My father was 50 when I was born. He was a surgeon - very successful, very powerful and an alcoholic, paranoid to the extreme. Did he practise as an alcoholic? Of course he practised, most certainly. I mean, half the surgeons in the country are practising alcoholics. If you can fly an aeroplane across America or cook a 10-course dinner party - as I did - on automatic pilot, then you can whip out an appendix or perform the odd lobotomy. As far as I know, he never did anything he shouldn't have. Poor man, he was very violent and very terrifying and very cruel and all the things that I subsequently became when I started drinking. I got a great deal of pleasure out of driving him mad. He was a genius and I was devious. I learnt to duck and run at a very early age.
My mother was an Australian heiress, married at 17 straight out of a convent. They met in Singapore and I think he fell in love with the lifestyle rather than her. He was a sod to be married to. She dragged him back to London where he met all the right people and put up his plaque in Wimpole Street. We were rich but my father was incredibly miserly, although the one thing he never stinted on was the household bills. The servants ate what we ate. My mother used to say: "How will they ever learn to cook fillet steak if they don't eat it?" Father was a great gourmet. The only thing we didn't have World War Three about in our house was food.
I remember him driving me to school talking about which O-levels I would sit to prepare me for medicine. I said I was going to be a barrister and he nearly crashed the car. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. He hated lawyers, which was why I decided to be a barrister. When I got a place at Oxford he refused to pay unless I read medicine. I didn't want to read medicine. In the end I read Law as an external student and shamed him into paying the fees - thanks to Edna Katz. Edna owned a shoe shop in Baker Street. She had no children and doted on me. When I told her about my father she wanted to give me the money but I persuaded her to lend it to me. Go to synagogue and tell everyone, I said. I knew how much the Jews valued education and my father had a lot of Jewish clients. I had a lot of Jewish relatives. Within two weeks he'd picked up the tab. It gave me an enormous sense of my own power and a very great deal of pleasure.
Eventually, of course, he went off his head and left home. He really did go quite mad and then became a vegetable and lived out his last few years in a psychiatric hospital. I think having to pay for my 21st birthday party was the last straw. He agreed to my having 200 people to the party. "Go and tell your mother to organise it and send the bills to me," he said. I didn't trust him an inch so I took instructions from my mother and did it myself. She wasn't to speak to anyone or sign anything, not even a delivery note. It was planned for the Saturday before my actual birthday. It was wonderful.
The next day I said: "Thank you, daddy." "Don't thank me," he said, "thank your mother. She signed for everything so she can pay for everything." When I told him I'd organised it he said, "Well, you can pay." "But daddy, I'm not 21 until tomorrow." That was the day he hit me with a red hot poker. He paid because they sued him. Yes, not killing my father is my regret. The law had nothing to do with it. Honestly, if I could have I would have.
I used to pore over botanical volumes. There's this thing called Wolfbane - a scentless, tasteless almost instant poison - which I failed singularly to find in the hedgerows of my childhood. I remember reading once that a Marks & Spencer store was selling it mistakenly as some sort of campanula. I was furious I hadn't been there. I used to hunt the woods for lethal mushrooms but to no avail. I never found anything.
I always thought the world would be a better place if I could kill him. I just never found the right way of doing it.
'Two Fat Ladies' is on BBC2 at 8pm on Christmas EveReuse content