The seymour tapes, p.8
The Seymour Tapes, p.8Tim Lott
– Hi, Dad…. You want to speak to Victoria?… Dad, will you tell me something? Why is it always Victoria you want to speak to?… No, she didn’t ring you…. She just told me she didn’t ring you… No, I’m not going to give her a message… No, I’m not going tell her that Daddy sends his love.
Guy hangs up angrily. Now Victoria reappears.
– Was that Dad?
– No. Wrong number.
Victoria looks disappointed and leaves. Guy sits down and stares out of the window for some minutes, not moving. Then he gets up and leaves the room.
Sequence Four: Friday, 4 May, Time Code 19.30
Victoria and Guy are playing with Polly, who is giggling. Victoria is holding her and Guy is tickling her. The older pair are laughing uproariously as the baby giggles more and more heartily in response to the tickling. Then Guy takes the baby, and Victoria makes funny faces at her. More giggling. Eventually the three are on the floor together, the two older children passing the baby from one to the other. Then Polly is put down and Victoria and Guy begin to tickle each other. The laughter becomes cacophonous, Polly joining in.
Then there is a call from their mother. Victoria picks up the baby, still laughing, and carries her out of the room. Guy follows, singing ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ at the top of his voice.
This is the last of the four sequences recorded in Week One.
Interview with Samantha Seymour
So you believe that until he recorded those first sequences on the Sunday he intended to tell you about the equipment and his visit to Cyclops Surveillance?
I do believe that, yes.
Because he told you so.
Yes. I always trusted my husband. I would trust him today if he was alive.
So why didn’t he say anything?
It’s fairly obvious, isn’t it?
Because he didn’t trust you.
I wouldn’t put it quite so harshly. He was worried about Victoria. That’s just a father being protective. And obviously he took away the wrong impression about Mark and me. Watching the tape out of context, I can see why. I might be sounding him out, reaching out to him.
And you weren’t.
Not consciously. Perhaps – I don’t know. Things obviously weren’t going that well between me and Alex, but I wasn’t worried because it was all understandable – the new baby, the teenage children, the sex drying up, the pressure at work. It would have cleared up eventually.
Were you attracted to Mark Pengelly?
I suppose he’s quite good-looking. And I felt a certain sympathy for him. It’s hard being a single parent, particularly for a man. He was hurting.
If you’ll forgive me pressing you – you didn’t quite answer my question.
No. I suppose I didn’t.
And nothing. As I’ve already told you, we didn’t have an affair. That’s all you need to know.
Why did you say on the tape that you were a bitch?
Because I am sometimes. Oh, I see what you mean. You think I was being a bitch because…
Did anything happen between you and Mark? Even a kiss?
My children are going to read this one day, you know. I don’t think it’s fair of you to be so… prurient. I had taken you for a different kind of writer. Perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps this whole book was a mistake.
This isn’t the first time you’ve gone down this road.
The what-have-I-done-I’ve-made-a-mistake-you’re-not-who-I-thought-you-were road. But I can’t hold off when I’m trying to find out what happened. You asked me a question when you first approached me about this project, Samantha.
You asked, ‘Can you be honest?’
Being honest doesn’t mean prying. There are limits.
I asked for your trust.
I’m a PR, you know. Or, at least, I was a PR. I understand about information. I understand that there is an infinite number of ways of presenting it. I understand the great Blairite truth that everything’s spin. And I genuinely didn’t expect you to be putting negative spin on this whole thing.
I’m not a PR. I’m a writer. For me this isn’t about spin.
I don’t think so.
You’re just telling a story. From a certain perspective.
I’m trying to do what you told me. I’m trying to be honest. And I can’t be unless I’m in as full possession of the facts as possible. The tabloids are still digging about. Whatever you don’t tell me, they’re going to find out sooner or later. It’s too late to protect Victoria and Guy. Everything’s stirred up. The muck will settle sooner or later – and solidify. What that final shape will be is partly down to you. If you view this as an exercise in spin, then your view is that everything that doesn’t fit in with your interpretation is a distortion. And what I would say to that is, what’s the point? Why not hire another PR rather than a writer? Why not get Max Clifford to do it, like Pamela Geale has?
Well, I –
The point is, I have different intentions. I have different purposes. I have different beliefs.
I know this sounds a bit pretentious, but I believe in the truth. I believe you can achieve a reasonably authentic snapshot of the truth. That’s what I’m doing this for.
That and the money.
Yes. That and the money. They’re not mutually exclusive.
But you’re safe, aren’t you? You aren’t exposed, like we are. You’re the author. So you’ll come across pristine, god-like. You say you’re honest but you’ll spin yourself. You’ll be the good guy. The truth-giver.
Well, I don’t see –
How about this? What do you say to some kind of quid pro quo?
What are you talking about?
I’m sitting here talking of secrets. Of things that are shameful to me. And you sit with your pen and tape-recorder, safe. Protected. You get paid, you get status.
Wasn’t that the deal?
The deal was about honesty. So why don’t you try it? Why don’t you expose yourself – if you really want me to trust you.
It’s not. I’m standing in front of you metaphorically naked. And you are fully clothed. I want you to show me something, tell me something, that you’re ashamed of. That you’ve told no one else. I want you to violate your own privacy.
You want me to give you some secrets.
Not just me, the world. Tell me, then put them into the book.
I don’t know what to say.
You’d better think of something or I’m calling this off. You have to put yourself on the same footing as me. Then you’ll really have my trust.
Are you serious?
I’m switching this off now.
Author’s Note: The idea of exposing myself for the sake of balance in the book – not balance between elements of the story but between myself and the subject of the book – I initially found preposterous. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I saw a rough justice in it.
I have always been uncertain about the ethical aspect of journalism, and non-fiction writing in general. There is no doubt that Samantha Seymour had a point when she claimed that a power imbalance existed – must always exist – between writer and subject. After all, the writer has the last word – what can be more potent?
But the idea that I should give up secrets of my own to continue with the book seemed a painful option. I cannot profess to be a particularly private person, given the nature of the ‘confessional’ journalism I often practise in which I ‘sell off’ parts of my life to the media. As newspapers become increasingly hungry to feed the maw of their readers, the more frequently I have been tempted down this route, telling myself that to stand above and beyond it, to turn down such offers on the grounds of dignity, was self-important and pointless.
But, of course, I controlled – more or less – the output. Now Samantha had presented me with
Why did I agree to her demand for a quid pro quo? Because it was clear that the book would not continue if I refused. She had the whip hand: if she withdrew from the interview process – although I had legal redress since contracts had been signed guaranteeing her co-operation – the project would be disastrously affected. Without the sympathy and collaboration of Dr Seymour’s wife, it would be at best a half-baked dish.
Also, I could not deny the strength of her ethical position. I was being prurient: I was poking about in corners of her life into which she was unwilling for a light to shine, and she had already suffered disproportionately from the glare of exposure. Also, she had felt ‘raped’ by Sherry Thomas. Was she to be violated again by her amanuensis? If the truth involves a kind of metaphorical stripping off of all clothing, why should I not be naked too? There was a certain irresistibility about the proposition, I couldn’t deny it. So, after several hours of soul-searching, I agreed to Samantha Seymour’s request.
Interview with Samantha Seymour (resumed)
So, have you come to a decision?
I suppose so.
Are you prepared to do as I asked?
I’ve thought it through. I’m not prepared to tell you anything that’s going to hurt anyone else.
You can’t guarantee that.
No. But I’m not prepared to do it knowingly.
All the same…
All the same, I’m prepared to do as you ask to put us on a more equal footing. I’m not quite sure what kind of information you want…
Yes, you are. I want something that you don’t want people to know because it will damage your self-image, because people will look at you differently. That’s what’s happening to me, Victoria and Guy, through no fault of our own.
Isn’t this malicious? Don’t you think it’s unfair?
It’s not malicious. It’s about trust and power. So, go ahead.
Then we can continue with the book?
With absolute honesty on your part?
OK. Once, when I was a kid…
Something the matter?
I really don’t want to do this.
Then you’re beginning to know how I feel.
Right. OK. I suppose that’s a fair point… I had an uncle. He was a kind man but he was eccentric. Not just eccentric. Nowadays you’d call him ‘special needs’. My friends used to call him a ‘mong’.
Did you ever call him that?
Did I ever call him a mong?
Yes, I did.
Not just ‘your friends’.
Go on. I’m listening.
He looked crazy, I suppose. Hair sticking up on top of his head. Long, ungainly limbs. Smiled all the time. He worked as a park-keeper and everyone said he was a loony. Yes, all right, me too. Lived near us – a couple of streets away. I loved him, but I was ashamed of him too. He was just so weird. Mind of a twelve-year-old. Still bought toys and read comics.
What was his name?
What did you do to him?
I told a lie about him.
That doesn’t sound so bad.
I told a lot of lies in those days. The whole thing started with a lie. See, he used to go away at weekends. Camping, by himself. And you know what I wanted most when I was that age?
How old were you?
About thirteen, I suppose. What I wanted was privacy. My mum and dad were always watching me. My two brothers were always around. We had a small house. I never seemed to be on my own and I liked being on my own. Anyway, I found out that my uncle Thomas was going away one weekend. And the idea that there was this empty house just round the corner from me was incredibly seductive. A whole space like that, all to myself. I knew Mum had a copy of his front-door key. I got hold of it. Told my parents I was going to the park for the afternoon with some friends. But instead I went round to his house and let myself in.
How did that feel?
Powerful. Invigorating. Exciting. Scary. I had this whole space all to myself. And I knew it would be full of secrets. Places I’d never been. Things I’d never seen, or been allowed to see.
What was the inside of the house like?
Ramshackle. It was a mess. Dirty clothes lying all over the place. Unwashed crockery, stains on the carpet. It was an ordinary terraced house, nothing special. But the sense of the forbidden was thrilling.
What did you do?
Not much. I just snooped about. I remember he had a Scalextric set. With the little racing cars. I always wanted a Scalextric. I played with that for a while. Then I got bored, and started snooping in his cupboards. I found the magazines under a load of old shirts.
What kind of magazines?
Porn. Or what passed for it in those days. Mayfair. Parade. Soft core, compared with what we have nowadays. But I was fascinated. I’d never really seen a naked woman before. I just… I was amazed. Thrilled.
Did you masturbate?
Did you use the magazines to masturbate?
I don’t think that’s any of your –
You sit in that chair like a judge. You ask me outright if I’ve had sex with Mark Pengelly. Now we’re levelling the playing-field so that I can trust you.
I did. Yes.
For how long?
I don’t remember. Until Thomas came back.
He came home?
I didn’t even hear him come up the stairs. There I was with my trousers down. I’ve never… It was the most embarrassing –
Is this the thing you wanted to tell me?
No. It’s worse. I’m finding this very difficult.
How did he react?
How would you react?
I’d probably laugh.
He didn’t laugh. He was absolutely furious. He yelled at me. He smacked my leg. He went berserk. I’d never seen him like that. He was always kind to me. He was a good man. I was terrified. But I was angry too. Angry that I’d been caught. Angry that he’d hit me. Hugely embarrassed. Then he said he was going to tell my mum and dad. I couldn’t let that happen.
How could you stop it?
I said I’d tell them he’d been… interfering with me.
Yes. I knew they’d believe me. I could be very plausible. And, like I say, Thomas was weird. He was an easy victim.
How did he react to the threat?
He went very quiet. He was simple, but he wasn’t an idiot. He had enough self-knowledge to know that it would be devastating for him.
So he let you go?
Not exactly. But he didn’t stop me.
I went home. I never said anything to my parents. And neither did he. But…
Nothing was the same after that. He stopped coming round. My mum – his sister – couldn’t understand it. He was lonely – we were all he had. But he must have been terrified that I might carry out my threat. Some months afterwards he moved away. Died a few years later. Alone. No one found him for two weeks.
You feel responsible?
I was responsible.
You were only thirteen.
I was responsible.
Yes. You were… We can go on with the interview now.
Thank you. In a while.
Author’s Note: If Samantha Seymour’s intention in forcing me to give up some of my own stories for the sake of the project was to take revenge on me for my own intrusions, it was effective. Others who read the story about my uncle and me may f
But that doesn’t feel to be the case. Telling the story, which I have long suppressed – I’ve not told my life partner, my father or either of my brothers – was agonizing. Is agonizing. I fell into a depression that lasted several days, and was unable to continue with my work. The injustice to my poor, simple uncle, so traduced, came to me with terrible freshness, and the idea of seeing that story in print seemed like crucifixion.
Perhaps my imagination was overactive – probably no one would care. But I cared, and that was the point – what others made of it was neither here nor there. I had given up part of my life that I would have preferred to stay hidden. Was the result a kind of catharsis, a cleansing of my guilt? Not at all. It was a refreshing and sharpening of it. If I may pile confession upon confession, I dread publication of this book; I dread the eventual revelation of my toxic shame.
But storytelling, as writers are wont to tell anyone inclined to listen to them, is addictive. I could no more let go of Samantha’s story than I could stop telling my own in my head. This wasn’t simply for financial or professional reasons. The Seymour Tapes had seized my imagination – as they have that of the wider public – and I was set on finding out the truth behind them. It wasn’t a bone that I threw Samantha Seymour, it was red meat, and it still bleeds. But it was a price I felt I had no choice but to pay.
Interview with Samantha Seymour (resumed)
Are you satisfied now?
No. I feel – raw. Violated.
Then, yes. I am satisfied.
I’m glad you’ve achieved what you wanted. Now, were you attracted to Mark Pengelly?
Yes. I was. Very attracted.
Did you sleep with him?
Did you have any sort of sexual contact with him?
I kissed him. That was as far as it went.
Once. I felt alone. So did he. We were supporting each other.
But you betrayed Alex.
If that’s how you want to put it. But I never loved Mark, and I never had sex with him. Never got close. Alex got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
The Seymour Tapes by Tim Lott / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes