Emma Forrest, 19, has felt shame just once. You'll never guess why
My mum feels shame about everything. The state of the house, her age, her hair, the world. At times I wonder if she is keeping all the shame to herself because it's actually quite satisfying. She's a Shame Hog, a secret wearer of those "I Thrive On Stress" T-shirts you can buy in chichi New York tourist traps. But like those curious movie stars who manage to be both skinny and voluptuous at the same time, Mum, despite her permanently furrowed brow, has always made it her duty not to transfer her shame on to her children.
"If you want to try drugs, I'd rather you did it in this house, where I'd know you were safe. If you ever got pregnant, you'd have an abortion. If you were raped, you would still be alive. All I really worry about is you getting yourself killed. That's it. The rest is manageable." I was about 13 when she explained that the only real way I could bring shame on the family would be by dying.
At times I felt jealous of my friends, who enjoyed a far greater range of shame. Their Mothers read their diaries, confronted them about marijuana joints and same-sex kisses, grounded them for months. Mum maintains that the most terrible thing you can do is read your child's diary. Other parents yelled at their kids to "turn that racket down" and refused to buy them Madonna records. When "Like A Virgin" came out I was about seven. Mum used my fascination with the single as an imaginative lead into the big birds-and-bees talk. I was allowed to ask anything at all, so the discussion started with "Do daddies have boys and mummies have girls?" and culminated with the classic "How do lesbians have sex?"
During a stay in a Paris hotel, when I was eight and my sister was five, Mum and Dad came back to the room to find the porn channel on. I don't remember them scolding us. In fact, the only one who said anything was my sister, who whipped off her vest and hopped around the room crying "Boosies up, girls!"
Later in life, they were always comfortable about having my boyfriend to stay. For a long time I thought I might never leave home, precisely because, although there were rules, my freedom was in no way curtailed.
In our first house, I woke up one day and decided to paint a mural on my bedroom wall and get all my friends to add their own designs. A small cousin explained to her sister that "she's only allowed to do it because the walls are about to be repainted. Of course her Mummy wouldn't really let her get away with it." She was not pleased at being corrected. I gave her a guided tour around the sloppy suns and poster-paint renderings of De La Soul and pointed out the best painting on the whole wall, which was the one my Dad did.
In our next house, my walls were barely visible for posters and magazine clippings. Joni Mitchell, The Stones, Stanley Kubrick, Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman, Peter Cook. Pretty much the same people my parents would have had on their walls when they were 16. Dad would sometimes come into my room to admire the latest vintage photo of Monica Vitti and accuse me of stealing his culture. Since as long as I could remember, our musical, theatrical, celluloid and political tastes were pretty much the same. Then it soured. Dad spotted, sneering from between Ken Livingstone and Oasis, a photo of Michael Portillo. He did a double take. "WHAT is that?" "It's Michael Portillo, Dad. I think he's handsome. I think he looks like Mick Jagger." He glared at me. "It's not funny. Take it down". He wasn't joking. Neither was I.
But for the first time in my life, I felt truly ashamed. Not long after, I left home. I now understand that the price of a shame-free upbringing is that you have to share your parents' global view. Luckily, I do. Mostly
Shame and stigma in Sixties Sheffield
Susan Richardson had an illegitimate child. She was sent to a home
"When I was 26, I became pregnant by a married man who was my boss. It was the Swinging Sixties - but not in Sheffield, my home town. The social shame and stigma attached to being an unmarried mother was still enormous. But I didn't feel ashamed exactly, more humiliated. I'd had a difficult but comfortable middle-class upbringing. Suddenly you were second class, worse than dirt.
I was an only child, brought up by an obsessive mother who did not even like me having friends or going to school. At 26, I was still picked up by Father after work. When I told my parents I was pregnant, Father was sympathetic but Mother was mortified about what the neighbours would say. She thought it blighted any chance of marriage or career and insisted on an abortion. I refused. Things were very difficult at home. Mother said I had to go into a mother and baby home run by the church. I felt totally abandoned. There were 20 of us in this huge old house in a faded area of town and it was such a sad place. I didn't stay very long. There were suggestions that Lisa be adopted, but I never considered that.
A friend put me up, but when Lisa was born I still had not found anywhere for us to live. So she had to go to a foster home for six months. I only had her for one day. Can you imagine the wrench of just giving her up to a stranger? But the foster mum was great and she and a wonderful social worker helped us through the worst.
It was not what people said, but how they acted. In antenatal classes, all the other women were given advice about how to rub oil into their skin to prevent stretchmarks, but somehow I was overlooked. When I was in hospital I had trouble feeding, but the nurses were unfriendly and unhelpful. Then, when we moved into a council flat, the neighbours got up a petition to force the council to move us on. It had gone round like wildfire that there was an unmarried mother on the estate. It didn't matter if it was the rent, insurance or milkman; the neighbours' curtains would twitch and letterboxes swing open. You had stepped outside the rules and everyone was waiting with glee for you to fail. Just because you were a single mother, your child was supposed to end up a criminal or drug addict - not that much different from the prejudice today.
When I was pregnant, I met my lover's wife. She told me I was only one of many girls. She asked if I wanted to marry him, but I didn't. She eventually divorced him after another affair. At first he helped me a little financially, but soon I was on benefits. At the social security office, they said they would see what they could do, but it was my fault for getting into trouble. I was often close to tears. Lisa's father hasn't seen her since she was three, but every year, except one, he has sent pounds 45 in an envelope addressed to me, saying "all the best". No allowance for inflation.
Social shame made me determined. I brought Lisa up on my own and she turned out well."
Susan Richardson, now 53, was talking to Mary Braid
Frank and fearful
When, in 1988, the broadcaster Frank Bough was publicly exposed for using cocaine and prostitutes, his wife Nesta said, "I know this will not happen again because of the shame it has brought on his family." Yet in 1992 the Sunday Mirror revealed his visits to a prostitute specialising in sadomasochistic sex. Bough confessed on TV that: "I caused a lot of pain to my wife and children, and I bitterly regret all these things - but I have to say that I believe that everybody, when they have difficulties with their marriage or sexuality, surely has the right to sort out these things in the privacy of their own home."
Hugh and cry
A "lewd act" with a Sunset Boulevard hooker named Divine Brown sullied forever the fairy-tale romance between romantic hero Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley, the Face of Estee Lauder. Who can forget those poignant pictures of Grant in the garden of their country house, gloomily eating lunch as Hurley slipped indoors?
The Queen says sorry
"The Crown expresses its profound regret and apologises unreservedly for the loss of lives because of the hostilities arising from its invasion, and at the devastation of property and social life which resulted."
Part of a 400-word apology made by the Queen last November to the New Zealand tribe of Tainui Maoris for the invasion of British troops 130 years ago. The British government also agreed to give back 39,000 acres, worth pounds 43 million. In 1865, it had confiscated 1.2 million acres.
The finger of suspicion
According to the laws of cricket, "no one shall rub
the ball on the ground, or use any artificial substance,
or take any other action to alter the condition of the ball." Yet, in a match against South Africa in 1994, the England captain Mike Atherton was found by the referee to have kept earth in his pocket - to dry
his fingers, he explained. Fined pounds 2,000, he insisted:
"My conscience is clear."
Red light for Green
In 1991, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Allan Green, was forced to resign his job after being caught kerb crawling in the red-light district of King's Cross.
His Swedish-born wife, Eva, never recovered from her husband's disgrace and ostracism, and in 1993 died from an overdose of sleeping pills.
Shackles raise hackles
January 15, 1996: Ann Widdecombe, the Home
Office minister responsible for prisons, was forced to make a humiliating apology for misleading the House
of Commons. Widdecombe, a prominent Catholic,
had wrongly denied that a London hospital had complained about a policy of shackling pregnant prisoners. The particular focus was a prisoner at Holloway on remand for drug offences. During a
stay in hospital for HIV treatment, "Jane" had been chained to her bed, even though she had no previous convictions. She was chained even while she slept and when she visited the lavatory.
And the band played on
Star footballer Duncan Ferguson, known as "Duncan Disorderly", spent 44 days in Barlinnie prison for headbutting a Raith Rovers player during a match.
He had committed the offence playing for Glasgow Rangers while already on probation, with three previous convictions for assault. But Everton still paid pounds 4 million for his transfer, their chairman declaring that he was "no danger to society". The Liverpool club collected him in a limousine from the prison gates, and the Clan Wallace Pipe Band welcomed his return to their team last December
Uneasy lies the head
Peter Hobson, headmaster of Charterhouse public school, resigned last September for what were officially described as health and personal reasons, but had more to do with his assignations with an escort girl named "Mia", who sold her story to The News of the World. The 18-year-old, a local ex-grammar school girl, had recognised him from a school speech day.
All in the family
Alan Clark, the former Defence Minister, wrote in
his notorious Diaries that he had slept with a mother and her two daughters, whom he called "the coven". While he did not give their surname, he left enough clues for them to be identified as the Harkess family, now living in South Africa. The father, James Harkess,
a retired judge and former Tory candidate, arrived
back in Britain with his wife Valerie and daughters Alison and Josephine, bellowing that Clark should be horsewhipped. Clark at one point appeared to agree, though his contrition had just a hint of self-preening. Yet it was the Harkess family who gradually emerged as ruthless exploiters of their own shame. They hired the publicist Max Clifford, accomplished merchant of shame, who sold the rights to their story to Sky TV and The News of the World. They then wrote a book containing examples of Clark's billets-doux, which the Daily Mail recently serialised.Reuse content