The Waiting is the Hardest Part --- Peter Leyland

                                               “The Waiting is the Hardest Part” *

                                            Wait for me, and I'll return

                                            Only wait very hard

                                            Wait when you are filled with sorrow

                                            As you watch the yellow rain 

By the strangest of coincidences my granddaughter is at the same school as the child of the sister-in-law of a woman recently released from an Iranian prison. I mention this not to claim any acquaintance but to indicate our many links to other people of whom we may have heard but have never seen. My granddaughter was not even born when Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was imprisoned. Now she is lively little girl, full of energy, and loves dressing up as a flamenco dancer. Six years is a long time.


The news item about Nazanin’s release reminded me of another imprisonment of more than five years duration, again with an unlikely link to myself and my daughter. This memory related to the holding of John McCarthy chained to a radiator in Lebanon while his girlfriend, Jill Morrell, waited for him for years in a town in England. I know the story because I read about it in the book called Some Other Rainbow that John and Jill published after his release which tells the story of his kidnap and of her campaign to free him.


My story, however, does not begin with Jill or John nor with their book, but with a trip I took to the Italian lakes with my daughter when she was 16. From the age of five years old I had become accustomed to seeing her on alternate weekends, and in the school summer holidays. Once, for instance, I took her to The Isle of Wight where we stayed in a cottage with a girlfriend and her two children, and at other times we would visit old friends of mine in Cornwall and attend The Elephant Fayre. They with their three children would be involved in site organisation and cooking, and we would listen to alternative bands like The Cure from a strategically pitched tent. Apart from these holidays it was rare that we would spend any sustained amount of time in each other’s company.  


We flew to Lake Garda from Gatwick in July, at the beginning of the school holidays, queuing with luggage and going through all the baggage handling checks, eventually arriving at Bergamo Airport in Italy, from where we were taken to our hotel. We were sharing a room, two single beds with a balcony where you could dry your things after going swimming in the hotel pool. I didn’t know much about the resort where we were, but she did, having visited it before with her mother and stepfather. It was beautifully situated at a centre point of the lake and from the first day she organised our time taking wonderful boat trips around the islands. She has always had an amazing confidence in herself, my daughter, and took complete responsibility for where we would go and what we would do there. 


I don’t really know how it is for children after their parents’ separation. We never really ask them. In a recent TV series called The Split, Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan play a couple who decide to divorce. They have three children and one of the episodes highlights the effect on them, particularly the elder girl, of the news that (Stephen Mangan) Nathan’s new girlfriend, Kate, is expecting his baby, something that makes her very unhappy. Although this hadn’t happened in my daughter’s case, I could see that it could be a problem and it was interesting to note that at the end of each episode of the series the BBC gave a number to contact if you had been affected by any of the programme's content. I wondered to myself whether anyone had actually used it.


But to return to my story: after our days sailing around Lake Garda the evenings passed in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. The first evening we ate our supper which was excellent, and I had thought that we might follow this up with a walk around the town together chatting and eating ice-creams, and maybe talking to passers-by. But she had different ideas. “I’m just going out Dad,” she said when we had finished the meal, and off she went into the town. I didn’t ask where or why but sat on in the lounge over my coffee, feeling a little nonplussed, but pleased that we were spending this time together. The same thing happened on the second and third nights and I began to see that this holiday was for her and not for me.


So, what did I do in those evenings as she roamed the town, meeting up with the friends in the square which, as I learned later, she had made rapidly as teenagers do? If I had been a character in an Anita Brookner novel, while she was otherwise engaged I would have met a woman holidaying on her own having fled to Italy to repair a broken heart. We would have talked over drinks about our sadnesses and our conversations would have gone deeper until our whole lives had been laid out for each other’s inspection. There may even have been a romantic interlude, but as you know in real life this rarely happens so I won’t go any further. Anyway, even if there had been such a woman, how would I have explained the new situation to my daughter? As I have said, I was there for her.

So, in the end I did what you may have guessed, I took out the book, Some Other Rainbow, 500 pages and 350g worth of baggage (no pun intended), that I had brought with me to read. It was the story of Jill Morrell and John McCarthy which I hoped would occupy me during the week's holiday. And so it did.


If you don’t know the book, I would recommend it. It is the story of how John McCarthy was kidnapped in April 1986 while acting bureau chief for a news-agency in Beirut, Lebanon. He had begun a relationship with Jill Morrell in 1983 and for more than three years after his disappearance she didn’t know if he was alive or dead. While his part of the book, which they co-authored, tells of the physical and psychological deprivation of his captivity, hers tells of the initial shock and disbelief that he had been taken and her gradual acceptance that her life would be changed forever. For five years she battled with Foreign Office mandarins to have John and other British hostages taken in the Middle East released until finally this was achieved in August 1991.


There was no fairy tale ending to their story. In an article by journalist Maggie O’Kane, she tells us how after all the fanfare about their happy-ever-after future, orchestrated by The Daily Express who had published well-rewarded extracts from their book, John and Jill decided to free themselves from the relentless media scrutiny and live their own lives, not as a married couple but as free agents. 



Now back to Nazanin, whose story I have followed through the long years of her imprisonment in Iran. Things do change in our lives and as we accommodate to those changes, hopefully our children will too. I found eventually that renegotiating my life during a period of isolation brought me a new understanding of myself and released me from my own and others' expectations.There is no equivalence here with the isolation suffered by our two hostages, just the idea that, even if you have to wait for a long time, your life can turn around.


My daughter told me of how she hugged Nazanin's sister-in-law in the school playground after her release was announced. ‘Good book isn’t it?’ she had written to me in a letter, after our holiday at Lake Garda, thanking me and enclosing a poem called “Wait for Me”. On Thursday she is visiting here with my grandson and granddaughter for the Jubilee celebrations.

*My thanks are due to Griselda Heppel for inspiring me to write this piece



Some Other Rainbow (1993) John McCarthy and Jill Morrell


The Split (2018-22) TV series written by Abi Morgan


Wait for Me (1941) Konstantin Simonov


Why John and Jill Came Tumbling Down by Maggie O’Kane (undated)


The Waiting (1981) song by Tom Petty




Sandra Horn said…
I am so moved by this post. Thank you, Peter - it has brought home to me how undeservedly lucky I have been.
Griselda Heppel said…
I am touched and honoured, Peter, that I should have inspired such a moving piece about loss, separation, acceptance and hope that life will turn around - which it did, for both you and the well-known hostages you talk about.

And oh gosh, holidays with a 16 year-old... they are always a couple of steps ahead of you, aren't they? Just as you're looking forward to an enjoyable evening together exploring the local streets and cafes, now that they no longer go to bed early and can be good conversational company, they've moved on to finding their own social life and have left you behind, oh yes, and with the worry about how late they'll come back and will they be all right. You paint a wonderfully wry and evocative picture of your evenings spent reading by yourself, just like a character in an Anita Brookner novel (wasn't the Booker winner set in a Lake Garda hotel?)

However difficult divorce is for the children, you clearly got things as right as you could have done, from the close, fun relationship you have with your daughter and your grandchildren now. Not all fathers manage that.
Peter Leyland said…
Thank you both for such positive comments. It is an emotional investment to story one's life in this way so it is great to get feedback from fellow writers and I do appreciate what you say, particularly your detailed comments Griselda which really tap in to what I was trying to achieve here, reflective without being too 'maudlin'.

It is nice to report too that our Jubilee day was enormously successful thanks in no small part to Sue, my beloved wife.

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