Bloomsbury Circus £16.99

Book review: Romany And Tom by Ben Watt

 

There comes a point in all our lives when, like it or not, we must finally grow up. It might be when we first leave home and get a job, or when we have children of our own. For some, however, real adulthood only arrives when their elderly parents begin to view them as the grown-ups in the equation, figures to be leant on and deferred to.

This unsettling and yet inevitable role reversal is the context in which Ben Watt tells the story of his mother, Romany, a Shakespearean actress-turned-magazine feature writer, and his father Tom, a jazz musician whose career was “barged into the past by rock’n’roll”.

In this elegantly written and clear-sighted memoir, Watt – who is best known as one half of the pop duo Everything But The Girl – juxtaposes memories of growing up in a household of boho, hard-drinking parents, with his later efforts to help them navigate old age, with all the fear, stubbornness and disorientation that comes with it.

Dipping in and out of his family history, it is with unmistakable pride that Watt recalls Romany and Tom’s past escapades: him, the youngest bandleader in London, making the front page of Melody Maker in 1956; her jetting off to Mexico to interview Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Such episodes contrast with a clear sense of melancholy at what they have become – shrunken, meek, bewildered by simple tasks such as operating a dishwasher – and his own discomfort at becoming an authority figure required to monitor their alcohol intake and decide where they should live.

The story begins with the process of moving the elderly pair out of their Oxford home, where they have been struggling to manage, into a flat near his own house in north London. The adjustment is difficult and there is frustration on both sides. His dad largely refuses to leave his bed; his mother can’t be bothered to eat.

Romany and Tom is a tender work infused with the understanding that this is the final chapter of two rich and complex lives. But whether recalling the sight of his father lying in a puddle of blood and urine on the bathroom floor after a night on the brandy, or his mother staring fixedly at her son and asking: “Who are you?”, Watt’s reluctance to sentimentalise the experience makes it that much more powerful, cutting to the heart of the frustrations that come with caring for one’s parents who were, not long ago, just like us.

As Watt remarks at the start: “We only ever see the second half of our parents lives – the downhill part. The golden years we have to piece together.”

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea