Mackem Mayhem

Anyone born in Newcastle and raised in Sunderland has already been dealt a challenge. For Robert Wood there were more to come. In this collection of stories from his life he describes his frustrations, pain and tussles as he has to deal with schizophrenia, alcoholism and dysfunctional parents. Raised in the Forties and Fifties by an improvident father who had a good war but never got over it and with a reclusive mother diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic whose condition he tried to conceal, his temperament crystallized early on - impulsive, excitable, needy, and impatient. These traits surfaced often enough in later life, not least when he did an insane bunk to Jamaica with a young family in tow. Trawling back through his life to try to make sense of it he starts with his father's return from the war. Then, growing up in Sunderland, he has to negotiate, among others, a Victorian grandfather with a penchant for offal who introduces him to Sunderland AFC, a tricky Welsh chapel grandmother who his father cannot forgive for palming off her daughter on to him, and some thuggish grammar school masters. Fortunately for him, along with the attitude goes a brain and he attends universities in England and America. Two careers follow - the second as a psychologist. Interspersed through all of it are the foreign adventures - Chicago, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica. The story reaches the present with another struggle - this time against drink. How far can he run? 'The child is father to the man' is a familiar enough phrase but for Robert Wood, the Mackem lad, it contains a profound psychological truth. Why else on his thirtieth birthday would American friends (who knew nothing of his childhood) present him with the title page of the book 'The Thirty Years War'? Yes, there was mayhem but amid all the hurt, the bewilderment, the embarrassment, the anger and shame, the sister who crumbled after the parents' early deaths, there was love. Given and received.