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Author interviews

Hilary Boyd on her father & the end of the stiff-upper-lip

November 21, 2012

Hilary Boyd, author of the Kindle number one bestseller Thursdays in the Park has written a wonderful piece in the Telegraph about the British stiff-upper-lip and its relation to her because of her father’s death:


It was 1958, in London. I was nine. One Sunday morning in November I got up at around 6.30 to have a pee.

At that time of the morning there was usually silence in the house. But I could hear talking, some sort of noise from my parents’ room, next to my own.

I didn’t think much of it. I went back to bed and began to read my book – Peter Pan. It would be hours before the household woke up, especially on a Sunday.

The next thing I knew, my mother came into the bedroom. She was still in her nightdress and dressing-gown, which was unusual in itself.

She sat down on the bed and said: ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but Daddy died this morning.’ She can’t have been in the room for more than a couple of minutes.

Obviously, she was in shock herself. And I had no idea what she was talking about. He was 41. I didn’t know he was even ill.

From that day to this, my mother, now dead, never talked about my father to me.

On the day he died, when he was supposed to be reading the lesson in church, my siblings and I were packed off to have a walk in Richmond Park.

When we came home we were given lunch, told to do our homework; just a normal Sunday.

I didn’t see my father’s body, I wasn’t told about the funeral, I wasn’t asked if I wanted to go.

Apparently, I was considered too young. I didn’t dare ask, because nobody talked about what had happened, about Daddy.

Not the day he died, not ever, not even with my siblings. Daddy was there one day, gone the next. End of.

My father’s body must have still been upstairs, because in the afternoon I remember looking out of my bedroom window with my sister, watching as they took him away in a black wooden box.

I began to cry. I suppose I must have finally realised what was happening. And my sister told me to stop. We never cried in our family, it wasn’t done. The habit of repression was huge.

I went to school on the Monday after he died and stood up and read the poem I’d learnt the day before.

The teachers didn’t say anything, nor did my school friends. Did they know? I never asked them, I didn’t know how to talk about it.

But I remember looking at the girls’ faces as I read and thinking: ‘I’m different from all of you now.’

I grew up. It was as if my father’s shadow hung over the family, but he himself had barely existed.

I know Mum loved him very deeply, and she never remarried, but it was as if I hadn’t had a father at all. Where he, or at least his memory, should have been was just a void.

Any information I gleaned about him as a person, his death from a heart attack, his previous heart disease, I got from my aunt when I was an adult.

Read the piece in full over on the Telegraph website.

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