- I dunk biscuits into tea (only the basic ones like ginger nuts I'm not weird or anything) and apparently that is an English thing.
- I drink a lot of tea - I always thought this was an Indian thing, but apparently it's English. What would I dunk my biscuits into otherwise ?
- I love marmite - my friend SJ says that having a strong opinion about Marmite (love it or hate it) is what makes a person English.
- The definitive marker, however, is that I listen to the Archers. My friend Tim who lives in Thailand still listens to the omnibus and we compare notes on a Sunday about what is happening. Now that is proper commitment, but then I suspect he takes pride in that whole 'Englishman abroad' schtick.
Making this admission in public is a bold move for me as it's part of my accepting my middle aged, middle class, self. It's also about something bigger than me or the Archers - I know, is that even possible ? At the moment the Archers has a storyline that has caused a lot of consternation and upset to regulars and newbie listeners alike. As someone who has been listening for fewer than 5 years I am still a relative newbie. I am, however, very invested in the current storyline about Helen and Rob. This has been going on for a while and it has emerged over time that he is emotionally manipulating his wife, isolating her from friends and family and is now turning her young son against her.
It is often difficult for someone who hasn't experienced this kind of domestic abuse to understand why Helen isn't just standing up to him or telling someone, but having lived with someone not dissimilar to Rob I think I understand why.
In the beginning of my relationship he seemed very kind and I believed he was misunderstood. Rob told Helen that his wife was mad and that only she truly understood him. The secrecy of the relationship was part of what made isolating me from my friends possible. Helen and Rob started out having an affair and she lied to everyone about seeing him. As the relationship progressed he ensured she relied on him more and more.
In public he would be charming and in private he had an unpredictable temper and I would be on the edge of my nerves as soon as he got home in case he was in a bad mood. Regulars will remember that Rob was very angry because he hates tuna and lied about being attacked by a hunt saboteur. If these sound like ridiculous examples let me give you some of my own.
We were driving to see his mother for the weekend and because she was off with him on the phone he swerved sharply off the motorway and threatened to drive into a wall. I talked him out of doing that (well shouted actually) and instead he threw his new mobile phone out of the window.
While we were away celebrating his 30th birthday he fell into a bad mood and decided to pick a fight before we went to eat where he made unkind comments to me while we ate dinner. I tried to stop myself from crying as he gritted his teeth and sneered at me to stop showing him up in public.
It isn't just anger though, it's also dishonesty. Rob has lied and manipulated others and is convincing Helen that she is going mad. Towards the end of my short lived first marriage I was broken and alone. On the first day back to work in January 2000 I got to the train station and decided to go home and rest for the day, thinking he'd already left for work. As I opened the front door to our flat I heard him indoors and felt my blood drain away. He was furious with me for being home. The smell was unmistakeable yet he'd told me he had stopped smoking weed ages ago. When he heard the door lock open he'd thrown the lit joint on the floor and it would be my fault now if the flat burnt down. As I crawled on my hands and knees to find it with tears rolling down my face I knew that this was enough. The lying, the loneliness, the lack of basic kindness.
I was lucky enough to get away without the need for an intervention and I was able to go to my parents' home. A lot of women are not so fortunate and if they also have children there is so much more at stake.
A lot of listeners have questioned why Helen hasn't told anyone or left Rob. Well I know women who have had their jaw broken and been too afraid to report it. Who have also asked to drop the charges, not because they forgive the man who did it, but because they are convinced that they did something to deserve it. Physical damage can be seen, but mental cruelty is very hard to prove. Someone like Rob will make you think you are the problem and that without him you just won't cope.
One of my fellow listeners Paul Trueman has created a Justgiving page in the name of Helen, with all donations going to the very real and much needed charity Refuge. So far it's raised an amazing amount of money to help Refuge support victims* of domestic abuse. I am a proud member of the Archers Appreciation Facebook group and even more so now that we have done something positive with all that unspent rage we are feeling towards Rob.
If you would like to donate please go to this link: https://www.justgiving.com/helentitchener/