TICK TOXIC TICK TOXIC: Appearing Rooms IN The House I Grew Up In

“It’s Smita Lemn do you have a minute”  Each time she called I was in a meeting but on the third time I finally spoke to the BBC Producer Smita Patel.  “I know you’ve done a lot of work for radio four” said Smita. I noted to myself that by now she had done a little
research. Though I sensed something wrong with  the call  I couldn’t have expected what was to come. “we are not continuing the programme” she said “the programme is not happening”.  Mrs Greenwood (the foster carer of thirty years ago) has accused me of lieing and the editor feels that this puts the BBC  in a legally questionable position. 

But as my friend and journalist at the Guardian said to me  your story has been documented by the broadsheets in at least one article per year for the past twenty years. Nobody has ever been sued. Not only documented but investigated by the BBC for a documentary broadcast over ten years ago for which the foster parents were consulted. As the social worker said to me  “lemn I am living proof as the legal guardian (the social worker is the legal guardian of a foster child)  of what happened to you and I wrote my concerns into the files at the time. .  

A little rudimentary research would have shown this.    After a long and exhausting conversation with the editor where I tried my best to find the logic,  the decision remained.  “this is not the oprah winfrey show” said the editorat one point in the conversation.   Wasn’t this The House I Grew Up In.  Most  children do not go into care for uncontested reasons.  Is there not something wrong wth the reasoning behind this decision to shelve he programme on the basis of on persons word. 

It is the logic I was looking for.   I trailed through my correspondence to see if I had been untoward to Patel, if I had been unprofessional. But I could only find cordial comlpliant correspondance.   In some way my foster mother had dived from the past snake like from
it’s lair and snapped  at me.  As she retracted a splash of venomous phlegm  scored by neck. Liar.    After the call  I walked back into the artist in residence office and finished
a draft  document at The Southbank. I  took my bike out and left. I was in a daze that I might unbeknown to myself be dragged  into a depression which would hold me beneath  water for months to come. 

As I passed The Queen Elizabeth Hall minutes from the residency  the water sculptor, Appearing Rooms,  sprayed upwards in  a thousand streams.  There’s a short video of it below. There were only two  people inside it,  a mother, holding a child by her chest.  Gingerly they stepped from room to room. 

The House I grew up in always had disappearing rooms. How to prove they were there in the first place. I have done it, in my plays, in documentary. The editorial team made a fundamental mistake in not getting up on their research  and  found themselves making a programme that did not fit their original remit.   I had to find somewhere at least half private at Teh Southbank. I  covered my face and wept   until I was done. Then  I wiped my eyes properly.  I stood. I  had a cigarette and let the sky pour in. I carried  my bike up the steps onto waterloo Bridge, put my headphones on and biked  home.  


5 thoughts on “TICK TOXIC TICK TOXIC: Appearing Rooms IN The House I Grew Up In

  1. Hi Lemn,
    Thanks for this post – now I understand what you meant about the fountain…I don't know what you think but I think 'Disappearing Rooms' might make a beautiful companion poem…from the mother and child to the tears and the water…there is something very healing about that sculpture and I'm glad it was there for you – particularly after such a hellish experience. Love Karen x

  2. I think those kind of programmes are only really any good at dealing with quite simple stories…and your life to date is anything but that. They need neat stories, quick summaries, subjects that are easy to understand (and any kind of abuse of children can never be easily understood – can it?). The programme makers probably mean well but they're not prepared for real life stories with all they entail. Got a deadline and all that. Got a next series to budget. You're much better off presenting your past when and how you want. I think.

  3. Hi Lemn..
    Hope all is well with you. I was reading your blog and came upon the “Toxic” Oh! was so fired up just wrote this. These people are so destructive. You are the only one who knows your experience and how bad it was. None of these people have walked in your shoes. So my friend do not pay attention to these people as you said they are toxins and parasites.
    Life for sale!!!!
    Roaring splitting stomping Rumbling
    In this darkness
    Memory singing
    In between crackling and Crack
    Another gate is wide open
    Experience prancing with a razor blade
    Snapping its truth
    The past came as the thunderbolt
    Burning like wildfire
    Taking fractured reactions and actions
    In its path
    Come into this space my friends
    I might be accused of double-dealing.
    The poet is burning
    And I am too.
    Loathsome thieves of spirit are lurking around my space
    Who the hell want to steal my memory and experience?
    For sale
    Who is taking my innocence?
    For sale
    Who is taking my freedom and my past?
    For sale
    Who is responsible for my existence?
    Just me
    Life for sale
    One time deal.
    Who is trying to make me believe that I have not lived that cruelty?
    Life is for sale
    For a good transaction and victory
    Who is hissing like a snake with fear
    We are not!
    they whispered for the sake of telling a balanced story
    In the name of truth they said
    of course for profit and reward they said
    whispered again disguised
    I might be accused of double-dealing.
    The poet is burning
    And I am too.
    Threat and negotiations
    Upon my life
    My own life
    Mistrust my own survival
    Cultivating hostile suspicion
    Towards the past
    Oh that is wicked!
    I might be accused of double-dealing.
    The poet is burning
    And I am too.
    Ultimatum and leverage
    Hand in hand
    Up for grabs the award
    Growing up on trial
    Existence on trial
    Being on trial
    Life and time on trial
    Experience on trial
    Memory on trial
    For the suspicious wicked nymphs
    Such a field day
    Life for20sale
    In the name of the truth and balance
    I might be accused of double-dealing.
    The poet is burning
    And I am too.

  4. Hi Lemn,
    Sorry I haven't got back to you earlier. After just reading your blog I can now fully interpret and undersatnd what happened. For me I think the best thing is to let Mrs. Greenwood be. Let her lie with her demons, after all – they are hers. She knows how she treated you, she knows what they did was wrong and she therfore now chooses to convey the truth as lies, she is trying to portray you as a purveyor of untruth whilst it is, in matter of fact, she that is frightened of the truth being told; of being “found out”. What was done and said to you as a child, by adults, is their responsibility.
    I can only imagine how crap this whole debacle has made you feel, but Lemn, you are a strong person, just look at all the shit that's been slung at you over the years. And… look at where you are…a beautiful girlfriend, a lovely home, a marvelous poet, a successful career, an outstanding human being and a wonderful friend.
    Stay strong Lemn Sissay… remember … they're the Greenwoods demons … not yours.
    Love you lots, ya big oaf…..
    Diane xxx

  5. Hi Lemn, I've been reading your mind -blowing blog and just began to feel numb about the programme which was dropped ,about the house you grew up in. If a child says there has been abuse, it has to be true because they are not the ones inside the house with the power. If it was to be your story they didn't need any other version of it, it wasn't a debate, who said what etc.
    It is your story Lemn and you can tell it yourself, as you have. The life you have created I think is built on your courage and extraordinary imagination and understanding.
    The programme makers failed you really, which I suppose is why you felt so torn up by their attitude. But the fountain, the rooms, the figures and your own truth I hope have saved you once again .You have moved on and your new week and the work begun is enduring, original and shining. You are a star, take care of yourself, Love Bridget(Arvon)

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