DJ Taylor: You'd think Margo Gaffney had been raised in an emotional desert half way between a concentration camp and a nunnery

What exactly was the problem with Mr and Mrs Gaffney's parenting skills?

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The Independent Online

At 41, an age at which most people's eyes are fixed on the bright, unfolding future, Margo's gaze is still trained on the grim, unyielding past; specifically, her upbringing as a teenager by her parents in a picturesque part of Herefordshire in the late 1980s.

Certainly Mr and Mrs Gaffney were beyond the first flush of youth when they had Margo, and certainly they proved unable, or unwilling, to present her with a sibling – but what exactly was the problem with their parenting skills, and why does Margo recall them with such bitterness?

Well, for a start there was calling her Margo, after that dreadful woman in The Good Life. Worse than this, though – far worse – is the air of repression that supposedly hung over her adolescence like a cloud of poison gas.

What she never had, Margo will explain to anyone who cares to listen, was a life of her own. In fact, personal autonomy was entirely denied her. Modest dress, attention to homework, early nights, avoidance of television – all were rigorously enforced. Boyfriends were absolutely forbidden ("The only way I could meet anyone was by saying I was going to the church youth club"), and attendance at parties was regularly ruined by the arrival of Mr Gaffney at 10pm sharp to collect her.

It is quite a tale, rendered even more devastating by the telling, for Margo – a thin, mousy woman, with staring eyes – has, over the years, converted it into a high-grade dramatic performance, culminating in a re-enactment of the confrontation between Mr Gaffney and a boy called Gavin who was hiding in the garden shed. To hear Margo talk you would think that she was raised in an emotional desert half way between a concentration camp and a nunnery by people whose only wish was to lame her for ever.

The curious thing about Mr and Mrs Gaffney, then, is that they should turn out to be such a demure old couple, transparently devoted to their daughter and regretting only that she hasn't met the "nice young man" of their imaginings. Even more curious is that their retirement bungalow should be filled with photographs of the teenage Margo apparently having a very good time. The mental unravelling that turned a swimming pool into a sink is one of the great mysteries of their collective life.

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