Cumming’s memoir begins on the Panmure estate in Carnoustie, Scotland – not a council estate but the leftovers of a country house where his dad runs a saw mill: “It was all very feudal and a bit Downton Abbey, minus the abbey… Looking back on it, it was a beautiful place to grow up, but at the time all I wanted was to get away as far as possible.” His father was brutal, taking all his pain and anger out on his youngest son Alan. “Soon, my head was propelled forward by his hand, the other one wielding a rusty pair of clippers that he used on the sheep…They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my head with them, holding me down like an animal.” He made up a story about cutting his own hair for the teachers and students at school the next morning. Scariest of all are the calms between the storms: “That was the worst bit, the waiting… I never knew exactly when it would come, and that, I know, was his favourite part.”
“Our family had always been one of secrets, of silences, of holding things in.” And Alan keeps secret his father’s many affairs. “Memory is so subjective. We all remember, in a visceral, emotional way, and so even if we agree on the facts – what was said, what happened where and when – what we take away and store from a moment, what we feel about it, can vary radically.” It is through a British reality TV show that Cumming learns the truth of his maternal grandfather who avoided the family when WWII ended and eventually died in Malaysia. Also Alan’s father told Alan’s brother that Alan is not his son. He claims Alan’s mother had an affair before he was born.
It is memoir of mysteries. Well written. Well worth the read.