Review: Vivien Horler
Just Ignore Him, by Alan Davies (Little, Brown)
You know Alan Davies on the hilarious British programme QI – the permanent panel member with curly hair, who is warm, empathetic and clever, with a slightly silly sense of humour?
How that delightful performer and comedian grew out of the boy in this memoir is hard to fathom. The boy whom Davies chronicles is sad, angry, lonely, disruptive, rebellious and mutinous.
Until he was six he lived in a happy family, the middle child of three and particularly close to his mother. But then she died of leukaemia, and everything changed. His father, an accountant, was authoritarian and apparently permanently irritated by young Alan, frequently telling his brother and sister to “just ignore him”.
And the natural response of one who is being ignored is to be even more bumptious.
But there was more. When he was eight his father began coming into his bedroom in his white Y-fronts, stripping him naked and stroking his buttocks. This was Alan’s “special cuddle”, a cuddle of course to be kept secret. This continued on and off for years, until Alan was around 13.
He responded by becoming both a show-off and withdrawn, a shoplifter and thief, stealing money and items from his family and various childminders.
He was lonely both within his family and at school. Being disliked, he says, prompted a calming wave of familiarity.
“Denied the normal to-and-fro of conversation and of ideas, my formative years were spent in a perverted dictatorship and an intellectual void. I had six years with a loving mother, and after that lived in a dysfunctional environment, with further emotional development coming in fits and starts, if at all.”
The corrosive effects of abuse are permanently scarring. He writes of one episode: “I think about that incident every day despite it being over forty years ago. No other single moment my life comes back to me in the same way.”
After school Davies discovered he loved being on the stage, and studied drama at the University of Kent. When he graduated he decided to “fake a smile, hide my fear and be a stand-up comedian”. And he was good.
He believes he honed his playfulness in his mother’s company. But comedians need other qualities, such as anger, something Davies admits he has in abundance. And he had a third quality: shamelessness. After what he had gone through, nothing could embarrass him.
Many years later, when Davies was married with children of his own, his stepmother asked for his help: she had retrieved a stash of pictures of naked boys from Davies’s father’s wardrobe. It turned out this was not the first stash – some years before she had found others and then she and Davies’s dad burned them in the garden at night.
Something about this enraged Davies. People including his stepmother and siblings had known about his father’s proclivities for years, yet no one had ever believed Davies when he accused his dad of abusing him. So Davies, now in his early 50s, went to the police.
He thought of the boys in the pictures, and said his hope for them is that they would be believed. “As I hope all boys with a story to tell will be believed, not just those in a grim pornographic photo shoot from the past, but those boys held by an internal grip of the mind, that originates in some private and awful series of events that have an unseen but last effect on their lives, and possibly on their children’s lives.”
Well written, occasionally amusing, this is mostly a description of a lonely and bereft childhood. This is not an easy book to read, but the Alan Davies of today represents a triumph of the human spirit.