One Fat Lady

by Annie Kaszina on June 6, 2006

I first encountered Clarissa Dickson-Wright, one of the
legendary Two Fat Ladies, many years ago at the fabled bookshop Books for Cooks. I remember her; I don’t flatter myself that she would ever remember me.

She was just starting to work there. I went there every few months to
buy piles of cookbooks about everything from Entertaining to Indonesian
cooking.

There was no spark of sympathy between us. Clarissa looked to me, at the time, like a down and out. In fact she was in recovery from alcoholism and a violent, traumatic childhood. I was in massive denial about my emotionally abusive marriage.

She was very fat and ill kempt; I was very slim and well groomed. She was very articulate. I had completely lost my voice. She, seemingly, was completely fearless about the way she projected herself. I
was pathologically shy and anxious about the way people would view and judge me.

Our paths intersected occasionally, momentarily. Then both our lives moved on.

This morning, I listened to her on the radio.

I’d heard her tell her story before on the radio. This time it struck me quite differently. (Now why could that be, unless it relates to my own personal development in the meantime?) Four things that she said, in particular, stand out.

The first relates to her abused childhood. As she herself says, she had a financially privileged childhood – which meant that her father smashed her head against a fine marble fireplace. Her childhood was horrendous. Her father, a surgeon, was professionally gifted and utterly brutal in his treatment of his children. She mentioned a catalogue of broken bones.

She also said that his treatment made her stronger. She decided that she would be a success in order to ‘show him’. And she showed every
promise of success. She was the youngest person to qualify for the Bar. She had a great future ahead of her as a barrister and a judge. But when her mother died and, as she put it, her alcoholic father was a cabbage, she started to consume industrial quantities of alcohol – 2 pints of gin, with 4 pints of tonic a day, plus ½ bottle of vodka and beer…

The second relates to her wilderness years. The alcohol, the misery and the squandering of a fortune and her exceptional talents went on for many years. It went on until she realised she could put her burden down. And she did.

The third relates to her recovery. Born a Catholic, Clarissa did not have much time for church going, but she did, and does, believe in some kind of deity.

When asked by the interviewer, Michael Buerk, how she escaped the path of self-destruction she said that she asked for help. And help was forthcoming. Although maybe not in any immediately recognisable, reassuring way. But still, her requests to her God for help brought about a change in her circumstances and started her on the road back to life, abstinence, happiness, and success.

The fourth thing about Clarissa Dickson-Wright is that she is a remarkably resilient character, not least because she doesn’t ‘do’ shame, self-flagellation or self-loathing. She is, in other words, quite accepting of her own failings. And it may well be that this self-acceptance generates her energy and her resilience.

When you think about it, shame, self-flagellation and self-loathing burn up vast quantities of emotional energy utterly pointlessly. You
might as well go outside and stand staring at your car – or for that matter anybody else’s car – and say: “Well, start then.” Willing it to start without starting the motor is not going to achieve the desired effect.

Although it could leave you feeling seriously helpless and hopeless, if you had mistakenly believed that it might.

Clarissa Dickson-Wright is a woman who has lost a lot, including a fortune, years of her life and her figure; she’s also achieved a
lot.

More to the point, she has found meaning and fulfilment in her life. Regret for all that she had lost, or all that she had never had would
have paralysed her. Instead, she had an awareness that there were mountains out there to climb.

Her belief that she could climb them was the thing that empowered her to do so. What better role model could there be for abused women everywhere than this gigantic woman (in every respect) who has come back from the depths without depending on a man, without her looks, without being a size 8 and without a penny to her name?

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