Interlude: In the Dog House

Evening folks. Just a quick one from me tonight, but on a slightly different vein than usual.

I am a very lucky man. Not only am I happily married, but I have three beautiful, healthy children, my own house and all my family alive and well and living within 5 miles of me (Mum and Dad actually live directly across the road!) I was lucky enough to get a first class honours degree at night school in my thirties and be a finalist on one of the best loved and most watched TV shows of recent years.

I am not always blissfully happy though. Until my early thirties I was basically a walking shambles. I’d dropped out of University in disgrace when I was twenty and lived a fairly poor excuse for a life for the next five years – I worked in bars and clubs; earning just enough to buy cigarettes, beer, a bit of rent and a depressingly tawdry gambling habit. I was serially unfaithful to anyone foolish enough to become entangled with me, a terrible friend, brother and son. I spent a few years almost completely nocturnal due to the club scene, and the grinding lowering of my own standards. I was directionless, hopeless and just plain rubbish. You cannot live like that indefinitely with no consequences though. I don’t know if I ended up with depression, or had just plain used myself up but I did spend one year sofa surfing, and many months being unable to get out of bed for days, even weeks at a time. I’d lock myself away and cry where no one could see. The shame of who I’d become stopped me from phoning home and the person I’d become used to being was no fun for anyone around me.

Things came to a head when two people I knew gave up and ended things. I started working out exactly how I’d follow them and how everyone else’s lives would probably be better for it. I had a decision to make, and I did what any self respecting wastrel would do and phoned my Mum! She, my Dad and my two sisters drove to Brighton that hour and brought me home. Over the course of 6 months fed me up from my sickly 9 stone, didn’t ask questions about the previous 5 years and provided me with a bit of much needed structure. They put me to work almost immediately. They nurtured me in ways that my teenage self would have raged against, and made me feel I was worth something. I took my bricklaying exams, worked on site with my Dad. We went fishing and I caught up with old school friends. I met a girl, married her and bought a manky old flat that we rebuilt. We had children. Things were looking up.

The problem was though, that I could never shake that niggling sadness. The feeling of having wasted so much time, of having left too many people smarting in my wake. I don’t know how it is with you, but when I was a kid, time seemed to stretch out forever. I could spend a whole day playing a computer game, or just sitting reading without feeling another segment of my life spinning away into eternity. Nowadays, life goes so fast. It only feels like a few months ago that Sarah and I were bringing home our first child, wondering if we were grown up enough to be responsible for such a fragile young life. She’ll be 8 years old in June! Life rattles by when you get older.

Sarah, who is not only far smarter, funnier and more successful than me, is also tougher too. She’s seen me when I’ve been wallowing in self-indulgent  sadness, and it’s built up into despair, and every time has dragged me out of it. She is pragmatic in her solutions too – when I was feeling like I’d wasted my education, it was she who pushed me back into Uni. When I was re-learning how to work a computer and being stroppy and petulant when it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, she’d take me in hand and work through things with me, many times typing while I read out notes for a late-night essay. Once I’d completed my degree and was applying for science jobs and PhDs, it was she who drilled me in interview skills, thrashed out my CV and pumped me up for each meeting.  It was Sarah who filled in my application for the Bake Off, and sent it and was squarely in my corner for the entire show. I would have never have stood a chance without her, in my degree, the Bake Off, or any one of a hundred other things that crop up in life.

Like I said – I am a lucky man. Do I deserve this much luck? Probably not. Do I appreciate the second chance at life I’ve been given? Certainly. When I met Sarah, the one overriding thing I knew was that I absolutely had to be worthy of her. I was going to try to be the good man she thought I was. I started volunteering at various places, including local nature reserves and eating disorder clinics. I became a school governor, and started giving baking classes to the children in local schools and clubs. Through Bake Off I’ve been able to work with a long list of charities, including Great Ormond Street and ZSL London Zoo. I’ve run two marathons and loads of charity fun runs. I’ve done my best to be a good father to our beautiful kids, and a good husband to the person who changed my life. This week I spoke to Year 8 students at a local school about resilience, and how even if life looks impossible, there are always people who will help when you need them. I’ve tried really hard to keep despair at bay.

For the most part it has worked. I’m not saying things are perfect. I still feel deep sadness from somewhere every now and again, and being a man often feel too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I could get along with my old man better, and I could certainly be a better husband in many ways. I could drop a few pounds and walk the dog more too! But these days I remember to really appreciate how things could have been if I hadn’t asked for help. This may all read to you as a load of self justification – I am currently in the Dog House with Sarah after all (pretty much all my own fault too), but I just thought I’d share it with you all the same.

One thing that always catches Sarah is people saying “Oh, you’re so lucky to have a man like him. My husband never does anything!”. The truth is that I am the lucky one. The undeserving, often grumpy, sometimes sad, but very definitely lucky, loved and in love one.

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11 thoughts on “Interlude: In the Dog House

  1. I hope it’s temporary lodging! Thanks for sharing your story. Coincidentally I was just in a rather depressed thought and decided to distract myself with the phone and clicked on one thing, your post thinking it’d be on an entirely different topic. I appreciate how candid you are and it reminds me I too am lucky, things do get better and love and kindness are all around. These are the thoughts I should be distracting myself with. Thank you!

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  2. I really enjoyed watching you and the others on Baking show and was impressed with how resilient you seemed. I remember how something undesired happened near the end of the competition and you said something like, “I’m not going to beat myself up about this- I’m going to move on, eyes wide open” – and I was impressed by that outlook. That’s something I’ve been learning to do a bit more of after my own struggles with depression and things. It was neat and encouraging to hear some of your life story. it was also inspiring to see you and the others in the show doing something you enjoyed and also helping each other out and being so kind and helpful and encouraging to each other. Best wishes to you and your family!

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  3. We really know so little about people…just the bits that they choose to share. Thank you for deciding to share this. Who knows who you might have helped with your honesty. Congrats on making some very good choices, and choosing what sounds to be a wonderful woman with whom to share your life.

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  4. I hope you’re out of the dog house now! Thank you for sharing this, it has stopped me in my tracks and made me reflect on the many reasons I have to be grateful. A much needed reminder, sadly.
    Thank you again.

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  5. We all screw up at times. You are lucky to have turned to family to help you straighten up. That’s what family is for. And recognizing that Sarah was the one for you was brilliant, too many fail to see that. Loved you on Bake Off and so happy to see that life is indeed good for you. Hope you get out of the doghouse soon😏

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  6. My wife and her younger sister who stays with us are currently watching your season of the Bake Off (they don’t know you haven’t won yet!) and I’ve been curious enough to look into those who were on the show. Your attitude and humility really come through on the show – though as an American maybe everyone on that show seems to treat each other with more civility than I’m accustomed to – aside from that male judge, he’s a bit of an asshole. Regardless, it’s been my experience in life that humility (as opposed to passivity or lack of courage) must be learned, and while it takes a good bit of courage to admit your shortcomings, if you can manage to do so honestly (and to someone who has your best interests at heart – that can be tricky as well) then you’re most of the way to turning things around. Best of luck with everything.

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  7. Wow … what an honest and heartfelt piece of writing. When we see someone on telly or in a magazine, we often think – ” how lucky … they have it all”. What we don’t get to see is all the blood sweat and tears that went before, so thank you for sharing. It is so important that men particularly step up and say when things get them down or the dark thoughts are becoming unbearable. What is clear that whatever was done in the past or now, those around you clearly love you, and you love them. That’s what counts.

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  8. This is the most inspiring and lovely thing I’ve read (anywhere) in a long time. Thank you for your authenticity and for sharing part of your journey with us. What a cool wife you have, and what a story you’ve lived so far. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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  9. An American here! My husband and I just finished your season last night and we absolutely ended up adoring you and Chettna. I found your book this morning and ordered it, then found your blog.

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in your writing. So many of us go through difficult times (I get bouts of sadness that suck the life out of me too), but you have absolutely inspired me; and it turns out, since she’s had so much influence on you, that your wife is inspiring more people than just those in her family home. Because of you, and her, and your baking and writing, I’m literally working on an online SQL course because I thought, “If Richard can find time to bake while also being a devoted family man and builder, I can certainly work on my course and get ahead in life.”

    Also, my husband made the Schicttortte last night because it was so odd looking and we just had to know what it tasted like. But as I was helping him in the kitchen, I was short-tempered and unpleasant and started turning the whole experience negative. I thought, I bet Richard and Chettna aren’t so rude to their spouses and remembered how you helped Martha with bacon bits at a critical moment without a bad word, and tried to be better during our critical baking/marital moment. See how you just being you helps people!

    I hope you two patch it up soon. Two Americans are rooting for you!

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  10. Pingback: Tiramisu Cake | Richard Burr

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