Tag Archives: Psychological problems

Nothing To Sing About [1979]

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Nothing to Sing About

Nothing to Sing About 2Nothing to Sing About 3

Published: 9 June 1979 – 25 August 1979

Episodes: 12

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #15 as “I’ll Never Sing Again!”

Plot

Linette Davis dreams of being a top singer like her father Gary, who is a very famous singer. As far as Linette is concerned, things couldn’t be better. But there are warning signs of storm clouds ahead. Dad had been receiving medical advice to take it easy, which he is not heeding. Dad’s adoring fans have an unfortunate tendency to get carried away when they mob him for autographs and souvenirs, and have even torn his jacket off. When Mum and Linette watch Dad’s concert in Croxley, there’s an ominous poignancy about his singing…as if he’s doing it for the last time. Afterwards Linette hears that Dad went ahead with the concert although he was feeling poorly.

After the Croxley concert the fans mob Dad again, but he suddenly collapses. He dies in hospital, and Linette’s world is shattered. Mum says it was a heart attack, which had been coming for some time. But Linette blames the fans, saying they crushed and trampled him to death. This causes her to turn into an extremely bitter and irrational girl. She calls the fans murderers and lashes out at any fan of Dad’s that she encounters.

Moreover, Linette now can’t stand singing or music in any form, and she wants to block them out of her life. Whenever she hears Dad’s music being played (at record shops etc) she can’t stand it and wants to run away. Linette locks up Dad’s piano and throws the key away so it will never play that music again. She even goes as far as to try to stop birds singing in the garden. And she herself refuses to sing anymore; she gives up her singing lessons and burns all her singing books.

Linette refuses to listen to Mum’s urgings that Dad’s death was due to a heart attack and nothing to do with the fans, and that she shouldn’t give up on singing. As far as Linette is concerned, singing stopped the day Dad died.

Dad’s death has brought on financial difficulties too. They cannot afford to keep up their big house. Linette suggests they take in lodgers, as long as they are not singers. But singers are precisely what Mum takes in and she is helping them with their singing too. Linette can’t stand it and tries to get rid of the lodgers. But she ends up with Tom Bruce, the secretary of Dad’s fan club, and his daughter Anna.

Linette promptly starts taking her anger against the fans out on Anna and her Gary Davis fan club. Despite this, Anna tries to reach out to Linette. And Linette is forced towards Anna even further when the financial situation means Linette has to transfer to Anna’s comprehensive school.

At Anna’s fan club, Linette tries to crush it by yelling accusations about their being responsible for his death at their meeting. However, she is interrupted when a sudden fire breaks out, which nearly claims her. She won’t believe that it was one of Dad’s fans, Lucy, who saved her from the fire. And it’s too much for Linette when Mum agrees to let the fans hold their meetings at her house because they’ve lost their meeting place from the fire.

So Linette decides to run away, to a place where nobody sings and Dad’s music is not played. Silly girl; there’s no place like that, short of running away to a desert island or something. Sure enough, everywhere Linette turns she finds Dad’s songs and fans, and music. And she is forced to break her vow never to sing again after she loses her money and has to raise some at a talent show with her singing.

More problems come when Linette seeks lodgings. The landlady, Mrs Huggins, turns out to be a dodgy woman. Once Huggins realises Linette is a runaway, she starts blackmailing her into being the hotel skivvy, with no pay. And there is still no escape from Dad’s music when Linette discovers the Gary Davis impersonator that Huggins has hired for a cabaret evening. By the time the embittered Linette has finished with the impersonator, the cabaret evening is ruined and Huggins is furious because it cost her a fortune. In fact, Huggins is so furious that she is going to turn Linette in. But Linette runs off before Huggins finishes the phone call to the police.

Linette is forced to take shelter at a record shop, where she finds there is still no escape from Dad’s music because it is full of Gary Davis merchandise. The record shop owners, Mike and Sue, take her in, and Linette is a bit ashamed when she finds their disabled son loves singing and it brings the family sunshine. At first it’s extremely painful for her to work in the record shop, which sells Gary Davis merchandise, and it’s a hot seller. But to Linette’s surprise, hearing Dad’s music begins to bring comfort. Her experience in the record shop has her realise that he lives on through his songs and will never really gone altogether.

However, Linette still blames the fans for Dad’s death and refuses to go home because of the fan club. Then Linette sees her mother making a televised appeal for her to return. Appalled at how ill her mother looks, Linette returns immediately. She realises it was her conduct that has made her mother ill and is ashamed. Unfortunately she still blames the fans for Dad’s death and can’t accept their staying at her house. She lashes out at Anna over it, which causes her mother to collapse altogether.

In hospital, Mum urges Linette to sing her one of Dad’s songs. Linette can’t bring herself to sing, but does so when Tom tells her to stop being so selfish. A man from a record company overhears Linette singing and asks Linette if she would be interested in a contract, but she refuses. Singing is still off as far as she is concerned. Back home she still snubs the Bruces and the fan club, and even calls in the police when they hold a disco at her house. But the police find they have permission for it. Linette is ashamed when told they were raising money for her father’s favourite charity and begins to soften towards the Bruces a bit.

But Linette still blames the fans. Her hatred flares up again when she discovers that Mum and Tom are now engaged and she is going to have Anna for a stepsister. And when she finds Anna playing Dad’s songs on his piano (reopened with a new key) she yells that she does not want one of the fans who killed her father for a sister. When Mum asks Linette why she can’t accept that the fans did not crush Dad to death, Linette says she knows better than that. And to prove her point, she’s going to see Dad’s doctor about it – he should know.

And the doctor does. In fact, it’s the doctor who finally convinces Linette that Dad was not crushed to death by fans. It was indeed a heart attack, which was already on the way and could have struck at any time. It was just unlucky coincidence that it did so while the fans were crowding Dad.

Linette goes home ashamed and anxious to apologise – but it’s too late. The engagement’s been called off and Tom and Anna have moved out, all because of Linette’s conduct.

To put things right, Linette arranges a surprise that means resuming the singing she had tried to eschew. She then gives Mum, Tom and Anna tickets to a concert at Croxley (yes, where Dad died), where they all hear her sing. Tom and Mum get the message of the lyrics “We’ll always be together, you and I…” and resume the engagement. The records company boss is also there and repeats his offer, which Linette accepts this time. At Mum and Tom’s wedding, Linette does more singing honours and welcomes the cheering fans she used to hate so wrongly.

Thoughts

No sooner had Alison Christie finished one emotional story about a misguided, grief-stricken girl (“I’ll Make Up for Mary”) for Jinty when she started on another, “Nothing to Sing About”, which replaced Mary. The story also reunites the Alison Christie/Phil Townsend team, a combination which has been a long-standing stalwart in Jinty, especially when it comes to emotional stories such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”, and would continue well into the merger with Tammy e.g. “A Gran for the Gregorys” and “It’s a Dog’s Life!”. Jinty sure liked to keep Christie cranking out those emotional stories to give her readers a good cry.

Although not as classic or well-remembered as Stefa or Rainbow, Linette’s story is still a strong, solid one. It is also more psychologically complex because it combines two emotional problems to compound Linette’s grief rather than the one problem that Mary and Stefa had. And they both have to be untangled and resolved if Linette is to get past her father’s death and learn to live her life again.

The first is Linette shutting all music and singing out of her life because she finds it too painful in the wake of her father’s death. This is not unlike how Stefa tries to shut all love out of her life in the wake of her friend’s death. This alone is enough to carry Stefa’s story.

But in Linette’s case there is a second problem that carries the story even more intensely  – the hatred that has consumed her because she blames the fans for Dad’s death. Her hatred is making the grieving over Dad’s death even worse, not only for her but also for everyone around her. And to make it worse, she is quite wrong to do so, but she won’t accept that.

Irrational hatreds that stem from wrongly blaming someone/something for a loved one’s death are a common feature in Alison Christie’s Jinty stories. More often, though, it is on the part of the antagonist of the story and the protagonist suffers because of it. Examples where this has occurred include “The Four-Footed Friends” and “Cursed To Be a Coward!”. But here Christie takes a more atypical step of having the protagonist carry this hatred. And by insisting on believing it was the fans when Mum pleads it was a medical condition, Linette does not understand that she is making things even worse for herself and hurting everyone around her even more, or that she is dishonouring her father’s memory by lashing out at his fans. Nor does she realise that she is the architect of her own misfortunes, such allowing her irrationalities to have her run off and getting into all sorts of scrapes, including being blackmailed and exploited by Mrs Huggins.

It does make a change to have the voice of authority (the doctor) being the one to bring the misguided, aggrieved girl/woman to her senses instead of the more usual shock treatment, such as their conduct causing an accident or something. Readers might have expected Linette’s time on the run to provide the cure, but it doesn’t, which makes another change. Though Linette finds running off is no escape from Dad’s music, it does not sink in that his music is impossible to run from or be silenced. In fact, there would have been a swelling of popularity of Dad’s singing in the wake of his death, but Linette does not realise that either. Nor does seeing her mother ill really make Linette see reason, though she realises she is responsible for it because of the way she is behaving. Once she does see reason and the damage she has caused, she is forced to go back to the singing she had tried to erase from her life. And in so doing she learns to appreciate singing all over again, become much happier by letting go of her pain, and honour her father by following in his footsteps.

Stefa’s Heart of Stone (1976)

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Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Publication: 7 August 1976 to 11 December 1976

Reprint: Princess (series 2) 28 January 1984 and concluded in Tammy & Princess 2 June 1984

Summary

Stefa Giles and Joy Brett have been the closest of friends since they were toddlers. Mr Giles worries that they may be a little too inseparable, and Stefa tends to love too much, which can leave her open to being badly hurt. His concerns prove justified when Joy falls ill and dies.

The shock, pain and grief at losing Joy, are so traumatising for Stefa that she cannot bear the thought of experiencing it again. Taking a cue from a statue in her garden which seems impervious to everything because it is made of stone, Stefa resolves to turn her heart into stone so she will never again experience such pain. So Stefa, who had hitherto been a loving girl, refuses to love people anymore. She snubs her classmates, freezes off all friendships, and swallows down any emotion because “statues don’t!” She even strives to stop loving her parents, believing she must so that she will not grieve if she loses them.

The Giles parents put Stefa’s conduct down to the trauma of losing Joy, but they are deeply upset by how Stefa seems to be deliberately hurting them. At the advice of a doctor, they transfer to a new location. Stefa insists on bringing the statue, which she calls Stonyface. She ends up carrying Stonyface on her lap in the car as there is no room in the boot! Her parents are worried and upset that Stefa seems to be care more about the statue than them. They do not realise that Stefa identifies Stonyface as her only friend now that she is turning her heart into stone. Stefa’s pathological relationship with Stonyface leads to some hilarious situations, such as Stefa running away from home with Stonyface on a wheelbarrow – which gets her caught of course. On another occasion she sleeps on the lawn with Stonyface, only to wake up shivering from all the dew.

At her new school, Stefa snubs her classmates, who dub her “The Ice Maiden”. But Stefa is in for a shock – one of them, Ruth Graham, is a near double of Joy! Ruth also has the same sunny, caring personality as Joy and makes every effort she can to be friends with Stefa, regardless of every rebuff Stefa gives her. Ruth’s efforts intensify once she discovers Stefa’s problem. And as Ruth looks like Joy, Stefa finds it extremely difficult to fight her off; emotionally, she wants to embrace her. The presence of Ruth also brings out the grief that Stefa has not resolved and Stefa is embarrassed and humiliated when her grief keeps slipping through her stony behaviour. She becomes desperate to get away from Ruth, but her ploys to do so result in Dad losing his job and having to take a less paid one. The reduced income forces them to move into a council house.

Stonyface becomes a target for stone-throwing kids, but Stefa is not worried; the stones cannot hurt Stonyface, just as nothing else can. But her mother gets hit by a stone and is put in hospital. Although Stefa softens and cries over her injured mother, she soon hardens up again, believing she failed with her stony heart. “I should have been hard and uncaring like you!” she says to Stonyface and redoubles her efforts to turn into stone. So Mum, who was raising hopes that Stefa is her old self again, is in for a shock when she returns home.

After this Dad has had enough and decides it’s time to teach Stefa a lesson. He tells Stefa she must buy and cook her own food. Stefa welcomes it as it will widen the rift between her and her parents. But it becomes another test of her stoniness because Stefa is such a bad cook (although she is fifteen) that she suffers chronic indigestion. But in this case, the way to a person’s heart is not through their stomach, and she remains hard.

Stefa is still determined to avoid Ruth. But Dad will not have Stefa changing schools or ducking out of school to avoid Ruth. So Stefa tries to get expelled, but Ruth keeps foiling her. And Stefa soon finds she cannot avoid Ruth at home either because her parents start inviting her over. One sleepover has Stefa camping out on the lawn with Stonyface because she cannot share a room with Ruth. Stefa wakes up shivering from dew and her father is not impressed. She feels jealous of the attention her parents give Ruth, but swallows it down: “statues don’t!”

Stefa also finds that Ruth has suffered loss even greater than hers – her parents and brother. Stefa is briefly ashamed at Ruth having more courage than her. But she soon hardens her heart again, as she is confident that this will ensure she never suffers grief again while Ruth will.

Then another of Stefa’s tactics to avoid Ruth ends up with her having an accident, and Ruth insisting on going to her aid. In hospital, Stefa finally welcomes Ruth – but then finds the accident has caused her to turn into real stone. She has become a robot, incapable of any feelings or shedding tears. “She might as well be a tailor’s dummy,” says her mother, who is heartbroken to see Stefa worse than ever. It is such a horrible experience for Stefa that she does not want a stony heart anymore. But she cannot break free of the stony heart that now imprisons her. And now Stefa resents Stonyface, whom she believes has the key to her stony cell.

But then the cell unlocks when Stonyface is struck by a bolt of lightning and is smashed to pieces. When Stefa sees this, her stony heart shatters too and she returns to her loving self. Stefa’s parents are overjoyed to see this. Stefa apologises to Ruth and now asks her to be her friend. But there is more – Stefa’s parents want to adopt Ruth, so now Stefa and Ruth will be sisters as well.

Thoughts

Readers of girls’ comics love powerful emotional stories that tug at their heartstrings and reduce them to tears. No doubt this was one reason why Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories. We know Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories because in 1981 the editor said so in response to a letter asking for the story to be reprinted. The editor’s response also reveals that there was a huge demand in Pam’s Poll to repeat Stefa. Yet he still asked if there were others who wanted Stefa too. Hmm, was he hesitant about bringing Stefa back for some reason or did he want to test the waters a bit more? In any case, Jinty did not repeat Stefa, nor did the Tammy & Jinty merger. Eventually Stefa was reprinted in Princess (series 2) in 1984 and concluded in the Tammy & Princess merger. In fact, Princess repeated several old serials from Tammy and Jinty towards the end of her run – not a good sign for a new comic to be recycling old strips and it was an indication that Princess was in trouble.

Stefa was not the only serial to feature a girl who freezes her heart to avoid feeling grief again; Mandy’s “Little Miss Icicle” tried the same thing as Stefa, as did Tough Nut Tara in one Button Box story (Tammy). Jinty’s “Nothing to Sing About” had a similar theme, where the protagonist refuses to sing after her father, a famous singer, dies. Other Jinty stories that feature a protagonist who reacts badly to a loss include “The Ghost Dancer”, “I’ll Make Up for Mary” and “My Heart Belongs to Buttons”.

In most cases the grieving protagonist retains a measure of our sympathy as we watch and wait for the breakthrough that will bring them to their senses. But in this case it gets extremely difficult to sympathise with Stefa because she becomes an increasingly unsympathetic person in the way she treats her parents, classmates and Ruth in her efforts to stop loving. She does not seem to care that she is causing her parents a lot of heartache, anguish and trouble. The family is forced through two shifts; Mum has a near breakdown and then gets hospitalised; Stefa costs Dad his job and he is forced to take a lower-paid job that he finds a real comedown. The Giles family, who used to live well, are now reduced to living in a shabby council house. All because of Stefa’s conduct, but none of it shifts her stony heart. Nor do other things that we expect to make some impression, such as Stefa’s indigestion or discovering Ruth had a greater loss than hers. Even where it looks like something has got through at last, it is only temporary; Stefa soon hardens again.

Stefa is not only utterly selfish with her conduct but stupid too. She does not realise that she is ruining her life and making herself even more miserable than ever. One extremely sad example is Stefa’s birthday (above). It could have been a happy event, with Stefa enjoying her presents, new friends, a party, and her new guitar. But her stoniness turns her birthday into an unhappy one. She does not show the least pleasure in her birthday or gratitude for her presents; in fact, she throws them in the faces of the people who have given them. Stefa is determined to keep up her heart of stone, even on her birthday. What she would have done on Christmas Day we dread to think. Fortunately, it did not come to that.

It is so exasperating that nothing seems to get through to Stefa at all. For a moment something does seem to work, but it does not last and Stefa is back to her stony self. Is there anything that will work, or, as Ruth fears, Stefa has become too hard to melt? In any case, our sympathies turn more to Stefa’s parents and Ruth, and we marvel at Ruth for continuing to care about a girl who goes out of her way not to care about anything.

Ironically, the thing that does get through is what Stefa wanted – a stony heart. Once she has it, she finds she does not like it. Ah, the monkey paw experience does it again. And then, when Stonyface is smashed by lightning, Stefa realises that she has been mistaken about stone being impervious to everything. There are things that can affect stone and it can get damaged too. Clearly, the lightning did what should have been done all along.

One reason why Stefa must have been so popular was that it pushes so many buttons. In the real world, there are real-life Stefas who react against grief by becoming bitter and refuse to love again for fear of experiencing grief again. But like Stefa, all they do is make their lives even more miserable. And there the Ruths who work through their loss, refuse to let it ruin their lives, and come out of it even stronger. There are also warnings about loving too intensely as this can lead to tragedy. It is a warning shared by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which the lovers do not heed either. Finally, the story is a stern warning against bottling up emotions, especially grief. Express, acknowledge and accept them, or they will lead to emotional and psychological problems. Or get a good counsellor!