administering the Centrepieces blog, planning the wedding...

I’m 51 and about to get married. Time, indeed, to seize the day.

2 comments:

  1. Good for you Rob! EVERYONE should know what it is to be happy X

    ReplyDelete