I used to like watching what the media call "gritty dramas". I loved Prime Suspect, and vivid in my memory from ages ago (2010?) is Criminal Justice II; but I think my absolute favourites were The Bridge, and Happy Valley by the unbelievably talented Sally Wainwright.
I still hold those levels of writing, directing and acting in the highest esteem, but increasingly these days I find I cannot watch them. It feels as though too much of the world's sorrow is already inside me and I have no space for any more.
Sarah Lancashire starred in Happy Valley — she was brilliant — and right now she's starring in another gritty drama on UK TV, called Kiri. It's about a tragic situation where a social worker allows a child an unsupervised visit with grandparents, and the child is murdered.
I watched the first episode with the Badger, and then the second one aired last night, straight after Love It Or List It with Phil and Kirsty.
Just at the present time I'm scrambling to finish writing a book. It has to be in to the publisher in March, and meanwhile that same publisher will any day now be sending me someone's novel to edit that carries its own deadline.
Our household is made up entirely of quiet people (they do play French horn and trombone and bodhran and flute and violin and piano and harp and oboe and recorder, but the people themselves are quiet), but even so daytime requirements can be . . . turbulent. Writing goes best when I start early in the morning. I often wake around half-past three or a quarter to four, and I can get a solid chunk of work in if I start then. This has a knock-on effect of course; by half-past seven or eight in the evening, I'm often ready to turn in. I fell asleep in my armchair (not a pretty sight) before Phil and Kirsty finished, and there was no hope whatsoever of watching Kiri.
So it was my intention to see Kiri on catch-up TV; the first episode was so good.
But — does this happen to you? — sometimes you can notice-but-not-notice some reality of life. And wanting to watch Kiri made me consciously aware of something I'd noticed but not noticed for a long time.
I couldn't watch it by myself. It has too much trauma.
I sat and thought about this, considered it, played it through in my mind, asking myself why I wouldn't watch Episode 2 by myself if I saw Episode 1 with the Badger and thought it was great.
And I became aware that when I sit in the same room with the others of my household, there's a kind of ectoplasm — like squid ink in the water or smoke rising from a slow bonfire or steam from a wet fence when the sun comes up — a subtle presence / ambience / aura / atmosphere exuded by the other person; an emanating strength. Being with them strengthens me.
When I write that down it doesn't read as astonishing at all. "Yes," you may think. "Of course."
But I hadn't really thought about it before.
Such influence as we have upon one another! Its negative aspects are much discussed, of course — the effects of mental cruelty and psychological/emotional abuse in gradually eroding a person's confidence and self-esteem. Yet the positive aspects, less so; especially given the emphasis on individualism in contemporary society.
But in our household all of us find strength and hope and courage in doing things together. Even something as simple as watching a programme on TV in which a person suffers and is broken down, torn by distress and unkindly treated by their fellow human beings. Even though I know it's only a story. I need the quiet, steady strength of someone sitting beside me to be able to bear watching it.