Friday 19 November 2021

The 19th post

After five years of revisions and accretions to my huge seventeenth and eighteenth posts, I come to write a nineteenth one. The number is magical for me because, when I was a baby, as I have said many times in previous posts, I lived with my mother and father in one room in an old London house kept by Neapolitan Italians, 19 Hornsey Rise, London N19. 

And so often I have returned to where the house stood, as if by sitting on the park-bench in the beautiful peace garden which may mark the site of our room, I could become whole again. The house is gone, my parents are gone, and my efforts to make contact with the remaining members of the Maccariello family, who kept the house, have come to nothing. Twice, on the phone, I have been abused and threatened by a member of that family, who would not give his name, for having had the temerity to try and contact them.

Yet I have a photo of myself as a baby, sitting on my mother's lap, surrounded by the laughing and merrymaking Italians in a dark but convivial room of their house. Why, when so many years later, I tried to meet them, did they not want to know me?

But I am uneasy now with the number nineteen. It is almost twenty, but not quite. It falls short. When I lived so unhappily (but with days of great happiness) in the Portuguese resort of Altura, I always tried to keep the bill at the restaurants, including the tip, to 19 Euros. If I got one Euro change from a 20 Euro note, I was happy. If they presented me with a bill for 21, I became angry. But why did I get upset, just like that half-Pole half-Italian on the phone?

Twenty-one could be a better number really. I was born on 21st August 1955. Near my twenty-first birthday, on a warm night in Oxford, I had my first sexual experience for almost two years. And the book that means most to me is the Gospel of John, and that has twenty-one chapters, and the chapter I love most is the twenty-first, where the risen Christ is cooking breakfast for his disciples on the shore when they are out fishing at night, and they glimpse him as he stands over the brazier in the light of dawn. It is a scene so unearthly and yet so down-to-earth, a glimpse of what earthly harmony and heavenly peace might be like, a vision of love that speaks to us over two thousand years.

But John's book is eternally marred by his hatred of the Jews. He can never escape the hate that mixes with the love he wants to show. Life is essentially tragic. It will always go wrong.

And so I begin my nineteenth post on 19th November 2021. But in order to reach a conclusion to the disordered and demanding record of the eighteen misshapen and sometimes absurdly long pieces, I should bring the number to twenty-one. That will be in another year whose number I do not yet know. In this way perhaps an account of some radiant encounter, such as John had as he stood in the boat and said to Peter, "It is the Lord," can bring my blog to a satisfying conclusion.

And as the number on the screen recording how many minutes I have left of my session at the library has reached twenty-one, I will tell what the subject of my nineteenth post will be. No, now the number of minutes left is twenty. I will wait until it hits nineteen. Now it has. And I remember that other electronic device so many years ago which seemed to tell me that my grandfather was Joseph Goebbels. Can anything so fantastic possibly be true? Yes. it can.

In this post, with the clock now at eighteen, and safely past the magic numbers, I will detail the process by which I came to the knowledge I have mentioned.

Seventeen now. Well, it was the late December of 2005. I had gone to Altura. Twice in the darkness I walked past the silent and mysterious house, the house that was mine, the house I could not enter. I spoke to the ambiguous people who inhabited the village, who might be my friends, might be enemies. I became very upset and "disturbed", as they say. I was an official mental health case as it happens, although I had arranged to be classified as mentally ill in order to escape the regular dole, which had required me to sign on every two weeks and would have hampered my programme of world travel.

I left Altura and went back to Faro, where I was to catch the plane back to England. It was the morning of 24th December, 2005, Christmas Eve. I was to catch the plane that late lunchtime. I was sitting in a small cafe in the downtown of Faro. It was called the Snack-Bar da Baixa. And, suddenly one of the multiple blocks that had affected my memories of my childhood was pulled open.

The memories horrified me. They were of my mother and the man who brought me up engaged in international smuggling. I believed them both to be my parents then and for many years afterwards. I was a child alone with them in the car and then on the Channel ferry. And I remembered the terrible anxiety as we approached England. I remembered my mother saying, again and again, "Now remember, son, whatever you do don't look at the customers!" (That was her way of referring to the customs officials.)

And I remembered the three of us walking through the Nothing to Declare corridor, and how I held my mother's hand, and prayed that she could protect me from the terrible danger that threatened us if we were caught by the men who stood so silently on either side.

And then, even worse, I remembered that, once, when we were approaching the channel port in northern France, they received some sort of message and decided that it would be better to enter by another port. And I remembered that they drove all night far across the coast of France until we reached what was probably St Malo. And I remembered I could not sleep because of the anxiety I felt for myself and for them.

(One of the many people who have been doubtful about my claims once suggested to me that my memories of the international smuggling might be false memory. I know this is not so and for the following reason. Very late in her long life, I raised the question with the last-surviving of my mother's sisters, Eva, and she admitted that my mother and the man who brought me up had indulged in smuggling and said it was always a case of port which was disguised as crockery. This aunt (she was a half-aunt really, except that there is no such thing as a half-aunt, someone is either your aunt or she is not) was the only one of the half-sisters who habitually told comic stories, which was something she had in common with my mother. Now she pictured Mum sniffing at the crate that contained the concealed wine and saying ecstatically, "Que rica loica!," "What magnificent crockery!"

My aunt went on to say that the port was purely for private consumption, but I remembered my mother and the man who brought me up being notably abstemious in their consumption of alcohol, and I think that in this part of her account my aunt was lying. She may well also have been lying when she said the smuggled goods were always only port wine.)

Now I sat transfixed in the snack bar, coffee long finished. I was fifty years old, and up to that time, for almost all my adult years, had been almost entirely unable to remember anything about my childhood. My memories began at the age of eighteen when I went to Oxford. Almost everything before that had been blocked out.

But in the years after 2005, more and more was to come back to me, and I was to discover more of my strange background. My mother and the man who brought me up were both dead by the time I sat in the snack-bar. They had died in 2002 and 2004. I was in a state of terrible mental distress in general because my mother, whom I loved, had left her house to someone I believed then to be a stranger. In fact he appears to be my half-brother. My father was still alive in 2005, and for some years to come, but I did not know this, for I did not even know he existed, still believing Arthur Ernest Hills Junior to be my biological father.

But I already knew that everything was not as it seemed to be. I was by now fully aware that my mother had spoken Neapolitan Italian better than Portuguese, even though she was supposed to be entirely a Portuguese. And I had been told by three old women that my mother had told them at about the time of my birth that the father of my father had been a Pole or perhaps a German, even though he was supposed to be entirely from Kent.

As I moved towards the plane, and towards England, more memories began flooding on me thick and fast, and more and more strange ideas about these mysterious ancestors, all dead, as I thought, began to develop as my state of agitation became more intense. It was about our holiday in Italy when I was then, which had followed one in Germany and Austria when I was nine (usually we went to Portugal). We had entered Switzerland and we stopped in a small town and they went to visit a bank and locked me in the car. They were gone a long time and I began to panic alone in the car.

(It was the third of the three old women who had suggested to me that my grandfather might have been German rather than Polish, while the first two had not mentioned this possibility. I cannot remember exactly when she made the suggestion, but it was around the time of which I now speak. I immediately believed the German origin to be more likely, because both myself and my mother were strongly interested in and attached to things German and had no interest in Poland. I think it is possible that, around the time I was almost eighteen, she had planted the idea in my mind that I was partly German without my knowing this had happened. She could be very subtle in that way.

When I had only the evidence of the first two old women, and not that of the third, I had become totally desperate during a long walk around outer West London to know who my ostensibly Polish grandfather had been and had written for the second time since losing touch with him about twenty years before to the man I still believed to be my father, asking him whether his father had been a Pole and, if so, what was his name. The first time I had written to him, he had sent back a letter so cruelly insulting that it had deeply shocked a friend to whom I showed it. It had shaken me as well and I had left the old man alone a long time. This second letter was somewhat briefer and a little less grim, but it said, "If you have no descendants, you do not need roots. You are a full stop."

This brief note, written quite shortly before the death of Arthur Ernest Hills, finished off by saying that the idea that his father had been a Pole was "nonsense.")

While I was at the airport, I became convinced that I came from a family of Nazis, and that when the pair I believed to be both my parents had gone into the bank in Switzerland, they had been depositing Nazi gold on my behalf which they had collected in Italy, having fixed up the whole thing in Germany or Austria the year before. But how was I to get the gold? I had no idea what the town was, what the bank might be. I knew it was in Switzerland.

I thought about my mother and the fact that she was so fluent in Neapolitan Italian.  Could she have arrived in Portugal from Italy during the war and been adopted by a Portuguese family as their own? There were a few strange Italian connections and names in the remote rural region that she was ostensibly from. Could a colony of Italians have arrived there and passed themselves off as Portuguese? But she had been very attached to the man who appeared to be her father, who had seemed the very image of a Portuguese peasant, and she could tell childhood stories about the five women who were ostensibly her sisters.

And then I thought about the man whom I still believed to be my father, and about the man, whom I had known, who had seemed to be his father, and whom the first of the three old women had insisted was my real grandfather, even though he was apparently of Polish origin and not English as I had always supposed. How come the background of these two men seemed to be so firmly rooted in England and Scotland (the man's mother had ostensibly been an Edinburgh woman)?

But the family had apparently been broken up by the poor law when my ostensible father had been about seven and he had said in some tapes he had made for me before I stopped seeing him that he could remember nothing about his first seven years. This seemed suspicious. Could those first seven years have been spent in Germany? But how had he been inserted into the English and Scottish family? He had told stories about an uncle Fred who drove a van and who had given him a toy parrot which was the last souvenir he had of his childhood until his own son, Chris Hills, destroyed it. And I had met an aunt Connie in Gillingham, who was apparently Fred's sister, during my own childhood.

I spent the whole plane journey in a state of almost frantic anxiety, puzzlement and grief, and when I reached Heathrow decided to get a hugely expensive taxi to my flat in Clapham through the dark afternoon, so that I could reach the comfort of my home as soon as possible.

Regular readers of my blog will remember that I once had four male friends  in my life whom I thought were close. Mentions of them in this blog go back to the very first post I wrote, and indeed these days they move like jagged ghosts through my mind, except for Bill Hicks, with whom I am still friendly. The first of these to come into the present story is the most ambiguous, the most impressive, and the most evil of the four, Mark Casserley. He was the one on whom I depended the most.

Mark had come to me one dark night. It was towards the Christmas of 1989. He attended a writers' group of which I had long been a member, made up mainly of elderly people whom I had thought were my friends, but from whose company I was eventually to be thrown out, with him conniving. He seemed most sympathetic and civilised at this first meeting. His mother had recently died, he had had to move out of his father's house, he was living as a lodger in the house of an unsympathetic man in Putney, and he had come to us for Christmas comfort. Or so it seemed.

After the meeting, and with the old people dispersing to their homes, I invited Mark to come with me to a nearby pub. As we sat there, he seemed to share so many cultural interests with me and to understand so much of my own personal life that I had the strange sensation that I had always known him, that he had not just entered my life on that dark night.

I hastened to become his close friend. And, with his great practicality, and his intellectual gifts, he began to take over my whole life. But the sensation that I had always known him never once returned. Instead I was confronted with the endless mystery of this character which on that first occasion had seemed so readily to open itself. He did everything for me, with no payment expected and very little unwillingness, but never seemed to show me the slightest affection. And as the years went on this began increasingly to disturb me. And as my dependence on him became more and more, and his contempt for my helplessness more readily apparent, eventually my attitude towards him crystallised into hatred. 

But the years were long when Mark was my friend. Sometimes I would be lying luxuriously in or on my bed, and Mark would be in the sitting-room, hoovering, or in the kitchen, performing some other task. My bedroom door would be firmly shut against him. I did not wish to see him at his work, or learn how to use the hoover. It was enough for me that he was taking care of everything, as my mother had once done.

One day in particular comes back to me. It was a Christmas Day. This was  probably at some date in the mid-1990s, my diaries are gone for those years, so I shall never know the exact year. In those days I dreaded being alone on Christmas Day, and of course there is no transport in London. At that time Mark was sharing a small terraced house in Morden with some friends, they had gone back to their families for the season, and, although it was a very long way to walk there, I  offered to do this so that I should not be alone.

In the late morning I set out, and the way was long along the long straight road that leads past the Northern Line tube stations - Clapham South, Balham, Tooting Broadway, Tooting Bec, Colliers Wood - but quite a lot of people were about and many of the foreign shops were open, so I trudged on and stayed cheerful. At last I arrived at Morden, he gave me lunch, and then, in sheer exhaustion I fell asleep on his sofa while he played Sibelius Symphonies Two and Three on his CD, or it might have been Three and Four. He told me the exact numbers of the symphonies when I woke up but I cannot be certain of them now. Yet I think it was Symphonies Two and Three. No 4 is the harshest and most disturbing of the Sibelius Symphonies, while the third is an optimistic work building to a climax of triumphant power and No 2 has a hard, marching, impenetrable joy. And Mark was a person of almost unyielding determination, always keen to put his best foot forward.  These haunting works wove their way most memorably through my dreams and I never saw the silent person who sat listening to them.

 Finally I awoke, it was already dark, he was there, and he gave me the simple and filling type of supper at which he excelled. And quite soon after that it was time to start on the long journey once again, and he offered to come with me part of the way, and in the end he walked with me as far as Clapham South. From there it was quite an easy stretch to my flat, so I didn't suffer. How grateful I was to him for what seemed that most selfless gesture!

Sometimes Mark would say strange things to me. Once he said, "Like all military types, you´re good at intelligence." I had never had anything to do with the military. And another time he said that there was something incalculable about my eyes.

I have begun to hate people very suddenly many times in my life. I do not usually tell them my feelings have changed. This is how it happened with him, and to tell it I need to go back to near the start of our relationship.

Besides being passionately interested in classical music, Mark also understands electronics to a considerable degree, both theoretically and practically. Very early on in our relationship he was responsible for helping me buy a system of separates (turntable, tuner, radio, tape player, CD player), and this cemented our friendship. He set up the system for me, and any little problems that developed with it he would always come round almost immediately to sort out. I still remember those days and the joy of our friendship and the feeling of being cared for

A while after getting the separates, Mark helped me buy a word processor and trained me thoroughly in its use. The result was that I began to love this new compositional tool, which was really only a glorified typewriter, and my writing, which I composed late at night to music and while sipping a glass of Moscato, began to progress wonderfully. The years 1990 and 1991 were in many ways the happiest of my life. I had work, mostly during the evening, in a strange and fascinating second-hand bookshop in central London. I did not lack for friends and acquaintances, and soon Mark was helping me with money. I began writing a first novel, to chronicle my agreeable existence, and felt sure my work would be published. I read it to Mark page by page, endlessly stressing to him how brilliant and soulful this elegiac composition was.

In the summer of 1990 I went to see my mother in Portugal, left her in order to travel to Morocco, got stuck in Tangier for three days because I missed the ferry, and went to visit Paul Bowles, who in those days was a celebrity author. On an idle autumn day in London, I told someone about the experience and that person suggested I write up my visit to Bowles. I did this immediately, got the usual editorial say-so from Mark at one of our Saturday lunchtime meetings, and sent the piece to The Guardian on a Monday. On the Wednesday, Mark was with me at my flat and we decided not to go to the meeting of PEN which was taking place that evening. Then the Guardian phoned. They had accepted the piece. I was later to discover that only about one in a thousand articles sent to them on spec was accepted.

I said at the beginning of this post that life inevitably goes wrong. This certainly seems to have been true of what triumphs I have had in my life. The Paul Bowles piece was published by The Guardian on 1st January 1991. This should have been a wonderful omen, to get my first piece printed by a national newspaper on the first day of the decade. But I was alone when the triumph came. My mother was staying with me for a while, having come over from Portugal, but she had gone to see a female friend from East London to whom I had taken a dislike. Mark and everyone else were engaged elsewhere. And I had failed to insist to The Guardian that my writing name was C.A.R. Hills and they had printed the piece under the name of Charles Hills. I was to get two other pieces published by the Guardian, had trouble with the second of them, and have never again written for that paper. There were also three pieces in the Telegraph, then never again. Never has my relationship with any outlet proved permanent.

On that New Year's Day I tried to share what joy I still felt with people over the phone. But it is difficult to share joy over the phone. And Mark's cool voice, so utterly devoid of any feeling for me, seemed to make him a particularly chilling interlocutor. Even when he had been with me when the news had first come, he had not suggested we go out to a wine bar to celebrate. That had hurt me.

It is difficult to recall exactly when my affection for Mark became tinged with dislike. But I think it may have been on that occasion. And when an emotional process begins with me, I can never stop it until a conclusion has been reached.  I can often conceal it, though, then reveal it at an odd moment.

But the time when I would hate him was still far in the future. That began in late 2005, shortly before the period of which I am mainly speaking. In the spring and early summer of that year I had gone on an extended tour of the Far East and Australia, to complete the world journey of which I had dreamed for so many years. On returning from that trip, and now having visited the five continents and sailed the seven seas without accomplishing any great change in myself, I fell into ever increasing depression and withdrawal from the world.

I have never liked television, and have only intermittently owned a set during my life, but in order to alleviate my misery Mark suggested I should try having a television again. I clutched at this emotional straw. In his usual all-encompassing way, he came with me to a sales warehouse in south London, helped me choose a set and bring it home in a taxi, and set it up for me in my living-room.

It was almost six o'clock, and in joy and hope I suggested we share a drink and watch the News together. But Mark had become disgusted by my lack of hygiene, and this had probably become worse because of my depression. And, as far as he was concerned, his job was done. He said he had to go, and my slightly desperate persuasion had no effect on him. I watched the News alone, could not bear to pour myself a drink, and began to hate him.

Christmas Eve was a few weeks after that. I had given Mark no hint of my new feelings. He was totally in charge of all the electronic equipment in my flat - television, system of separates, word processor - or so it seemed.

On my way back from the Algarve to my flat, in my alarm and excitement, I think I phoned Mark several times. Perhaps it was once from Faro Airport, once from Heathrow, once when I reached home. Ever since I was young, I have been passionately interested in W. Somerset Maugham. Several times Mark mentioned to me that Radio Four was broadcasting a feature programme about Maugham between three and four that afternoon. I think I may partly have got the taxi precisely so that I could reach the flat before the programme began at three, and I know I managed  to do that.

I turned the radio on a little before three. Reception was perfect. Exactly as the programme started, heavy interference began, and I could not hear a word of what was said. I was bitterly disappointed, and immediately phoned Mark again. He did not seem particularly worried. It was just interference, he said, and would soon pass off. But it did not. All through the hour the loud noise continued from under which I could just hear indistinguishable voices. I turned the radio off and on again and again in order to try and hear something. I may have phoned Mark again, I don't know. Four o'clock came, and immediately the programme was over the interference stopped and reception was perfectly normal again.

Mark continued to be his usual imperturbable self. It was just an accident, he said, and nothing really to worry about. People always say this sort of thing when something strange happens which they cannot explain and which seems not directly to affect them. They just want to clear the matter from their mind and yours and get a puzzled person on his way.

But to me the fact that the interference began exactly at three and ended exactly at four, so that the whole Maugham programme was blocked out but nothing else, indicates that the radio must have been deliberately jammed. I once asked someone how this could have been done, and they said that it would best have been achieved by someone standing outside in the street with an interference generator perhaps in a rucksack. I never went into the street during the hour the interference continued, but the street with its many council flats on either side would have been dark and empty during the hour, and someone perhaps taking a certain amount of cover would have been unlikely to be noticed by anyone.

I have said that up to this point Mark was in full charge of all the electronics in my flat, including the radio, which was part of the system of separates. He wanted me to hear that Maugham programme because he thought it would calm me down and he had no interest in my being in an alarmed state. On one of the phone calls during that day he arranged to come round to see me on the early evening of 27th December when he said he would listen to my worries, which I had not really explained in detail, and we would surely be able to clear them up.

It follows from all this that Mark was not responsible for the jamming and that someone else was. That person was now in charge of the electronics in my flat, and that person wanted me eventually to know that this was the fact. Now who could that person have been? This question brings me to the second of my four ambiguous friends, the half-Croat Stephen Cviic, a man once very handsome, now sadly ageing, whose grandfather, like mine, had been fiendishly connected to the Nazi past, and with whose immediate family (the grandfather was long dead) I was due to take lunch on Christmas Day. 

Saturday 8 July 2017

The mother I hated and loved

When I wake in the white room in the dark North London house, I often feel joy. But soon disillusion comes and I am reluctant to get up. Then I may be angry, then anxious about the guilt the anger has created. But I calm down because of my devotion to ease.

I go to the toilet, flick open the blinds, and return to the bed. Now I lie a long time as the sun streams palely over back gardens and brown-brick houses opposite. The day will bring no commitments.  But I have my plans. These involve taking as much out of the city as I can and giving back only what I choose.

The room is quiet. During my first two months here, the only sounds in the morning were the birds at their song. But then a series of disasters and atrocities struck London in the hot time, and for a while there were endless sirens and helicopters. But it is a couple of weeks since the last violent event, an attack at Finsbury Park, and that only killed one elderly Muslim. It was a grotesque anti-climax.

I prepare to hear the news on my digital radio at six-thirty. I always expect another disaster. I hope for one. But now the news is all of meeting standards, righting wrongs and challenging abuses. There are a few more fires and moped attacks.

Still I lie long. Radio Three resumes its music, but so often I prefer silence now. I switch the radio off and on to check the passing minutes. It is many years since I have worn a watch. I have no mobile phone.

The strange mixed-race woman who lives next door goes out of her room. I stay quiet as she turns the key in her lock, probably strews a wet wipe near the joint door to our rooms, and clatters down the stairs. What a relief to be free of her presence! Greater peace descends on me as some music I love, perhaps Chopin's Fourth Ballade, surges towards a climax on the headphones.

But she is quickly back. The woman has only gone out for her first smoke of the day. Again I lie as quiet as I can, but the music is spoiled.

Soon after this I am asleep again. When I awake it is bright morning. This is summer. Now is the time to excrete. It gives great satisfaction and I return to the bed. I check the time again. It is after eight o'clock and I am moving towards breakfast. But not yet. I think more thoughts of the past, and I speak out loud, "You wanted to give a birthday party," I say. "You gave your party twice at the Feel-Good Factory, do you remember?"

I get up and do a little dance around the room. Then back to the bed. Then finally to my tiny cubbyhole of a bathroom for the morning ablutions and the cleaning of my teeth.

The putting-on of my clothes, when it comes, is relatively quick. The clothes are ready from the latest wash in the overflowing chest of drawers. All the shirts are creased, but who cares? I have never prided myself on elegance. I have no important appointments.

Then I stow my passport and the wallet with my more useless cards in my left pocket, and I put the smart new purse and the active cards in my right. My 60-plus Oyster Card is now held in a colourful little wallet of its own, and this too goes to the right.

I pack a bag with my current diary, an older one to remind me of the past, the non-fiction book I have chosen for perusal this morning, and a newspaper or two. Perhaps I also put in a hat or a cap. Then, clutching my keys, I  descend the four flights of steps from the second floor to the kitchen.

This room is quiet before nine o'clock. The other three occupants of the house have not yet emerged at this hour (the fourth one, the vaguely Arab woman, only stayed one night, the night of the Grenfell Tower fire).

The big black man will soon be in the television room, the mixed-race woman in the kitchen, I tend to wander about the garden, and the very thin, elderly Cypriot, to whom the authorities sometimes bring food, hardly ever leaves his room. We all have our own cupboards and fridges in the kitchen. There are five black chairs around the dark brown kitchen table, but never once has more than one person sat down at it. We are all mental health cases enjoying supported housing.

I go slowly now to assemble the materials for my breakfast. Perhaps I eat a banana first, walking around the bleak garden. Then cornflakes from the food bank and bread, butter and jam.

It is nine o'clock or thereabouts. I push open the two heavy doors and pass with a stumble into the street. My steps turn rightwards to the supermarket for an inspection of the morning papers with the black guard watching. Then to the Turkish cafe until the library opens for the Internet. The rendezvous with my elderly cantankerous friend will follow and the hand-outs I am taking him to. The evening is spent listening to music in my room. Occasionally I go out to the Irish pub for one drink to go on reading David Copperfield.

My life is like a pumped-up tyre quickly let down again by alienation. I suppose it's OK. But what has brought me to this comfortable if slightly malevolent impasse, now that I am almost sixty-two? Well, I believe it was my mother. Her influence, I mean.

How shall I describe her? How shall I tell her story? And why did I start by painting a morning picture of the son she made?

I shall tell you. It is because this picture is of the greatest peace and rest a human being can enjoy, and that was what she gave me, in spades, until I was about ten. And she also gave me her overwhelming love, which still helps me to balance my detachment from the world, and my hatred of it, and gives me a strong urge to dash to the aid of any stranger I sense to be vulnerable.

And I help others because she once so protected and loved me. I was vulnerable and she always came to my aid, until the time came when her help could no longer help me. That happened when I was ten, and I was finally stopped from going into her bed in the morning, once the hated figure of Arthur Ernest Hills was out of it. What bliss it had been to lie in her arms! How much I did not want to go to school!

At about the same time came all the difficulties with my shoelaces. She had always tied these. Now the school got to hear of it, and put pressure on Arthur Ernest Hills and my mother to make sure I could perform this important task. Hills battled to make me tie them, she tried to protect me, and I became deeply embarrassed and ashamed, and convinced that there was some strange impediment to my tying shoelaces and performing other simple, practical tasks. 

So I was ejected from her bed, and I have never learnt properly to tie shoelaces, and my oedipal Eden was over. Up to that point I had been a normal little boy. From then on I began to grow fat, incompetent and unmanly. She still loved me, but she was deeply alone, and had grown to hate Arthur Ernest Hills.

When I came home from school, she always had three things waiting for me: a bar of chocolate, a glass of orange juice and a bag of crisps. And supper soon followed. And perhaps there would be a night-time snack before I went to bed, and after I had come home from the library, which I visited every evening, because I had no friends.

And so I began to know that the mother I loved was doing me harm and the hatred began to grow which would eventually overwhelm the love. And the contempt.

For my mother was a funny woman. She came basically from Portugal, although I always knew vaguely that there was some sort of strange connection with Italy. And she was absolutely the caricature of a Neapolitan mamma, with all the passion, violence and unreason that implies. A rather coarse male connection of Brian's and Maria's - I think something to do with their younger daughter Sharon - when asked to describe her, said, "She's a small woman with a fire-cracker up her arse."

I swear that I remember her from my childhood once literally biting the carpet in her rage. But how tender she was if I had ever hurt my knee when I was playing. How passionately she kissed it better. And then she would be off into the next raving scene.

And how ridiculous she could be. I remember, when Arthur Ernest Hills had left us, and the big policeman Maurice had taken his place, how she used to shout, "The neighbours, they know nothing! They do not hear! They do not know!" This was so clearly the total reverse of the truth that I think I laughed at her to her face.  I did this increasingly often as I grew up. I used to mock her accent and call her strange names like "Goatie", which she particularly hated. Or, when she used to admonish me, I would say sarcastically, "I understand your problems."

When I went to Oxford at the age of eighteen, she and Maurice drove me to my college, Hertford, from our home at Crawley in Sussex. Then they just left me there with hardly a word. Perhaps they felt out of place in such an environment. They were working-class people. But I think the hatred between me and my mother was well under way by then.

But the two years before I went to university, when I was doing my "A"-levels, were among the happiest of my life. It was a while between Arthur vanishing and the appearance of Maurice, and anyway the latter never moved into the house fully, having his own accommodation with his own children. In my memory he is strangely blotted out.

I would come home directly from my new Protestant school, where I was as unpopular and brilliant as ever. My mother would appear from her day-time job, give me a quick but delicious dinner, and depart for the evening restaurant where she worked. When she had gone, I would put classical music on the record-player, sit down at the cleared table, and do the thorough study for my "A"-levels which would redeem all the inadequacies of my teachers. I did not tend to go to the library so much as in earlier years. I hated the loneliness of that place now. My reading these days was for a practical purpose, not just to assuage my feelings.

I had a few friends by this time, not many. Sometimes I went to see them, but more often, after my period of study, I went for a long walk along Southgate Avenue towards the centre of town, singing and talking to myself. Occasionally the police would pick me up, but after some time they learned to leave me alone. Those walks could be ecstatic. I didn't really want to meet anyone. If I did, it would be disappointing. And my thoughts and songs gave me joy.

But best of all was when I had come home, and then my mother returned, and we could talk a little together before both going to bed. Those moments of intimacy and friendship I shall never forget. I have had no other true friend, no other lover, before or since.

And when I was at Oxford, although my mother had perhaps abandoned me, and I her, my heart did not know this. Although I was still not popular, and although my huge academic success came to an end, I still lived in the ecstasy of my youth. I stayed in bed in the mornings, wandered around the college after lunchtime, went to bed in the later afternoons, and in the evening and at night I walked.

Sometimes I would walk all the way up the Banbury or Woodstock Roads all through North Oxford and back, which was a very long way. But later I took the more gentle distance southward to the Abingdon Road roundabout, and there was real joy as I walked on through the rain. Or I might go a smaller distance still, beyond Magdalen, the Botanic Gardens and the bridge over the Cherwell, as far as The Plain. I shrunk from the Cowley and Iffley Roads or the uphill trek to Headington. But in what ecstasy I walked round and round before bursting into a run as I returned towards the town.

And in the long years I lived in London, and later in Lisbon and the Algarve, I walked and walked through every inch of my native city, saw as much of Portugal and Europe as I could, and eventually went round the world, through the outback of Australia, into the dry lands of north-eastern Brazil, and climbed the mountains of East Timor.

I walked and walked, and it was hard sometimes, but deep joy was still often with me in what was to become a troubled life. It was invincible really, the joy my mother had given me. It survived my love for her. It survived the years of prison. And now, when I am growing old, and struggle even to remember the memory of her love, and walking has become a little difficult, I still lie long in bed in the deepest joy and most blissful comfort and most quiet happiness.

But my earlier life with her had been disturbed. I was born in London, but when I was less than one year old we moved out to the new town of Crawley in Sussex, where my real father, a German passing under Polish identity, and with the Christian name of Michael, left us, and Arthur Ernest Hills, who I believe was my father's twin brother took his place. My relations with Arthur Ernest Hills were always poor, although I believed him to be my father. And from an early age I was possessed with the sense that Crawley was not really my home, that I was among people who were not mine.

We often used to visit London to see our friends the Mills family, who lived in Wood Green. The periodic journeys we made to Arthur and Leonor and their children were among the highlights in my childhood. We would set out in the early morning, aiming to reach Leonor's house before lunchtime. Our morning picnic was on Streatham Common. That was nice, but it was followed by the trauma of going through Brixton and the explosion of Arthur Ernest Hills' hatred against the blacks. As we passed Oval, Kennington and Westminster Bridge he would calm down, and Central London was a blank we hurried through.

But when we turned into the Caledonian Road we would be going into our own territory, the region of north London where I had been born and where we had lived at 19, Hornsey Rise. My excitement would be growing as we went up the Caledonian Road, reached the Holloway Road, turned right into Seven Sisters Road. Then as we entered Hornsey Road, our house would be near. And we went through that long street, and ahead of us would be the rise in the land and the bend in the road and the dark local shops. 

Then we would pass the tower house at the beginning of Hornsey Rise, then the more huddled houses, then the fivelarge ones, and the last, larger, which was ours. How I thrilled as we passed the place where I had lived with my mother and father. And soon afterwards we would sweep up the hill to Alexandra Palace, and the view from there, all London spread beneath us, never failed to confirm my ecstasy. Then, quickly, we reached Wood Green and the welcoming Mills family who awaited us. I sensed the magnificence and yet the familiarity of my own city from those outward journeys.

But the inward journey was usually via Turnpike Lane and Manor House towards Finsbury Park and my mother used to tell me that, in the huge, dark houses there, the "papões", or "bogies", lived. That frightened me a lot. And how tired I became when we finally reached some distant suburb of South London such as Norbury. Then I gained the feeling of how alien and horrible the great city was, and again I have never lost this feeling.

I live near Finsbury Park now, and sure enough I have experienced trouble there. I tend to stay slightly away from that dismal park and its environs. I have spent half my life in London and half elsewhere, and London is half my home and half an alien place, and I will never resolve the contradiction. I will always wish to leave my city, always long to return.

Yet it is my city. I was born there. I do not have any ancestry within the British Isles, but I was born in England, in London, and where one was born is among the most important markers of identity. To the extent that I was born at the Whittington Hospital, in Archway, going up the hill to Highgate, I am an Englishman. And I have always longed to be English, grew up in the era when one was expected to be English, lived in an era when one could still be proud to be English, have always appeared to people who do not know me  to be English. People sometimes say to be me in exasperation: "I wish you'd just say you're English!" But I cannot gratify their wish.

The other periodic break from Crawley was our annual (sometimes bi-annual) journey abroad, usually in August, and usually to Portugal. This, like the journey past Hornsey Rise, was another pilgrimage to where I might really come from. Surely, if Crawley was not my home, nor London, and it wasn't England, surely it must be Portugal. I always became so excited that we were going there. I used to annoy the teachers at school by the fact that I was endlessly counting the days until we could leave. But when I arrived in Portugal I did not find the happiness I sought.

The man who was with us, Arthur Ernest Hills, was not a person to be trusted. Certainly I did not trust him. But I had no suspicion of his German origins. Even less did I suspect that my mother was not totally Portuguese. Because of the challenge to her nationality, she was deeply committed to Portugal. And she made me a Portuguese patriot. I viewed her country as my only country, in defiance of the facts as I then knew them, and even more contrary to what I have since learned.

I remember that, in 1966, during the World Cup, I longed for the Portuguese team to beat England, and that after the quarter-final where Nobby Stiles persistently marked Eusébio I walked down alone from our house to the corner of Brighton Road and Southgate Avenue in an effort to contain my passionate grief. My loathing for England, which goes with a strange love for it, comes from that time.

And even now, despite the generally easy if empty time I have experienced in England, and the huge difficulties and endless negativity I have always encountered in Portugal, and my own considerable learned contempt and hatred for my mother's country, I shake inwardly when I see Portugal slighted, ignored or insulted.

And I have always searched obsessively in books on general subjects for mentions of the small country that once seemed to be mine. If there are none, and the book is about an area of knowledge where, in my opinion, Portugal ought to be mentioned, or it is not given its due, or dismissed with a contemptuous remark (very frequent), I will refuse to buy that book.
And a book that concerns or praises England, of which there are so many, I may buy or I may not. But probably not.

I have a similar attitude to books about the Ancient World which fail to mention the essential contribution of the ancient Jews and Christians to ideas of justice, morality, and God: areas in which the Classical civilisations, for all their impressive, indeed superb, achievements in many areas, were almost childishly lacking. If I pick up a book dealing with the whole of ancient history, from Mesopotamia and early Egypt onwards, and when it gets to the fifth century BC it says, "We owe the whole of Western Culture to the Greeks," I will refuse to buy that book.

And, if my country is not England, or Portugal, then it is no country on earth, and my only identity is that I am a wandering Jew. Certainly my Jewish identity is more important to me than any other identity. But I could not live in Israel. I have no country.

I am back now in the very streets where my life started. It moves me  to live in those regions of Holloway Road, Hornsey Road and Hornsey Rise, near the Whittington Hospital where I was born. Some will say that my life has come full circle, that I must stay here for ever now. Well, it will probably be much easier to do so. And I will certainly stay a while. But who knows what will happen then? The future is uncertain, perhaps dangerous, and Jews such as myself have always cultivated an alternative country in time of need.

Nevertheless, I hope to die in the place where I was born.

I think I had better begin to talk now about what exactly was my mother's connection with Portugal, and the fact that her mother, who was not married to her father, and who was not the mother of my mother's five sisters, seems to have come from Naples, or at least from a place where they spoke Neapolitan Italian, and to have been a Jewess, so that my mother was also a Jewess, and I am a Jew.

How shall I approach this question? Well, I came to knowledge about Ana das Meias, "Ana of the Stockings", over many and tortuous years, and only recently did I know for certain that she was my grandmother. So I will tell the whole thing more or less chronologically, but going backwards and forwards in time when I need to. I do not know how long it will take to write this post. My relationship with my mother was the most important of my life and it ended badly. So this one cannot be like the previous post in which I told of the background of my father with relative detachment and excited interest. This is a sad story. It is also interlinked, my mother's story and my own. Perhaps I will take several years to write it. Or perhaps at a certain point I will just stop. 

I shall begin at a slight angle. When I was a child my mother often used to mention a woman who had been around in my childhood who was called Dona Ana (which in Italian would be Donna Anna). I never knew exactly who this lady had been, and never thought to ask, but she was somebody quite important in our lives, and my mother particularly used to mention some words she had often said to me. These were in Italian, and I will quote them in that language, and then give the English translation. They were, "Mange, mange, bambino, tu sei si piccolino, e tua mamma é matta." In English, this is, "Go on eating, go on eating, little baby, you are so very small and your mother is mad."

The final word "matta" (which would be "mata" in Portuguese) is a pun between the two languages. In Italian, it means a madwoman, and also the joker in a pack of cards. In Portuguese (and also in Spanish), it would be "killed" or "dead". Ana das Meias (whom I should perhaps also call Anna delle Calze) surely enjoyed the joke.

It was to be many, many years before I heard of Dona Ana again.

Now to the basic facts about my mother. She was born, according to her birth certificate and her own unvarying account, on 7th September, 1923 at the fairly substantial farm her father owned in the Portuguese countryside. This was the "Quinta Nova" (the "new farm"), just outside the village of Pedra Amassada ("Worn-down stone"), which is in the parish of Santo Isidoro, in the local authority district of Mafra, just slightly to the north-east of the windswept seaside resort of Ericeira, which faces the Atlantic Ocean. These places are in the Portuguese region of Estremadura, which includes Lisbon, the capital city, which lies about forty kilometres to the south-east.

The name of my mother's father was officially Cesário dos Reis, which translates into English as  "Caesar Kings". On our family grave his first name is spelt Sesário, and on the birth certificate of his daughter Eva his name is given as José dos Reis. He was also sometimes known simply as Césario José, and colloquially as "Zé Rito", which is a pun on "Zé Rico", or "Rich José". Obviously this implies that his given name really was José and not Cesário.

Whichever name my grandfather had, there is also the mystery of how he had been able to buy such a substantial farmhouse as the Quinta Nova. That predated by several years his marriage to a woman of a higher class. His ostensible ancestors were entirely ordinary peasant farmers and, with such a background, it seems difficult to explain how he was able to make both social leaps. It looks as if at some point he had been visited by, or engineered, a stroke of good fortune. But no such unusual event is attested by the records.

And my mother very often told me in my childhood that before being known as Reis her father had another surname. But she said even more often that he had been given the surname Reis, which means "kings", because he had been born on 6th January, the "Dia de Reis", the feast of the kings, the Epiphany. Obviously the two stories are not compatible, although I never considered this when I was a child.

Also, while the Dia de Reis is widely celebrated in Spain, it is generally ignored in Portugal, for the very reason that it is a feast associated with Spain. Perhaps this was less so in the nineteenth century (my grandfather was born, according to the record, in 1886), but even so it seems strange that a baby in Portugal should be deliberately named to celebrate a feast associated with Spain. The explanation goes against the character of the country. It sounds like a story invented to explain the surname.

I used often to ask my mother if you could remember what her father's original surname had been. She said she couldn't, but that she thought it might have been something like Gervásio. But that is usually a Christian name. It could just possibly double up as the second of the given names that Portuguese men normally have, because these second given names sometimes turned into surnames. In that case my grandfather would have been Jose Gervasio or Gervasio Jose. But, in that case, where did the name Cesário come from?

There is yet other unusual fact about Cesário dos Reis, as I must call him. He was a "canhoto", as my mother more than once related to me in childhood, a left-handed person. This was sufficient to give him an unusual aura in the rural Portugal of those days, where mysterious powers were often attributed to left-handers and sometimes a hidden ancestry.

And one final extremely strange thing. On the night before she told me she had left a life interest in her house to Flavio Rosa, and therefore ended our loving relationship - the night of 23rd May 2000  - my friend Bill came round to help me make a tape of my mother talking about her life. She was then in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease, but was relatively lucid on the night Bill made the tape of our three-way conversation. She is quite vague and presumably often wrong about many matters of time, place and circumstance. For instance, she says, referring to my childhood "We used to go to Germany", whereas I am pretty certain we only went there on holiday once and that she never returned there. But on matters of importance to her life her memory on the tape often seems very good.

Anyway, at a certain point on the tape she suddenly says that her father was called Cariço. This strange name means something like "lover" or "caresser" and would not be a normal given name in Portugal. When I challenged her about this, however, she said indignantly, as recorded on the tape, that her father's name was Cariço in exactly the same name as my name was Charles. This sounds pretty definite, then. And it occurs to me that Cesario could be the nearest ordinary Christian name to that outlandish one. But Carico could only be a Gypsy name.

And, actually, I once asked Maria Streeter on the phone from Belmarsh Prison if our grandfather had been a gypsy, and she said "Of course he was". Later she denied that she had said anything like that. But, like all my family, she is extremely secretive, and on the occasion we spoke thus she was particularly sympathetic to me and might have been more liable to blurt out the truth. I think my grandfather may possibly have been a Gypsy.

Anyway, mystery surrounds this apparently simple person.

Although he owned his own farm he also worked in hard times as a "jornaleiro", a hired labourer by the day on the land of others. He was, according to those who knew him, a very seasoned agriculturalist, and a decent if slightly timid man, and he used the "barrete", the cap which is typical of the peasants of the "saloio" region. The name "saloio" was given traditionally to the population of the region north of Lisbon which supplied its needs through market gardens, and the saloios were traditionally renowned for a strange mixture of cunning and stupidity. My mother used to flinch when described as a "saloia".

The wife of Cesário dos Reis was called Marcelina de Jesus, and she was the daughter of a small pottery owner, an "oleiro". By her he was reputed to have had twelve children, eleven daughters and a son, of whom six, including the son, died in infancy, and six daughters survived. 

These were, in order of age: Maria Marcelina (known simply as Maria, being the eldest daughter); Maria da Conceição (known as Conceicão); my mother, Maria José (who, because her second given name was masculine, was always known by both her Christian names); Maria Augusta (known as Augusta); Eva, my one surviving aunt (who has no other given name, because the name Eva cannot traditionally be combined with the Virgin's name); and Maria do Rosário (the most beautiful, the one who died first, the one I never knew, although I was with her when I was two years old, Rosária).

Marcelina de Jesus, whom I can just about remember from my childhood, was able to read and write, which set her a little apart in that countryside. But she became downtrodden by so much child-bearing, and there is a picture of her, which I still possess, humbly holding the reins of a donkey on which my grandfather, in his peasant cap, sits proudly astride. In later life she was exceptionally devout. One memory of my childhood is of being alone with her at the shrine of Fatima and of her wishing to hear endless Masses end to end, with me at her side, very small, and increasingly tried, thirsty and desperate.

My mother had little feeling for her. When she died, a few years after her husband, in 1965, and we heard the news at our house in Crawley, there was absolutely no question that my mother would go out to attend her funeral. The whole thing seemed to be a matter of indifference to her. Perhaps I should have begun to suspect much sooner than I did that Marcelina de Jesus was not my grandmother. I am glad she was not.

Mum was deeply attached to her father, and when he died, in 1961, I believe she did go out, though, since I was only about five or six years old at the time, I have no specific memories of it. And when my mother's youngest sister Rosária died on Christmas Eve 1968, in faraway Mozambique, and the news reached us on Christmas Day, my mother went into such a storm of grief that I have never forgotten it to this day. These must have been her true relations.

As a child, Mum was a tomboy. She was always off from the house climbing trees and getting into trouble. Her father teased her and beat her, but she was his favourite. She had a spirit and devilry, one might almost say a chivalry, that none of the other sisters had. Once, when she was about six of seven, she was trying to do some work and cut herself in the hand with a "foice", which is a sickle. Her father cared for her most tenderly after that.

He had a rhyme about her. He asked her, "Quantos anos tu tens?" ("How old are you?") And she answered, "Tenho dez" (I'm ten"). And he then capped it by saying, "You just need a saddle, you're already a donkey." ("Só precisas da albarda, burro já tu és.") . "Dez" rhymes with "es", so that the whole thing is a improvised insulting couplet in the traditional manner of the Portuguese peasantry. None of the other sisters had their own verse given them by their father.

Mum's relations with all of her sisters were to be very mixed, and often quite hostile. Particularly complex was her relationship with Conceição, who was the next above her in age. Tia Conceição was a slightly stupid and very stubborn woman who had a clinging need for affection and became unpleasant when she did not receive it. Once, when my mother was three years old, she was very thirsty and Conceição promised to give her water. But what she gave her was pee. My mother never forgot this incident and it poisoned relations between these two sisters for the rest of their lives.

My mother intermittently told me scattered stories about her childhood. When she was four years old she was sent alone to tend the bullocks in the pasture. When she was nine she was sent away to relations to work. It was not possible for her to attend school, which was a pity, because she was very intelligent. In later years she used often to say something to me that tore at my heart, "I was born to learn but never taught." In bad times, when the family was hungry and had no bread, my mother was sent to the neighbours to beg, because of her winning ways.

The greatest trauma that hit the family was often recalled by my mother. Again, I will approach this at a slight angle. After seven (or, according to my mother, eight) daughters had been born, without a son intervening, the final daughter in the row was required by custom to be called Eva, so that she should not turn out to be a witch. This Eva - though, as it happens, she seems to me the nearest of my aunts to being a witch - is now an immensely fat, eccentric and talkative woman in her later eighties. She has become slightly malevolent, which she was not before, because she is a Jehovah's Witness. But this harsh, strange and humorous woman retains a strange soft spot for me, though, and she is my godmother.

Finally, after the birth of Eva,  it must have been, a son was born. The whole family rejoiced. But quickly this boy fell ill. My grandfather had to go to Mafra to fetch the nearest doctor. This was a distance of about six miles. My mother could never remember whether her father had a donkey at the time or whether he had to walk. Anyway, he went as fast as he could, but when he was coming back from Mafra with the doctor, the boy was already dead.

Every so often the whole family went to sell their wares to the fair at Malveira. I am not sure of the distance, but perhaps it is between twelve and fifteen miles. They often travelled together all night, ready to begin selling early in the morning. They would take it in turns to ride on the one donkey.

When I heard these stories from my mother in childhood, I was filled with a sense of belonging to a suffering and heroic people, and this feeling can never entirely leave me.

As I mentioned previously, my mother often told me that, when she was nine, she was sent away to relations to work, and also that at the age of sixteen or seventeen she was already working at a series of hotels in Lisbon. She reached the age of 16 in 1939, almost exactly at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. There are no surviving documents referring to her which date from before 1946 (except her birth certificate). And she told few stories about her life between the ages of nine and sixteen, between 1932 and 1939. This is therefore a quite mysterious period of her life, as are the early war years. Perhaps she was not in Portugal during this time.

There are more details for the life she lived in Lisbon, particularly after the end of the Second World War. I once had an official Portuguese work record for her, a charming little document, which showed which hotels she worked at between 1946 and 1953, so it is absolutely certain that she was living in Lisbon at that time. I lost this work record, with many other items, during a theft of my suitcases in Barcelona in 2012. The title page of the document, with her picture, survives in a tattered photocopy. And there are also a few other photographs of her when she was very young, including a cheeky-looking one, in which she looks very dark and elfin-like, which she once told me had been taken when she was about sixteen. Where she was at that time I do not know but can guess.

In the years after that photo was taken, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my mother worked as a chambermaid in three smart hotels in or around the Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon's central avenue. She also lived close nearby, sharing accommodation with her younger sister Augusta on the third floor of a building where the Rua Alexandre Herculano meets the Avenida, and if my aunt Eva is right in remembering that it was on the left-hand side as you descend from the Rato to the avenue, then the building is long gone.

This Augusta was the most sophisticated and wordly-wise of the sisters and in some ways a sympathetic person, but she was very cold. She was later a settler in Mozambique and worked as a super-fast telephonist in the Hotel Polana, which was the best hotel in what was then Lourenço Marques, so her English was good. She was to be of much more help to me when the crisis of my mother's life came than the primitive and ambiguous Eva, although I did not necessarily like her better. She died in May 2007, just before she was due to give evidence in the court case where I was trying to win my mother's house back. It seems typical of her that she never made it to help me.

I will just mention briefly the sister whom I have not so far described, the eldest, Maria. It was she who remained in the countryside when all the other sisters eventually came to Lisbon and then sometimes went abroad. She was a typically dour Portuguese peasant woman with a husband who beat her and many children. My mother's relations with this sister were always especially poor and, when I was a child, she used to tell me that the other five did not really regard Maria as a true sister of theirs. I now believe that this strange statement reflected the fact that it was my mother who was the real outsider. 

Anyway, back to the late 1940s, and the time when my mother and her half-sister Augusta were sharing a flat in the fashionable Rua Alexandre Herculano. The building is no longer there, and a modern hotel stands on its place, but I used quite often to stand where the place had been and look upwards with emotions that I did not quite know. This was because in many ways, although I loved her, I did not know my mother, and she gave me a highly edited version of what had happened in her life,  so that my feelings about her partake of a sense of dislocation, of having been cheated, of having been hurt.

But I believe those were beautiful times for my mother in the late 1940s, perhaps the happiest time of her life.  She used to tell me how fashionable a city Lisbon had become in the post-war era. Many cruise liners called there and the regular Royal Mail boats still plied between England and Portugal. Many famous personalities stayed at the hotels where she worked and, as a chambermaid, she sometimes had a chance to meet them.

She recalled meeting General Omar Bradley and more particularly the great pianist Artur Rubinstein. She had a hairbrush which she said was his and which he had given her, but it did not have his name on it. In later life she tried to get me to sell it for a large sum and could not make her understand that I could not prove it had once belonged to Artur Rubinstein and that therefore it was impossible to sell. And at a certain point I lost the useless brush, which gave her sorrow.

Better to contemplate her in the days she knew Rubinstein, and when she used to go in the warm evenings with Augusta to the Feira Popular, "the People's Fair", where the orchestra of Belo Marques used to play, and the young couples who might or might not marry, danced until night fell, and other pleasures, despite the jealous brothers and hideous female chaperones, who attended, sometimes supervened.

As they evidently did in the case of Augusta. My mother told me once, in the sudden, brutally frank way she sometimes had, that she had arranged an abortion for her younger sister during this period. I don't think Augusta ever forgave her. She tried to quite a considerable extent to help her during her last illness, but with not a penny of money. This was despite the fact that Mum's funds were locked up in her accounts, I clearly had little money, and Augusta was a wealthy woman. I cannot help remembering this aunt with dislike because of her meanness, although we often got on well when we were together.

But it seems the sexual activity was not all on Augusta's part. My aunt Eva said fairly recently that my mother had become pregnant many times in her youth but it always ended in abortion. The woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, who quite strongly dislikes Eva, said indignantly this was a lie, and it is true that Eva is a great liar. I spend quite a lot of time hoping for her death as well. But even the woman in the centre of Lisbon seemed to imply that my mother had enjoyed relations with men, and a relation by marriage of ours in the country also stated it in his brutal way.

However, I remember that my mother was always particularly fond of children, and Eva has said, I believe quite falsely, that she did not like them. Eva and my mother resembled each other strongly in their youth, but their characters were different. My mother, although often angry and ruthless, was a sentimental and tender person, whereas Eva was what I would call a hard flirt. It is quite possible that, in saying that my mother had many abortions in her youth, Eva is projecting on her behaviour more characteristic of herself.

My mother always said that her first experience of sex had been with her husband, Arthur Ernest Hills, and had been disappointing. I put this detail in a story which some people have admired, and which was published in Quadrant, the Australian intellectual monthly. My aunt Augusta, however, who read the story without much enjoyment, acknowledged the story was well-written, but said disparagingly that it was very simple. Les Murray, my editor at Quadrant, liked it, so these two opinions differed. Perhaps it has some merit as fiction. I am sure now, however, that it holds only a certain truth about my mother's life.

For what happened during those years I am largely dependent on what she told me, and some stories were so persistent that they must be substantially true. She used often to tell with great wistfulness of a young man she had loved, a talented pianist. I had at various times two separate versions of the same photo of him, sitting in profile at the piano, at a moment when he is not playing it. 

But I lost both these photos at different times and perhaps this image of him is gone for ever. Or I might find one of them again, in the unexpected way that things sometimes turn up for me. Anyway, I remember the young pianist's face well, however, and would know it if I ever saw it again. He was very much a Latin-lover type, handsome in his way,  although such looks do not appeal to me. I thought he looked evil.

My mother described the circumstances in which she knew him in quite some detail to me, so much so that I believe these details were written on her heart and cannot be false. She also said she had never had sex with him. This I do not believe.

She worked for his rich family, and particularly came to the attention of his aunt, who did not like her and broke up their romance. The aunt had an "atelier", according to my mother´s story, a fashion shop for rich Lisboetas, but the son was intended for the family's garage, which was in the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, a street close to the central avenue but, because it was narrow and quite old, considerably more down-market. There were a number of garages in this street which had been established from early in the twentieth century.

Mum also told me that, twenty-five years after she had known him, on a solitary visit that she paid to Lisbon one summer, she rang him up at the garage, arranged to meet him at the cafe they had always used, the Smarta, in the Rua da Santa Marta, which runs at right angles to the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio. She went for a drive with him in his car, but was shocked by how much he had changed, and repelled when he made her a physical proposal. when they stopped in the Monsanto Forest. They never saw each other again.

Now how much do I believe all these details? Well, I believe them to form a complex, composite story, almost all the details of which are individually true, but which concern two different men, with one of whom she had sex and the other perhaps not.

I have worked this out by thinking about the story for many years, and I will explain my chain of reasoning now. Since the love for the pianist was the love of my mother's life, it was likely to be a first love. It would not naturally have come after the many relationships with men that my mother is alleged, I believe truly, to have had. This would therefore most likely place it soon after my mother's arrival in Lisbon, and I know this to have taken place around 1939 or 1940, when she was sixteen or seventeen.

Now my mother was unvarying in her account that it was twenty-five years after she had known him that she rang the man up. When I was a child she was always with us, and between 1971 and 1973 she was involved in the complex divorce and maintenance proceedings against Arthur Ernest Hills, and during this period she also took up with the policeman Maurice. Her relationship with him ended, as far as I can remember, about a year after I went to Oxford in October 1973. Now in the summers of 1974, 1975 and 1976 I hardly went home from Oxford. It believe it is the second of these summers, the second one that I did not go home, and the first after Maurice left her, the summer of 1975, that is the most  likely date for my mother's attempt to satisfy her lifelong quest for romance by looking up the old amour.

And as it happens, I have a letter in my possession from Arthur Ernest Hills, dated 17th August 1975, which says that my mother is in northern Portugal on that date, but that she is travelling down to Lisbon, and has a flight home from there to England on 27th August. This makes it seem almost certain to me that somewhere in those days was the meeting with the man of the garage.

This therefore places the date of this romance in about 1950, or perhaps very early in 1951, which was the period when my mother was involved in her work at the series of hotels which I used to have documented in her work register. She could therefore not have been working in the private house of a family at this date. And since the hotels were almost all near the Avenida, this makes an encounter with a man who ran a garage in the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio in 1950 very likely, because there is absolute physical proximity.

I am pretty sure that it was the second man who was involved with the garage. Would a delicate young pianist, impeccably romantic, be intended by his family for a garage? Would such a slim, effeminate-looking aesthete, many years later, make a gross physical proposal in the car he was proudly driving? And would a snobby aunt, who ran a fashionable couturier establishment in the French style, want her nephew to be involved with the motor industry?

I also asked my aunt Eva about exactly at what stage of my mother's career she had loved the pianist. I did not tell my aunt about my theory that there might be two men involved. She said it had been considerably before the period when she had worked at the series of hotels, which would place it well before 1946, when the record of those employments began. Once again, it might situate the relationship at about 1940, or even 1939.

There is another, slightly strange, clue. When I was writing the story about my mother, which is called Meeting and Parting (she wanted to be called Mirabelle in it, but I did not gratify this wish) I asked her for more details about her life and, especially, about this romance, to flesh out the story. She was rather reluctant to tell me much, but finally, almost in desperation, said that she used to meet the pianist at a cafe called Affari.

This is of course an Italian name for a café, and would not be likely to serve as the name of a café in Portugal. But I decided at a certain point to check this for certain. So I went to the Lisbon City Archives to see if such a cafe could have existed. But it was clear from their exhaustive record of cafes that no such establishment had ever functioned in Lisbon.

What if the whole romance took place entirely in Italy, before my mother arrived in Lisbon, perhaps when she was sixteen, the period of the elfin-like photograph, just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939? The picture of a young pianist to swoon over being restrained by an aunt involved in high fashion does seems to suit some Italian city, somehow, much more than it does Lisbon.

And I have reasons, which I shall come to shortly, to believe that my mother may have been in Italy in 1939. She was a Jewess. Mussolini had passed his anti-Semitic legislation, in a bid to please Hitler in 1938, and it really began to bite in 1939. So we have the picture of my mother in hot water with a rich family whose beloved heir she wanted to capture for her own. who probably knew she was a Jewess, and with the Second World War about to start. What more natural in the circumstances than a forced escape from Italy, perhaps leaving the pianist behind for ever (because perhaps he was also a Jew?)

During the period I lived in Portugal, and had not worked out the details of my theory fully, I used often to visit the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, hoping that the pianist (as I then believed him to be) might still be alive and that I might contact him. He would surely have been about ninety if still alive, but the chance, however slim, existed.

There were only a few garages left in the street in those years, but there was one very large, rather empty and atmospheric, one that something told me might be the place. I spoke many times to the morose but reasonably friendly current manager of the garage and he promised many times to contact a former owner who was very elderly but might just be still alive. But he never did this, however many times I tried to press him.

During these long dealings with the extremely polite but quite immovable garage-managing Portuguese, I happened to find in my immensely stuffed house an old pocket diary of my mother's for 1972. It gave many imperfectly transcribed details of her contacts, and among them a Portuguese gentleman, an engineer, and therefore a person highly respected in Portuguese society (this is the usual title for anyone with a science degree), Carlos Alberto Pereira Barbosa. There was also an address, in quite a smart part of western Lisbon, but no phone number.

 I leapt to the conclusion that this might be the lover from the garage, and went round to the address, but it turned out to be the home of an elderly woman and her highly suspicious middle-aged idiot son. So if the second old amour had ever lived at this address, he was long gone. But now I know that it is much more likely to have been a slightly gross, if well-connected, Portuguese lover whom she met after twenty-five years, and not the romantic pianist, I am somehow glad that these researches drew a blank.

One further point about the two romances  My mother said she had become offended with the man she met after twenty-five years when he said, "You know, I always wondered what you would be like in bed, I always wondered that." Now this piece of dialogue is either true or it is false. It cannot be a mixture of truth and falsehood. They either had sex when they were young or they did not. Perhaps he said something even more rude, about improving on previous encounters, or correcting their inadequacies. But it gives his wish to have sex so late an extra poignancy if he had never known her in bed.

Almost everyone knows, so perhaps I hardly need to say, that, in the old days, in the whole of Europe, when an unmarried girl fell pregnant, she was almost invariably sent away and the unborn child was either aborted before, or adopted soon after, the birth. And this was particularly the case in the Catholic countries of Southern Europe, where the Church maintained a rigid facade of absolute family correctness but the patterns of human love went on as they always have.

And, in Portugal, there was an elaborate system of strict chaperonage for girls of the upper class, but in very many cases the strict duenna proved complicit when the gentleman was actually at the door. And the ordinary people seem to have bred like rabbits from a very early age. Almost no Portuguese knows for certain who his or her four grandparents were and very many don't know any of them. There is a word, "enjeitado" -  "thrown-out one"- to denote children who had to be hastily adopted in circumstances of illicit love. I was to add this word to my vocabulary in circumstances that I shall relate at a later point in the this blog.

However, sexual mores were outwardly extremely strict, and it needed both ingenuity and luck to arrange an encounter. Perhaps the opportunity never came in the case of my mother and the man of the garage. And I cannot know what opportunities came in the case of the flirtatious Eva.

The point of  this long digression is to show that it is possible that I have two half-siblings arising from the two romances whose existence I have inferred, the first sibling born around 1940, the other (and this inference is considerably less certain) in 1951.

Anyway, to return to the mainly very happy and certainly highly adventurous time that my mother worked at the smart hotels, she was at this period to add another gentleman to her list of conquests (how beautiful she was, in her slightly gamine-like way!), and this was a gentleman of the upper class and a most academic one at that.

He was called Vasco Botelho do Amaral, and his name will still mean something to many elderly Portuguese, because he wrote many books about the wonders and intricacies of the language which were widely disseminated. My mother used to own one, and it eventually fell to me, but, like so many of my possessions, which I lose with almost relentless carelessness, although I love them so, it has gone the way of all earthly things.

Anyway, in the period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the name of Vasco Botelho do Amaral was one to conjure with in Portugal, and not only there, because this great professor also had the honour of being asked to broadcast on matters Portuguese for the BBC in London. They probably didn't asked him very often, but he was a discreet opponent of the regime of Salazar, which would have done him good with the English, and he was evidently not radical enough for the regime to interrupt his record of publication in his own country.

At about the age of twenty-four, Mum went to night school, at the prestigious Liceu Machado e Castro to learn to read and write, something no-one had ever thought of trying to teach her before, and also to study languages, in several of which she was already fluent, including English. Vasco was her teacher. And he quickly saw that she was quite brilliant. After only a few lessons, whenever the learned professor asked the whole class what was the answer to some abstruse point, it was always my Mum who put her hand up with an irresistible smile and an enchanting laugh to give the right answer.

Of course the reverend Vasco fell madly in love with her. He even wanted to marry her. But she didn't like him in that way. He was an old man. She found his mannerisms funny. He smelt, apparently.

And so my mother passed up her chance to become a member of the Portuguese elite. Her fate was to be quite different, and I do not think it was a happier one than if she had settled for the elderly, kind and honourable gentleman. 

But I also remember the words a woman speaks in a novel by Edith Templeton about not having married an elderly Jew, wise but ferociously ugly: "Every day I am sorry. Every night I am glad."

She went to England. The chronology and the circumstances of her arrival are highly mysterious. The official date of it, to which she often referred with pride in my childhood, saying that she had arrived in the very week of the Coronation, was May 29th 1953. Officially she came first on the ship Highland Princess, one of the Royal Mail boats which used to ply between Lisbon and Tilbury until Harold Wilson put a stop to them in the 1960s.

The woman called Isaura, who was to supplant her in my father's affections, was waiting for her at the quayside and arranged for her to arrive that night at the house in Bickley, south London, where a job was waiting for her. Also on that day, my mother  met Leonor - who has turned up many times in these posts - because she was already a great friend of Isaura.

(Just an aside at this point. Leonor in the many years before she became demented, often mentioned a woman called Carmen who had arrived on the same boat as my mother, but could tell me nothing about what had happened to her then, and for many years she remained a mystery to me. But recently Brian Streeter mentioned that Carmen had been a Spaniard, that some years after they arrived in England she borrowed money from my mother to return to Spain, but once there never returned the money and fell entirely out of touch. So I will never find Carmen, probably long dead anyway.)

But, contrasting with the official story of her arrival,  my mother also mentioned to me at various points in my life that Vasco Botelho do Amaral had been so infatuated with her that he had taken her to London to see the BBC and witness for herself how much respected he was there. And she also sometimes mentioned a period working in Jersey before arriving in England. She gave me no details of this period in Jersey, but again it conflicts with the idea of a definite arrival direct from Lisbon in the week of the coronation. Again these aspects of Mum's life I am never likely to know.

There seem also to be differences in the accounts of how easily an exit from Portugal could be arranged. My aunt Eva said once that it was a gentleman at the Hotel Victoria, where Mum was working, who indicated to her how a passage to England could be facilitated. More recently she has said that it was a couple who were staying in the hotel who noticed how well Mum spoke English and asked if she wanted to go there. She said yes, she would like to go, but didn't know how she could manage it. And that couple promised to arrange her exit by getting someone in England to provide a work permit, and told her everything she needed to do in Portugal to effect the departure.

Influence, money and corruption could bring about almost any outcome in Portugal then, as now. And the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon said that it was in fact extremely easy to emigrate in the 1950s, you only needed a job waiting for you in London, which was almost always in the households of wealthy Jews. I imagine the couple in the hotel were wealthy Jews.

But in theory, emigration without permission was strictly forbidden, and Salazar had a secret police, the PIDE, to enforce this. My researcher in Portugal, Dr Teixeira, had the idea of checking whether there was a PIDE file on my mother, but none existed, nor any other official record of her having left Portugal. This led me to wonder at one point whether my mother, her sisters and the friend who lives in the centre of Lisbon could have been allowed to come by the regime as spies. And I once arranged to meet a slightly mysterious person whom I have known for many years at Kings Place in London, and I mentioned this theory, and he surprised me greatly by saying that he thought my mother might have been a spy for Israel.

Just to complicate matters further, my mother said on the tape she made with me and Bill, that it was a colleague at the hotel who knew how to arrange an exit from Portugal, and that he helped her make a "short hop" to Jersey, from where she "hopped" to England. This story is not really compatible with that of the couple, and I am inclined to think it is my aunt's version that is correct, being the less innocuous account of events. Nor is my mother's version compatible with a definitive arrival on the Highland Princess from Lisbon, but her name appears on the list of passengers for the said boat. 

The only tentative set of conclusions I can come to is that the business of getting out was probably very complex, that several stages and the cooperation of many people may have been involved, and that the idea of a simple, definitive arrival in the week of the coronation is probably too simplistic.

Once arrived in London, my mother seems to have enjoyed herself. Quite soon she was joined by her sister Augusta. The two of them used to go around on the tubes on their days off and laugh at the grim-looking people they saw. These were surely among the most carefree times of my mother's youth.

Yet those days were brief. Within about a year, as far as I understand the sequence of events, my mother met my father. I have told the romantic and ultimately sad story several times already in this blog, and in the previous post I went into all the evidence that exists for the period between my mother meeting my father and him leaving us. Yet in a post devoted to my mother and myself, and our intimate histories, I have to tell this story again. So I will imagine large parts of it now, with the best of my heart and understanding. 

It was on the tube. She was running to get the train and almost made it. But just as she was about to jump on, the steel doors slammed shut and her finger was injured. Then she was flung back on to the platform by the rush of the departing train.

A man arrives on the platform. He is in his thirties, already balding, not very tall, but he has a fine figure, and there is something about his face, some hint of cruelty or suffering, which gives him fascination. He understands the situation immediately and uses gentle words. He speaks English well, but with a slight German accent. He takes the sobbing woman in his arms.

I will never of course know what the station was where this took place, but for reasons of my own, which I shall reveal at a much later point in this blog, I believe it to have been Charing Cross.

Now they are walking away from the platform. He is going to take her to hospital. He insists on it. He will not listen to her protestations. She cannot make too many anyway. She is in too much terrible pain.

If the station was Charing Cross, then Charing Cross Hospital was nearby in those days. I can picture the scene. People hurry past them as they come out of the tube stairs, walk along the first section of the Strand, and he supports her to cross the street. At the hospital she is attended to quickly. She is obviously in so much pain.

They give her painkillers, clean the wound, bind her finger expertly. He is by her side, the gallant gentleman who sprang to her aid, all concern and pity. During the war he had to be brutal. He did what the other men did. Perhaps he even killed children, let alone women. But he cannot be more tender now. And she begins to take him in for the first time. Her destiny is sealed. And my life is foreshadowed.

Now she has been treated and the natural time has come to part. He asks for her address and phone number. But she is frightened of her employer, who controls the only phone to which she has access and who, for understandable reasons, does not want her to be involved with men. But she tells him more than enough to give him a clue as to where she is living. The tube station, her sister, her sister's employer, the bus that passes the flats.

He goes through a long rigmarole over the next few weeks and eventually is able to track her down. He is waiting for her in the street. He pleads for another meeting? What can she do but accept?

How much do they tell each other on this first meeting of their real courtship? That they are both Jews? I think not. And does he tell her he also served in the German army during the war, because of the Nazi his father was? Again I think not. It would be too soon. Perhaps he tells her that he is a Pole. Because it is the identity of a Pole that he already bears, I think,  not his real German identity. She would not clearly have known the difference between a German and a Pole. And Portuguese girls in London go out with Polish men.

But perhaps he just tells her he is a German Jew. There are countless such in London. The fact that he is passing as a Pole could be their joke. He cannot take the risk of being introduced to any real Poles.

He surely does not mention that his father is a former top Nazi, now an Englishman in disguise, until the said father has been met. That surely happens when the plans for marriage are already well afoot.

No, I know! She meets the twin brother before the father. I know where that happened, because my mother and Arthur told me the story often when I was a child. It was at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand.

Let me picture the scene for you. It is a typical dance hall of the 1950s in the last years before rock and roll. It will be formal, the men will be in suits, the women in elegant dresses, and there will probably be a big band playing. My mother arrives with her sister Augusta. The two men are waiting for them. My mother and her sister remark on how similar the two men look, although that they do not say that the resemblance goes down to the balding pates that are ruining their beauty.

But my mother sees immediately that Arthur is less attractive. He is smaller, less well-built, and there is something both mean and emasculated-looking about him. He is also dirty: his clothes, which look as if they have never seen the interior of a wardrobe, are covered in stains. It is lucky that my mother's other sister Eva has not yet arrived in England. She is outspoken, mocking and ebullient. She is to describe him to me many years later as looking like a Portuguese beggar. There might have been a slightly nasty scene if she had been there and in her innocence said something like that.

Arthur is dominated by suffering and its sister hate. He prides himself on being an Englishman, yet he is not one, even though he has no foreign accent. And he does not like foreigners. He has no woman, though. He must make do with these. 

His manner towards them is a mixture of eagerness and reserve. It is immediately understood that Arthur shall dance with Augusta. In them the qualities of suspicion, distance and contempt are matched. And she is a woman whose harsh judgments are often masked by weasel words. She makes no comments on his clothes, his smell. She will mention these to her sister later, in disgusted terms.

The event passes as any dance of about 1954 must have done Perhaps as a treat the couples will dance the tango, which is not the highly gymnastic performance of today, but an affair of many gracious, sexy and subtle steps. I don't suppose Arthur danced it at all well. There will be quite a number of black people at the dance, but the people who are mine will not take any notice of them. Arthur already hates them, as he will do until he dies.

Finally the two pairs will go with the other couples to the gracious atrium. What happens then? Do the brothers go off with each other and the sisters too? The twins who have been separated from birth and the sisters who do not have the same mother? No, I do not think it is like that.

Let us say my mother walks away a little with her new amour. Surely she asks him why it is that his twin brother appears to be an Englishman and he is a German or Pole. It is then, surely, that he reveals to her the full sadness of his story. His mother couldn't cope with twins and decided to keep only one of them. He was the choice to be sent away. Perhaps he was already slightly stronger and prettier. Perhaps he came first.

He lived with foster parents. He did not see his father again for many years, and even now he does not know his mother, does not want to. The fact that he can never share her own experience of family warmth leads her to feel pity for him. That she will marry him is sealed. That my own life will come is foreshadowed.

But it will not be as simple as just loving a man and getting married to him and having a child. There are deep complications in this strange family. She has not met his father yet. There is a sister too. Not a pleasant woman. And always the brother who is a bit dirty, very poor, and cannot attract women.

We are probably now at some point in July or August 1954. He proposes to her and she accepts. He is an engineer and earns a little more than his brother, who is just a clerk. She anticipates a future which will be with him and will be happy and a partnership that will be lifelong.

The dramatised section that follows is all speculation, my own reconstruction of how things may have happened, based on what facts I have. I have to write it that way. What cannot be known must be imagined.

On one of her meetings with her new fiance she is informed by him that she is invited to tea by his father. It is a great honour. The old man does not welcome strangers, but he wants to meets the young woman who will be his daughter-in-law. Arthur will also be present. Augusta is not invited. It will be just the three men and herself.

She prepares with great care and her make-up is discreet. They are to go to a Lyons Corner House by Charing Cross, close to where they met.  It will be a fine treat. Her fiance meets her a short distance away. Then they walk the short distance to where Arthur and the old man are waiting.

The smart restaurant is crowded, but the men are seated at a table just inside the entrance. Arthur looks sheepish and does not rise from his seat.

But the old man, who is very fat, entirely bald and most formally dressed, rises with a courtly gesture, surprising her by kissing her hand and murmuring words she does not understand. His eyes seem oddly unfocused behind his thick glasses, and a single tuft of unruly white hair sticks up absurdly from the very centre of his shiny head. He has thin and strangely twisted lips, which contrast with the deep fat of his face.

"An old friend of mine used always to greet a beautiful woman in  this way," says the old man in a strange high-pitched voice when he releases her hand, in an accent she supposes must be German. "But in your case there might have been a problem."

"What is the problem?" she asks.

"That you are a Jew," he says, with a frown as quickly replacing the smile.

She knows he is a German now and flinches. Seeing her unease, he says, "But that is not a problem now. That friend is dead and his name is not as revered as it was. No, you might even call being a Jew an asset, as it was before. These two sons of mine are both Jews, and I intend it shall not do them harm."

He hesitates a little, and looks really grim, as if he does not know how to go on, but at a prompting from my father the old man says, "But please sit down. And would you like tea or coffee? And would you appreciate a plum cake?"

"I will have tea, please. Yes, and a plum cake."

"And what will you have, mein Sohn?"

"The same. We are going to be married."

My mother steals a look of gratitude at her lover for his support. The old man notes this. He knows they have this foreign woman in their net and that the first stage of his plan can be put into action. He snaps his fingers imperiously at the waitress, who for some reason, and quite unusually, immediately answers his call.

When they are all served, and the Nippy is well out of earshot, he outlines what he has in mind for my mother and his sons. Their status is different. Arthur is an accredited Englishmen, as he himself is, but Michael still has a problem with his identity. So there is a simple solution. His two sons are twins and could easily pass for each other. So my mother will officially marry Arthur but Michael will stand in for him and really be the groom.

Immediately Arthur speaks. If he is to be officially married to any woman, he says, that woman must be British. He will not tolerate being married to a foreigner. So my mother must give up her Portuguese identity before the ceremony can take place.

My mother is very shocked and angry. She can hardly believe her ears. She will lose her nationality and, to boot, not even be officially married to her husband! But the three men are pressing. They look at her with those hard eyes, her lover's eyes suddenly as impenetrable as those of the other two.

Then Michael takes her arm. We will really be married, Maria José, he says, we will be happy. But I am in danger. I am not naturalised. I am not the Pole I am supposed to be, I am German. I fought the war. I am in danger.

And suddenly, with a shallow laugh, she agrees to their plan.

And the ceremony of tea and cake proceeds to its conclusion, with casual enquiries from the old man about my mother's parentage and background, and then he falls silent. For he says nothing if there is no reason to say it. The same will be the case with my father in later years. Reden ist Silber, schweigen ist Gold.

But the old man says one more thing to my mother before he kisses her hand again in formal parting and exits the cafe. "Remember, tell always your employer that the name of your new husband is Arthur Ernest Hills. Tell the same to everyone else. It is the name I bear as well and I will see it honoured. If you let any other name emerge at any time, you will suffer."

And he waddles away, but the remaining three do not laugh at him. And my mother bursts into tears when he is gone, and Michael comforts her with embraces, and Arthur sits beside them with a sick smile on his face.

Do the two brothers know about the second part of the old man's plan, the further shock he has scheduled for my mother, timed for soon after the false marriage? I think Arthur does and Michael doesn't.

For the old man has much experience of the psychological manipulation of others. He is indeed famous for this. He knows exactly when to confront people with what they can bear. My father is a man of honour. He would not have agreed to the first part if he had known about the second. Very well, then, the old man calculated. Do not tell him about the second until the first is done. It is simple to deal with men of honour.

Only a few weeks pass until the marriage. My mother has been working for a wealthy Jewess, Mrs Hersh, who lives near Hendon Quadrant, and she is living in her flat. The archivist who helped me looked up the details of this woman. She was known then as Patricia Hersh and had been born as Zena K. Nathan in 1914. Her husband was Charles Hersh or Herscovitch, born in 1907. Both were to die before the turn of the millennium.

My mother has to tell Patricia or Zena she is leaving. Mrs Hersh is sorry to hear this, but expresses cautious pleasure that Maria is getting married. She asks about the groom. He is called Arthur, my mother says, Arthur Ernest Hills, and he lives at Taviton Street, near Euston Station. Suddenly Mrs Hirsch is seriously alarmed. Never have anything to do with a man who lives near Euston Station, she tells my mother with a sharp indrawn sigh. I tell you that for your good, Maria, it will not do anything for you to marry a man who lives near Euston Station.

And how many times during my childhood, when Arthur was dribbling at the mouth in his anger, did my mother recall to me the wise advice of Mrs Hersh.

But that was when my father was gone and Arthur, the grim reaper, has taken the place he had always held officially. In the tapes that Arthur was to make for me many years later, he remarked, I  remember, that love had played only a small role in his life. And then he says that he married my mother, and love had little to do with it, but that was another story that he could not tell me now.

And you meant I should never know it, didn't you, Arthur? But I have found a lot of it out, and have visited your grave in Pulborough churchyard twice but will never go there a third time.

You were not there on the day you were officially married but your brother got the bride. Did it hurt? You probably gave little sign of pain. But you had been hurt so much. You were punch drunk with pain. I have to remember that when I am tempted to be harsh in my feelings towards you.

And, anyway, they told you, surely, how quiet it had been. There were only four people there, the bridge and groom, and the two witnesses. The old man was one witness, and a woman called Celeste Ferreira, who must have been Portuguese by her name, was another. No photos were taken. Hendon Register Office must have seen few quieter and more  dolorous ceremonies.

And my mother hopes for happiness at the wedding which even her sister Augusta has been forbidden to attend

She believes the nightmare is over and that her husband will take her to a happy home. But he brings her to a large house in Stockwell, 77, Jeffreys Road, a house kept by Poles, very gloomy, and full of tenants. He is officially an Englishman to the Poles. He has the name after all, Arthur Ernest Hills. What particularly riles my mother is that they live next door to a prostitute called Tina, who receives her clients at the same time as she and her husband are making love. Now she begins to hate the touch that once comforted her.

But worse is to come than just this routine unhappiness. He will reveal himself as a potential enemy. He will utterly kill her love for him.

The date is September 23rd 1954, twelve days after the false marriage. It is evening. They are together in the shabby room. Perhaps Tina is receiving a client next door. My mother perhaps, is ironing. He is nonchalantly reading a paper. Suddenly he tells her that his father and Arthur are coming round to see them. They will arrive in just five minutes.

"Why are they coming?" she says, in sudden alarm. "Why are they coming, those two?"

"You'll see," she says briefly.

"Oh, Michael,  you frighten me so much sometimes."

"You're right to be frightened. I have too much to hide. Now I'm reading the paper. Shut up."

"Oh, Christ, I wish I'd never married you."

"You didn't marry me. You married Arthur."

The other Germans arrive. There are too many people now in the small room with the bare bulb. The others are all small, slightly smelly men, all balding or bald. Michael suddenly ceases to seem handsome to her. She hates the others, and now she almost hates him. But not quite. He is her husband. Yet he is not.

They tell her they have come to fill in her naturalisation form. She goes back to feeling relieved. That must be why Arthur has to be here. He is her official husband. She sits down.

Then the old man comes up to her, he stands too close and puts his hand upon her knee. She wants to shake him away but dares not do it. He points to the form which is so clean and shiny, the same form I have now, more than sixty years later, which is dirty and tattered beyond all belief. It has a number stamped on it very neatly in the top left-hand corner, although at the time it is shown to my mother all the rest is blank. The number is 30638.

"That is your official naturalisation number," says the old man.

"But why do I already have it? I haven't applied for it yet."

"You will have to know more fully than you do," says the old man, "that things do not always come in what is considered the right order, nor do they always turn out as we hope they might."

"No, they're usually just the opposite!" suddenly shouts Arthur, "Like the way I'm supposed to be married to this bitch!"

"Cut it out, brother," says her husband. "This is important business."

Arthur looks at his elder brother with hatred, but a gesture from the old man brings him to heel. The old man gives my mother an unpleasant smile and prepares himself for one of the perorations that he loves.

"Now here is the example of these paradoxes that applies to you. Only twelve days ago you married, according to all the evidence, this rather unimpressive son of mine, who did not have a proper German background and the training we give so that he is smaller, weaker and unkinder than his dashing brother. But he is to all intents and purposes an Englishman, and that would have given you the automatic right to become a British citizen, would it not?"

She looks at him and cannot bring herself to say anything.

"Would it not?" he suddenly shouts, and comes a little closer to her, and shakes his fist in her face.

"Yes, yes, yes, it would," she says, shrinking from him.

"Don't go too hard on her, mein Vater," says her husband.

"Very well," says the old man, puffing out his chest," I will put it quite plainly. You will find that, although you have all the automatic rights in the world, in fact you have none at all. All your rights, your very life itself, will depend on your loyalty to me, and to these, my two sons, the one with the rights of an Englishman, which he is not, the other with the rights of a Pole, which he is not. And all their rights depend on me. I dispense all rights in that admittedly small corner of the world that I now command."

"Doesn't he talk fine?" says the grinning Arthur. "But the world he now commands is very much smaller than the Sportpalast."

"Arthur!" says the old man, giving the name its German pronunciation, "does a little squirt like you dare to mention that scene of what I might call, paraphrasing a callous statesman, my finest hour?"

"Who are you?" the woman screams suddenly. "What are you doing here? I am a married woman! I am with my husband! I just want to be with my husband! What are you doing here?"

"Calm down, love," says my father, drawing close and enfolding her in an embrace ."You will be with me. All this is necessary, I wish it wasn't. But it is." And then to his father, "Now just explain to her what we want, without any more messing or bullying. She's not Magda, you know. Ordinary woman can't take all this shit"

And, at that moment, they hear the sound of the ordinary woman in the next room moaning convulsively as the new man she is with pumps into her.

"Oh God! my mother screams. "What is this place I am in? What I have done?"

"Just tell her, mein Vater," her husband shouts. "Just tell her what you want and be done with it!"

The little old man draws himself up to his full height, so that he seems to be almost standing on tiptoe. "Since you wish it," he intones, "it shall be done. Now here is the case, woman. There is no need for hysteria, simply a rational understanding of your own interests. We have made sure that your right to become a British citizen is worth nothing. The number on your application form, as yet unsigned, is registered already. It is the naturalisation number of my rather rebarbative but most reliable daughter Helen, whom you have never met, and I think you would not wish to, because she is a hard cow, as the English say. And the corresponding copy of the document in her name is already lodged with those in the British Home Office who have the right to take care of it.

"The purpose of this procedure, Jewess, is to teach you to be wise, as Jews have always been when they know their masters. We ourselves value our new alliance with certain Jews, as we also did in the past. So we are not necessarily against you or your interests. You will be able to pass as a British citizen, but you will never be one. We can always expose you if we wish. You have already lost your citizenship of Portugal. So we will soon be able to unleash all the horrors of being an entirely stateless person on you at any time.

"There is only one price for your continued tolerable life. You can quite easily pay the price, and you must pay it if you are to avoid disaster. Now hear the name of the price.

"That name is silence. Silence about anything you may learn about who we are or what we have done, silence about anything we may ask you to do. Perhaps one day you will have a son. If you ever learn exactly who I am, never tell him. If you ever learn exactly who your husband is, never tell him. If you learn the horrors in the world that have been perpetrated by me or your husband, never hint at it to him or to anyone.

"If you maintain the silence I am imposing on you now, your life can be a pleasant one and you will die in your bed. If you do not, suffering beyond what you can now imagine awaits you. I myself have faced what looked like inevitable death. I sacrificed a wife and six children so that I could die in my bed. Many other lives have I had taken. So if it is your blood I need to shed, I will shed it, and not feel a sliver - I think that is the word - of remorse. I am a machine for preserving myself, not unpleasant when it is to my advantage, pitiless when it is to my advantage, essentially indifferent and above the fray at all times."

There is a silence even deeper than that which he has evoked in the small, squalid and ill-lit room as the three younger people contemplate the full horror of the old man. Then the woman lets out a sudden cry. And this indicates acceptance.

"So, Arthur," the old man says, "you will fill in the form now, since you are this woman's legal husband."

"I warned you he talked fine, Maria," says Arthur, as he moves towards the table with a slightly camp gesture.

And my father says nothing, but pulls my mother down to sit beside him on the bed.

The old man now stands over Arthur. The latter is seated at the table, and showing the patience and devotion which is one side of the character of this complex man. He begins to fill in my mother`s false petition for British citizenship in large and careful capitals and with a fine fountain pen that was previously secreted about his person.

Mostly he does well in eliciting the details from my stony-faced mother, and in transcribing them into accurate English. Only once or twice does he show his weakness. He cannot help adding something that looks like an apostrophe before his own assumed name as her lawfully wedded husband. When it comes to the place of birth of his supposed father, he has forgotten it. He never wanted to know it anyway.. He suggests Gillingham, because he has memories that the Auntie Connie he briefly knew lived there. He is pretty sure this will not be checked by the authorities.

"Gutes genug," says the old man, and at that moment the couple in the next room reach their climax." "A performance worthy of myself in the old days," he adds with a smirk.

"You disgusting old bastard!" my mother suddenly shouts. "May you should rot in hell!"

"Go on, Arthur," says the old man, ignoring her. "You`re almost finished now."

Firmly Arthur writes that my mother is a citizen of Portugal, and has a right to this both by birth and parentage. Over on the other side he writes her full name in capital letters.

Right, here, mein Sohn, is the paper," my grandfather says. "Now sign, Jewess, or your life is finished."

And in silence my mother goes over to the table, motions Arthur out of the way, and sits at the table and begins to sign in her finest handwriting. As she finishes the old man begins to stroke her hair. She slaps his face, then pushes him aside, and he almost falls. But he is nimble for such a waddling old man and keeps his balance. She goes back to the sofa and collapses into her husband`s arms.

"Punish her, Dad!" Arthur shouts.

"There is no need," says the old man, strangely gentle now he has stroked the woman`s hair and she has slapped his face and pushed him aside. "She has done what is required. There is no more sense in useless punishments than in pointless rewards. She is a spirited Jewess, such as some I have met before. Now I personally shall append the date, so that you shall know you have my hand to it."

And in a rather small, florid and decorative hand, he writes that it is 23rd September 1954. Then he looks briefly over the document to check it is all correct and stores it in a smart folder.

"Well, let us not stand on the ceremony of our going, Arthur," says the old man. "Do I have the words of your Shakespeare correctly spoken? I have always loved the works of that sublime author, who to my mind outranks even Goethe. Goodnight, happy couple, or as happy as you will ever be, which I don't imagine will be what we call Seligkeit."

The door of the next-door room slams as the satisfied customer departs. The old man puts a finger to his lips and, as they hear the man's heavy tread on the stairs, all the four occupants of the room are locked in a stunned further silence. Then the old man raises his hand in a Hitler salute, shouts "Heil Hitler!" so that the prostitute next door can hear it well, and without a further word my uncle and grandfather take their leave.

And the scene that follows between my mother and father I cannot begin to imagine or describe. 

Nor could I really dramatise much of what shortly follows, based on scanty and uncertain information relating to a considerable period. So I will go back to my established narrative method of weighing up the evidence I have in non-fictional style. I shall probably tell one more section of this story as a story. It pleases me to do it.

I  imagine that the real love and trust between my mother and father  died on the evening she signed the false document. I feel that she would have resented that to the bottom of her heart. I was also once told by my aunt Augusta that my father was a terrible philanderer, and that this began early in the marriage, and once again my mother was not the woman to accept infidelity. I suppose there were many evenings when she was alone in that room, and then there would have been the ambiguity of his return, wanted in a way, dreaded in a different way. I can imagine so much of much of what she must have felt. We were so close.

And I know that, if she had ever threatened to kill someone, no matter how many years later the killing took place, she would have seized the opportunity to fulfil her promise.

But she and my father must have been happy in love sometimes, and, surely on the unknown date towards the very end of 1954 when my own life began. It must have happened in that shabby room in Stockwell, so near to where I was to have my own flat for thirty years. And 3, Lucas House was more than my flat, it was my home.

Thanks Mum and Dad, I wouldn't have missed the life you gave me. It hasn't been entirely happy, but is any life entirely happy? I've lived it more or less as I wanted, and not many people manage that. Mum and Dad, I wouldn't have missed the life you gave me.

And things probably became better for them now that my mother had a child coming. All these foreigners seem to have become quite social as well. My mother's sister, the sombre Augusta, was still in London, but in about January 1955 the comical and flirtatious Aunt Eva arrived, and also the horselike but sharply intelligent woman who still lives in the centre of Lisbon, the one who bought me my first pram or buggy out of a month's English wages, a woman whose name I am not recording for now, although when she dies - and she is very old and not well now - I shall.

There was thus a gathering of the clans in the northern city, and the Portuguese women, on their days off from the houses of the wealthy Jews for whom they worked, put themselves about among the Poles, both true and false, the Greeks and the occasional Englishmen who were the object of their formal and calculating romances.

They sampled the hopeless men who could never keep a good appointment, there was the lovely boyfriend you could not marry because his parents would not stand you, and there was the terrible mistake she made in a foreign country and the marriage that haunted her till her dying day.

Such was the stuff of life for the European foreigners in 1950s London. I can hardly imagine that city now, although it has deep meaning for me, that place of bombsites, barrow boys and trolley buses, of new immigrants, cigarette smoke, the couples dancing in pairs, and the human hopes that never change.

I have a number of photographs from that time, and treasure them still. Some of them show parties of my family and their friends in Waterlow Park in Highgate in the very hot summer of 1955, when my mother was heavily pregnant with me. For there had been a change in the domestic circumstances of my parents during this time and a move to North London. The hated room in Stockwell, which was near my Clapham flat of thirty years, was thankfully gone. When the Poles who kept 77, Jeffreys Road SW4 knew my mother was pregnant, they threw my parents out. They didn't want a baby in the house. Perhaps they thought it would disturb the prostitute.

My mother always told me, or at least implied, that they went straight from the Polish house to the house kept by the Italians at 19, Hornsey Rise. I wrote in one of my "Clapham Omnibus" pieces which were published in the magazine Prospect in 2000 and 2001 that I hoped to move one day from my humble circumstances in South London to posher North London, mirroring the journey of my parents between my conception and birth. And, on the verge of my old age, and after many vicissitudes, so it has proved.

The streets where I live now, close to my birthplace at the Whittington Hospital, are as demotic as the South London ones, but there is something more foreign, tight-packed and intimate about them, and also more hostile. I often experience a tug of the heart when I return to South London, if I walk over Clapham and Wandsworth Commons, say, or return to my old flat to collect the post that still comes there.

But I belong where I am, for the hostile streets mirror my hostile heart. There may be more journeys in my life, perhaps wild and disconnected journeys, perhaps difficult journeys, but I am old now, old and tired, so I hope also to cleave to the North London streets where I was born.

There is a mystery about exactly where my parents lived immediately after leaving the Poles. When I was a child, as I just said, I always understood that they had gone straight to the house of the Maccariello family of Casapulla, at 19, Hornsey Rise, N19. But at a certain point the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon let slip that there was another address between these two, and my Aunt Eva, although reluctant to talk about the subject, has not convincingly denied that such an address existed.

Confirmation of this idea lies in all the photos from 1955 that date from before my birth on 21 August. They were clearly taken in North London, mainly in Waterlow Park on Highgate Hill, No member of the Maccariellos appears in them. But my mother always said she was very close to this family. During her pregnancy she entered into a second wedding, at the church of St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, which seems to have taken place on 21st May 1955, as I explained in my post "The Seventh Journey". It had to be a clandestine wedding, because my mother was already officially married to Arthur Ernest Hills Junior.

But, although 19, Hornsey Rise was close by the church of St Joseph, not even Gennaro of the Maccariellos, who was so shortly to be my godfather, appears in the wedding photo. This would surely  have been inconceivable if my parents had already been living in that family's house. But they were clearly already living somewhere in that same area of north London. From this it follows that another north London address must have existed.

The particular wedding that took place on 21st May 1955 appears from the names and addresses to be the marriage of another set of persons entirely. But as I have explained, at least in the case of my mother this would have been necessary. The whole thing seems very strange, but then everything is strange about my story. I suppose my mother wanted to mark the fact that I was soon to be born by being truly married to my father in the sight of her sisters and her friends. She probably accepted without protest the use of false names. She was not averse to deception throughout her life. It was part of the world into which she had been born.

And Leonor Mills once told me that she had been surprised to hear that my mother had married my father, because she had been given no warning in advance and had not been invited. This suggests that the people thus favoured, who were about a dozen, formed part of an approved circle, who may have been sworn to secrecy.

I explained the reasons in the previous post why I thought the wedding on 21st May at St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, must be the one and will not repeat them here. But I will just add that the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon gave a terrible start when I said to her once that I thought my parents' wedding must have taken place on 21st May 1955, and this makes me think even more that I have made the right identification. She is not in the wedding photo and says that she did not attend the wedding ceremony but joined the wedding party later in the day.

I have, as it happens, some idea of what the intermediate address may have been. The bridegroom in the wedding that I believe was my parents' goes by the name of Donald Williams, which would therefore have been the alias my father was using, and he is recorded as living at No 25, Block Four, Northwood Hall, Hornsey Lane, London N6.

Northwood Hall is a fine, dark, anonymous block of flats where one might imagine Hercule Poirot, or some other equally shadowy person, taking discreet rooms. And my family were nothing if not shadowy. And when I asked the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon once if she could remember what the address might have been she came up with two possible names which were quite dissimilar but a combination of which could yield Northwood Hall. I believe this flat near the end of the dark corridor on the upper floor which I visited once, evading any attempts at reception, to be the most likely candidate for my parents' address at the time of their wedding.

I have several photographs which show what is clearly the wedding reception on that warm day, one taken in a dining room with my grandfather and Winnie looking jolly, and my two aunts next to them as if they are participating in a frightening dream. Then there are several in what is clearly the back garden of a house, with a larger party of the guests frolicking around against the background of a lawn, a blank, massive wall, and quite a lot of trees in the background.

One of the witnesses to the wedding I believe to be that of my parents was called Frederick William Williams, and, as my father was calling himself Donald Williams, Frederick is likely to be an alias of my grandfather. This witness is recorded on the certificate as living at 23, Church Mount N2 (but not in any official records, which show entirely other persons living at that house - also, the ostensible bride at the ceremony, Josefa Moravcova, a real person, is not recorded as living at the address listed for her, nor the second named witness, Samuel Scarlett, possibly someone going under an alias). 

23, Church Mount is a very substantial mansion on the edge of the Hamsptead Garden Suburb, and, yes, it could be the house. That was what I thought the last time I went, on the evening of 4th November 2017, a Saturday, when the quiet villas were lit by a thousand fireworks, and I walked fast in the night-time, rejoicing in the lights above the silent houses and the freshness of the air, until I came to Temple Fortune.

Yes, this vast house in the rich and exclusive suburb, which lay shrouded in extensive building works all the time I was investigating - so that the house and garden were entirely altered from what they were, until there was no independent way of knowing whether it was the same place as my photographs recorded - did seem like the sort of place where a top Nazi on the run, living apart from his wife in her much more humble dwelling, might hole up for a while. 

And, oddly enough, although the names of the people at 23, Church Mount are different from anything to do with people called Williams in 1955, in 1954 the house was empty, and in that year a Mrs D. Williams applied to the management of the Hampstead Garden Suburb to install a water tank in the back garden of the house. This would naturally be for heating, and would imply that the house was being made ready for occupation, by someone who, but for her apparent gender, could be the Donald Williams who is the groom in the marriage certificate. 

But, as I said, the certificate refers to real persons who have an independent history which can be verified, with certain anomalies, from records which I have been able to research, so some uncertainty exists about conjecturing that the certificate has anything to do with me at all. The couple who were ostensibly married had a son and he is alive and living in north London, not far from either Northwood Hall or Church Mount, between them in fact. I could obviously go to him and seek clarification of the circumstances, but something in me is extremely reluctant to do this.

I fear the reaction I might get from a presumably most well-off person who has lived in elegant north London surroundings all his life. He has been a multiple company director, but has resigned from all 32 companies with which he has been associated, while another one went bust. What would be the reaction if I arrived at his elite flat with a seemingly cock-and-bull story which implied that his parents had not been properly married and that he himself might be descended from a bunch of Nazis who had not stopped at murder to establish or get rid of their false identities?

No, I am very reluctant to doorstep more people these days, have developed a positive aversion to the idea indeed. But perhaps one day I will find the courage to beard the prolific company director who bears who knows what relation to me, because certain circumstances concerning the wedding record I have cited - for instance, that name Williams again, which comes up surprisingly often in my own family history; the fact that three of the four addresses given for bride, groom and witnesses are false; the fact that the prolific company director's grandmother was recorded as somebody called Anna Schoenthal,  dying in Islington at a very advanced age in 1970, while a person of exactly the same name and birth details, already an elderly woman and living with entirely different family members from any eventually turning up in England, was recorded on the German Minority Census (which overwhelmingly recorded Jews) of May 1939, and in the case of almost all the people on this census, except those recorded as dying in Auschwitz or similar camps, that is the last we hear of them, because by then there was no way out of Germany, and they themselves would shortly be murdered  - I repeat, certain aspects of the wedding record still indicate to me that a connection exists between me and that unknown man. 

Yet the exact form it might take eludes me. So often the researches I make into my family history have this incomplete character, lead only to further and deeper and more frightening and more bizarre puzzles, without any means of resolution, just the endless chain of strange facts showing that a deeper mystery lies here.

Perhaps I will tell of a very small and trivial mystery now, for, who knows, it may have its significance and it lies in my heart to unburden myself of it. Once again it concerns Aunt Eva. My mother and Arthur Ernest Hills used to tell many stories about her during my childhood, because she was the eccentric and flibbertigibbet of the family. I told one of these stories in the previous post, and used it to illustrate a point I thought was quite important. Here is another one that appeals to me.

It concerned the period when my aunt first arrived in England, and my mother and Arthur, according to them, were living at Hornsey Rise. The nearest tube to this is Archway, and it lies on the Barnet branch of the Northern Line. When Aunt Eva arrived she could speak almost no English. My mother and Arthur arranged to wait for her at Archway and gave her the most detailed instructions over the phone about how she should reach them. Remember, my mother said to her again and again, get on a Barnet train not an Edgware one, remember, whatever you do, it's High Barnet you want!

Unfortunately, Aunt Eva learnt her lesson slightly too well, went sailing past Archway, and ended up going all the way to Barnet. And when she arrived, and found that there was no one waiting for her at this remote northern outpost, she promptly sat down on her suitcase and burst into tears.

But miraculously, there was a Swiss gentleman just passing by who could speak quite good Portuguese. He was very kind, quickly understood the dimensions of the problem, and was soon able to set Tia Eva back on her way to Archway. There my mother and Arthur were still waiting for her, they were immensely amused by the story and the goodness and intelligence of the Swiss gentleman, so was all was well that ended well.

I used to love this story when I was a child and demand that they tell it to me very often, and I know it absolutely by heart to this day.

But during one of my recent visits to the aged Eva she told me another version of what was clearly the same story. It was all rather like the Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus in the three Synoptics and in the Gospel of John, the whole thing came at a different stage in the story and illustrated a very different point.

In this version my aunt was already working with the wealthy Lieberman family in Hendon but still knew little English. She was coming presumably from the centre of London. She still had to get out at a certain stop on the Northern Line. But it was at Edgware rather than Barnet that the Swiss gentleman found her in tears. So it cannot have been Archway that she was told to get out at. Perhaps it was Hendon Central and the directions came from the Liebermans, whose house was nearby. Perhaps my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills inserted themselves into the story to make it more touching for me.

In many ways, this version of the story, which comes from Aunt Eva's own mouth, makes a lot better sense. It slightly defies belief that my mother could have left her sister, speaking not a word of English, to negotiate her way alone all the way to Archway. Surely they would gone to the airport or the coach station or even the port to meet her.

And my mother and Arthur had a clear motive for setting the story at Archway and High Barnet. The address they always told me they had lived at was 19, Hornsey Rise, N19. So the story told for my benefit would most plausibly fit this address. It was my parents who were living there, Arthur didn't live there, so the story was partly a lie.

And I know that Aunt Eva arrived in England near the beginning of 1955 when my mother had only just fallen pregnant and the Poles in the house in Stockwell would not yet have discovered this and thrown them out, and there is only one branch of the Northern Line in the south so a story involving alternative branches would make no sense there. But if we situate the story three or four months into Eva's stay, say near the time of the wedding in May 1955, then this is the time when they would have left Stockwell, not yet have reached Hornsey Rise, and might have been living at Church Mount, so perhaps they came to Golders Green, say, to meet Eva, having given her directions from the centre of London.

What a trivial story, you might say. But to me this story is important because it lies in the depths of my heart. That is why I had to tell it, and make all the other points I have made and tell, at such extraordinarily length, of all the strange things that my blog contains. This blog is for me. It is only secondarily for you.

Now on to something more significant. I phoned my aunt up to mark her 88th birthday on 4th February 2018. Once again I tried to pump her about all the mysteries in my family's past. She liked the fact that I opened the call by calling her "godmother" rather than "aunt" and then sang "Happy Birthday to You" to her in Portuguese. The conversation went on well, and then I mentioned my paternal grandfather, not a member of her own family, and in her good spirits she suddenly she let an important fact drop.

She said that during the time my grandfather was married to Winnie he contracted a bigamous union to another woman in quite another part of London altogether. Eva said she knew nothing about this woman, but was certain she had existed. She would say no more than this.

Now do we have any clues as the possible identity of the woman? Well, there are one or two.

I have referred many times to the group wedding photo of my parents' marriage at St Joseph's. It contains several  striking-looking people, on whose identity I will expand. One of them is a dark middle-woman rather sweepingly holding up her fine handbag and looking as if she is in a foul temper about the whole proceedings. She is slightly to the left of my father but with a slight space between them, so that she seems to form the leading figure of a subordinate group in the photo, to the left, consisting of six mainly Portuguese or foreign people.

Several of the smaller photographs of that day also show her. In the photo of my mother and father signing the wedding register, he is wearing dark glasses, and my grandfather and this woman appear behind the couple, assuming a weird and proprietary air. That was the first sign I saw that she and the old man might be in some way connected. 

And in several of the photos showing the wedding reception, at the back, at whatever house they went to, the woman looks more jolly than in the group photo and seems to be animating the younger people of the party. She is a commanding-looking and glamorous presence, this middle-aged woman, and there is something rather evil-looking about her.

Now when I went down to Crawley several years ago to see Maria and Brian Streeter, and showed them the wedding photo to try and get them to identify the people in it, he surprised me by saying that, a few years after the wedding, my grandfather had suddenly appeared in Crawley with this woman as if they were a couple. He was still legally married to Winnie at that time, so this had surprised Brian. He said that he knew nothing more about this woman, not her name, not her nationality, and in all my subsequent visits to Crawley he denied that he knew anything whatever about her, including the fact that she had appeared in Crawley with my grandfather. But the recollection appeared so clear on that first occasion that I am sure he was telling the truth that time and lying afterwards.

(It turns out that this is where my memory was playing me false. This present section is being written well after the rest of my account of this woman, on 28th December 2020. For some time I have been reading over my old diaries exactly seven years after the day on which I wrote them. Twenty days ago was Tuesday 8th December 2020 and on that day, at my home in London,  I read the the entry for 8th December 2013. 

That date was during the first of my clandestine visits to England while on the run, and on that day I called unexpectedly on Brian and Maria in Crawley. And on that occasion I showed the wedding-photo to them and Brian identified the evil-looking woman as my father's second wife: that is, Isaura. For some reason I had entirely wiped this detail from my memory, and would never have known it if I had not looked at the old diary-entry again.

But, as soon as I read it, I rushed over to where the wedding-photo was and confirmed that this was indeed a much younger version of the commanding woman I had met in her old age. My belief that she was middle-aged in the photo was wrong. She was quite young in fact, around thirty, and the impression of middle-age had come from her dominating character and appearance. 

Brian must have been unusually open on that day, perhaps because my visit was unexpected and he had not had a chance to discuss his attitude to my questions with Maria and also perhaps because he was a bit annoyed that I had called without arranging the visit first. On later occasions, when he was more considered, he must have worked out that I had forgotten he had told me the woman was Isaura and denied all knowledge of who she was.

He himself is dead now as I write. Isaura, as far as I know, is still alive in her later nineties in the town where I met her, and as far as I know she is still compos mentis. She is the only person alive (with the possible exception of Maria) who is now likely to have first-hand knowledge of how my grandfather met his death, and since it is quite likely, given the fact that she appeared on my grandfather's arm in Crawley, that she is also the woman Aunt Eva mentioned whom my grandfather bigamously married, it is also likely that she had a hand in whatever happened to him. But it would be the devil's own job to make her talk.) 

Back now to the original text, written before I had any knowledge of what I have just said about Isaura.

So is it possible to know anything more about this woman? Well, I can add two further details. I have tried very hard recently to trace any of the other people in the wedding photo, if they might by any chance still be alive, and eventually I found one. The process by which I located her seems too tedious and irrelevant to relate in detail here, and there seems no need for me to give her full name, although I know it. But this Portuguese woman has always been known by her second Christian name of Rosa and that is how I remember her.

She was a very pretty young woman in her smart bonnet in the wedding photo, and my aunt Eva remembers her as always at the centre of a lively group, always laughing and attracting attention. When I found her one afternoon in the summer of 2016, it was a hot day, and her door in a remote and peaceful South London suburb was wide open. This was just as well because, at eighty-six then, she was unable to walk, although otherwise in good health. She could not have answered the door if it had been closed.

But I just walked in with a cheery rat-tat at the door and explained to Rosa that she had appeared in my mother's wedding photo, and she cheerfully took the photo from me and identified herself as the lovely young woman she had once been, wearing her black handbag nonchalantly on her left arm to match her white glove. She greeted me as an old friend, although she could not make me tea because she could not get up. We talked for some time with mutual pleasure, and when I left her she told me she hoped I would come to see her again.

Unfortunately, she had only recently arrived from Portugal at the time of the wedding, had spoken very little English at the time, and could remember very little about that day and the people who had been there, or at least that was what she said. I will refer just briefly at a later point to the few things she did recall for me. However, in regard to my grandfather's possible bigamous bride, I can reveal that she remembered the evil-looking woman and gave me two facts about her: that the woman was Portuguese; and that she had lived in South Africa.

And now what are my other thoughts about the remaining thirteen of the fourteen people who are in the photo (fifteen, if you count me within my mother's womb)? 

Well, there is a striking-looking very tall man standing behind my father and the evil-looking woman, but between them, so he seems to form a link between the right-hand and the left-hand group in the photo, but is nevertheless definitely in the left-hand group, the foreign group. He is a man of about my father's age but my Dad's head come up only to his shoulder. He gives an impression of great power, perhaps violence.

I have always slightly wondered whether this might be a comrade of my father's from the war. And pretty Rosa remembered this fine-looking gentleman. He had been interested in her, she said, someone had told her this, but she had never seen him again. And she insisted that he had been totally an Englishman.

But, as I said, she had only just arrived from Portugal. Would she necessarily have been able to hear a German accent if it had been slight? The tall man would certainly have presented as an Englishman. And Rosa had not noticed even that my mother spoke Portuguese imperfectly. So I do not feel her evidence to be conclusive in this matter.

My father had a close friend, whom my aunt has mentioned several times, and she knew him only as Jack. I asked Aunt Eva once whether the tall man was he, but she said she could not be sure. She said she did not remember the tall man from the wedding. But his height and bearing are so impressive that this seems incredible. This is one of my aunt's evasions.

One of the two witnesses on the dubious certificate, apart from Frederick William Williams, has the romantic name of Samuel Scarlett, and his address is given as 23, Elvaston Place, London SW7, a magnificent house in South Kensington, and seemingly a fitting address for this warhorse of a man. The address given for the bride, Josefa Moravcova, a real person but whose name my mother might have been using, is also in Elvaston Place, No 29, several doors down this imposing South Kensington Street. 

When I finally went to the Kensington and Chelsea Library to look up the electoral rolls for Elvaston Place, No 29 (not No 23) was broken up into three flats at the relevant time, and one of them contained the family of an engineer called Lewis Scarlett, and one of the family members, presumably a son or nephew of the house, and therefore of the right age to be the man in the photo, was called Peter Scarlett. But there was no Samuel Scarlett.

So this is another false address, probably also a false name. Neither at 29 nor at 23, broken up into four flats with entirely unfamiliar English names, was there any record of a Josefa Moravcova, so she also lived at the address for a short time or not at all.

So, going back to the tall man, I can say nothing at all for certain about him, not his name, not his address, not his nationality, not if he was the witness calling himself Samuel Scarlett, but only that he looks honourable and kind as well as perhaps violent, or capable of violence, that he was attracted to women and would have been attractive to them.

To round off my comments about the addresses given on the certificate, I will just mention that I went to Bruce Castle where the Haringey archive is kept, to look up the record for Donald Williams, which was possibly an alias of my father, or of my uncle. This person is recorded as having lived at No 24 of Block 3 at Northwood Hall on Hornsey Lane, a very smart, dark  and sinister block of flats (one can imagine Hercule Poirot residing there),  just on the Haringey and Islington border, but on the Haringey side, and very close to the church of St Joseph where my parents' marriage took place. This is the only one of the four addresses given on the certificate that is attested as true by records.

Going back to the wedding photo, there is a person in it about whom I have just one clue. He is a quite elderly, smart and kindly-looking gentleman who is in the left-hand group, at the back, between my aunt Eva and Rosa, both in front of him. Somebody, perhaps the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, once told me that he or she thought this man might have been an Italian. If so, he cannot be Samuel Scarlett, and the only other men in the picture are my father and grandfather, so Scarlett, if such he is, can only be the very tall man, if the certificate really is a record of my parents' wedding. 

Another person in the photo I know nothing about whatever. This is a tall, fair quite stout youngish woman who looks particularly tough and British and who is to the right of my grandfather, and seems to supervise him from behind, so tall and dominating looking is she. I used to imagine that this might be my aunt Helen, whom Arthur had disliked so.

I think Helen is present in fact, because on the other side of my grandfather from the dominating woman, behind him, and between him and my mother, is a woman who bears a strong resemblance to the photo of Helen which I eventually saw and who, someone once pointed out, has exactly the same eyebrows as my father. She wears quite a formidable-looking head-dress and looks plausibly the sister in a mental hospital that Helen was. And surely it is likely that my aunt would have been placed between my grandfather and my mother. I believe this woman to be Helen, although the identification is not certain. There is something slightly weak-looking about her as well as farmidable. And the stout and fairish woman is clearly someone else.

On either end of the whole group, and dressed in sombre black - as are the evil-looking woman and Rosa, they must all have thought it fitting, to counterpart my mother and sisters in white - are two Portuguese women about whom I have some information. 

The one to the far right, and therefore in my father's group, who is unattractive in a goofy way and looks a natural victim (an impression exacerbated by the strange-looking eye-shade she wears), was called Idalina, as identified by the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon: this Idalina married a Pole, Stanley, had two sons by him, they separated, and her life was unhappy. She is long dead, which is a pity, because, according to my aunt Eva, who fell out with her, she was a great teller of tales, almost all false, and so I surmise she might have had some useful (if dubious) information for me.

The tall and slightly forbidding-looking woman to the far left, was a great friend of Rosa, and was identified by her as called Laura, She has also long been dead. The identification of her had negative usefulness, because someone had proposed she might be another figure in the story, and with the information provided by Rosa I can dismiss this.

Almost to the far right of the picture, with the foolish Portuguese woman in front of her, and looking very much a large, traditional Englishwoman of her time, is my grandfather's legitimate (if bigamously acquired) wife, Winnie Chaplain, who had been born the daughter of a pianoforte manufacturer with the unfortunate surname of Gay. She does not look gay, in either the traditional or modern sense, rather retiring in fact, yet there is an edge to her. She seems a very typical middle-class Englishwoman of her time: normally affable; sharp when required; easily capable of umbrage.

She had a son called Richard Chaplain, the child of her first marriage, and I once saw a photograph of him, getting married to his wife Peggy, and he was pretty tall, and bears some resemblance to the very tall man, so that is another possible identification of the warhorse. This solution, which otherwise would be quite probable, is weakened, however, because I took the opportunity to show the wedding photo to the group of elderly people who shortly afterwards showed me the photograph of Richard Chaplain. They did not identify him, although they certainly recognised Winnie. Also, the very tall man is standing at a distance from Winnie in my photo, between my father and the evil-looking woman and behind them, and this placing would surely not be likely if he were Winnie's son. 

In white dresses to match my mother's rather creamier one, and with bare sleeves and black gloves unlike any of the other women, are the two of my aunts who came to England: Aunt Augusta within the "English" group and Aunt Eva in the "foreign" one, reflecting their relative levels of affiliation to England; Eva in a plainer ensemble, contrasting with the flowery, elaborate one of Augusta, reflecting the the greater sophistication of the latter (for Eva never entirely outgrew her peasant past); Augusta, to the right of my grandfather, and with the dominating woman behind her, smiling broadly in her ruthless way, while Eva, next to Rosa, gives a faint goofy Mona Lisa smile.

And in the centre are the bridal couple, my father slightly forward, with the proprietorial air of the new husband, smiling so as slightly to show his teeth, and my mother with more of a bow in her hair than a hat, carrying such a fine bouquet around her still slim stomach (although I am there),  so that you cannot see whether she is wearing gloves, smiling that full, brave, gallant smile that I remember, which went naturally with so much woe.

And next to her, to the right, is my grandfather. He is smiling very broadly, as he is in all the various other photos of the ceremony and the reception. He clearly enjoyed the day his son got married. He was in charge. He is very small, very smart, very rotund. Two wild-looking tufts of hair stick up from his otherwise bald head, to match his sticking-out ears. I would have thought him a jolly old cove, if I did not know so much about him.

For everything I know about him is bad. No one has ever had a good word to say for him. He tried to kiss my mother on the mouth. And I am sure as I can be that he had been a leading Nazi and responsible for God knows how many deaths. I even believe, as I explained in the previous post, the seemingly incredible fact that he might have been Goebbels. This is a belief that would clearly mark me out as mad, if it were not for the extremely detailed and varied evidence that I assembled in my seventeenth post to support the supposition. Read that post and see what you think for yourself. Anyway, my grandfather was a smiling villain indeed, and God damn him.

And perhaps he was damned by men as well. I also explained in a very late interpolation in that last post, "The beginning of the good years" that it seems likely that he finally met justice and was murdered. Under another name, that of an inmate of a mental hospital, I believe he was cremated before his death was registered, the final act in a plot that took place mainly in the London boroughs of Ealing and Hillingdon in the first quarter of 1968 and which was so complex that even Patricia Highsmith might have had trouble dreaming it up. It was all, I think, a way of getting rid of him while leaving no suspicion that he had not died naturally. So the smiling villain, it seems, ended badly and the devil's good luck did not go on until death. What goes around comes around, as I heard them say so often in prison.

No, alone among the screaming people of an old-fashioned lunatic asylum, where he had been taken protesting in a closed van, the evil old man might have seen his killers coming for him and known that the end had come. Perhaps they tortured him a bit before he died. Good. All those deaths had to be avenged. Justice had to be done. Whatever my feelings about my own grandfather, I know this as well as anyone.

I just pray that whoever holds the secret will allow it to be known how this person finally met justice. For justice is justice, late or soon. And the truth has a beauty of its own.

Yet the circumstances I have discovered are so strange and confusing that the possibility still exists that all this fiddling round with certificates and coffins was just another ruse to ensure that my grandfather escaped death or capture once again. In that case there would be no justice to satisfy anyone's heart. Yet there is no justice in the world, no consistent justice anyway. Perhaps it would in some ways be as well for human beings to get used to that. And my point about the truth having a beauty of its own would still hold.

In my previous post "The seventh journey" I told of a man called Frederick William Williams who was a witness at what seems to have been my parents' wedding. Frederick William Williams was perhaps another identity of my grandfather. This person, of whom there are quite copious details, is recorded as having died on 3rd June 1972 at a very plush flat in St Marylebone, just at the back of Regent's Park. He left quite a substantial sum in his will, and no doubt there was more hidden as well. This was a person of standing. The death of a person holding this alias was perhaps the real end of my grandfather Goebbels.

In some ways the theory that it was another escape, in order to send him on his way to his plusher identity and out of the hair of my own branch of his family for good, seems to fit the facts better. But I still think it was murder. For I remember how his son Arthur Ernest Hills, when the news reached our house, exclaimed, "Thank God the old bastard's dead!"

There was something so heartfelt, so joyous, in the way he said that. I have remembered it for life. Yet the possibility exists that it was said in that way for my benefit. I was standing with them in the hall, my mother and him. Surely, they might have reasoned, having heard this, I would believe for ever that they were relieved he was dead and that he really was dead. And Arthur Ernest Hills was an inward, hidden sort of person. One knew his hatred was for real, not his joy.

There is also the possibility that Arthur had not been told that his father was to escape again. This might have been knowledge revealed for Helen alone. And perhaps the meeting with her, the one occasion I myself was with my aunt Helen, and which was later than the scene in the hall, was to inform him of the truth. And, of course, exactly the same logic might apply in the case of a murder.

No, I know almost for certain it was a murder. Because, recently, I mentioned to my aged aunt Eva, as she lay resting on her bed looking up at me on a chair nearby, that I had been researching these matters, and that the old man had either escaped again or been killed, and my aunt said, "He was killed." And a bit later, "He did not die a natural death."

That seems final enough. But the more and more I remember the fat, gently smiling figure lying on the bed, her eyes closed, the less and less I am inclined to believe her. How many lies did that false fairy godmother tell me in her time? That might have been the final lie.

But my aunt Eva was pleased with me on that day. I had brought her three presents. The first one, a version of which I always brought, consisted of  three cakes, one of which was in memory of her dead husband (he had eaten his cake with us when he was alive), and I called them "os tres bolos de sempre", "the three cakes for always."

I had also brought my aunt an old musical box which I had found in a charity sale in London. It bore a message about how fond the person who brought it was of his or her aunt, and it also pleased Tia Eva very much.

But the present she loved most was the large bunch of expensive flowers that I had bought earlier that day near the Benfica Cemetery, where my aunt was quite shortly to rest herself (I add this paragraph towards the end of 2020, and I will reveal now that I am recording the last time I saw my aunt, because she died between then and the time of writing).

Eva said on that last time I saw her that a beautiful bunch of flowers was the finest present that could be brought to a lady, and she bemoaned the fact that in Portugal men never brought such a present. 

So we got on very well that day, and she said what she said about my grandfather's death in the very last minutes that we ever spent together, as she lay exhausted on the bed and we were waiting for my taxi to appear. Surely she would have told me the truth on that occasion of all others?

Well, maybe. But my aunt was always concerned to protect the honour of her own family. She would have told any lie to make sure I never discovered anything shameful about my own mother. Perhaps the fact the she was so pleased with me that final day meant that, rather than simply dismissing my speculations out of hand as she usually did, she gave me the wrong answer to the binary question I posed, in order to acknowledge the fact that I was on to something.

There is no way of my knowing which of the suppositions is more likely. All I know from this is that a third alternative does not exist, that my grandfather died an entirely natural death. If so, she would have said it.

And if it was a murder rather than an escape, I have to get used to the fact that my whole family, and also my grandfather's family in London, were probably involved in killing him. This is hard for me. It is also improbable. As I have said, my grandfather had a wife, Winnie, she had a son Richard, and he had a wife Peggy. All these would have had to have been either compliant in the murder, or deceived about the nature of the death, or it would have been necessary to dispose of them as well. Those are the only three alternatives in the case of a murder. But all three hypotheses seem difficult to believe.

I don't know that much about Peggy Chaplain, but Winnie was a typical elderly Englishwoman who had lived in that area a long time and would surely have been known to many people in what was then quite a close-knit community. And Richard Chaplain was a taxi driver in that part of West London who would have had regular clients. Even if they had put in doubles after these two were disposed of, what could they have done about their voices? And it seems difficult to believe that those three, who all lived in close physical proximity to the old man, and who would have known much of his business and his fears, could have been simply unaware he had been bumped off. And the idea of collective family murder, involving six or seven people, is really outrageous.

Oh, come on, Charles, don't be so uncertain, multiple family toppings go on all the time in Greek tragedy, so the possibility must exist in modern times as well. His wife Winnie hated him, surely, because he pursued other women, and his three children must have been ambivalent because they were Jews. And Richard Chaplain just fell in with his mother's wishes. And Peggy with her husband's. And if they were faced with the might of Mossad, wouldn't they all just have kept shtum? And what about my mother? She hated my grandfather because he had tried to kiss her on the mouth and she was a Jewess as well. She must have loathed him with passion. She would have done it, surely. When he kissed her, he signed his own death warrant.

Yet what did I ever know about her motives? What did she ever share with me about her life? Perhaps she would have considered his having to live as Frederick William Williams or going to Brazil sufficient punishment. Yet I know she would have been capable of conspiring to get him killed.

Yes, Charles, you've got to accept it. He was murdered and the whole family conspired in the killing. And, you should be glad, because your grandfather was a wicked, wicked man.

Well, possibly he died. I think he did. I can't be sure. He was an old devil, as cunning as they come. Perhaps he escaped again. Really, that's what I believe. But, no, I can't be sure. Murder is also possible. It would deliver something to my psyche if I knew the truth.

And now, with sadness, I must leave the battered photo that has followed me around on so many journeys so that the picture is beginning to come away from its backing and the blue material underlying the surround is showing up through the white. Pray that I never lose this photo which is so close to my heart. Pray that I have made my readers feel something of its fascination. Pray that I finally discover all the secrets that it holds.

For, after so many words already of this post, and the consideration of so many impenetrable mysteries, I must really get on now with the related stories of myself and my mother, and am now finally approaching the time of my own birth. What do I know about the month or two immediately before that?

Well, there are various pictures of my mother and father, Aunt Eva, the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, and a Greek boyfriend of Eva's, lounging on the grass or standing by the statues of the griffins in Waterlow Park on what is obviously a high summer day. My mother is heavily pregnant in these photos, so perhaps it is July, only a month before I am born. Aunt Augusta no longer appears, and this must be because she has already gone home to Lisbon, soon to depart as a settler to Africa with the man she loved but who was already married, Fernando Oliveira. And perhaps my parents have arrived at 19, Hornsey Rise, the address at which they were to be happy. Perhaps they came from there on that summer afternoon, in the days when I used to kick her so hard from within her stomach.

Oh, parents of my heart, how sad that you were together so briefly. How hateful that you were able to tell me so little of who you were. Dear Dad, how I wish you had brought me up. I would not have been a homosexual then. Dear Mum, why did you finally betray me? For now I am left with a love for you that smoulders in dry ashes, that can never return.

And now it is the early evening of Saturday, 20th August, 1955, at whatever North London address (but I think it was 19, Hornsey Rise), and her labour is beginning. My mother and father are together in the single room they share. They discuss how soon she should go to the hospital. She thinks perhaps it should be immediately. But he tells her to hang on. He has studied the matter thoroughly in books. He knows the labour will be long from here. Probably nine hours, perhaps more.

And he cannot go with her. Nor can he visit her when they keep her in the hospital. For this will be officially Arthur's child. The danger, similar as they are, that someone might realise that the pretended father and the real one are two separate men will be too great.

Then the pain is finally too much for her and she writhes in agony, then they sit together in near silence as she screams out, then he goes to the telephone.

And now the ambulance, with my mother in it, leaves the sinister address in the faint evening mist and among the unknown people. Is it Hornsey Rise they are leaving? And is it by the painful bend at Cressida Road, that my mother thinks  as she lies on the trolley, clinging to its side in desperation perhaps: this is the third child that I have borne to termination? The other two I gave away. They were brought up, in one case by strangers, in the other by members of her family. I had no part in their upbringing. I saw them from time to time.

And is she praying as they come to Archway and turn up to Highgate Hill: third time lucky, oh, third time lucky? May this be the child that I see grow into a successful adult. May this be the father of the grandson I shall love. May this be the child that brings me joy.

But there is to be little joy, little success, no grandchild. May I always remember that when I am tempted to hate or despise her in my thoughts.

And they are turning into the precincts of the Whittington, and they unload her into the grim old St Mary's wing, where I believe the workhouse infirmary once was, and it is more or less unreconstructed in 1955, although the same building is all modern inside now, well, at least they have given it a fine lick of paint. But in 1955 she passes under the old door that says "Female Receiving Entrance", with the forbidding brick tower above. And, in 1955, there have recently arrived a vast number of nurses recently migrated from the Caribbean, and it is one of these who is to be the bane of my mother's night-time hours of labour, as she often recounted to me, the third and most terrible birth she underwent, the birth of me.

And perhaps I shall make very roughly the same journey when I come to die, being borne  through the same hostile streets to the same hospital, to meet such a terrible black nurse to tend me. It is right, perhaps, that I should be so. And perhaps I shall know the intensity of pain she knew at the beginning of my story. "No, you've got to push when I tell you!" the hateful nurse says, bending over her. "Not now! You're killing your baby!"

"But I can't. I can't do it now."

"When I tell you! Or you're killing your baby."

"No it can't be now. It can't be now. He is just wanting to come gently."

"You have to do what I tell you, my dear, and no hysterics, my dear. Don't scream. You're not allowed to scream. You're killing your baby."

"Oh go away. You're making it worse, you black cow."

"You're stupid and ungrateful, my dear. I'll show you who's in charge here, my white lovely."

And she pours a pail of water over my mother, slaps her once or twice, and goes her way. And, similarly, people have spent my whole life going away from me, and they have slapped me a bit, and I had a pail of water poured over me, and, just as my mother's life ended in great misfortune, what will my own years have been worth? 

My mother always told me that all the other babies born that night were black, that the midwife was worked off her feet and that the nurse kept on going away to deal with these more grateful ones and then coming back to abuse her. Well, London will be infinitely more black when I come to die even than it is now. The only way that it might not be is if somehow the English could reclaim their own land, and that would surely involve violence and civil war of the most terrible sort. My heart shrinks from this, yet it is the only way that I could live in this society and feel happy. Yet all the indications are that the English are finished, that they are too soft ever to be nasty, that they will never fight. So I shall be alone then.

And then, when the head is about to come out, my great big intellectual forehead, which my mother used often to show me when I was a child, comparing it with her own, saying that we had Jews' heads and that was why we were so clever, setting us apart eternally from the world that rejected us, then the pain is terrible, those last two hours, lonely in the middle of the night, as the clock ticks towards half past three on the morning of Sunday, 21st August 1955.

And finally she faints, so she does not see the head as it comes, the face that she will grow to love and hate, as I soon see hers, the face I will love and hate. And I am born knowing her when she does not know me, her child of woe.

And she wakes up after a while, she is alone, and on a table next to her she hears snuffling and snorting. There I am in a pile of my own dirt and blood and the placenta is in an untidy pile next to me. The  nurse and the midwife have been and gone yet again, and they begin to bond, these two lonely people, united yet apart through long years.

And that is the last section of my own and my mother's story that I shall dramatise. We are in modern times now, the part of history that coincides with my life. I know the story from here, more or less, and shall try to tell it in sober fashion, evaluating any emotion for what it is worth, balancing the absolute facts with things of which I am not certain.

The first thing I have to tell, though, is still a speculation. It is based on what my mother often told me in my childhood, and the justifiable inference I can make from it. She often used to say that my father, by which she meant Arthur (for I knew of no other father then), had visited her in the hospital after my birth and, when he saw me, had said, rather doubtfully and disapprovingly , "Is that our baby?" 

And it seems so typical of him, of his wry, slightly malicious humour - and she told it so often, clearly with him in mind - that I believe Arthur is the real subject of this story and that, the very first time he saw me, the crescendo of doubt he felt about this unwanted relation was beginning to show.

On the other hand, I think it is likely to be my father who signed my birth certificate, and that is was therefore he who went to the register office in Islington and signed under the name A.E. Hills. The signature is clearly identical to that of the individually signed certificate of the register office wedding on 11th September 1954 - which I obtained clandestinely, as I have related elsewhere - but then I believe my father also impersonated Arthur on that occasion. Arthur would have got the birth details from the hospital and passed them on to my father for him to take to the register office, in a Lyons or Kardomah perhaps, where nobody would have thought it strange that twins should meet.

My birth certificate, dated 3rd September 1955, begins, "Birth in the sub-district of Tufnell, in the Metropolitan Borough of Islington", and I have always been thrilled by this proof that I was born in a poor district of north London, but right at the heart of things, born in the greatest city in the world, historically at least, the very city and the area where I live now.

I was christened with the Christian name Charles, which was in honour of Prince Charles, then a young boy. The particular combination Charles Albert was probably chosen by my mother, because this pattern of naming is popular in both Portugal and Italy, for the King of Sardinia, Carlo Alberto, much beloved in his native realm, after the revolutions of 1848 took refuge in Portugal, where he is also remembered with great affection.

There is only one detail on my birth certificate that seems slightly untoward. My mother's maiden surname is recorded as Reis (this is my own third name), and the registrar has recorded that her surname was "formerly dos Reis." But this is a distinction without a difference. In Portuguese custom, which is distinct from Spanish, and therefore from that of the rest of Europe, the particule has no significance and can be used and dropped at will, normally for purposes of euphony. To make such a distinction would never have occurred to my mother. Perhaps it was the registrar, D.F. Braddy, who misunderstood and thought she must have undergone a change of name. But I am slightly disturbed by the persistent idea that this false distinction was introduced by my parents for reasons that are unknown to me, perhaps to enable another fraud.

I was baptized at the church of St Joseph's, where my parents had been married, on 2nd October, and a photograph in my possession, given to me by my aunt Eva, who is also my godmother, records the event. I am in the arms of my aunt Eva, and my godfather Gennaro Maccariello, is also there, and there is another photograph of my godparents with me outside 19, Hornsey Rise, so we must surely have arrived at that house by this time, one-and-a-half months after my birth. 

This photograph also shows my parents, Concetta McLorg, Gennaro's sister, and two children, one of whom must be young Catherine Tamara McLorg, Concetta's daughter, while the other is unknown to me. At the edge of the group is the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, looking very tall, angular and mysterious. I would hazard a guess that this photograph was taken by William McLorg, Concetta's husband, as this would explain why he is not in the photo.

I have recorded in previous posts that my christening was followed quite shortly afterwards by another marriage of my mother, also at St Joseph, on 13th November, and which may have been either once again to my father, or to Arthur, my official father. The woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon has told me that this marriage was insisted on by Concetta, a firm Catholic, so that all should be absolutely regular in the eyes of the Church, and this suggests that Arthur was really the groom on this occasion. Another piece of evidence tending to this conclusion is that one of the witnesses (besides Concetta) was Napoleon Maciejewski, the later divorced husband of the the woman known as Rosa whom I have recorded as having met earlier in this post. According to his son by a second wife, Napoleon was without doubt a Pole and, if my father was already passing as Polish at this date (not absolutely certain, because his marriage to Isaura under the name Miecyzslaw Hufleit only dates from 1964 and his naturalisation from 1968), then he would have wanted to avoid this ceremony for fear of being unmasked as a German.

As with the first marriage, at the Hendon register office, the identity of the groom at this third wedding cannot be established with certainty (and no photographs can be attributed to either the first or the third occasion), but I believe that it was my father at the register office and Arthur at the second wedding at St Joseph's. The priest was a different one from at the first wedding, so no perjury need had been involved, and the Church was remarkably flexible with ex-Nazis who could demonstrate firm Catholic beliefs. 

They would have kept my mother in the hospital for quite some days after my birth, and then we would have gone home. And that was 19, Hornsey Rise, N19, the house that haunts my life, although I know little of it. It haunts me because that was the one place I lived with my real father and my mother, and they loved me and were proud of me then.

During my childhood in Crawley, my mother often used to tell me stories of the life we had lived at Hornsey Rise. There was a great tree in the back garden, and she said that there I was initially looked after in the treetops by the birds, and they wiped my bottom most assiduously, until I became too much for them to handle, and then, very anxious, they brought me to my mother to look after, and she was overjoyed to accept. I believed this story until the astonishingly late age of about twelve, when a boy in the playground at school disturbed me with his unwelcome tales of cock and fanny.

But I have always remembered the story of the tree, and I suppose my mother must have remembered it too until she became demented, and I think she was surely at her happiest then, with her husband and baby, and the Italian family to whom she was close. There is a dark photo of my mother with me, quite a small baby, sitting on her lap, and we are totally surrounded by a group of dark, closely-packed, and slightly drunken-looking people who must surely be the Maccariello family, because I do not recognise them.

For, just as with my father, I did not know the Maccariellos at a time I can remember. I think my mother must have quarrelled with my godfather Gennaro, or with his sister Concetta (for old Mrs Maccariello, whom she had respected deeply, died in 1957), because we never called at the house on our journeys to London, just passed it.  I never knew my own godfather, and was to meet my father only twice after babyhood.

And I have been haunted all my life by the time when I lived in harmony with other people. It has never been recaptured. At a table of convivial people, I am always remembering what I must keep from them, or what I must keep from one and need not keep from another. With one other person sometimes I relax and can be truly myself. Yet I never wholly let go. The barriers between me and others could only dissolve if I had a master, and then my sickness might be broken, myself too, perhaps.

In recent years I have several times tried to get in touch with the Maccariellos. Anthony Adolph, the researcher I used, contacted a number of them of them on my behalf in 2011, but only Gennaro's Polish widow Teresa Stasinski, who was shortly to die, left a short phone message, from which we obtained her number. I phoned her when I was in Dresden in 2011, but she was not forthcoming.

Later, I tried several times to email Concetta's daughter Catherine Tamara McLorg, who has become the well-known choreographer Tamara McLorg, but she did not answer. I have seen her on a numbers of films on Youtube where she talks about her work, and one very impressive one on another website where she dances with a male partner and, although going on for seventy, is able to fall gracefully to the floor. She looks and sounds an intelligent and charismatic person, and I would love to meet her.

Yet there is an unhealthiness in my attempts to recover this mythical past. How often I go to where 19, Hornsey Rise stood, where the Philip Noel-Baker Peace Garden blooms now within Elthorne Park, and just outside it I can stand on the small hillock where perhaps (not certainly) our room was. But what can I gain from a park where once stood a house, people with whom I was once intimate and will probably never know?

There is a photograph of me when I was a baby which I still have. I am sitting in a pram, smiling all over my face, cuddling my teddy bear, whom I so obsessively loved. I am confident, just a little condescending, in the success of my love. My friend Stephen used to say that I was already recognisably myself in this picture.

My love of Teddy went on for years. My mother used to treasure something I said to her when I was a child, and repeat it often, "We are two Mummies, aren't we, Mummy? You are my Mummy, and I am Teddy Bear's Mummy!"

Yet eventually I lost Teddy, threw him away, and I have never been able to remember the circumstances in which this happened. The reason lies irrecoverable in the dark years of my childhood. Teddy was  there and I loved him and then I loved him no more and he was gone.

And how often this pattern has recurred during all the years of my life. Somebody, or something, has been important for me, sometimes deeply so, sometimes for a long time. And then something has happened, or perhaps nothing at all. And my heart has turned against that person, that place, that thing. I have thrown them out. And I have felt no regret, only a sweet pain.

I damaged that photo of myself as a baby with Teddy. When I was at Oxford, I went away for part of the first summer, but was due to return before term, and left that one and another photo, with more things, exposed, in a damp storeroom. The other photo showed me looking happy and normal as a child of about eight, standing by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

When I returned to the storeroom, the photo of me by the Eiffel Tower was spoiled beyond recovery, and the photo of me and Teddy could just about be salvaged and was recognisable. How deeply I mourned the picture that could not be recovered, and for many years this loss was a grief that afflicted me terribly, often as I lay in bed at night.

But I had the Teddy photo restored, and in its fine frame it still adorns the bookcase in my house in Portugal, to which very soon I shall return, despite all the hostility that now surrounds me in the place where my property is situated. Then, if all be well there, I will bring  the photograph back, carefully wrapped, to be with me in London.

And, also, as the years went on, I convinced myself that the image of myself by the Eiffel Tower was only the first of so many things we must lose and so my grief became less. And indeed I have lost innumerable objects now, and cherish the ones I still have, and the others I let go. My heart has become inured to grief, and I feel only a sweet regret.

This sweetness comes sometimes, for instance, when as so often these winter days, I go to the Shaftesbury Tavern, a friendly and roomy pub, with a sofa by an open fire, and chandeliers reflecting the darkness of the skylight, and friendly, uncomprehending people. There are old photographs showing the rea of my earliest life. For this pub is almost opposite to where 19, Hornsey Rise stood, a little bit farther down towards London, across the road from the beginning of Elthorne Park, but in Hornsey Road rather than Hornsey Rise.

One of the photographs on the pub wall is labelled Hornsey Rise, but it really shows the very top of Hornsey Road, and the beginning of the range of houses in Hornsey Rise can just be glimpsed on the horizon, and No 19 is not visible. And, much as I have searched for a photograph of our house, I have never found it. And I do not know if any of the ones I have in my own collection show the house full on.

So perhaps I will never even see an image of the house that means so much to me, unless perhaps one day I could contact Tamara McLorg or another of her relations. Yet there is the sweetness of sitting by that fire with my gin and bitter lemon and not being able quite to see the house. What do I want as I sit by that fire? Not the house. Not an image of it. Only the journey home on the 91, and nothing to do, and my comfortable bed. Or the man whose slave I shall be.

I suppose I must have finally lost Teddy at around the period that I was finally expelled from my mother's bed. For he was surely a symbol of her, or perhaps, more exactly, a symbol of what I owed to her. Perhaps I threw him away, perhaps in a great rage I threw him in the bin. I shall never know.

And yet I still have my tenderness for all the Teddies of the world. But that has become part of my masochism, which has a touch of sadism in it as well. I long to suffer and also to inflict, but I am impotent to cause suffering, except in words. I long to be delivered from the urge to inflict, and for that I must find a man who will be worthy to cause the suffering he inflicts. He would be like my father and perhaps my son.

It is a pipe-dream, surely. Surely it can never happen. But I want nothing else, except perhaps an easy journey towards death.

My sense of loss came early, when I was still the smiling, happy baby in the pram. My mother often used to tell that, when I was only two months old, I rejected her milk, putting my tongue out and making a sick face. I caused her pain, because she had so much milk to give. But, as the years went on, and our relations became worse, she told the story with relish. On the night before she told me of her betrayal, the fact that I had lost her house, the last night of our love, when my friend Bill Hicks was in my flat with us, she made the motion of my vomiting with especial violence.  

Oh, will I ever recover my love for you, my dear one? Perhaps only when I am very old and can remember no more.

Then it will be like the deep past of my infancy, which I also cannot remember, but of which I have so many photos, spilling out of their bags and folders and the little Scottish box in my small white room. They stimulate my heart to love and justice. This morning I did not find the one in which my parents and I are together. I did not look for it that hard. I was just charmed by the ones I saw.

There is the photo, for instance, where I am helping my mother to hang clothes on the line in the garden in Crawley when I am about two years old. She really cherished that one. That is just me and her. And often she used to tell me of how. when we were still in London, she used to wheel me in my pram as far as Seven Sisters Road and what she called "Negzed", the local Cockney pronunciation [the Nag's Head], which she had picked up.

And there is a photo of my in my pram in a very shabby street which must have been taken in that area, and one of my mother striding along those same streets in smart clothes with Augusta. That was the pram that the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon had bought for me before my birth, in gratitude for my mother's help in bringing her to London. That ungracious woman will always have my loyalty. 

It was a long way you went, Mum. How strong you were. And you used to take me to work with you when you went to work at the house of Mrs Kafka who lived on Crouch Hill. I have no photos of that, but marvel that you looked after me so well and held down a job at the same time. And how cheerful and happy you look in the photos with the Maccariellos, old Mrs Maccariello with her hunchback, Concetta dark and stern, the black dog Romanha (I suppose she was Romana to the Italians), who was so loyal.

But the one I tried to find today was a photograph of family and duty. Although I did not find it, I remember it well.  My mother is sitting on a chair in a back yard, looking serene, with me, a tiny infant, in her arms. My father is standing by us in an attitude of protectiveness and authority. There is no other photo in which his physique looks so powerful under his suit. He is handsome in this family moment.

Yet it would so soon turn out to be a lie, that photo. Within a year or two he was to leave us. Perhaps he was not philandering at that time, but he soon would be. Perhaps Isaura, the devil woman of my mother's life, was already in the frame.

And my mother will never forget the wrong he is to do her. I remember how we were together in her bedroom at Altura on her last morning there, when we were waiting for my aunt Eva and uncle Manuel to take us hundreds of miles to the first of the dreadful homes where she was to end her life. She remembered him then. I heard her moan again and again in her dementia, "Nao era nem bom marido nem bom pai," "He wasn't a good husband, or a good father. " I thought she was talking about Arthur. But it must have been Dad.

But for testimony that he really loved us I still have all those photos and also the book my father wrote about me, the little "Diario de Carlinhos". He never finished all the pages of the book, but there are quite a few, in his neat, slightly florid handwriting, all expressed in a fluent and charming style, but often betraying his foreign origin, through his phraseology. 

It begins, "Baby sat up on his own on 31-5-56 [a foreign style of dating, and these figures are crossed out], 31st January 1956, or five and a quarter months old." 

Then he tells the story of how on my "second monthly anniversary" I refused my mother's breast "with tongue out and sick face". And, "When he was five-and-a-half months old he called our attention with a dignified cough". Those are the contents of the first small page.

And then the next pages tell of how at five months I recognised the noise of "paw-paws" (my word for buses) and could find Daddy or Romanha (the household dog), of how at six-and-a-half months I said Papa and Mama. He gives the date, 5-3-56, and the figures are the right way round this time.

A bit later he tells of how at eight months he and my mother bought me a push-chair at Jones Brothers, which was a department store in Holloway Road (a complex of humanitarian organisations occupies the site now, although you can still see the words Jones Bros on the old doorway, under the great arch and beneath the decorated tower with the clock and the spire that tops it). They had to take the pram back because there was something wrong in the wheel and my father says I became concerned until they bought another one.

The first four and a half pages refer to the time that we were in London, and then there is a change of pen, from blue to black, towards the end of the last paragraph that deals with Hornsey Rise. I therefore surmise that this first section was written soon after we arrived at 104, Brighton Road, when they suddenly thought that they must write down everything about my early life before they forgot it. I think they probably bought the book, which is an autograph book, in the centre of Crawley, or perhaps they already had the book before they left Hornsey Rise, and my father wrote the first section when they got home in Crawley as Mum watched.

"He came to Crawley at 10 months. Every part of his house delighted him. When he arrived he started to clap his hands and scream to the walls, and he noticed every bit that went on, stair carpet, curtains, lino, and applauded in this way. When he saw carpet on the stairs he soon learnt to walk up the stairs supported."

The last thing my father tells about Hornsey Rise is that I never wanted to come inside. He says I liked to sit in a high-chair by the window and when people went away from me (he spells the word "him" as "hime") I became upset.

And he continues his account of our new life: "In Crawley he became mad on going out and when out he became abstracted. He became very fond of all road traffic and especially loved to ride on buses, raising his foot to the step of the 'bus to get on. When he arrived home, he recognised the gate and screamed not to go in. All this at eleven months."

And he goes on to list all the words I could say at that age, all eight of them, and they end with "tadinha (tadine)," which was my version of "coitadinha", "poor little thing" in Portuguese. And then he says: "At eleven months when he saw Mummy with coat and handbag he was sure he was going out, and screamed "paw-paw."

Dad, I do love the way you talk about me. Now let's go through the Crawley time. There is one photo of  you with me in the back garden there, which I treasure. Can we relate that to anything in the book?

 "At eleven months, when naughty, Mummy promised him, "queres ir vir o paw-paw?" ["Do you want to go and catch the bus?"], and he became quiet and full of hope.

"He knew how to lay his head against ours and say "ter-dine" very sweetly.

At a year old, he knew how to find a "sabotinho" ["little shoe", not really proper Portuguese, where the word would be "sapatinho", probably my father's mistake] and give it to Mummy."

Now there is a change of tense on the new page, and there has been a change of pen at the end of the last one, which makes me think Dad has begun to write a new section. "He does everything mummy tells him. He enjoys to see Anna Maria and Paul, who are two kids Mummy decided to look after. At one years old he walked as far as the "Half Moon" on one hand."

(The Half Moon was the pub a little farther up Brighton Road towards London from us, and it is still there, as far as I know. I know nothing about Anna Maria and Paul. I vaguely remember my mother mentioning them in my childhood, but I didn't take much notice. I had entirely forgotten about them until I read about them, with surprise, in the book. And I then mentioned them to Maria and Brian, but they were alarmed and rather roughly said they knew nothing about these two children, although they must have done.)

This reminds me that Brian was vaguely around in our lives at this time. He was a youth of around nineteen and had grown up with his family at Pease Pottage, which is just south of Crawley. He was doing his national service in later 1956 and he has told me that he often used to pass our house and notice who was there. He said something that startled me, that the house was full of people. But I remember it from my childhood with my mother and Arthur as deathly quiet, just the two of them and myself, and hardly ever any visitors.

It was so different, apparently, when my father was with us. Besides my parents and myself, I now learn that there were Anna Maria and Paul. And the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon once told me that Arthur also moved down to Crawley and was occupying a house nearby. And the old man, according to Brian, was also often there. And surely their friends from London would often have come down. There is a photograph, for instance, of Leonor with her husband Arthur Mills standing in front of our house, and Leonor used sometimes to tell me a funny story of how she was pushing me in a pram in Crawley and my shoe came off and was in the road.

And could we have known Brian and his family in Pease Pottage better than he now lets on? As I leaf through the book, I see that my father - after telling about the games I used to play with Anna Maria and Paul, how I was mad on going out walking, and how I began to tease my mother by walking off another way when he told me to walk to her - recalls the following: "About fourteen-and-a-half months we went to a cafe at Pease Pottage. Sonny sat properly in a chair, the cafe was full, and he looked at everyone very surprised. Mummy gave him some crisps and when Mummy forgot to supply him with more, he helped himself properly and gently out of the bag. Then he did a "rock and roll" with Mummy." 

My father mentions Paul again, that he went away to his relatives for fortnight, and how I cuddled him when he came back, "shouting with cheers". He says that when they spoke to me in a low voice I would answer in the same tone of voice. And then, most touchingly, "He always cuddled us sweetly, both waking and when he lay between us in the bed."

Paul, who is ill, then goes away again, and "at every little noise in the morning Carlinhos imagined it was Paul. This was at fifteen-and-a-half months."(So it would have been coming up for the Christmas of 1956.)

This little bit about Paul is written in a pen of its own, and on the next page he tells about how I had many motor cars at that age and would improvise more vehicles with vegetables and pieces of meat, and how I liked to pile vegetables into a little lorry and drive behind it.

"His favourite photo at this age was of five girls. He recognised his mummy, and all his aunties."

(I still have this photo, a little torn now, showing the five serious, well-dressed, dark young women. It does not show all my aunts, though. The eldest sister Maria remained on the farm, was forced into marriage by Ana das Meias, her husband beat her when he was drunk, she had ten (or possibly nine) children, and my mother always said that the other sisters did not regard her as really their sister. No photograph exists of all six sisters together. My aunt Maria appears in another photo of much later years, taken at or near her farmhouse, but Rosaria was dead by then, and a blonde woman stood in her place, as Portuguese custom demands.)

Now I hurry towards the end of the little book. My father records that I walked steadily on my own in a direction of my choosing on 18th December 1956, when I was just under sixteen months old. (I was much slower at walking than at talking. Verbal skills have always been my forte, not physical ones.) But my father also says that since early days I had never cried at the clinic, while the others cried a lot. "He always gave a smile to the woman of the scales. And he always made pee-pee in the scales."( My father catches quite a lot about me there. I have endurance and cunning. I know how to smile sweetly at others while I am preparing to do exactly what I want.)

"At nineteen months he gave up completely naps and when he felt as to do wee-wee or duty he rushed to mummy, doing Ah-Ah and dancing.

"He became very fond of trains, and wherever we were near the station he recognised a train was coming if the gates were closed. He always made a fuss about coming away from the station."

(I am still most fond of trains, and could never stop being so. Trains, watching them and travelling on them, are a real passion, the time I feel most at peace.)

"Paul went away to another new town, Hemel Hempsted, and he became very fond of Anna Maria, and called her "nenna."

(Among the vast collection of personal memorabilia I now possess, much of which I found at my mother's house in Portugal, while other items were finally delivered to me from my flat in England, is a small label saying Hemel Hempsted and giving the address details of A.E. Hills, the house in Crawley, in capital letters. I always took it for granted that this was written by Arthur, although I suppose it might be my father impersonating him. It looks more like Arthur's writing, though. The woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, once when I was questioning her about the two men, said that Arthur had also moved down to Crawley, taking a house there, at the same time as my parents. His job as a costs and works accountant at APV on the Manor Royal Industrial Estate must have begun at this time.) 

My father then goes on to tell that at 20 months I was "extremely naughty". I used to smack Mummy, and she smacked me back, but I never gave up. I called my mother "maminlinha". 

(And I have never lost my fondness for elaborate diminutives in the Latin languages, particularly Portuguese and Italian. For instance,  I called my friend Stephen Bambi, which sometimes became Bambinello or even Bambinelinho, but not to his face, for fear of annoying him.)

I now come to the last two-and-a-half pages of the book. The final paragraph is on the last, unfinished page. I quote the last two paragraphs:

"We had a cat named Cinders, and she was run over near the bus stop. Carlinhos went out with his mummy to look for her and saw her lying the road. For three weeks after he always went to that spot as he passed to the town and called "Ba-ba" and looked down in the road.

At 19 months he recognised the noise of a passing 'bus very well, there was no possibility of deceiving him. He loved all animals and wanted to carress [sic] them as well as all unknown children. His mother used to say he had a large heart."

Oh, Dad, what a beautiful tribute you pay to my tenderness. I believe I do love all animals, all children, all people, all plants, even the stones themselves. But this love has been distorted by my life. It is not a loving smile people see as I travel around London now. I have never kept an animal when an adult. I do not tend plants. I crush small insects. I have never loved a human being after my mother, except for one sad infatuation. Now in my old age I am filled with hatred and resentment. I pray that this alienation, growing now towards uncontrollable contempt, will give way to loving everybody and everything again.

The book my father wrote contains no reference to me after the age of twenty months. which would have been in April or May 1957. Those telling words about my mother - "used to say" - imply that they were written when he was no longer with us. At the beginning of the book is written his co-op number, which he would surely not have included had he been in the full swing of married life. I believe he wrote that last section when he was already away from us and that he sent the book to my mother as a token of the love he felt for me.

As I have mentioned before, I know that a group of us went by ship to Lisbon some time in the summer of 1957, and I have a small, blue, very worn photograph album recording this trip, with several photos of my father, sometimes looking rather decadent and louche, on shore, with my mother and other members of my family.

It therefore makes sense, with the other evidence, to believe that he deserted us very soon after this trip, and perhaps did not even return to Crawley from Portugal.

My aunt Eva will say nothing at all about this trip, but the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, who also formed part of the party, once let slip that, once my mother and my aunt had arrived, they went ashore immediately and left my father for some time on the boat. The woman says she stayed with him on the boat, and that this was because she felt sorry for him. 

Perhaps she did. But there could have been other motives. He was an attractive man in his dangerous-looking way. And she is a big, rebarbative woman. My aunt once told me that, when young, this person had once attacked a fellow young woman and hurt her badly. She has spoken with scorn to me about how I am not a real man. She married an elderly Portuguese late in life, and inherited substantial wealth from him. But whatever passion this natural spinster felt cannot have been for that man.

And, thinking of my father, one can imagine that a husband arriving for the first time in his wife's native city might well feel very hurt and angry not to be deemed worthy to accompany his wife ashore. Perhaps a quarrel had developed on the journey out. It would surely have been exacerbated by this gesture on the part of the sisters. And perhaps my father looks louche and faintly evil in at least one of the picture, where he is holding my mother in his arm, because his thoughts are already on the road elsewhere.

I do not know exactly when the Lisbon voyage occurred, but because the last reference in the small book refers to me at twenty months, it makes sense to believe it was soon after that. Let us say it was in June 1957. That seems to square with the last reference to me in the book being at twenty months. In the blue photograph album there is one pic of a boat with passengers on shore and the boat is clearly the Highland Chieftain, so I think that must be the ship we travelled on. This was one of the Royal Mail boats that plied between London and Lisbon until the 1960s and no records were kept of boats that began and ended their journey within Europe. It seems highly unlikely then that I will ever find out much more about this voyage, except through personal reminiscence.

There are two rather curious aspects relating to this journey which relate to photographic evidence. My aunt and the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon have always denied that my paternal grandfather was with us on the boat. But at a certain point I found a small photo of the evil old man, standing with my mother, with me in her arms, all of us looking very spaced out, standing at what is obviously the rail of a ship. Quite recently I confronted my aunt with this photo, and for a few moments she became equivocal about whether or not he had been on the 1957 trip. Then she went back to her earlier firm denial.

The second strange aspect is that, although the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon was definitely on the boat, nowhere in the blue album is there a photo that shows her on shore.

(The present paragraph and its nine successors form an interpolation into the text, begun on 6th February 2019, in London. The woman who lived in the centre of Lisbon died towards the end of last year, and I can therefore now say what I know about her identity. I knew her as Rosa Pereira and the husband she married in later life was called Fonseca so that the full name by which was generally known in Portugal was Rosa Pereira Fonseca.

But, although this woman claimed to have lived in England for thirty years, there is only one record of a Rosa Pereira in Britain, and this is her entrance by ship early in 1955. Clearly it would have been almost impossible for her to live in England for thirty years and not leave more of a paper trail, and I therefore believe Rosa Pereira to be an assumed name.

In my previous post "The Seventh Journey" I gave details for a woman called Maria Manuela dos Reis who was present in England at the time of my birth, whose details could conceivably be those of the Rosa I knew, and who was the daughter of Manuel Martins dos Reis, the first commandant of Tarrafal, a sort of Portuguese Dachau.

This I believe to be the true identity of Rosa Pereira Fonseca.

There are various indications that support this theory. For instance, my aunt let slip on the phone after Rosa's death that when she had been admitted to the Hospital de Jesus in Lisbon, where she died, Rosa had registered there under another name. That hospital admits those connected with high army officers, which Manuel Martins dos Reis had been, But my aunt has always said that Rosa, despite her very haute bourgeois airs, was of simple peasant origin.

Also the records for Maria Manuela dos Reis show her as having gone with her husband to Australia, where there are intermittent records of them until his death, and the boat on which we may have been sailing in 1957 was destined for that country. The name of the husband was Geoffrey Searle, the marriage took place at a date in November 1955 which was very close to the third of the three marriages my mother seems to have entered into, and the name Williams, which appears often in my own family history, was the surname of the registrar. The recorded address of the bride was 26, Avenue Road, St John's Wood, an area with which Rosa was associated.

The bride was in service, and as was always the case with the employment of my mother, her family and friends this was a house of wealthy Jews, extremely wealthy in this case. The owner of the house was the noted jeweller Richard Michael Norton (1908-1985) and his wife, Helene Manasseh (1909-2002), whom he had married in 1938, was from an Indian-Iraqi Jewish jewellery family. Her father, Aslan Manasseh, was born in Bombay in 1884, his father having come from Iraq. The couple had three young sons, the youngest of whom was three years old in 1955, and the young Portuguese woman in question would surely have acted as his nursemaid.

When questioned, Rosa always said that she came from the north of Portugal. I think she said she was from Celorico de Beira. There is another place in northern Portugal which has a very similar name which I have now forgotten. Once, when I asked her where her husband had been from, she gave the name of the other place. But it seems too much of a coincidence for the two spouses to come from two places with very similar but different names. I think it was her husband that came from one of these places and that her origin within Portugal was elsewhere, wherever the family of Manuel Martins dos Reis was based. 

And, finally, Rosa seemed to be strangely absent during my childhood and we did not see her as often as would surely have been the case if she had been continuously present in England. When I was about nine years old  we went to her address in St John's Wood for my father to be able to meet me, but this took place at a period when Maria Manuela dos Reis is not recorded as being in Australia. 

Based on all this evidence, once again I submit my belief that Rosa Pereira and Maria Manuela dos Reis were the same person.) 

Back to the 1957 trip. The photographs dating from it are very memorable and traditional: the savage ceremonies of the bullfight and the wild excitement of bull running; the towers of the town palace of Sintra (we got lost in the woods round there, I remember my mother saying); the traditionally dressed people of the countryside, including my grandfather's wife leading a donkey by a rein, on which my grandfather, wearing the traditional socking cap of the peasants of those parts, sits astride.

My father looks very louche and ambiguous in many of these photographs, the silent betrayer. On this trip, as I have related before, I must have met for the one and only time my grandmother Ana das Meias, but there does not seem to be a photograph that can definitely be identified as being she. Perhaps the mysterious lady did not wish to be photographed. So many mysteries indeed surround that journey, and I shall surely never resolve them. But the photographs remain in the small ragged blue book to suggest to me forever what it all was.

And now I come to the story of the years spent with Arthur Ernest Hills, and the long time since then, which were mainly years of unhappiness, until I reach the period of today, a chilly time emotionally. 

During these long years many thousands were the opportunities I sought to exploit, and the ambiguous people met in the course of my attempts at winning ways, and the partings after the rejections that ensued. If I were to tell the whole of the story, this post would go on for ever and memory itself would scream. So I must become selective from now on, and tell only the things relating to the intertwined stories of myself and my mother, or to another story which arises from our joint experience.

Arthur Ernest Hills must have taken my father's place quite seamlessly. He seems already to have been in Crawley, and presumably at his job with APV. So he would simply have had to give up the tenancy of wherever he was living under a false name and take up the tenancy where he was already registered but where my father had been living. My father and he were so similar they could pass for each other. Even their handwriting was similar. If they spoke, my father would have been revealed by his German accent. But we were one of the first families to arrive at the yellow coloured-coded Southgate estate and we had been there less than a year. My father simply left his job, presumably. A bit later he sent back the little book about me and added his co-op number. I bet that gave my mother a rent in the heart.

We lived in a row of six yellow houses, with flats at either end, on the Old Brighton Road. The Parrs lived at No 100, the Derbys at No 102, we were at No 104, the Cresseys were 106, the Hobbses 108, and the families at No 110 were constantly changing and we did not know them. There was a lay-by in front of the houses, where in later childhood I was to obsessively play a ball. Beyond the road was a green in earlier years, and beyond that the Crawley Bypass, which was not very busy in the 1950s, and where a touch of colour was added once a year by the passing of the veteran cars from London to Brighton.

The six houses were small, functional and more or less identical. Our house had one special touch. Above the door was the sculpted head of a woman, which was green, although she had full lips and these may have been painted red. The significance of this image I shall never know.

Beyond our road was Southgate, with many roads of yellow houses and some flats, a couple of junior schools for Protestants and Catholics, a doctor's surgery, and the Southgate shops, where my first memory (very faint) is of being held up by my mother to see the Queen when she visited the new town in June 1958. 

From the corner beyond the flats adjoining No 110, Southgate Avenue ran towards the town centre, between Southgate and Tilgate, and this was the route to the public library, which I was to haunt so persistently in my troubled teenage years. The modern part of the town centre was arranged around Queens Square, and there was an old part to Crawley, where was to be the Chantley Bookshop, kept by Miss Oxley and Miss Marchant, kindly ladies who came in from Horsham. I loved their bookshop, although I stole from them.

But that is running ahead a bit. Another faint early memory is of an attack of measles when I was about three. It left me blind for three days. And I had no idea what was happening and thought I would be blind forever. And my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills could not help me. The feeling of desolation I have had all my life dates from this time.

Another minatory memory. I am about four and they try to throw a children's party for me. But I get upset and the other children leave. There is an ominous photograph of me by a table which is laid for a party. But I am alone.

And the third instance of isolation, which dates from when I was about five. For many years I believed this to be my first memory. I was running from the house to our car in the lay-by. We had a heavy, old-fashioned Wyvern. But on the pavement I miss my step and do not quite reach the car. Arthur Ernest Hills is inside or near it.

There is another early memory which was related to me often by my mother, although I do not believe I remember it myself. We were together at the bus-stop, which was a little further up Brighton Road towards Crawley town centre, and some English people were waiting there. I was about three years old. Prejudice against foreigners was openly expressed in England in the 1950s. One of these people said to my mother, "Why don't you go back to where you come from? And take your child with you?"

In contrast to these negative early memories of England, there is one early one relating to Portugal which is exuberant and happy. It dates from 1959, when I was four years old, and I know this because we went to Portugal in the Wyvern, which was new then, to fetch Maria, who was eighteen years old, or perhaps a bit older (there is a mystery about her birth certificate), to live with us in England. And I remember that on a hillside near where that family lived, I was excitingly bumped about by Maria and her sister Maria Augusta and they were each holding me by either arm. Maria Augusta, who stayed in Portugal and married there, later committed suicide. Maria is alive and well as I write.

Maria lived with us for four years, and there is a picture, which must date from that time, of she and me mother sitting in deckchairs and laughing and being silly, and looking for all the world like mother and daughter. But that is not officially what Maria was to my mother. She married Brian in 1963, and they went to live nearby at 15, Malthouse Road for a while, before moving to their present address in Crawley, also not far away, where they have remained for around fifty years.

Brian had a stroke recently, which has slowed him down, but he is still his own cheerful, determined, ironic, authoritarian self. Maria still does the garden, and laughs and is silent, and looks after her husband with patience and love. I speak to them often on the phone, and visit them once a year, or at least I did unil recently, and I feel Maria and Brian are the dearest people in the world, in so far as any human beings can be dear to me.

My mother once was dear, though, and I grew to hate her, indirectly I more or less killed her. No one really is dear to me. 

I did not go to nursery school. I was always by my mother's side, so often in her arms. My attendance at school, at the age of five, when the Freudian distancing from the mother should ideally have begun, was always likely to be a trauma. I went to St Francis Catholic Infants' and Junior School in Southgate. My first three months there were sweetened by my kind and beautiful infant teacher Miss Brennan. But after three months I was transferred to Miss Kearney's class. Miss Carney did not like me, nor I her. I kicked up an enormous fuss to be returned to Miss Brennan, but I was refused.

The Parrs at No 100 had a daughter called Janice, and up to the age of five I had often played with her. But at five she went to the English, Protestant school, and now I did not play with her any more. Now I had no friends.

Arthur Ernest Hills had a bad stammer. From around the age of five I began to stammer too. Initially it was debilitating, now it remains as what I am told is a charming hesitation.

I was beginning to be a problem child. At the infants, they tried to teach us sewing, but I was entirely unable to manage it. The pattern of incomprehension at my universal incapacity set in. Why can't you do it? It's so easy! Those types of words are always ringing in my head, to my eternal shame. Later was to come the three-way battle between Arthur and the school on the one hand and my mother on the other about the fact that I could not do up my shoelaces. I suffered agonies of shame and even now cannot wear laced-up shoes and must wear slip-ons because the laces constantly come undone and people point it out endlessly but they will do nothing to help and I cannot help myself.

But soon came my salvation. I was immensely quick at reading, writing too. Writing, as well as my mother, became the centre of my life. And writing remains an eternal solace. Any hurt received in life now sees me rushing to the screen to receive its bitter balm.

I realise now that, in telling of earliest memories, I have been straying rather from the ostensible subject of my mother's life (although I was so close to her that I still cannot help believing that we share the same identity). And, of course I wonder how she reacted to the substitution of my father by the slightly stinky figure of Arthur.

My aunt Eva has often said in recent years that she used to ask my mother how she could bear to be married to such a man, and she always quotes my mother´s answer, "Oh, but he was so kind." My mother often used to say that he always brought her a cup of tea in the morning in bed and that she appreciated that. Arthur was good at that sort of small courtesy, although his uncertainty with women, and indeed with everyone, was profound. And I don't suppose my father brought tea. He was too much the old German soldier. When he was not at the front, the wife would do that for him. And at the double.

Mum also used to stay that Arthur had been a very dirty little man when he came to her, and that she had taught him to be clean. Yet he had his social smartness too, part of his conservatism. He must have been one of the last men in England to wear a bowler hat to work. I can remember him wearing it, so that must have been in about 1961 and 1962. He used to walk to and from and the Manor Royal Industrial Estate, where he soon progressed from clerk to quite a serious accountant. And he used to arrive home punctually at a certain time - six, I believe - like the fine gentleman in the film Mary Poppins.

And we had first the heavy Wyvern car, and that was replaced by the Dormobile, and, unusually in England, my father, as I believed him then to be, insisted on taking all his holiday entitlement in one go (almost always in August) and we went abroad every other year, and finally every year, until, in 1968, relations became so bad between Arthur and my mother that our family holidays ceased.

Because, of course, despite the cups of tea, the bowler hat and the Dormobile, relations between my mother and Arthur were increasingly unhappy. How he must have resented her so ostentatiously cleaning him up! And she must always have been missing my father, resenting his desertion, hating Isaura. And although she shared so many of her feelings with me, and I sympathised in every detail as much as I was able, the fact that the man who was with us was not my father, that she could not share.

Her tenderness to me was wonderful. I could give so many examples, stupid and sentimental things. I will just mention one thing. Whenever I had hurt myself, my knee for example, she would ask to look at it most solicitously, saying what sounded like "Sheberee."

I remember that again now from my childhood, "Sheberee, Sheberee." When I began to learn Portuguese as an adult, I puzzled for quite some years as to what this word could have been. Finally a kind teacher, Francisco Fernandes who taught Portuguese at the City Literary Institute, explained that it must be "Deixa ver,", "Let me see it." I was astonished  how far the written version was from the spoken. Portuguese is a language that does not reveal its secrets in one day or in several.

When I was a child, my mother worked in factories on the Manor Royal Industrial Estate, where Arthur was now a certified accountant. For my mother, it must have been hard and thankless work, below what her rare intelligence would have entitled her to. She was the best and quickest worker those factories had known. When her marriage to Arthur broke up, she became a silver service waitress. Once again Maria, as they called her - her real Christian name was Maria Jose - was the first to be called to go into work, so competent, so quick, so smiling was she.

I adored her. I thought every aspect of her was wonderful. As far as I knew, she was the best cook in the whole world. There could be no competitor. Sometimes we had roast lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables for Sunday lunch. What I loved most about this meal were her roast carrots. How silly it sounds now! How could I ever convey the wonder those carrots were to me?

Very often she would make trifle. She prepared the cake base for this in a special bowl. How I loved to sit with her in the kitchen as she worked, and when she was finished, to be allowed to lick the remains of what was in the bowl.

I used to love to read to her from the books that I enjoyed, increasingly books of history, English history. How she entered into the stories of the terrible Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives and children. What patience she had with my endless reading, what she must have known were my total mispronunciations of Italian names, such as as that of the Papal Legate, Campeggio, who had tried to persuade Henry out of his divorce. Did she ever once correct me, or try to make me feel I didn't know as much as I thought I did?

And how much we both loved Mary, Queen of Scots, and how we sorrowed that the heartless Elizabeth had executed her, and how I laughed at the strange gesture my mother always made with her hand on her elbow when the book mentioned that Elizabeth was a virgin!

And then I remember the time when I was perhaps eight years old and we watched the film A Night to Remember on the television together. It told the story of the sinking of the Titanic in heartrending detail. And as the moment came when all the unfortunate people were finally helpless in the sea, or dying within the bowels of the ship, and as the disciplined musicians played "Nearer My God to Thee", I burst into floods of helpless tears and could not accept what my mother told me, that suffering and death exist in the world, and we can do nothing about it.

But nowadays, when I hear of the migrant ships sinking in the Mediterranean, and unknown people going to their watery deaths, there is no helpless sorrow in my heart. Quite the reverse. I hope that more and more people will die, and that they will not be rescued, so that these Africans will finally learn that they cannot simply invade another continent and people of a different culture and expect to live in the process. I am as Darwinian, perhaps even as Hitlerian, as you like these days. 

Something has happened to me during my life, at first imperceptibly, and gathering pace from the day, 24th May 2000, when my mother told me (although she lied about the details) thatshe had left her house to another man. I often wonder in my mind what were the stages, and what balance I felt at each point of what emotions, but I can sum the process up exactly by saying it has been a move from love to hate. Of course, experience has been the motor, but the driver of the car was my mother. I am like Estella in Great Expectations, with all her cold complexity, yet simple at the core.

My mother said to me: Love me! Love me! Love me! While I could love her, I loved. And when I had to hate her, I hated, and came gradually to hate all the people in the world. And my mother's end was as Gothic as Miss Havisham's.

But back to the past. As I've said before, the highlights of my childhood were the foreign holidays. We went to Portugal when I was two, four, six and eight, and then about two or perhaps three times more. I've written about the first journey, by boat, and the second, in the Wyvern. I have several rather deeply-buried memories of the other journeys and will share some of them now.

First, after we had crossed the Channel, was the long journey through France, which was usually an evening, a night and much of the following day; But it cannot have been exactly like that with the memory I want to evoke now. There always seemed to be something special about passing a place called Ruffec. I remembered its significance every time I came there. It was like the heart of our journey.

It is a small place between Poitiers and Angoulême. And I think perhaps it was near there that once I persuaded my parents to desert the main road and take a detour through a more country road that led after a longer while to the same place. I wanted to get lost in the deep heart of my journey. I seem to remember (although it may be a false memory) that the length of the journey along this road was forty-eight miles. And they went along the longer road, although they were reluctant and afraid, because I think it was evening.

And in Spain there was no question of taking picturesque routes through deep country. I remember the times in the Basque Country when we came to the "smelly river" and my mother and I would hold our noses in mock horror, while Arthur, who might be driving at the time, would turn to us in mild amusement. And then the roads through dusty Spainwould be long with the sun in our eyes until we came to the towers of Ciudad Rodrigo in the distance and we knew our Portugal was near. And I remember our the joy at the Portuguese border, the fear of the Spanish officials, the love of ours. 

And the excitement of reaching Lisbon, and the cramped quarters of the two aunts who lived there (for two others were in Africa): Tia Conceicao's ramshackle upper rooms above the grocer's shop in Algés where she lived with Tio Albino in some happiness but without children; and Tia Eva's neat white bungalow by the aqueduct, where she lived with the husband she loved with exaggeration, the son she loved with desperation, and the daughter she bullied.

Aunt Conceição was to move away from Algés after Tio Albino died early and in later years lived in a grim flat at Loures in the northern further outskirts of Lisbon. I visited there only rarely. But I have been again and again throughout my life to the home of Eva, to the green bungalow among the white ones by the aqueduct's bell-tower, and the landscape of the Alcântara Valley, with its interlocking roads, railway lines and the aqueduct, the modern skyscrapers that have sprung up in later years on the Lisbon side of the valley, and the shabby ramshackle houses on the other side at the edge of the Monsanto wood, and the sprawling station of Campolide at the centre of this landscape. It is an undistinguished yet strangely memorable panorama that is the last link with my childhood, for my aunt lives there still.

And I remember going out from there with my family and relations to the beach at Carcavelos, and after that to the pine woods behind the beach to have our picnic, and in  earlier years at least a film of happiness seems to lie over the beach and the woods.

But there is only one truly happy memory. It is perhaps from the time I was eight. We were coming away from Portugal, travelling across Spain, and my mother became wonderfully cheerful and animated in the car and started teaching me the numbers from one to twenty in all the languages that she knew (Arthur used to say, "I don't need a dictionary when I travel abroad, my wife is a walking dictionary").

And I learnt them so easily and well and pleased her greatly. And I remember how when she came to say the numbers in Italian, she said them so rapidly - "undici, dodici, tredici, quattordici, quindici..." - they seemed to trip over each other as she said them and yet I was able to follow her, and I laughed so much, and I loved her so much.

And another memory, from this time, now deeply equivocal. We were going through France. I always loved this preliminary stage to our Portugal holiday. There were no motorways in France then. I loved the long, mysterious roads, the ancient towns and villages, the solemn trees that shaded us. They let me be the navigator, using the route-books. I loved doing that. And as evening approached once that first day, I remember, we came to a campsite by the river Yon.

And I was mad to swim in that river. I wanted the freedom, my joy. And, not telling them, I went in. But there was something like a whirlpool in that river. It was dangerous. My mother and Arthur were astonished suddenly to see me in the water. And they were frightened, and ordered me to come out.

 Later they held a long, anxious discussion about the situation in the Dormobile. Perhaps I would try to slip away once they had gone to sleep. Perhaps I would drown in that river. They were very tired after their long afternoon's driving. But they made their decision. We would go on to the next campsite.

Arthur Ernest Hills really was my father on that day. My mother must have felt truly close to him that evening, deeply loved and protected by him, and really believed that he was a good head of the family. And perhaps they saved my life. Yet I will always wonder what it would have been if they had let me swim in the river, perhaps warning me of the danger.

And the third memory, a recurring one. As I have said, we did not stop at hotels and we also did not usually go to a cafe to use the toilet, for the roads were long. When it came to my mother's turn, we would use the Dormobile as a shelter to one side and on the other sideArthur would stand holding a blanket like a bullfighter's cape so that Mum could not be seen squatting on a makeshift potty.

 Many years later, with Arthur gone, and my mother and I travelling together, it was I who performed the service with the cape. And I remember once when we were travelling from the Algarve to Lisbon along the old road that winds through the mountain towards Mertola, and we had passed beyond it, and were almost out in the dry plain of the Alentejo, but the landscape was still wooded, and entirely empty. I stood there holding the blanket and looking along the road on either side and thinking how beautiful it was and wishing that I could just walk along it alone in peace, far from my mother with her potty.

The most frightening part of our trips to Portugal came at the end. As I have related before in this blog, my mother and Arthur were engaged in international smuggling from Portugal into England, I do not know of what or on what scale. Passing through customs at the British channel port is a memory so frightening that for many years it was blocked in my mind. I could not remember, as we approached the customs men, my mother would say, "Now remember, son, whatever you do, don't look at the customers!"

Many years later, in circumstances I shall be describing more fully later in this post, I remembered suddenly that once we had travelled all night in northern France to enter by a different port than originally intended, I think St-Malo rather than perhaps Dieppe.

When I was nine and ten, in 1964 and 1965, we went to Germany and Austria and to Italy, I am almost sure it was in that order, and from these two trips I have a series of rather fragmented memories.  First the German and Austrian trip.

As we approached Vienna on the inward journey I became aware of all the churches with onion-domes, and gained the clear impression that we were entering the East. It is my first memory where I show historical consciousness. History was already my favourite subject at school, and I became mad to know more history, and decided I wanted to visit Berlin, so that I could investigate the Nazi past. I thought it might be near where we were, not miles away. I broached this idea to Arthur Ernest Hills and evoked one of his sudden, mysterious bursts of rage. "I will not visit bloody Berlin!" I can still hear him shouting.

They liked Vienna, though - I suppose it had no memories for him, as well as being somewhere he could respond positively to his secret German heritage - and I can still remember them driving me around and pointing out how splendid the buildings were. We stayed at a campsite in the western outskirts of the city, at a place called Huteldorf Hacking (I visited that campsite many years later, during the years I was wandering around Europe, it brought me a sort of peace).

They became very short of money on that German and Austrian trip, and the final memory I have of it is of stopping for a meal somewhere in Bavaria and being served by a large blonde woman and of them being immensely grateful that they had been served so much food and so cheaply. They said it showed how nice Germany was, how nice German people were. And I was glad to share this feeling with them, because the publicity I received about Germany in England was not good, yet I already felt an affinity with that country, which had made me so want to see Berlin.

The final thing I have to tell about this trip is not quite a memory, but something I learned in its correct version from finally listening to my mother's tape. Towards the end of this trip they had reached Gelsenkirchen (Mum always loved to pronounce this word, to show how well she enunciated German) and, perhaps because they were so short of money, they place where we eventually stayed was not a campsite but a lorry park. There seemed to be nowhere to spread our evening picnic. But the man who ran the lorry park, seeing their difficulty, said they could spread the picnic between two lorries, and in this way the three of us managed very well. They were most grateful to the manager of the park, and in the morning Arthur, very humbly, went to him and said, "Thank you very much, Herr Ober.* But that is the way that in German you most respectfully address a waiter!

My mother was quite convulsed by this joke, and I think it lightened the difficulties of this last part of the trip for her very much. She never ceased to tell the joke in later years, but I never listened very carefully to what she said, and was under the impression that the story derived from some experience with the Viennese waiters, who are so famously tyrannical. Only when I could bring myself to listen to the tape did I finally learn, and for ever, the true, touching story.

I remember that in the years of married life that still remained to them, Arthur shared in the joke, and would often remark to me, with mock ruefulness, how much deference was due in German lands to the seemingly humble figure of the waiter. And I loved the absurdity of this too, and still do, and the times that he used to tell me about the Ober are the happiest single memories I have of him. And I believe that the fondness my mother had for German people, the German language, and Germany itself in later years, which must surely have gone against her instinct as a Jewess, derived at least partly from the kindness she received from the Bavarian woman and in the lorry park in Gelsenkirchen.

The trip to Italy was the next year, and just as with him we had not gone to Berlin, so with her we did not go to Naples (or at least I did not), we went together as far as Rome. My mother was very lively at the beginning of the trip, full of her love of funny people and jokes. She became very amused in northern France about a French boy who noticed how fast I talked and said I was like a Chinese, "comme un chinois." And when we stopped at Nice, which we did for several days, there was a huge joke about how I and Arthur had tried to ask for chips (or possibly fish and chips), but although she repeated this story endlessly I cannot remember the details.

I remember the days in Nice as being happy. I met a boy there of about my own age and wanted to be friends with him. But very quickly he and his family moved on to Italy. Then we went to Italy. At the seaside resort of Imperia we ran into the boy and his family again. But now he did not want to be friendly with me. So my first experience of Italy was unhappy. And much as I have always wanted to love that country, and experience all it has to offer, there is something in me that cannot help but resent it.

(Just an aside here. All through my life promising friendships have been taken from me by the force of circumstance. When I was about five there was a girl called Melody Pine, there is a photograph of me with her, but she was an Australian, I think, and quickly went back to her own country. And when I was about eleven or twelve there was a wonderful boy I got to know briefly who was even cleverer than I was - he was not only good at history but also at science - and he was also kind and good fun, and I wanted so much to know him, but very quickly he and his family also moved to Australia and I never saw him again and do not even remember his name.

And the only friend I did have in childhood, a boy called Philip Ralph, who was my contemporary at school, I absolutely loathed. He was so vulgar and dirty. The Ralphs were a large, traditional English family, and Mr and Mrs Ralph were kind to me, and welcomed me at their home, and I think that was kept me with Philip Ralph, the practical advantages that went with him. How often this pattern has run through my life, trying to be friends with people I cannot stand, but wanting them to stay because being without them would be worse.)

But back to the Italian trip. My mother used often to say that everyone in northern Italy had been convinced she was from Naples, she spoke Neapolitan Italian so well. I never wondered about this in childhood. I thought my mother was a genius. I have no further memories of this trip until its end, except for one. This was that we went to see the Pope at his summer residence at Castelgandolfo. We were in a huge hall with thousands of other people and he was carried in on a huge platform, riding high above us. I have never forgotten this vision of worldly magnificence.

When I visited Casapulla near Naples in 2011, someone I met there, to whom I showed pictures of my mother and Arthur, and who was quite old, claimed that my parents had visited that place, and that can surely only have been in the summer of 1965, during this holiday. I have the vaguest possible impression that my mother and Arthur may have left me for a few days in Rome in the charge of someone else, but this could easily be a false or induced memory. It is impossible to for me to say whether they went south in 1965.

My next memory of this journey is of passing through Milan, perhaps in the evening, on the way out of Italy, and of my remarking how ugly it seemed to be, and my mother and Arthur explaining that it was an industrial city and therefore could not help being ugly.

Then my next recollection. following on that one, is of being in a small town in Switzerland, and my mother and Arthur being gone for a long time, having left me locked in the Dormobile, and of becoming very thirsty and longing for water, before they returned. And, when they came, I have the memory, which again may be false, that they said they had visited a bank. 

Because we had passed through Milan, and then most naturally would have gone through the Simplon Pass on our way into Switzerland, I suppose the town where this incident took place could well have been Lugano, where they speak Italian, and where my mother could have communicated fluently at any of the prosperous banks located there.

When I suffered my "psychotic episode" at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, I became convinced that on the trip to Germany and Austria they had been given Nazi gold, that they had arranged where to dispose of this in Naples the following year, and that the bank in what I believed was Lugano perhaps still held this money for me, and it would make me a millionaire if I could ever lay my hands on it. In calm retrospect, I see that this scenario is perhaps just a possibility, although the Swiss would surely have snitched away all the money in interest long ago.

That more or less wraps up what I want to say about my childhood foreign holidays. There were one or two more, to Portugal, and the photographs from these later trips typically show me in odd and alienated poses: standing apart with my head bowed from the people sitting in the forest at Carcavelos; turning away from the camera with a terrible smirk; standing by my mother with a proprietorial and frowning air. It is as if my life with my mother and Arthur is breaking in my own body. I don't remember what happened to the Dormobile in the end.

The poverty of my relationship with the Portuguese was sealed in these years. I remember being once with a group of children of my own age. They insisted that Portuguese was the most commonly spoken language in the world. I told them the truth, which I had learnt well, that this was Chinese followed by English, and that Portuguese came something like fifth or seventh. But they just began mockingly referring to me as the "gonglês", a version of "inglês", or "English". I was of no further interest to them.

Everything else I remember of our last trip to Lisbon, in 1967, I put into a story that was published in Prospect called "The Boy and the Book., The reader could easily access that piece, so I will say no more about it except that it concerns how I came into conflict with Arthur Ernest Hills and how my mother helped me thwart him by using cunning.

And so began my masochism, which is more fundamental than my homosexuality. It is only being under a master that appeals to me among the sexual acts. Someone once said, perhaps Freud, that masochism is "the libido in permanent exile", and it looks that way to me. Sex and pain are so mixed up in my mind that perhaps there is no disentangling them. I have never even spent the night with anyone. Only once did I know sexual joy.

Not much hope then. My masochism has taken the form of a duality between England and Portugal. Almost my first memory of it, when I was about ten, is of trying to stuff myself into a cardboard box, pretending that I was a Spaniard or Portuguese, being humiliated and punished by Sir Francis Drake. I want the punishment of the English. But once I thought I belonged to them, at least in part. Now I know I do not.

And my belonging to Portugal was because of my suffering mother and my absolute identification with her. But she betrayed me in the end. I hate her now. Therefore I hate her people, although of course they were not entirely her people, which in a way makes it worse.

It is only when I can be free of both England and Portugal that I can be free and happy at all. I have to find another country. That is the truth, but it is not the whole truth. A country in itself can solve nothing. All countries, by virtue of the very fact that they are countries, create problems for the unattached individual.

What I am looking for is a young man who will be strong and brutal enough to impose his will on me in every way. What country he is from, and whether he wants to stay in his own country, will be immaterial. He will choose the country. It could be England or Portugal, I couldn't argue.

The country I am looking for is really this immoral and heroic young man. But clearly I would have to make my fortune late in life to have any hope of attracting him. The change has to come in me, or in what fortune I shall have.

I have one caveat to what I have said in these last paragraphs. There is a single country where perhaps (and it is a very big perhaps) I might feel sufficiently at home to choose it, if my final fate is to be alone. That country is Italy. Its people attract, move and amuse me. But Italians on the whole do not attract me physically. And their families and associates tend to be anti-gay. So the whole thing might be a bad idea, even considering the charms of all those delicious cocktails, each served with its raft of snacks. And once again I would have to become rich before the time comes to choose a country.

Anyway, back to the grim story of my adolescence. The quarrels between my mother and Arthur became worse and worse. She would bite the carpet, he would foam at the mouth. Sometimes she would run out of the house towards the lay-by and Mrs Parr, the Peckham cockney, might be in front of hers, separated from us by one house, which was now hostile territory. My mother would call out for help, but Mrs Parr would not hear her or would pretend not to, and cry out "Lover-ly, Mrs ´ills!"

(For the homely couple who had lived at No 102 were gone, and had been replaced by one whose name I do not remember. The man was big, dark and handsome in a brutal way. In my increasing disturbance, I used to play incessantly with a ball in the lay-by, batting it endlessly to the ground. The man objected and tried to bring my ball-playing to an end. I hated him and fantasised about being beaten by him.)

When I was about twelve my mother had a phantom pregnancy. She was about forty-five by then. She was convinced she was going to have a daughter. She wanted me to be happy about my little sister but I dreaded having to share her love with anyone. My mother had an English woman doctor whom she hated. After a Mum  began vomiting continuously. She believed that the woman doctor had mistreated her, that she wanted the foreign baby dead and given her pills so that she would bring up her baby in her vomit.

I have told the story in the previous post of how Arthur tried to search for his mother in 1968 and how the failure in this search led him frantically to pursue other women, which doomed his already almost intolerable marriage. I will not therefore repeat this material here, except to say that the lengthy and messy divorce, with a settlement that struck my mother as ungenerous, led her to feel a lifelong resentment and sense of loss which was surely exacerbated by the fact that both brothers had deserted her, the one not caring enough to stay, the other trying his damnedest but not succeeding in the end. The humiliation to a woman must have been terrible. And then there was the son she bore.

The years of the break-up coincided almost exactly with my years of puberty. This was an exceptionally disturbed and unpleasant time for me, but, perhaps because of the extreme nature of my emotions, I have few direct memories of that time. The main one is that the piano teacher in whom I placed great reliance, Miss Christine Drury, eventually refused to teach me because of my behaviour. What exactly I had done or said I do not remember. I never found a piano teacher I liked again. 

I did very well in Grade Six of the Associated Board exams, which I had at least begun with Miss Drury, and achieved a pass with Merit, but then my efforts to take Grade Eight were a terrible flop. I played the piano obsessively for many years but was limited by the fact that certain physical aspects of pianism (playing two against three, for instance) were entirely beyond me. When I finally understood that I could never be a good pianist, and because my playing was annoying some unpleasant neighbours of whom I was frightened, I gave up playing by stages, until my final piece, the Chopin Waltz Op 69 No 2, was forgotten. Then I never touched the keys again. This was to my mother's great sorrow. She had loved to hear me play and the fact that I refused to touch the keyboard in later years, despite her pleas, was not the least of the factors that led to our alienation.

During the last one and a half years that Arthur lived with us, my mother kept up a policy of total silence towards him. She cooked him his meals and performed other housewifely duties, but in silence. Gradually I almost entirely stopped talking to him as well. These were the years of the secondary signs of puberty. Arthur never taught me to hand-shave and for many years I was frightened of this operation and used electric shavers which were constantly breaking down because I had no idea how to clean them. I was always very badly shaven during almost the whole of my adult life. Learning to hand-shave in prison in my early fifties, although I found it very difficult, was a great joy to me.

There were no more family holidays of course from 1968. In that summer there was a partial separation of the pair, then my mother went to work in Jersey for three months. I joined her there briefly, and an experience I underwent there was to inspire the opening of the first of the pieces I wrote for Prospect from prison (look it up, reader, if it interests you). The following summer, or possibly in 1970 or 1971, my mother and I went alone to Paington in Devon for a few days summer holiday. The only memories I have of this stay are that I refused to go swimming in the sea and of sitting at a hotel table with my mother one evening in total boredom and despair.

Yet my feelings of union with her remained for many years. I will tell one further story to  show this was so, which dates from the two years when we lived alone, when I was perhaps seventeen.

We decided one evening to visit the theatre. There was no theatre in Crawley then, and we went to one on the southern outskirts of London, somewhere near Croydon. It turned out to be a modern, liberal play. I have forgotten what issue it dealt with, perhaps the rights of women, or those of the homeless, or perhaps even the subject of homosexuality. 

Anyway, the play quickly outraged the conservative sensibilities with which I had grown up. My mother and I were sitting in the gallery. Some particularly left-wing line caused me to make a sarcastic comment out loud. Soon my mother was joining in vociferously with loud comments about the extreme dowdiness and stupidity of the actors on the stage. The people around were telling us to hush. A manager came up to ask us to leave if we could not shut up. We refused to leave and it would have been too difficult to eject us. We survived until the end of the performance, and in the foyer afterwards someone, I think a woman, berated us about how we had behaved. We answered defiantly and flounced out.

I felt totally united with my mother on that occasion and justified in what I had done. There have been other plays that I have disrupted during my life and I have turned violent in a demonstration. At a mental health centre I was very subservient for eight weeks and then tried to strangle the female director. My mother is no longer with me in my contra mundum attitude, but it remains one of the most fundamental aspects of my character. 

Usually I act very politely, and people often initially believe that I am a gentle and perhaps a liberal person. If I believe that someone could influence my future in a way that would be advantageous to me, I tailor the expression of my views to what he or she might want to hear. I am also generally careful with the expression of my beliefs in the radical atmosphere of north London, particularly in the various handouts where I want no interruption to the acquiring of food and other goods. But with left-wing strangers I sometimes go out of my way to confront, embarrass and annoy them, and feel no guilt if they become upset, rather a sort of painful joy.

Arthur left our house finally on 12th October 1971, the day I began at Thomas Bennett School. I had developed a secret passion for a boy who went there, Toby Lumsden. I never got to know Toby well, nor was I accepted by anyone else much at that school.  I think Arthur timed his departure for my big hopeful day to show his total contempt for me. 

One last story of our life together as a family. It takes me back several years, because I think this happened when I was about twelve. At some point I developed the urge to be a writer. I used to write little stories and essays. Once I wrote one  about the question of evil. And I said at the end of the essay that the most evil person in the world had been Dr Goebbels, that he was the epitome of evil.

I swear I wrote this, not because I knew anything about Goebbels, but because the sound of his name seemed particularly evil. At the same time it appealed to me. There was something ridiculous about it as well as evil which I enjoyed. This pattern has gone on throughout my life, of my being attracted to certain names that seem both ridiculous and evil, or ridiculous and annoying, and repeating them to myself again and again. often out loud, in a strange tone of voice, when I am alone or walking in the street.

But when Arthur Ernest Hills and my mother saw the essay they were horrified. They wanted to know again and again why I had chosen the name of that man as being especially evil. Where had I got the name from? They discussed the matter between themselves in low voices. Only with great difficulty could I convince them that it was simply the sound of the name that had seemed evil to me, and also a bit ridiculous, and then they were calm again.

I think this incident may have taken place while my grandfather was still alive.

During my childhood there was only one recurring indication from my mother that we might be Jewish. This was that she often used to say that we had Jews' heads. When either she or I had done or said anything particularly clever (and this happened often, in her opinion and mine) she would say that the reason we were so clever was that we had Jews' heads. And she would often show me her own head, and get me to look at mine, perhaps in a mirror, and point out the features that meant this was a Jew's head. I do not now remember exactly what those were, although it was something to do with my having a very high forehead, and nor do I ever remember making the connection that someone who had a Jew's head was likely to be a Jew.

The subject of Jewishness did not otherwise come up during my childhood, although there were many savage jokes about the Holocaust in the playground of my Catholic school. I did once cause particular nervousness at that establishment, because I had written an essay when I was about twelve or thirteen (I think based on my reading of H.G. Wells) which said that humankind was divided into three large groups, the descendants of the three sons of Noah, one of which was called the Aryans. This essay caused a lot of condemnation, and was even embarrassingly mentioned in the school assembly, but when a compromise was reached whereby I admitted that I should have called this group the Caucasians the whole thing was declared all right.

As it happened, the essays I wrote, and the things I said, based on my very esoteric reading, tended often to lead to problems with my teachers. I aroused the particular ire of one pair, young Miss Catterick, who was my form teacher two years running, and her mother, who had a position of junior authority, Mrs Catterick.

When it came to "O"-levels, Mrs Catterick was determined that I should not be allowed to learn Latin, because according to her my mental ability was insufficient. But the Latin teacher, Mrs Cronin, an Italian and perhaps a Jewess, who was my form teacher after Miss Catterick, wished me to learn Latin, and our joint will prevailed.

Mrs Cronin fell desperately ill of cancer soon after this (she quickly died) and for a long time the class had no Latin teacher. Only two of us eventually passed Latin at "O"-Level, Barbara Gaffney with Grade Six, the lowest grade of pass, and myself with Grade Four. I got nine "O"-Levels, several at Grade One, and even passed Maths at Grade Six, and was temporarily the toast of the school. 

I met Mrs Catterick in the road that led up to the school building and she apologised to me for doubting my abilities. But I brushed aside her apology. I never forgave her or the school, and my decision to move to a Protestant school soon after I had begun study for "A"-Levels was partly to remove credit for my brilliance from St Wilfrid's School.

(I will just add here that this pattern of fierce resentment and sudden vengeance has continued to run through my life. I never forgive what I perceive to be an injury, or cease to feel contempt for an opinion which I believe to be biased or wrong. I often say nothing about it at the time, if I perceive my position as regards the person or institution to be weak. I often work hard at getting as much out of them as I can while the going is good.  And when I know I have used them up like some old lemon, I strike with force.)

But all this is going away from my Jewishness, at least in a way. My first encounter with organised Jewish life (for there had been nothing like that in Crawley) came at Oxford. There was a fellow undergraduate in my year called Eric Goldberg who was a very committed Jew (he wanted to go out and fight in the Yom Kippur War, which broke out in our first term, but it was over before he could enlist). At some point he and other Jewish undergraduates held a dinner and they invited me to attend as an honorary gentile to turn the stove on and off and do the other work that was forbidden to the Jews under religious law. I was to share these students' meal as my reward.

Unfortunately, the early training I had received had made me so totally useless that I had no idea how to turn a stove on or off, and was frightened to do so. These intensely practical young Jews, who could have stripped a whole cooker down and rebuilt it from scratch if only their religious laws had allowed them to do so, were most exasperated with me, and when I finally succeeded in turning the thing on under their direction, I was left to eat my meal in miserable silence while they chatted most volubly among themselves. I did wonder what made them so almost hysterically cheerful. The room in which we sat was very drab and the food we were eating struck me -  used to my mother's cooking - as grim indeed. Anyway, to my relief and theirs, I was not asked to act the righteous gentile again.

This pattern of unease in all my contacts with organised Jewry has gone on through my life. And, although I have have had several close friends who have been Jews, these have  been reticent about this identity. Neither of these facts is surprising. A people that has subject over long centuries to hateful persecution and vast double-dealing cannot be expected to welcome all and sundry with great ease. And we individual Jews can surely sometimes be forgiven if we indulge in snappishness, suspicion and (in my case, at least) rampant duplicity.

Since I only discovered I was a Jew at an age when it was too late for my behaviour to be much altered by this knowledge, I believe I have a much more outgoing, unreserved and possibly more amoral attitude than most Jews (perhaps sometimes too much so indeed). Speaking from the privileged position of not having been brought up with the Holocaust burned into my mind, and conscious of the disadvantages that such a position implies with regard to Jewish identity, I would like to direct a plea to my fellow-Jews to be more accepting, more trusting, more (I hardly dare write this word) loving. 

The existence of the State of Israel, while the Shoah made it inevitable, and therefore no blame at all can be attributed to the founders - indeed, only righteous praise, - was marred at its onset by the expulsion of the Palestinians, an injustice they themselves and the rest of the world will never forgive to their dying day. If  Israel had never been founded, the ancient canker of antisemitism would surely have rotted away, people would have been so ashamed of it in light of the suffering of the Jews. It is only because the people of Israel have been placed (through no fault of their own) in the position where they are widely perceived to be murderous persecutors themselves that this hateful prejudice can flourish once again, so strongly in the Muslim world, in many other countries of which I have personal knowledge, and, most horrifically of all, in my own nation of Britain, and particularly in Corbyn's Labour Party. Nor can it ever be eradicated, because perpetrators will always be able to claim that they are only anti-Israel. And the support of America, on which Israel relies, is unlikely to continue if, as seems likely, the USA becomes an ever more diverse society, with the WASP population more and more in the minority. Therefore it seems as if Israel needs eventually to accommodate with the Palestinians if it is to survive.

OK, rant over, and back to the topic of my own life. After my aimless and incompetent years as an undergraduate, and an even more wildly undirected period of postgraduate research, I did five disastrous professional jobs and quite a few much more humble and casual ones before at the age of thirty-nine deciding that I would now live solely as a writer (which in practice has meant living on state benefits, handouts, in the early 200s on debt and at various points on the sale of property, with only very small payments directly related to literary production.) 

A surprising number of the jobs I had in my youth, however, involved contact with Jews or a discovery of possible Jewish identity, so I will include brief details of all five professional posts, and begin with a memory of one of the more humble employments, which takes me slightly out of date-sequence, to the summer of 1979.

At this point, I had already run through the first two professional posts in three months each, and was living in precarious circumstances in various short-lived lodgings in London. I took at a temporary job at the engineering firm Ove Arup (no Jewish connection there, I think) and was put to sit at a table with three other young people, one other male and two females. We had to fill in the detail of various jobs the firm had undertaken on cards for computerisation.

Perhaps the second or third time that I approached the table where the three others sat (which would have been within the first two hours, because I went very often to the toilet), the dark, sharp-faced slightly camp-looking other male, who was called James, looked up and said, "You are of the tribe of Abraham, aren't you?"

"No. No. As far as I know, I'm not."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, yes, as far as I know. I'm sure I'm not."

He went on to say that he had thought I looked very Jewish, but that he accepted my assurances. The two women, as I seem to remember (for political correctness had not advanced very far in those days of 1979) now chipped in to say that they too had thought I might be Jewish. One of them was a very glamorous young Indian (possibly half-Irish), called Pia, and I turned the tables somewhat by asking her about her own background. Of the other young woman, strangely enough, I remember nothing at all. In the story I later wrote, I turned her into a black girl called Suzie.

James and I were briefly to become friends, and I don't think this would have happened if I had known I was of "the tribe of Abraham", because I would have admitted I was Jewish and he was anti-Semitic. He had converted to the Russian Orthodox Faith (or perhaps it was Greek Orthodox) and lived as a lodger near where we worked, the lodger of an elderly retired BBC man called Tom Fleming, who had apparently been well-known during the war, and whose flat was just behind Broadcasting House, near Oxford Circus.

I visited James once or twice at this warm, hermetic flat in the very heart of the city, and seem to remember that his small room was painted all in black and featured just his bed and a holy icon on the wall before which a bright candle burned. James was a very devout and sincere young man, and despite his rather virulent anti-Jewish feelings I have warm memories of him.

Some years later, when I had begun to write as an adult, I wrote a short story based on the four temps working around the table and in it I conflated the characters of James and myself and made this character someone who wanted to become a Roman Catholic priest but was worried because he was gay. I made the other man into a mocking Guardian reader called Bernard, gave the Indian girl another oriental background, and made the woman I did not remember into a black girl called Suzie.

I have always felt it was a sort of spiritual achievement to merge the characters of myself and James. I gave the character James's devoutness and my own wild, troubled nature. This work, which is called "Tidings", will always be my favourite of my stories, although some people have judged that the unexpected and abrupt ending does not work. It was published, many years after it was written, in the Australian magazine Quadrant, and for the price of a subscription to that estimable journal, you, reader, could judge it for yourself, as well as read four others of my stories and a number of my essays and impressionistic pieces. I write as C.A.R. Hills, remember.

The first of my professional jobs was with a Jewish firm. Things were getting increasingly hot for me at Oxford in summer 1978 (I was pretending to write a thesis on Modern Germany History and had a supervisor who was getting too insistent on seeing some of it, Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann), so I applied for a job with a firm called Stonehart Publications, which published various business publications,  and found myself attending an interview at a grand, hired venue where a large, imposing blond young man, himself recently down from university, sat at some distance from me behind a grand desk. I thought he looked most handsome, and also cruel, and I and gave a most sparkling performance as his potential assistant in founding a ruthless young executive business newsletter. I think he mentioned he was Jewish at the interview, but to me he looked like the Nazi of my dreams. Perhaps he too divined I was a Jew. He hired me.

The men who had founded Stonehart, a Mr Stein and a Mr Hart, were not in evidence at Golden Square, where various offices of the firm were situated, and the people who ran the newsletters, almost all of them Jewish, seemed more or less autonomous and came or went entirely as they pleased. Some hardly attended at all. I was thus more or less entirely at the mercy of my crude heavily-smoking young boss, who put me in charge of producing the first newsletter with the help of a cynical freelance who disliked us both, and it predictably turned out a total mess and damned the whole venture. From that point my boss persecuted me with every sort of Nazi trick, but he did not make me a slave and take me away to his flat, beat me soundly on arrival, and then force me into incessant hard work under further threat of the lash, as would have been the substance of my dreams.

I found the young man on closer evidence as repulsive as at first he had seemed attractive, and grew to hate him during our brief association. But he has never ceased to be the figure who figures most prominently in my masturbatory fantasies. He had a strange smile, which was very suddenly cut off at the lips as it began to flower and unpleasantness erupted, and it is a man with such a smile I long for, still insistently, as I begin to grow old.

I was rescued from the strange firm of Stonehart after three months by winning the opportunity from a field of 120 interviewees to be a trainee copy editor in the publications department of the Open University in Milton Keynes. Never, they said as they welcomed me with joy on the first day, had they seen anyone give such an impressive interview. However, my utter inability to perform the practical tasks I was expected to undertake at my various jobs was in inverse proportion to the effortless promise to undertake them I had seemed to show. The probationary period at this job was also three months, and I failed it, and was out on my ear.

I never walked out from a job with more bitterness. This was the one professional job I had with no Jewish connection, but the people concerned were very much the sort of left-liberal intelligentsia who in latter years have become most hostile to the Jews. I certainly found them inimical enough under their initial veneer of acceptance and good feeling to be eternally suspicious thereafter of such people.

But it was good to return to London, even with almost nothing, after hated Milton Keynes, where you waited two hours for a bus which then sailed past if you failed to hail it heartily enough, and then you were stuck for another two hours. Anything was better than that. This is now the middle part of 1979, which was the time I did the job at the temps' table which I have already described. I had various other temporary jobs before that, including a most alarming one as a messenger boy in the City of London, where almost all the other elderly messengers were East Enders and members of the National Front. They had the most fantastical hereditary beliefs about the Jews and deep hatred for them. They must have suspected I was one. I lasted only four days in that job, the briefest of all my employments.

I lost the job at the temps table towards Christmas 1979 (I saw James once or twice after that, then never again) but before I finished I walked out from the office early one rainy morning to queue up for seven hours in Kennington to be offered a hard-to-let flat by the Greater London Council in the London Borough of Lambeth. Thus in mid-December 1979, I found myself the master of a two bedroom flat with a sitting-room large enough to give parties less than three miles from Charing Cross at a rent of three pounds a week.

For a brief period in early 1980, I tried to manage without claiming the dole, but soon gave this up as unprofitable, and combined state benefits for the rest of that year with working at three fly-by-night tutorial agencies, all of which got rid of me by December. The earlier part of 1981 saw me combining the dole with various bits of freelance writing, none of which were very literary, but I lost a great deal of weight during this period. It was all soon to come back again because of depression when from October 1981 I began a more than four year stint as a news reporter on Electrical and Radio Trading (ERT), a magazine which formed part of IPC Business Press, part of Reed Publishing, based in Sutton, Surrey.

This was once again an almost entirely Jewish magazine in the editorial department. This was because the editor of ERT, an elderly, lugubrious and comical East End Jew called Alfred Sorkin, tended to hire only people he knew to be Jews or suspected to be so. Once again, I did a brilliant interview, and when I described my Portuguese background to him Alf was as sure as he needed to be that I had the vital qualification for the job. He was also most impressed by my Oxford degree, and did not stop to reflect that I knew nothing about electrical trading and was hardly the type to try to learn. That pink skyscraper filled with trade magazines was very heavily unionised and after you had been there two years it was almost impossible to sack you. During the first two years Alf was too-hearted and retained enough affection for me to do the necessary. After that, he began to hate me like poison, but I could now take my three-hour lunchbreaks wandering the second-hand bookshops, libraries and scraggy woodlands of remotest south London with impunity.

My great protector during that time was the news editor for whom I worked, the old friend that I have mentioned many times in this blog, Bill Hicks. Bill was almost comically kindly, liberal-minded and diffident during that youthful period (in later years he has developed very considerable sharpness, at least in his relations with me).

But at the time he was my boss I was in no danger of being forced to take on electrical assignment that did not take my fancy. He was an invaluable protector in quite a hostile office. Alf Sorkin was also particularly fond of Bill, and relied on him (Bill was later to be present at Alf's very painful deathbed) and perhaps I would have been sacked during the first two years if Bill had not intervened.

I lasted in that job, therefore, a little over four years, by far the longest employment I have ever had, and from which I already derive a pension, awarded for ill-health. That was the first of the many good things I owe to Bill. In the last year of my four at ERT (for Bill is a very cautious, rather remote person for all his kindness) our acquaintance ripened into personal friendship, and I was for the first time invited to his beautiful attic flat in Clapham, quite near my own flat. I have the happiest memories of it over almost three decades, but now for some time his flat  has been denied to me.

But those years I can never forget, and they mean that my feelings about Bill will always be positive, even if I no longer see him much, even if I do not trust him entirely. He loved my literary work in those days. I used to read him the latest piece when I used to come round to his flat, almost always on a Monday night, to share a bottle of wine and Indian snacks and, finally, our favourite records, Walter Gieseking, Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.

How lustily I used to sing along to that blondest of German singers! How much he used to laugh when I read my work! And his attic room was so sweetly dark, so impressively lined with books and the touching artworks that had been created by his friends. And it went on so many years, all through the later 1980s, the 1990s, when I wrote so many short pieces I could never read each one to him. I wrote them as a bird sings. Days never to forget! And it went on into the 2000s and the years of trouble and estrangement that lay ahead.

Very often in those years we ran into each other in the street or on the bus. There was a period - I cannot remember exactly the date - when our relationship must have been at its most intense, because I ran into him and his family six times by chance over a short period in the streets of London, five times in our local area, but once at Cambridge Circus.

Days never to forget. Certainly, I never will forget. But my relationship with Bill has gone through the long cycle that affects many enduring friendships and now seems possibly to have reached closure. For, from the period that I left England in 2009, I asked him to perform too many tasks for me without reward, and thus lit the torch of his slow-burning anger. 

In my desperation, after a while, knowing how upset he had become, I began to send him presents from my stays abroad. He liked the first two I sent, from Italy and Portugal - an ornament with lemons and a rather sinister little box - but it was the third one, a plate from Israel, celebrating that country's achievements, and which arrived at his flat smashed into a thousand pieces, that for a time seemed to restore our friendship to something more like what it had been. Ironically, the smashed plate cemented our relations much more than an intact one could have done.

But a friendship, once damaged, can no more be fully restored than a smashed plate can be. In the early part of 2014, after a clandestine return to London, when Bill had for the most part welcomed me, I committed the sin, as far as he was concerned, of writing about him with great honesty in this blog, as well as the other three close friends I had known in London and with whom my relations had ended. Bill was extremely angry about being mentioned, and confessed to me that he almost broke off our relations there and then. But he finally accepted my explanation that in order to write well it must be with honesty about the things that matter.

After my return to London in early 2017 it seemed that I no longer needed Bill to do anything more for me and I gave him a handsome series of "signing-off presents" on the occasion of a now rare visit to his flat. But some months ago (this is in late 2018) I made the mistake of asking him to do another rather dodgy job. Once again he assented, but this seems to have put the kibosh on our friendship, because I cannot get hold of him now.

I sometimes do not regret that he no longer seems to be my friend. Our original relationship ended during the period I was in prison at Lowdham Grange in 2008, when he failed me in ways I could not forgive. The sequel, lasting almost ten years, was mainly one of my using him mercilessly. I have only limited further use for him now and our original friendship could not return. And my own anger, held in check for so long while I needed him, is boiling hot. So perhaps better  that we part, and the luminous attic flat join the good memories over which I so endlessly pore in the night-time. They are usually memories of places rather than people, the place shining bright and clear in my memory, the person fading away.

Bill still has a store of manuscripts in his flat which I left in his charge with my other things when I departed England in 2009. At some point I shall ask for these back. When I have got them, I shall give Bill a pleasant farewell occasion, perhaps more than one. Then perhaps I shall not contact him, just as he does not contact me, or we will fall out of touch for some other reason. It will be for the best, at least for me, I think. For like any masochist I fear and detest friendship. I do owe him so much, though. Can I bear to do it?

And my general aversion to people only seems to grow with the years. In the last years of the old millennium and the beginning of the new, I was trying to build up my career as a writer, and optimistic that success could be achieved. I was in my own way a social and affable figure, encouraging and sympathetic to others. I had been made the editor of PEN News, which gave me a position in the world, the trust of many older writers who were members of the organisation, and a feeling that I could afford to be generous.

I used to give birthday parties, usually at my flat in Clapham, sometimes elsewhere, and these were vivid and crowded occasions. Often distinguished literary and journalistic people came. I was a kindly host, always accompanying my more frail and elderly guests to the bus-stop and then returning to the fray. Everyone thought my parties were great fun. When I was sentenced they were written up by Glenys Roberts in the Mail and Jeremy Lewis in The Oldie in warmly appreciative articles which I still think back to with pleasure, as I do to the parties themselves.

The present editor of the New Statesman, Jason Cowley - an eighteenth-century highwayman of a person pretending to be deeply moral, a person who is envious of my talent and therefore wanted to destroy me - published a huge article in The Observer Review at the time of my imprisonment whose general import was that, given the personal difficulties I posed, my talent was not worth encouraging. He pictured me as a really shabby loner, but he had never accepted the invitations to my parties, so could not know how partial his picture of me was. Or perhaps he did know, but was able to suppress the knowledge.

I initially co-operated with the writing of his vast piece, because I hoped Cowley would repeat the enthusiastic things he had said to me privately about my writing ("You are touched with genius"). Jason came to see me in Belmarsh towards Christmas of 2007, and he waltzed into the grim, undecorated hall, where all the other prisoners had their guests, just before the cut-off time when no more visitors were allowed, having just crossed the channel from France, and driven hell-for-leather in his car. He seemed a glamorous figure, still handsome and slim, as I watched him approach my little table, where I sat alone wearing prison fatigues and with a huge wooden cross around my neck. I hoped he would write a beautiful article.

But his piece deeply shocked me when I read it alone in my cell in Belmarsh on a Sunday after lunchtime lock-up, after the Observer had just been delivered. I knew the purpose of his article. Our friendship never recovered, and once, when I tried to visit him at his office, Cowley threatened to call the police. Well might he loathe me. I am a writer, but Cowley himself can never be more than a journalist, although he is a skilful one in his sanctimonious way.

But did this shyster
, with his odd perspicacity, see not the person I was, but the one I would become? Did he see the angry old man shouting at youthful helmeted figures on bikes? Did he see the slightly dirty individual seated alone at the soup-kitchens, trying to smile sweetly and wishing all the tramps and their helpful key-worker dead? When Jason knew me I boasted hundreds of acquaintances, and a number of close friends. But many people who know me vaguely now loathe me, and I am down to just seven people I can just about call friends (one is a couple but I consider them as a single friend). 

Bill still counts among the seven. Four of the others I have not seen for many months. The friend now closest to me came round recently to fix the duvet cover and fitted sheet on my bed and I entertained him to a drink. A week or so later he cancelled my proposed visit to his house because it was cold on the appointed day and he does not light the fire until the evening. What a funny little creature! But he has usefulness and goodwill, and those are rare qualities.

I also recently visited the couple at their home in Kent, and this occasion was subtly less harmonious than my previous two visits, which took place in summertime. Well, these are good people, and I feel more alone with every passing day, but a couple so remote and united cannot really help me in my isolation. 

I often lie on my bed thinking about the seven, and the reasons why I should not contact them. One, a writer and journalist of sorts, is unsympathetic to this blog. That more or less damns him totally.

A fourth friend has become very capricious, but I am still fond of her. I cannot often get hold of this mad, ageing former ballerina, and then arranging a meeting is difficult indeed, and paying for it even worse. But we became friends when we were both mental health patients and the downbeat psychologists at 380 Streatham High Road disliked us both for our superior ways and I felt really desperate and much in need of companionship. That was at the height of my disturbance and despair, in 2006. The bonds formed in adversity are the strongest of all. So, although she is getting more and more difficult, I'll stick with Sophie to the end.

I like the fifth person much less. He is an old man and has an equally ancient dog who is making his flat smelly and he now only invites me to see him alone, although he still entertains parties of people. I am planning to drop him after I have completed thirty years of attendance at the fascinating red-plush Earls Court flat where he used to preside over such glittering parties.

As one entered, Sir Stephen Spender might be standing on one side of the door and Quentin Crisp on the other, while slightly farther back you could see Beryl Bainbridge lurking, or Don Bachardy sitting slightly apart. John Heath-Stubbs might be surveyed, blindly holding court to a group of young admirers, and in a corner Francis King was often bent over to catch the words of some newcomer. Well, they're all gone, Jeremy, and soon you will be as well, and no one will ever read a word of yours for pleasure.

The sixth friend is Bill, and the final one is an ancient aristocratic lady, a sweet person, but she has always seemed to be vaguely on another planet and is now often high on morphine, which is the medication prescribed for the pain in her back. She is now also closely guarded by her six children, who were hardly evident in the past, and this means that I have become reluctant to disturb her. I may drop this fine old lady totally because the pleasure of seeing her is now outweighed by the difficulties.

 the picture I present of an elderly urban hermit is almost complete. But like the Miller of Dee I am basically a happy misanthrope. I am now sixty-three years old, an age that is sometimes called the grand climacteric, the time when human striving means no more, when what will be will be.

I still live in the tall dark North London home that I sketched at the beginning of this post. I am no closer than I was to the other inhabitants, and indeed this gloomy and antiseptic building, where all five of the current residents hardly speak to the other four, is a parody of a communal house. But the others are often away, or do not appear in the public quarters, so that for much of the time it is as if I am living in the house blessedly alone. 

My days are generally quiet, quiet and angry. My loathing of the society in which I live gives its own satisfaction, as hatred always does if the self is not harmed. I am mostly very polite to the people I meet. But it is lovely to release my venom against them when it comes. Almost every day of my life includes some angry scene. However, as long as people are sweet to me, they receive sweetness.

I get up later than I did, go to bed earlier, and spend many hours asleep, or just lying down, sometimes popping food into my mouth as I do so. Shopping is quickly achieved, and I buy just enough for every day. Other hours are spent munching happily in cafes, or sitting on park benches enjoying a Yazoo drink and a chocolate bar.

I go to a different library or internet point every day to check my emails, tinker with this blog, and surf the political news in the hope of right-wing successes. I visit the pub more rarely than I did, read less, and prefer leafing through non-fiction to tackling a novel. But I buy a book almost every day at a charity shop, look at it very briefly, and then find a place for it on one of the three huge, precarious piles of books atop my chest of drawers, or on some other pile.

I am a member of no literary or other associations any more. Beyond my exaggerated politeness, I do not attempt to ingratiate myself with anyone, although I am careful to maintain good relations with those who are important in my life. And I sometimes do favours to people who could be useful to me  at a tricky moment, I am often kind to those on whom I take pity, patient with anyone who seeks to learn from me, give to beggars if he or she asks me, am exceptionally polite to the owners and staff of cafes, and if I ever met a truly masculine guy or a really influential person (fat hope), I would surely take the trouble to be agreeable. So I suppose, in contradiction of my statement near the head of this paragraph, that makes a pretty long list of those I am still trying to placate.

I now listen more often to Radio Four than Radio Three, to which I was tuned for most of my adult life. Classical music is often painful to me now, and I detest the ignorant and politically correct Radio Three presenters, with their endless black, female and very recent composers, sometimes all three in the same person, and and in that case usually an American. And how the Radio 3 apparatchiks gush about their discoveries as well! And how ghastly their mispronunciations of foreign words are, when they are forced to play composers of merit. 

No, these days I often turn to the information dispensed on Radio Four. No need to worry about the mispronunciations of the piously demotic crew on Bay Bay Cee Raidioh Faw. But soon they are on to climate change, black achievements or announcing the radically illiterate programmes of Somethin (sic) Else. And in despair I turn to the lush sounds mixed with grim adverts of Classic FM. But more often I switch between all three stations before relapsing into silence.

All this dislike and anger and rigidly maintained sweetness functions like a whitening of the soul. Through it runs the certainty that I can neither rely on nor offer much to others. London becomes less and less my own city with each passing day. Every moment I walk around there is hatred in my heart (although also pleasure in my mind). And I sense a grand purpose in my willed detachment from  the society and city in which I live.

Much of my time is now spent in reading about Nazism, its society and its leaders. Because of my background I am tempted to feel a sort of nostalgia for the Nazis, and obviously this is compounded by my dislike of modern Britain, which would clearly never have existed in its present form if Hitler had been triumphant (and equally clearly I would not have been around to enjoy what I can of it).

But it is essential, as I see it, that my attitude to Nazism be purged. And this can only happen in the solitude of my soul, through knowledge. Yesterday, for instance - I write this passage on Thursday, 29th November 2018 - I sat for several hours in the rainy afternoon in the Waterstone's at Islington Green leafing through a biography of Reinhard Heydrich. 

This work made it clear to me that he was not the sexy young superman that I had vaguely supposed him to be. Apart from his organisational, terroristic, sporting and musical skills, all very considerable, he was a commonplace person, devoted to sport, reading English detective stories and bar-crawling. His probable motive for surrendering himself to extreme evil was the fact that, although he was presented to the world as the beau ideal of a Nazi blond beast, his body was in fact strangely out of proportion. The worst feature of it was his thin, unmuscular legs, something a man can do nothing about. This must have tortured the guy.

But Heydrich is not exactly the point of what I am saying. What applies to him can be paralleled in every aspect of the Nazis. They were all, with the exception of Goebbels, Speer and, through his charisma, Hitler,  utterly mediocre as well as vastly unpleasant. The whole movement was quite useless as well as evil.

There is one caveat to what I have just said. If Halifax rather than Churchill had carried the day in 1940, and an accommodation been reached between Britain and Germany, and both had gone against Russia, and Hitler had died early, as the supposition that he had Parkinson's Disease, as well as the amazing complex of diseases he developed in 1943, suggests he might have done, and the highly competent Speer had taken over, it seems likely that the system would have undergone the same sort of amelioration as happened in the Soviet sphere after Stalin.

The European empires could have continued for another couple of generations, and and the mass world migration that I so much dislike, and which will in the end do untold harm to Europe, would never have taken place. This would have been better for the English, for the Germans, and possibly for the whole of Europe excepting Russia. But in the mean time the Jews of Europe would surely have been utterly destroyed. And, since I am myself a Jew, and a European Jew, this is not an outcome that I can wish had happened.

And, beyond this, the point remains that it is only through solitary, prolonged and undisturbed reading, without sharing my reactions to what I read with others - because those others are not available, and I do not respect them anyway - that I can reach the attitude of confident contempt for the Nazis, and an absence of wishing them back, which will be more essential to me than detestation for them if the secret of my grandfather's identity is ever revealed.

Now back to the story of my unfortunate professional jobs and the many contacts they involved with Jews and Jewishness. My time at the electrical trade magazine, ERT, came to an end when I did yet another brilliant interview, this time with the London Office of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was then headed by a dilettantish self-consciously upper-class person, who has since died, called Charles Mosley. This time my brilliance consisted in sitting absolutely still and impassive for almost the entire half an hour of the interview while Mosley talked on the phone. He was so impressed with this insouciance that he hired me on the spot, as an sub-editor and clerk. There was one other editor, a middle-aged Jewish family man with whom Charles Mosley was on poor terms.

For the first two weeks of this job, just before and after Christmas 1985, the three of us were working substantially alone at an office in Temple Chambers, and I loved the dark, romantic setting of the office (and spent much of my time reading The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault, a novel I have never forgotten) and liked both of my disparate companions. But then an elderly English spinster, who had worked for many years in the Chicago head office of the company, arrived in London to shake up the London end of the operation, and we moved to grim offices in Great Portland Street under the close eye of the spinster. The family man and I sat mainly in an outer office just adjoining where Charles Mosley presided in increasingly imperilled state, and I entered eight months of great unhappiness before the spinster decided I was redundant.

I talked to the family man very intensively during those eight months and this was the longest period of discussion I have ever enjoyed (if that is the word) with a fellow-Jew. He was the absolute caricature of a subservient, sly and oily Hebrew. He could have served Dr Goebbels as material for propaganda.

He had gone to live in Israel in a spirit of idealism, but could not stand it there, because, according to him, the atmosphere was "middle-eastern". Now he had returned to London and was trying his best at the job for the sake of his family. He had two children (I seem to remember a son and a daughter, and that he disliked the daughter and identified with the son). He proudly displayed pictures of him in the office and his attitude to me was quite anti-gay. Mosley baited the Jew constantly and, for instance, on a memo he circulated to staff about the article on the Spanish Inquisition (I quote from memory), wrote that the auto-da-fe, where Jews had been burned, had been a "functionally useful policy, albeit painful." The family man protested privately to me about this in the strongest terms but said nothing to Mosley, because he was too frightened of losing his job, which in turn was because he had children for whom to care. Mosley, albeit married to a fashionable American wife, had no children.

I received a letter from the Jewish family man after I had been made redundant to ask me whether I was still among "the breathers of this world". I don't remember if I replied. Certainly I had nothing more to do with anyone from that office, and disliked both Gentile nor Jew there, and took no sides in the intense hostility that I saw existing between them. 

After the encyclopaedia, a mainly happy period began when I was able to live for fully six years on a mixture of the dole and the quite extensive freelance writing I was able to obtain, and I have no memories of any contact with Jews from that time. Nor did I ever think about Jewish matters. But in 1992 I was forced to take another job, as a desk editor at the Monitoring Service of the BBC, and it was an incident that took place at that workplace which made me first seriously consider the possibility that I was a Jew.

But, before telling of that revelation, I should go back once again and and talk about the closely related question of how I considered my Portuguese identity during those long years of my early adulthood, something I thought about with great intensity. Once again I need to recap, going from my late schooldays to the visit my mother paid me at my home in October 1996. Then I will go briefly back to the question of how I first suspected I was a Jew, before beginning the long and painful story of the joint crisis in the lives of myself and my mother from 1997 until her death in 2002 and then the repercussions of all this in my life to the present and the discoveries and speculations which have preoccupied me.

In the case of both my mother and my father there was a central mystery, or problem, which concerned their origins, and resolving that mystery was the clue to discovering who my parents and grandparents had been. In the case of my father, as I have related in the previous post, the man who brought me up, Arthur Ernest Hills, seemed not to be my father as regards any affection for me, but his own early background was so strange and mysterious that it seemed likely, since there was already a mystery involved, that he was in fact a real part of my story. This conundrum was resolved naturally by discovering that he was a relation as he had always seemed to be, but not my father, rather my wicked uncle. 

In the case of my mother, the mystery revolved around the fact that she spoke Neapolitan Italian better than Portuguese, so that appeared to be her native language. But she had no particular knowledge of Italy, no love for it, and no contempt for Portugal, as would surely have been the case if she had arrived in Portugal on the verge of adulthood from Naples or somewhere near it. as a Jewish refugee in about 1940, an explanation which otherwise would well have fitted the facts. In contrast, her connection to Portugal and the family she had there was obviously very strong, although it was troubled. But how could she, a brilliant linguist, be a true Portuguese and a member of this family without being able to speak the language?

Again there was a natural solution to the mystery. Her early childhood was in Portugal (although she perhaps had been born away), and it was her own mother who had come from Italy, or from another region where they spoke Neapolitan Italian, in the very early twentieth century or at the end of the nineteenth. I have an idea about where this region may have been. Rosa Pereira once told me that the family connections of my mother were more with Greece than with Italy. And once, when I was at Brian and Maria's house we were looking at a picture of Cesario dos Reis and Maria wondered with exasperation why they were wearing Greek-style clothes. Those clothes must surely have been procured for them by Ana das Meias.

If Ana das Meias had originally been from Greece, my mother might well have been sent to work there with relations of her mother at the age of nine. She spoke only a few phrases of Greek, but this would have been entirely typical of Italian-speaking Jews in Greece in the inter-war years. After all, large areas of the country had only recently emerged from Ottoman rule. There was a large Italian-speaking community in Salonika (now of course called Thessaloniki) and a smaller one at Ioannina in Epiros. Many years before knowing anything of Ana das Meias, I had written my first novel, called David's Music, and I made the hero, based on myself, half-Greek. At one point I have him tell his girlfriend that his grandmother had been born in Epiros in 1888. I once spent a happy fortnight in Ioannina and felt at home there. It would not surprise me at all if it was in a Jewish community in that city that my mother grew up to be predominantly an Italian speaker in the early 1930s.

I have evidence, however, which I will come to later, that, when she was sixteen, around the year of 1939, she was living in Italy.

Up until the age of nine, then, my mother lived in Portugal, then in Greece and Italy in her teenage years, then back in Portugal again from the age of sixteen to about that of thirty, then for thirty years in England, and finally from the age of sixty to her death nineteen years later back in Portugal. All this fits well perfectly the pattern of her extensive but incomplete Portuguese. Now comes the story of how, over many years, I began to understand these things must be true.

I had no hint of it in my childhood. I did not speak any Portuguese then, so could not have realised that my mother´s proficiency in the language was deficient. My mother claimed to her sister Eva that I did not want to learn Portuguese when a child, and had shouted, "I won't speak that rubbishy language! I'm English. I want to speak English!" 

Well, I think this is all part of the negative view that my Portuguese family was always encouraged to take of me, and also part of her own system of self-defence. The whole matter is more complex. As I have said, I was a Portuguese patriot. Yet I lived in England, and in those days children were not encouraged to emphasise their foreign connections. Perhaps I was angry with my mother when I said that. Perhaps our discordance had already begun to grow. So I might have turned my love towards England. How often I must have wanted to be fully part of it! Arthur Ernest Hills would surely have been against my learning Portuguese. And I must sometimes have wanted to make him love me.

In general I did not worry much in childhood about acquiring knowledge of Portugal. My attachment to my mother made me take it for granted that everyone else would love her and also her country. There was no need, it seemed, to stress my Portuguese identity to others. It took a long time for this instinctive attitude to change. I will illustrate this attitude with one incident.

When I went to Thomas Bennett School for the sixth form, there was an elderly and traditional history master called Mr Townshend who taught us the Tudor and Stuart period in England and its equivalent in Europe. He was kindly, and warmed to my intellectual gifts. It was owing to him that I was put forward to go to Oxford, because my other radical and slightly hostile teachers would never have suggested it.

At one point in Mr Townshend's class the issue of the Portuguese Discoveries came up, and he apologised to me for the fact that he did not teach a lesson on this subject. He would like to, he said, but he could not, because the examiners never set questions on it. This was most unfair, he said, but he could do nothing about it. But at this point in my life I did not pay much attention to his apology. I was too excited by how much I knew about history and how well I could write about it. Portugal and its Discoveries could wait.

It was while I was at Oxford that my attitude began to change. The Protestant school had been my first full contact with English society, but I was too insulated by my intellectual brilliance fully to feel the hostility I encountered there. At Oxford I became purposeless. I was no longer interested in intellectual prowess. I had made it to the place of my vague dreams and I knew of no future. I wanted to live now, to love and be loved, to be known and accepted and perhaps even celebrated for all that I was. And Portugal became, in the words of the poet Alexandre O'Neill, "the issue that always goes with me."

There was a Canadian student at Hertford in my year, rich and flamboyant but socially insecure. He wanted very much success within the college, yet was mainly regarded as a joke in that self-consciously English and restrained society. Because I was myself an outsider, he was wary of me and I had little contact with him. One of the few times he addressed me was in the library, when he came up to me to say that he knew that the Portuguese for "fuck your mother" was "coño del madre". This seemed to be fairly obviously incorrect Spanish, but I did not know enough Portuguese to offer him a true translation. All I could say was that the Portuguese for "mother", a word I knew well, was "mãe". I have a belief that was the last time I ever spoke to that individual

And there was an embarrassing occasion when, quite unusually, a Portuguese scholar was dining in hall, and that person (allegedly at least) did not know much English. Someone came up to me where I was sitting (almost certainly alone, I usually was) to invite me to go and join that man so that I could talk to him in Portuguese, but I had to refuse because my knowledge of the language was almost nil. Quite a lot of fuss was made about the fact that I had refused to undertake this commission and, since I now tended to be very upfront about my Portuguese origins in what I perceived as the hostile atmosphere of the college, the whole incident upset me more than perhas it should have done.

Probably it was around this time that I started to attend, out of interest and unofficially, some Portuguese classes that were being offered in the university. They were very poorly attended, I remember, and being offered at a level far above any from which I could profit. The hopeless and uninterested female teacher (according to a fellow student, she was very beautiful) only really spoke to me to express her astonishment that, the son of a Portuguese mother, I knew so little of the language. It seemed a very ugly one to me in these admittedly unpromising circumstances. Quite soon I gave up these classes in despair.

The years that followed Oxford formed part of the confusion and disturbance of my twenties. I did little very consistently during that time. During my Oxford years I had been mad about learning German, and after Oxford I was trying to study German history, so that - though my pleasure in German decreased - it was more than ever imperative to try and master it. But very gradually I did return to Portuguese, and naturally enough I sought my mother's help. But she did not encourage my efforts. I think now that she feared that, if I learned enough of the language, I would discover that she was not really proficient in it. Perhaps that had also lain behind the failure to teach me Portuguese in childhood.

My mother became quite scornful and hostile about my efforts to learn Portuguese. There was one general grammar available of Portuguese at that time, one of the very few books that taught the language beyond the most basic level. This was the grammar by Clive Willis (he later became a great friend of mine, and was a great and inspiring expert, but this early book, in its original version, is not among his best efforts). It gave the meaning of the colloquial word "sabichão" as "prig". But my mother had often called me a "sabichão" when I was a child and both of us knew it did not mean anything like "prig". The trouble was that neither of us knew exactly what it meant in English. In fact it is something like "know-all". But I was too wild and woolly to come to this commonsense definition at the time, and my mother seemed seized with panic at the idea of trying to find an equivalent for the word.

My Portuguese studies were part of the many bones of contention that were beginning to grow between my mother and myself in the years that followed my childhood. She quickly grew to hate Clive Willis and his book, but could not pose as an effective alternative to his authority. She could not even usually remember the name of this charming scholar she disliked so much. I began to understand, as in so many other areas of my life, that it was not from her that I could learn anything. I went back to books and I listened to a few tapes and was able to speak to a few other native speakers.

Anyway, a day came when I returned to my mother's house after a little while away and I was suddenly able to speak quite good Portuguese. She was astonished and, despite herself, pleased. She had a respect for intellectual accomplishment and was herself a brilliant linguist in six languages, in none of which perhaps was she quite a native (for her Italian, so fluent, was Neapolitan dialect). She spoke the languages but could not write any of them perfectly.. I could. It must have pleased her that her son was showing at least some of her own gifts. All during my adult life she was torn: pleasure in me; contempt for me.

So, from the age of eighteen, her attitude to me tended to alternate between desperate smother-love and cruel disparagement, one invariably following the other as the night follows the day. As I mentioned in one of my Prospect pieces, when I saw Chekhov's play The Seagull, I was astonished by how close the relationship between the actress Madame Arkadina and her aspirant writer son Konstantin was to my relationship with my own mother, although ours was at a lower social level, of course and conducted largely away from society.

Our tragedy as mother and son was that we failed to understand how much we were growing to hate, rather than love, one another. I was still living in the afterglow of my childhood adoration of her and perhaps could not bear to reflect on how little this corresponded to how I saw her now. I was also still too dependent on her for practical help in many matters to have the freedom to analyse an increasingly tortured relationship.

She, in her turn, was too instinctive, conventional and domineering a person to have any facility for self-criticism, any real empathy with others, or any inkling that it would be wise to moderate her behaviour towards me. I heard the increasingly threatening sound of the fire-cracker up her arse (or was it a rocket?), but had no idea what it presaged. 

From late 1979 to early 2010, a period of more than thirty years, I had my flat in Clapham. My mother and Arthur Ernest Hills helped me move in. It was the last joint service I had from them. On later occasions, it was she alone who put up the curtains, laid the carpets, dressed the bed. I wanted desperately to be able to do those things but was too terrified to try and learn.

On my twenty-seventh birthday we were alone in the flat, sitting in front of a big birthday cake, when somebody rang up threatening to kneecap me. How much worse this would have been if she had not been there. So often during those long years she would ring up demanding to come round that afternoon, and I was often annoyed, but I always let her come, and how lovely it was to see the house so clean and tidy when she had gone. I remember her so often lying on the sofa and smiling at me as I sat writing at the table, for I was a writer now.

I will never again be in one place so long, and now when I am walking through the streets of North London and see an empty bus going south there is a terrible pang in my heart. I was born in North London, but in South London conceived. South and North, how much I belong to you both! Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common, and on to Burntwood Lane, oh, I want so much walk over you again as just an ordinary part of my life. Lands of the South, lands of my youth, oh, take me back. Yet where I live now is where I was born.

And those days were not so beautiful when they were being lived. In the 1980s, when everyone was famously making a packet, I was attending adult education classes! Now a passion for learning Latin replaced my earlier attachment to German (I even tried to conduct all my relationships with friends in Ciceronian Latin, which was inconvenient to say the least). But from time to time I also returned to Portuguese. It rarely seemed any more attractive a language the more and more I tried to take pride in it. I remember shuddering as I had to enunciate some particularly ugly sequence of nasal diphthongs. But as we approached the 1990s, my "A"-levels in Latin and Greek were behind me, I was devoting myself entirely to Portuguese with the ambition of turning it to some practical use in England (never achieved), and I was getting seriously good at it.

I will give some examples of the strange things I learnt about my mother from this process. Back in the later part of 1976, I had been living for a period of six months back at my mother's house (I had one friend during this time, who was so taciturn that I nicknamed him "The Brick Wall", I think he was the worst friend I ever had, and that is saying quite something, I cannot help mentioning him although he has nothing to do with my mother). Anyway, during this period I used to listen to mother talking to her friends in Portuguese on the phone, and I noticed that very often, as a sort of aside, she would come out with the phrase, "E depois," which, literally, means only "after this".

I imagined, because the phrase came up so often, that it must have some very handy colloquial use besides its literal meaning, perhaps "Well, anyway," or something like that. And in the 1980s, I mentioned the phrase to one of my two chief teachers (they are probably both alive, so I will give no details of them) and I asked him what the hidden colloquial meaning was. But he said the phrase had none.

I realise now that this was my mother's instinctive transference to Portuguese of the very common Italian expression, "E dopo?", "What's next?", "What are we up to now?" But I knew almost no Italian at the time I was researching the possible hidden idiom, nor did my instructors in Portuguese.

Something rather similar happened at another point. I was trying to practice Portuguese with my mother and rashly addressed her as "tu", the most familiar form of address. She said rather sharply that, while a parent would naturally address his or her child as "tu", it was the duty of the child to call his or her parent "você", the next step up in the hierarchy of address.

Once again, when the opportunity arose, I took this point to the informative if rather repressive Portuguese teacher whom I have already mentioned. Once again, he contradicted my mother's point, saying that children in Portugal had always freely addressed their parents as "tu". This time, however, I rather doubted whether he knew his stuff, for reasons which, if I were to reveal them, would identify him further.

Now I know for certain, from many sources, that he was right. But it is the custom, particularly in the southern Italian countryside, where parents, and particularly fathers, are often figures to be held in awed respect - "Mazze, panella,/fan' i figli bella," is one adage that springs to mind - for the son or daughter to address a mother or father with the formal "lei", while he or she will freely address him or her as "tu". What my mother told me was one more of the many signs I have come across over the years that she must have grown up at least partly in Italy.

And a young Italian, from the region of Naples, whom I met in Lowdham Grange Prison in 2008 - I shall not give his name, because he would not wish it - once told me that he happened to know personally that my mother had been born there. If this is true, then I am almost as much Italian as I am Portuguese, because where someone is born is one of the most important markers of their identity. If it is not true, then one might say, as a friend once suggested to me, that thirty per cent of my blood lies in Portugal.

Yet another couple of indications, for which I need to go back to 1996. In October of that year my mother came to stay with me for a month in London. It was one of the happiest times we spent together and it was also the last happy time. Somehow, during the whole month, we almost always managed to avoid getting on each other's nerves and showed toleration for each other. Very briefly, at one point during this stay she told me that she now had someone living with her, but I did not take the point up, so I knew nothing then about Flavio Rosa. After my mother went home, she rang me up to thank me for the good time I had given her.

Now during that month I was keen to improve my knowledge of Portuguese with a person I still believed was a native speaker. I had an ingenious method for doing this. From my earliest childhood I had been familiar with the work of the 1940s and 1950s Madeiran popular singer Max (Maximiniano de Sousa). I now had a double album of his, and one of the songs, more comic than soulful (for Max had those two broad styles), was called "O Magala", "the raw recruit", or "the rookie".  It was about a harsh sergeant bawling out a particularly stupid and hapless private soldier. I could tell that much, but I didn't even know if the whole song was sung by the sergeant, or some of it by him and some by the private, and the song was also full of colloquial phrases, of which I understood only the general import.

I got my mother to listen to the song several times in the privacy of my sitting-room, feeling confident that she would be able to elucidate every word. But she couldn't. Like me she understood the general drift of the song and she was also absolutely confident that the whole thing was spoken by the sergeant, who was imitating the private's frightened tones. To that extent she understood the language a bit better than I did.

But almost none of the colloquial phrases could she understand. There was one, "o bom e o bonito", which might bear the literal meaning the words suggested, or be ironical, conveying the opposite meaning, and I had no idea which of the two it was. My mother hadn't, either. That was the first time it came to me that my mother's native language was not Portuguese.

I also remembered the link with Italy that I had known about from my childhood. I think it was during the same stay of my mother's, probably before I played the record to her, that she had told me a funny story of her youth. She had been sixteen at the time and working for a prince. I cannot remember all the details of the story, but it showed Mum at her cheekiest and cleverest, and ended up with her seeing the prince naked, to everyone's vast amusement.

Now one of my strongest interests at this time was in the system that governs aristocratic titles all over Europe, and particularly in Portugal. I was a member of Canning |House Library at that time, and there I had photocopied a learned article from a reference book which dealt with nobility in what I believed was my mother's country. This made the point, among much other esoteric material hardly available elsewhere at that time, that in Portugal the title of "prince" (príncipe) was reserved for senior members of the royal family - the eldest son of a king, or his eldest son  -. while the younger sons of the king were known as "infantes". No member of the non-royal aristocracy could hold either title.

Yet, the situation of nobles in Italy being much better known, I was of course aware that particularly in southern Italy princes were two a penny and often not royal. So I confronted my mother with the contents of the article and said to her that I thought when she saw that prince naked she must have been working in Italy. And she became really angry. If this happened during her happy stay in October 1996, as I believe it did, then that was one of the few serious arguments we had during that period.

She said the contents of the book were absolute nonsense and cursed me for my obsessive reading of stupid books. I tried to mollify her by saying that perhaps the prince she had been working for was a royal prince. But again she angrily denied this. And I knew perfectly well anyway that the whole of the Portuguese royal family had been in exile at the time she would have been sixteen: that is, around 1939, the time of the beginning of the war. I tried the idea that he might have been a foreign prince living in Portugal, but again she angrily denied this. And, ever since then, I have been convinced that when my mother was sixteen she was living in Italy.

And she was so like an Italian woman, so unlike a typical Portuguese one, and I myself, following her, wave my arms about far more than someone of entirely Portuguese ancestry would be likely to do. I will now tell of the strangest of the signs I received that my mother's true language was Italian.

 It was during the dementia that destroyed her last years, so probably in September 2001, and about this time a doctor told me that sixty per cent of my mother's mind was gone. During this period we were being driven in a car towards the day centre where Mum was being looked after, something annoyed her, and she suddenly burst into a stream of the most evil-sounding Italian, of which I did not understand a word. At this point, she could not speak with that sort of fluency in either English or Portuguese.

Another story along this line relates more to my own experience of Portugal and Italy than my mother's but also involves her. It dates from the later 1980s. At this period I had wrote a series of seven project books for schools for the publishers Batsford and I had quite a nice editor there, a conventional but sympathetic young middle-class woman who used sometimes to treat me to an early dinner after her work in central London. Once, I think after I had finished writing the last of the seven books, we were at an Italian restaurant in Old Compton Street and to finish our meal we ordered tiramisu, a dish with which I was unfamiliar. When it arrived, it seemed exactly like the lovely sweet dish that my mother had made me when I was a child and which she had called called "bolo de bolacha". 

I remembered so well what the dish my mother had made was like, but I was later to learn when I lived in Portugal that it was not how the dish is typically prepared there. The true Portuguese version, as its name implies, is really more a cake than a dessert, a harder and more biscuity treat than tiramisu. Mum was making her own softer and more alluring version of it for me when I was a child, surely under the influence of her own experience of international cooking.

Anyway, I remarked to the editing lady that what we had been served was not an Italian dish but a Portuguese one. But she said sharply that it was entirely Italian. Quite an unpleasant argument ensued as I went on insisting that I knew the dish was Portuguese. It did not help that she had been on a package holiday to Quarteira in the Algarve (admittedly a pretty unpleasant resort) and absolutely hated it and thought the whole of Portugal must be like that and could not possibly have given rise to such a nice and sophisticated dessert as tiramisu. She had of course all the conventional English cultural reverence for Italy and for Tuscany in particular. I accused her of cultural ignorance and prejudice and the whole occasion became more and more unpleasant.

I think it may have been on that occasion, at the start of dinner, long before the tiramisu was served, that she had silently and triumphantly showed me the ring on her finger which indicated that she was to be married. But I knew almost no one who had got married and they had never showed me their rings and I had attended almost no weddings and in my strange ignorance I had no idea what this object, worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, might signify.

She showed me the ring again and again in increasing hurt and desperation and I went into panic about what it might mean and simply did not know what to say. Finally she told me. 

Some months later she invited me to her very haute bourgeois wedding in one of the smartest parts of the Home Counties and I took her and her husband a very grand world atlas as a present and she wrote me a most effusive thank-you letter in which, among other pleasantries, she told me that now she was married she would be withdrawing from her old friends. I never saw her again. 

Around 1991 my long decade of attending adult education classes came to an end when the chief teacher I had for Portuguese upset me so much during my the final examinations for the Diploma of the Institute of Linguists (I passed all papers with distinction, except the oral paper, which she personally wrecked for me) that I vowed to have nothing more to do with her or with the formal study of Portuguese. I had varied my attendance at classes with other punishing rituals (I once went straight from a caning in Southampton Row to a Latin lesson at the City Literary Institute). But now I accepted, in modified form, the advice of a friend that I should be willing only to be a teacher, not a student.

But I didn't want to teach either. I had no more real interest in repeating "amo, amas, amat" to the thick than I had in inculcating in anyone slightly more intelligent the strange and rural dialect that went on to become the national language of Portugal and Brazil and  the mother tongue of two hundred million people in four out of the five continents. Well done, language of a small country, but it is not finally my job to go on promoting you. I do not belong to Portugal.

And my experiences in corporal punishment were not undertaken entirely for their own sake either. I wanted them, sure, in the same way as I wanted the languages. But I needed to get to the number of twelve beatings undergone so that I could write a piece called "The Round Dozen". So much of what I did for many years was so I could write my work. But now my work means rather little to me as well.

And another further thrashing must come from a man I love. Pain and domination are meaningless if there is no love there. But in those days I did not know this. 

At the end of my fifth, last and most unpleasant professional job, on 19th April 1994, I made the decision that I would live henceforward only as a writer, whatever the cost, however much the dishonesty and cruelty involved. I was as ruthless a person in my secret heart now as it was possible to be.

My love for my mother had already in some essential form died. There had been many signs that this was happening, although I was not fully to know what had happened to me until that most memorable day - in most ways the most important day of my life - Wednesday, 24th May 2000, around lunchtime, when, as we stood in my bedroom, she suddenly told me that she had left the upstairs flat in her house to the man called Flávio Rosa (this was a lie - she had left him the whole house).

A little later, when we had moved to my sitting-room, she told me that Flávio was her lover and that she had known I was gay for many years because Arthur Ernest Hills had told her so about twenty years before. All my love for her had already died when she made the first announcement and almost immediately I came to the resolve that I was never going to let anyone get the better of me ever again. The second announcement only confirmed it.

The basically aggressive and hateful character that I have borne since that time, although foreshadowed from my youth, dates from those few minutes. The first half of my life was up to that lunchtime, the second half has followed it. In the first half I was the object of contempt, in the second half I have shown it. In the first half I was often really sweet, in the second half my sweetness has been a show.

She herself was to be the first victim of my new character. She was very ill with dementia now, but I had no pity for her. As I saw it, she had made her own bed and must lie on it. If I had been allowed to inherit in the normal way, I would have done my best for her and accepted that my inheritance might have been dissipated. But my priority, as things stood, was to salvage as much as possible, both financially and as regards my own comfort, from the ruin of her death. She died like a dog. I didn't care. I thought she deserved it.

I wish now tell of an important incident which dates from the job I held between 1992 and 1994, because it led me for the first time to consider the idea that I might be a Jew.

I worked for that time as a desk editor at the BBC Monitoring Service. I was on a series of short-term contracts (I had five of these over nineteen months) and they put me to work on the so-called "Part One", which edited monitored broadcasts from the states of the former Soviet Union. But my linguistic expertise (since I knew French, Spanish and Portuguese) would more naturally have suggested "Part Four", which covered Africa as well as the Middle East. The other two parts concerned Eastern Europe and the Far East and Australasia, and further regions of the world, such as Latin America or Western Europe, were monitored by American partners so that they were of no direct interest to the BBC Monitoring Service. 

The grisly crew who worked in Part One were almost all ex-Soviet specialists and viewed me as a suspected (and even hated) interloper. And the intensive computer work damaged my hands and arms. All this - and the fact that I was emotionally tied to my flat in London, and had no wish to move to Reading, outside which, in the country house of Caversham Park, the Monitoring Service, was situated - gave a particularly makeshift and unsatisfying quality to this last of my professional jobs. It was the one I hated with most fury, particularly because it had interrupted work on my first novel, with which I was obsessed. I did the job until I had enough money to start buying my ex-council flat under the Right to Buy Scheme, and immediately after signing the contract to buy I developed a month-long fit of rage, paranoia and near emotional breakdown which must have been alarming to watch and which culminated in my telling my line manager to "fuck off".

This led to my being asked to leave the job immediately, although my current contract was allowed to reach its natural termination. This meant I could go back on the dole without difficulty after five weeks of moneyed recovery, back at home and on holiday in Turkey. Apart from intervals spent living abroad or in prison, I have been on benefits more or less ever since, latterly on those related to mental ill health, a series of diagnoses of which have served me very well and enabled much further travel.

But back now to the circumstances at the Monitoring Service which led me first to think I might be a Jew. The BBC maintained a hostel on site for its workers and I often stayed there and in the evenings had time on my hands on their rather spooky country estate. Because of their concern with Africa, they employed three Portuguese monitors, who were all natives of Portugal. These had all the broadcasts at their disposal, as well as a small library devoted to Portuguese matters, and the expertise that came from their background. So, in the evening, I used often to wander over to their workstations to try and improve my knowledge of what I believed entirely to be my mother's country.

The older and more established two monitors, one male and one female, did not welcome me, but the third one was different. He was a charming and mildly outrageous younger man called Antonio da Silva, rather disliked and despised by the other two (he was always getting his headphones into the most terrible twist) but full of fun and slightly offhand but unfailing cooperation with my unusual quest. He was in very poor health for such a young man and I fear that he may now be dead. Dear Antonio, I salute you across the gulf of the years and hope against hope that you will read this and may remember me.

We used to talk a lot about our lives, and at one point, when we were alone at the Portuguese monitor workstation, the subject of my family came up and the fact that we bore the common surname of Reis. "There is something peculiar about it," I said to Antonio. "When I was a child, my mother used often to say that, before her father was called Reis, he had had another surname. But she didn't know what it was."

"Oh, Charles," he said abruptly, looking at me with a twinkle, "you're a Jew."

"Oh, I don't think so!" I said. "There's never been any suggestion of that."

"Oh, well, perhaps not then."

"Although, actually..." I said slowly, "another thing my mother used often to say when I was a child was that she and I had Jews' heads. She used often to point to our heads and say they were Jews' heads."

"Just as I told you. You're a Jew."

"Antonio, can it be possible? Can that really be possible?"

"Of course it can. It's the commonest thing in the world in Portugal."

"And, actually, so many people in my life have said to me that they thought I might be Jewish. Many years ago there was a guy called James who took one look at me and said, 'Presumably you're of the tribe of Abraham?'."

"Well, there you are then. But does the whole thing worry you?"

"No, no, of course it doesn't. I think it would be rather distinguished, actually."

"Well, that's good, because it's true. Enjoy your distinction, my dear Charles. Now I'm going off to the most terrible disco on my motor scooter."

And those were the comments I had to be content with from my abrupt, forthright and somewhat unconventional friend.

From that time on the possibility that I might be a Jew was always somewhere in my mind. But, as with so many other strange facts that have appeared to me, it took many years fully to absorb the possibility and even more years finally to know it was true. I never thought to ask my mother. I wonder whether she would have told me. I think she would.

I thought of another way of casting light on the matter. I had three elderly friends in those years who were great experts on Portugal - Professor Luis de Sousa Rebelo, Professor Harold V. Livermore, and Antonio de Figueiredo, a well-known author. Between them these three friends seemed able to answer any question at all I asked about Portugal. Semi-miraculously, one of them would always know the answer. Professor Livermore, fairly typically for an Englishman of his generation (he was born in 1912), was antisemitic, so I could not approach him about this particular matter. And I did not yet know Antonio de Figueiredo well at the time I worked at the Monitoring Service.

But I went to the genial and immensely jolly figure of Professor Rebelo, who always told you anything he knew about any question you asked (in marked contrast to some other Portuguese scholars ). When I said I thought I might be a Jew, he asked me what my mother's maiden name had been. And I said that it was Reis, but that this had been adopted by my grandfather because he had been born on the Day of the Kings. And Professor Rebelo said that this was interesting because Reis was one of the surnames typically taken by Jews in Portugal when they converted to Christianity. They tended to take names that had strong religious significance in their new religion. Dear Professor Rebelo said that he thought I was probably a Jew and that I ought to be proud of it.

I will now go back for the third and last time into my early adulthood and my mother's middle age, to deal with the subject of her emotional life during this time, and also my own in so far as it impinges on hers. 

As I have said, the presence of the policeman Maurice in her life during the period before and just after I went to Oxford did not affect me as much as it might have done. He quite often used to sit naked to the waist with us at the lunch and dinner table, and he certainly had a magnificent body, but he was middle-aged and bald, so the contemplation of his torso did not excite and disturb me as much as it might have done had he been younger. I found the whole thing more funny than outrageous, as I often do with anomalous or outrageous situations that do not engage my emotions. And my mother once said that she found Maurice's body too hard, which seemed to put paid to him.

Something was always telling me that my mother's relationship with Maurice could not last long. For although the huge policeman was so impressive physically, morally he was a real wimp. He was constantly saying that he hated his job and that all he wanted to do was lie on his bed. This really exasperated my mother, who worked so hard. He was quite irritable as well. He had too children - I seem to remember they were a son and a daughter - and my mother loathed the pair of them. I myself never wavered in my total contempt for Maurice and his family. By about 1975 he was out of my mother's life.

I have already mentioned that it was almost certainly during that summer that she attempted to contact the old boyfriend in Portugal and that this was disappointing. She was now a divorced woman of over fifty in the process of buying (or having bought) the former corporation house which she was quite shortly to sell again with profit. She worked at jobs during the day and in the evening with manic intensity, in a largely successful attempt to lay up a tidy sum for her old age. A few years previously she had gone through the menopause (I was to find an old diary many years later in her house which gave full details of this). I myself rarely came home from Oxford in the vacations.

She began to take in lodgers, and all of them, as far as I can remember, were male. Their room was the former spare room, what we called, for some reason, "the blue room". My own bedroom was left intact for my possible return. I remember one the lodgers, an Italian called Gino, who stayed only a short time. I once opened the door of the blue room and saw him lying, I think naked, but covered by the sheet, looking most sweaty and unprepossessing. I am almost sure my mother had no relations with him.

Things were possibly slightly different with the lodger who stayed by far the longest time, a large and quite handsome young Greek with a great mass of dark curls called Fotis Skopis. We knew him as Foti. He stayed for about two years in the middle to later 1970s and my mother was very fond of him. Probably he was more a substitute son to her than he was a lover. But, knowing what I now do of my mother, I cannot be sure. I hope she did not sleep with him. But I cannot be sure.

Foti wanted to be friends with me in his simple way, and my mother was most anxious that we should get on. But the constant reader of my blog will not be surprised to learn that I did not warm to the exuberant young Greek. What physical attraction he might have had for me was limited by the fact that he was quite strong-smelling and smoked heavily. And at that stage I dared not show physical attraction to a young man in my mother's presence. After a while, Foti and I hardly talked to each other, and he was a large and sullen presence in the sitting-room while I listened to my records at the dining-room table.

I think I was to suffer very heavily from my failure to be friends with Foti. My mother for the first time perceived me as a person slightly lacking in humanity, snobbish, condemnatory, without the warmth of southern peoples, an attribute she and Foti, the substitute son, shared. This impression was only to grow with the years, and her belief that I was a sort of alien, essentially my father's child, together with the unforgivable fact that I was a homosexual, was finally to make possible her betrayal of me.

If I could go back now, how glad I would be to draw Foti out, to help him improve his English, to watch the television even when I was bored, to smile and laugh at stupid jokes, to gain pleasure from his reciprocated liking for me. Twenty-one years of anguish might not have been mine if I had then showed simple humanity.

Foti's stay in the house, as with all my mother's attachments, ended badly. After about two years a plan developed for his mother to come from Greece to stay in the house. Any student of human nature might have told Foti that to confront his surrogate mother with the real one would not be likely to turn out well, but youthful innocents know little of human nature. My mother, predictably, absolutely detested Foti's mother. For many years afterwards she would do imitations to me of how ridiculously she had talked (I myself never met the woman). The stay ended with the Foti's mother being unceremoniously sent packing, and quite soon afterwards the Greek boy himself was out as well.

But my mother was to speak of Foti afterwards with affection, with regret, even with a sort of longing. He was among the people in her life who meant most to her.

There was one other lodger after that whom I remember. He was an airline pilot based at nearby Gatwick and I believe he bore the improbable name of Captain Cook. He was middle-aged, the very model of a fine Englishman of a certain standing. My mother viewed him with great respect. If there was anything between them I certainly never knew anything about it.

104, Brighton Road, Southgate had been a corporation house, and after Arthur left, my mother bought it at a very hefty discount and in 1979 sold it, moving to a rather larger modern house nearby, 1, Patterdale Close, Southgate West.  This was a good business move on my mother's part, but she never ceased to resent the fact that she had left the house of her memories. She never stopped saying that it had been a very warm house, which 1, Patterdale Close was not. She developed a theory that the woman who had bought 104 had bullied her out of it. She did imitations of the woman's whining voice. All this palaver was surely a rationalisation of having given up a place she loved for money.

I too felt sad to leave the place where I had grown up. There was something beautiful about the way I left 104. I had come down to visit my mother there for the last time, she went out to work in the evening, and I stayed behind before catching the train.  It was difficult to make myself go. Night fell. I stood for a long time at the top of the stairs watching the yellow lights of the lamp-posts reflected in the glass of the front door. I was to mention this incident in one of my columns in Prospect. How wonderful I did that! There was now a small chance this memory would last as long as the human race itself.

I know little of my mother's life during the four years, until her retirement, that she lived at 1, Patterdale Close, Southgate West. I think the anonymity of the place was perhaps a reflection of a certain anonymity in her own life. She had made up her mind that she would go back to Portugal after her retirement at the age of sixty, and she was working very hard to save money to buy herself a fine property there. I was to find out many years later, in a way I shall relate, that she had developed the lucrative business of taking in Spanish women who had come to England to have abortions for brief stays at the house. She probably drove them to the abortion clinic. She was becoming a woman of substance, a hard woman of substance.

The years that my mother lived at Patterdale Close were also the years I was beginning the long period at my Clapham flat, and my mother often visited me there, usually insisting on arriving unannounced and always giving me the humiliating practical help that would prevent me ever going on to becoming a competent person myself.

I did not feel it as humiliating at the time, though. When, after several hours, my mother would be gone and I would look around at a neat and tidy flat, and some special improvement which had been effected, a feeling of deep peace and satisfaction would descend on me, and I would imagine that in the fresh and and gleaming bed I could now welcome some male lover.

I often visited my mother in Crawley, and I remember one happy day of which I would like to tell. The day was 17th April, 1981, and it was Good Friday. I know this, because recently, on my last visit to Portugal, I transcribed the entry for Good Friday 1981 in the large diary that was there into a smaller one, and took it away, so I will always know what happened on that day. 

Every year I listened to the Matthew Passion by Bach on Good Friday, sometimes attending a public performance, but today I wanted to hear it on the television or radio. But I had got up late in London, so I got out of the train at Gatwick Airport and spent a lot of money on an expensive taxi to Patterdale Close so that I could catch as much of the performance as I could. There was a long interval between the two halves of the Passion, and my mother was away at work, so I walked into Crawley to get lunch, possibly at the Buttery of the George Inn, a quiet and commodious restaurant.

While I was there, or in some other place, I began reading a novel, The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym. I was absolutely delighted by this book, the story of a selfish elderly woman who develops a passion for a young man, suffers pain when he rejects her, but is then reconciled to his loss. I had come down to Crawley to spend the Easter holiday there, and I had no friends in the new town now, but I spent the rest of that day finishing the novel in great absorption, so it was one of the happiest of times. 
This was the first of many books by Barbara Pym which I was to read during the succeeding years. What joy they gave me! 

I mention in the diary entry that, when my mother got back from work, we got on well. But there is nothing about what we said to each other. She would have gone back to work in the evening. I hardly saw her that day. My happiness existed because she was in the background. But I came back to Crawley every Christmas and New Year as well, and then I loved the fact that we were celebrating together, as we had done in my childhood.

My mother reached her sixtieth birthday on 7th September 1983, and on that date she retired pretty definitively from all the hard catering work she had been doing. The next few months were taken up with preparations for her return to Portugal, which included the buying of the blue Datsun Cherry car which was to see her through the remainder of her life. I will come back to all that a bit later. But I want to tell of the manner of her leaving of me.

I had determined to be very encouraging of her decision to go back to Portugal. I genuinely believed she could have more of a life there than in cold and alien England. I was extremely sensible and level-headed about the whole thing. Perhaps too much so. Perhaps I gave her the impression that I didn't really care that she was leaving me.

We were a few days away from her going, some time in early 1984, and I went down to Crawley to say goodbye to her. We were together at Patterdale Close and then she drove me to Crawley Station in the Datsun Cherry so that I could catch the train to London. The day was quite grey and wet, I remember, and the modern buildings of Crawley Station very ugly and impersonal. We were standing in the crowded ticket hall near the barrier and suddenly I burst into floods of tears. We clung to each other in desperate grief. Then the train was coming and I had to go on. I walked down the platform, still crying, so that I could be alone.

My mother never forgot that I had burst into tears and finally dropped my sensible attitude. It became like an earnest of my love for her, to which she clung. I was to break down in her presence once again, many years later, when we stood together alone in her house,  she was quite near to death, and I was going back to the pension where I was staying (because I could not bear to remain long with her and Flávio in the house). She saw my tears, was puzzled by them in her dementia, and said gently, "Mas não é adeus para sempre," "But it's not good bye for always."

She never ceased to love me, really, nor I her. But our hardness towards each other finally became more than our love and masked it entirely. Once, speaking on the phone to Portugal, in the long depressed summer after she had told me what she had done, she pleaded with me for love. "I often think about my little boy," she said. "Where did that little boy go?" But I could not get over my anger, and shouted at her, "What fucking nonsense are you talking?"

I cannot bear to write much about those final years of our relationship. I must just hint at what happened. I owe it to the reader who has had patience thus far to tell enough for him or her to know the reality of how our love turned out.

Back now to the final years about which I can bear to write in detail. There had been quite a lot of build-up to her retirement. In 1982 my mother had purchased a flat in the Algarve - the area where she meant to rent out part of her accommodation to English-speaking tourists -, in the well-known seaside resort of Monte Gordo. She had seen a flat there which greatly appealed to her, because of its smartness and the good area it was in, but she could not be in Portugal to complete the purchase of it and gave power of attorney to her sister Conceição.

But the latter had difficulties in the purchase of the desired apartment - perhaps the final asking price turned out to be too much, I forget the details - and she  used her powers to purchase another flat instead. This was a dark and poky second-floor flat in a block without a lift, down a shabby side street which seemed to suffer continual building work. Mum hated this flat from the first and bitterly blamed Conceicao for not having succeeded in buying the flat she wanted. And indeed I believe that my clinging but tiresome aunt, ever since she had given my mother pee to drink rather than water at the age of three, had been on a lifelong mission secretly to frustrate her bastard half-sister.

Anyway, my mother did succeed in letting the flat to a few English and Irish tourists during the two years she owned it, and in early October 1982 I myself joined her there for a two-week holiday. It was the first time I had been abroad for seven years, since I visited Germany (still not going to Berlin) in the summer of 1975. Before that my one independent holiday had been a grim and lonely month spent lodging with my aunts Conceição and Eva in Lisbon during the summer of 1973, before I went up to Oxford.

I shall always regret that I did not do much travelling when I was young. In middle-age, as I shall relate, I was to embark on a period of near-frantic trips around the world, and later, after my first period of imprisonment, to an intensive exploration mainly of Europe. But I was too set in my ways during those two periods of travelling easily to make contact with other people, which would have been the truly valuable purpose of the whole thing, cultural riches notwithstanding. I never made a lasting friend, or found a lover, during all those journeys. Any such possibility must await a third period of travel, if it comes.

Nevertheless, I had my most beautiful experience yet, staying with my mother at the ragged and dark flat in Monte Gordo in 1982. It was very hot in these days. On the second afternoon, the afternoon of 2nd October, I went down to the beach. My mother never let me go until several hours after I had had lunch, which meant I always got there too late. But that afternoon I must have eaten lightly or quite early, because I broke away when there were several many hours of daylight to run. I spent most of the day on the beach.

I didn't bother with sun-cream. I just flung off all my clothes except my trunks, ran into the water, swam, then ran madly along the almost-deserted beach communing with myself, as far as my strong legs could take me.  Then I read about the history and geography of Portugal, swam again, ran again. And all this amounted to what I can only describe as a vision. The vision was of myself as I had always been and always would be. It was a sensation of unforgettable beauty to know myself eternally connected with the child I had been and the old man I would become, a single and separate soul, a being totally, always and only myself.

That was when I was twenty-seven. And on the beach at Altura, a little up the coast, I had another such illumination, in the December of 2009. It was not as ecstatic as the first time, nor was the feeling of deep connection with my soul so strong. How could it be? I was fifty-four at the time. That was calm happiness rather than joy. I had been through a lot by that time, and endured it, so the feeling of strength was still there.

I am a Christian and believe that everything good in life comes three times: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It was twenty-seven years to the first experience, twenty-seven to the second. So I infer that when I was eighty-one, and near death, a third vision will come, also on a beach, perhaps on the same beach as the first two visions, the beach at Monte Gordo in the Algarve, but perhaps elsewhere. I will not feel wild joy, nor calm happiness, but will see everything that my life has been, all it is, all it will be, in final union with God.

I got terribly burnt on the beach that day in 1982. When I returned to my mother in the dark flat, I was in pain, and it was much worse the next day, when I insisted on going to the beach again. She was not sympathetic. I had kept her waiting for dinner, because I had stayed on the beach so long. And how could I have neglected the sun-cream? As my skin burnt unbearably on the second day, it was only gradually that she relented and tried to help me. I don't think I ever told her about the experience. She would not have understood if I had. Her joy was with men. And the men, or the man, was not me.

That holiday released in me in a wish to travel, to see all Europe, to see the whole world if I could. At first I just went to Europe. I want to tell of these first few hopeful journeys I made, and shall mix them up a little in time, so that I start with the happiest one. For five days around the weekend after Easter in 1984, as the result of a stroke of luck of which I shall also soon tell, I made a little trip with Paris.

It felt beautiful and sophisticated to be alone in the City of Light. Life at the electricity magazine was irksome and I had begun to read the aesthetes of the 1920s in my enormous lunch-breaks. Cyril Connolly was the one who most appealed to me. Sitting in a restaurant in the Rue Vaugirard, where his first wife Jean Bakewell had lived with another girl and they had called themselves the "Ziplings" - the young women who wore fine zippers on their dresses which could be so easily undone - and reading the nostalgic third section of The Unquiet Grave, "La cle' des chants", which detailed the consequences of all those uindone zips - I saw myself as the modern equivalent of  Connolly in the days before he loved women.

Five such easy, such trouble-free days.

The previous summer, that of 1983, I had gone to Berlin. The city fascinated me as I obsessively read about its streets and its history, and I went there by train, as if I were a young aesthete of the 1920s time. But when I arrived at the Zoo Station all seemed much smaller and duller than I had imagined. 

I was staying in Kreuzberg and that evening walked up through the deserted streets to the Wall. This held its satisfaction, but then I was faced with a week when I did not have the energy or the will to get up and see the sights I knew now would not excite me. I wasted several days staying in bed until two. I was told off by grim museum guardians because I had arrived too late. At Schloss Charlottenburg, after the woman attendant had rather reluctantly allowed me to pay, I desperately asked her where the entrance was. "Hier 'raus und Schloss 'rum!" she shouted at me, for all the world like a Nazi official dealing with a helpless Jew in the middle part of the 1930s. And so I went on to the not very beautiful and entirely reconstructed Schloss.

And I foolishly spent too much of the four hundred Deutschmarks I had brought to last my holiday on buying records. I was almost penniless by the day I had set aside to visit East Berlin. But I met a Swede at Checkpoint Charlie, we spent the day together, and I got him to lend me a further fifty Marks, which I calculated would be enough money to last the three days that were left. But I had miscalculated. On my last morning I only had four Marks and the whole train journey across Germany to get through.

On the bus to the station, I was surcharged two marks for my luggage. The final two Marks would have bought almost nothing. Perhaps I got water with it, I don't rememer. On the long train journey across Germany I was starving. The people in the compartment had picnics, but they did not share their food as if it were a southern country, and I was too timid to ask them for bread.

The train reached Cologne in the early evening, and I was in the oddly trancated central square with the Hauptbahnhof, the Cathedral, and the Ibis Hotel, and I explained the situation to the first person I saw, a young man, and he gave me six Marks. It was enough to buy six patties and I ate them all in the square and felt full. 

I did not have too long to wait for the overnight boat train to London. I had thirty pence in English money and the train from Victoria to Wandsworth Road Station, near my flat, was forty. But some English boys on the train were glad to give me ten pence and shared more food with me. I reached my flat the following morning with relief. More money awaited me there and the following day I was going to Oxford. And I arranged an International Money Order to repay the Swede and remained friends with him for some years. He visited me in London, twice, I think, and stayed the first time at my flat.

My mother was deeply shocked and outraged that I had been allowed to travel hungry across Germany. She asked me again and again why no one had been willing to help me. She could not register the kindness of the man in Cologne or the boys on the train. Only the horror of the silent people on the train spoke to her soul.

The final preparation that my mother made for moving to Portugal, as I mentioned before, was to buy a Datsun Cherry car.  Tax advantages made it imperative for her to buy the car in Belgium, take it into England with her, and then drive it to Portugal. So early in the year of 1984, probably in February, I accompanied her on another short trip, this time to the city of Bruges.

The weather was particularly awful, but I was already nurturing my fantasies about Connolly, and can remember sitting alone in the car my mother was currently driving, with rain beating against the window and Mum gone elsewhere, reading from A Romantic Friendship, the letters which detailed my hero's passion for the eternally unavailable and wonderfully handsome Christian cricketer Noel Blakiston.

It was good, though, to get to know the beautiful city of Bruges, even in the rain, and my mother was grateful that I had come with her to get the car, and was more indulgent to my passion for cultural tourism than sometimes. She agreed that Bruges was beautiful and that it was worth seeing it. But she insisted that we share a hotel room to save money, which I hated. The small hotel we found was right in the city centre and all night I could hear the sound of bells.

And as I slept in the boarding-house room with my mother not far from me and the bells resounding, I dreamed a dream. I think it was the most beautiful dream I have had in my life. But I will never know what it was about. For before the dream came to an end, my mother awakened me. It was morning and she wanted us to be on our way. All details of the dream had been wiped out, because it had not been allowed to proceed to its close.

I was tempted to be angry. My mother seemed an immensely crude and tactless person to have just wiped out my wonderful dream. But I told her about it, and for once she seemed  sorry. She apologised humbly to me, something she rarely did. She thanked me again for having come to help her buy the car. And I softened, and told her my dream didn't matter.

I thought that, if she left the room, and I could quickly slumber, the dream might return. I longed for it passionately. She left me, but I could not go back to sleep. I had to dress, and if the dream ever came again I probably I would not have known.

The time when I cried on the station platform soon followed. And soon after that my mother must have gone down to one of the channel ports to retrieve her new car. I did not go with her. I suppose I thought I had done enough in going to Bruges. Nor was I there to say goodbye when she set off from Crawley to Portugal for what she saw as the intrepid adventure of the latter part of her life.

Quite soon after she went I had the stroke of good luck I have mentioned. The offices of the electricity magazine were in the unremarkable south London suburb of Sutton. But on 22nd March in 1984 I bought a ticket for the council lottery, something I had done a few times before, and won the first prize, of £1000. That was quite something to crow about to my grim colleagues!

And I quickly booked the trip to Paris I have mentioned and grandly spent my grand. My passion for Connolly now bloomed into a general Francophilia which in turn merged into a passion for the Classical world, with which my hero had been so casually familiar. By the following spring, that of 1985, I was mad for learning Latin, and had more tentatively begun Greek, and I was free of my mother, and I went to Provence.

I wanted to see the beautiful sights, and particularly the Roman ruins, that my author described in his lapidary essay, written in old age, "Farewell to Provence". And I had with me an advanced reading text from the Cambridge Latin Course (Level Four, I think) but had forgotten to bring a dictionary. Yet with what joy I made out what I could of the book as I wandered through the papal garden at Avignon, where my author had also been so many years before at the joyful beginning of his own trip. What did it matter if my construing of the Latin I was so ecstatically perusing was wildly incorrect? Did it signify that I was nothing like Connolly?

This time I had to return early because money run out, but I had seen all I wanted to, of Avignon, Arles, the Camargue, a bit of the interior, and the Riviera itself. Towards the end of my time I went for the day  from St Raphael, where I was staying, to Cannes. I came back on a late-night train. I was standing by a door or large window which was open and, although the night was warm, a fresh wind was blowing. The train rattled along very fast and would deposit me in St Raphael in twenty minutes. But as I was carried on in the exhilarating night, the belief came to me that I could stay on the train forever, onwards to Spain, and perhaps from there to the ends of the world, always happy, always alert. I knew it couldn't be true, and yet it seemed to me it was. As on the beach, it was ecstasy beyond imagining. And, on leaving the train, as when I left the beach, it departed, and never came back.

No, that is wrong, it came back once more. I think the incident on the train may have been on a Saturday and maybe I went on to Aix-en-Provence on the Sunday. I found an astonishingly cheap although shabby hotel there. There were many such hotels in France then. I saw all I wanted to of the town on that evening. And the following morning, a Monday, I woke up in the most radiant joy. And a visit to a bank after breakfast told me that I must immediately take the train back to London but that my money would easily last for this and this alone. And because I had known joy that morning, and so often in my life, the fact I must return didn't matter. I went willingly.

Sitting at the wooden table in the sitting-room of my flat one wet evening of the previous August, that of 1984, I had commenced my life as a writer. I wrote an account of the mugging I had suffered in Clapham two years before and the sexual excitement it had brought me. In those years I had been reading Denton Welch, a sensitive, querulous and injured young homosexual of the 1940s who had rendered his own complexities and his arcane observations of others in a style of great simplicity and thus achieved a unique effect. I believed I could do the same as he had. The words came easily on that dark evening. Perhaps I finished "A Mugging" in one go. Little did I suspect the endless anguish my new vocation would bring me.

I had thought my mother gone for ever in that year, but in fact she was back in England in May. I think that was a time she came by plane, leaving her new car at the airport in Faro in the Algarve, to be picked up on her return. I went with Maria and Brian to Gatwick Airport to meet her. I had really built it up in my mind that I was to see my mother again. The three of us saw her coming through Arrivals carrying vast bags with various items of bread, vegetables and fruit. I remember that Maria laughed delightedly and said how typical it was of Mum to be travelling like this, that it reminded her of the old days.

Perhaps the delight on my own face was not so evident, because from the first my mother was talking to Maria and Brian and strangely I seemed to be taking a back seat in her mind. It hurt me profoundly, although I said nothing. This pattern was to be repeated on my mother's last leaving from Gatwick Airport, in the year of 2000 when she had told me of her disposal of her house. We had had a dreadful scene as we walked from the train towards departures, and when we reached Brian and Maria there she talked only to them, and said goodbye only to them, and left me without looking back.

And in March and April 2001, when I went out to Portugal to try and deal with her growing Alzheimer's, I found my mother living in total squalor, and Flavio appeared to be trying to starve her to death, but I was reasonably friendly to him, and made only the most cursory efforts to bring my mother's illness to the notice of the authorities. I was far more concerned with my own plans to travel and live more, which I felt I had been denied so long. On the morning of 1st April, I left the nearby hotel and went to say goodbye to my mother at the house. I found her on the veranda alone, it was a quite pleasant leavetaking, but once again she turned her back on me as I left for the Residencial Lagoas in Tavira, from which I could more easily begin the wild trip to Morocco on which I was about to embark.

At two in the morning, I woke suddenly as if to hear my mother's voice crying, "Sonny!" Desolation, but it did not last.

And the very last time I saw her when she was still anything like compos mentis, in April 2002, she had not finished waving me away from the communal room in the second of the three grim homes in which I placed her, before she was talking to someone else.

And the second last time I saw her alive, I think, was at the third home (it was really Aunt Augusta who had chosen this one, deceptively smart, while I passively acquiesced, having temporarily gone back to England. It was an evangelical Protestant establishment, with a mother-house in Northern Ireland. A cruel nurse at this place soon knocked her unconscious when she kicked up a fuss and this took away the last remains of her sanity.) She was delirious the second-last time, and I was with Aunt Augusta, and I think I was dressed in a long black coat I sometimes wore,, and my mother said to Augusta, "Quem é aquele preto?," "Who is that black?"

And the very last time was on her birthday, 7th September 2002, six days before her death, and I was with Aunts Augusta and Conceição and my cousin Aninhas. And I was carrying my useless presents, but there was no way she could have received them.

Mum was barely recognisable, and only really woke briefly to be fed:  they raised her in the bed for a moment and she looked like nothing on earth, an animal, a death-mask, the most frightening vision of her I´d ever seen. She kissed the others readily enough, but when it came to me I could just feel her lips gobbling against mine. It was like that during all the last five years of our relationship as mother and son. There was to be no final peace between us, perhaps just as well for bearing her death.

And, indeed, I was already planning the trip to Brazil that would follow her passing. It was my first visit to the Tropics, and it came two months after she was gone, in November, and was one of the best trips of my life. I still remember how during that magical first few days of that holiday, in Olinda, I used to walk down from the buildings of the hilltop hotel in the very early morning, through the lush vegetation and ever-descending steps, to the fresh pool where the words that would turn my strange and secret novella The Track into a better work than it was before were fizzing in my mind. I was more alive then than I had ever been, and precisely because my mother had died.

For an inverse relationship attended my alienation from my mother and my ever more extensive journeys. When I was young, and still loved her so much, I would reach out to other people as often as I could when I travelled, but I was still very awkward and embarassingly short of money, and I often suffered much hurt when a relationship struck up on some railway platform or ship's deck quickly turned sour. 

But in later years it was simply the movement of the train wheels under the place on which I sat, or the countryside glimpsed from the windows of the bus which was moving me on, that would get me through the day.  Then would follow the check-in to the new hotel, the shower, the meal in the restaurant, the return to bed. Anyone I saw would have their face to the screen and their back to me, or be talking on their mobile phone. Better to treat them with contempt.

So in a sense the parting on the railway platform at Crawley on February 18th 1984 was my real farewell not only to my mother but to the rest of the human race as well. Or so it seems.

At that time, however, I was still firmly fixed in the old pattern of searching wildly for love, for friendship, for diversion. For what I did not know then was that in her new home in the seaside resort of Altura my mother surely had already met up with Flávio Rosa, who was either her own son or that or my aunt Eva, I now believe more probably the latter. He held her loyalty and love from then on and so the love-light in my own heart went out.

(The present two paragraphs are an interpolation, written on 27th January 2021, the very quiet Holocaust Memorial Day during the third English lockdown. I am writing these words a few weeks after I finished the main text of this post, on 5th January 2021. I have recently changed my mind about Aunt Eva being probably the mother of Flávio rather than my own mother and for the following reason. 

The name Flavio is an Italian name. It is not in Portuguese tradition, the Portuguese equivalent is Fábio. These days you find a lot of people in Portugal called Flávio, but that would not have been the case in 1951. My mother spoke Italian and had probably lived in Italy, while Aunt Eva had grown up entirely in the Portuguese countryside and then lived in Lisbon. The name of the boy would probably have been chosen by the mother as a parting gesture when she gave him up. She might have been remembering someone she had known, perhaps a former lover. This is therefore, as I have recently reflected, a strong indication that Flávio is my half-brother rather than my cousin He is my mother's elder son.)

In the years immediately after that parting in 1984 I was to see a great deal of my mother, because for several years she came back to England in the winter to do a series of jobs looking after elderly women. This was mainly in order to to fund the life she was now living in Portugal at her house, but she was a natural worker, and enjoyed doing it as well. She gave this up when she herself became too old for it to be easy to make the long drive to the ferry port for England at Santander, and also to perform heavy work around other people, and that was in 1988. 

That year was the first New Year's Eve I ever spent without her, and I cried desperately, alone in my flat. My emotional dependence on her was still very great, but from the time of her leaving England I was schooling myself to end this weakness, and my bid for autonomy was to lead to ever more terrible quarrels with her. Among the worst of these was to come as early as 1984. I will tell of it now, and after that begin to bring this post to a close.

Part of Mum's purpose in coming back to England in that summer, during which she stayed with me for one and a half months, was that I should return with her to Portugal to see her new house. In order for the holiday to work at all conventionally, I needed to go for two weeks, and principally because I wanted to come back overland, so that I could spend more time in Paris. But I had already used up most of my holiday entitlement on the earlier trip to Paris, the time in Bruges and other excursions.

My editor Alf Sorkin sometimes allowed staff to take a few extra holiday days. But he loathed me now. Efforts were under way to sack me, an almost impossible task in that heavily unionised environment. But being absent without leave or proper explanation was a sackable offence. Alf told me grimly that I could have no extra holiday entitlement. Useless to protest that I needed time for a leisurely sojourn across the continent! The old East End Jew must have laughed a bellyful about any possible overstay in Paris as he gleefully prepared my P45.

So right from the start the trip to see my mother's new house was overshadowed by the fact that I could only be with her a few days. She could not understand this. Why had I wasted my winnings by going to Paris? Why did I need to travel there now and see more France? Was not the Algarve and her beautiful new house, already costing her enormous trouble to build, because of the rascally builder Faustino, enough for me?

Well, no it wasn't, but she was never to accept this, never to accept my wish to travel round the world (and neither did Arthur Ernest Hills). They both of them regarded it as evidence of my almost criminal frivolity. They had never travelled beyond Europe, and coud not see why I should. How little they understood or sympathised with the hopes and aspirations of my heart.

I can remember nothing of the journey out to Portugal that time, although it was perhaps by plane, and this was always followed by getting into my mother's car to be driven eastward along the Algarve coastal road, the EN125, which for many years, always horrified me with the gimcrack nature of the buildings that lined it and its general ugliness. Or we may have come through Spain that time and crossed by the ferry over the Guadiana, I don't remember.

As we neared my mother's house, a huge quarrel developed about whether I could take a bath when we arrived, or whether I must, as she insisted, take a shower. She admitted there was definitely a large and good bath in the house, and for many years I had loved relaxing in the bath, and greatly disliked taking showers, which were associated for me with masculine virtues to which I did not aspire. 

I saw my mother's insistence on such a trivial matter as horribly mean. She, for her part, had spent an enormous amount of money on having her new house built and would have to spend more, she was a woman of considerable frugality who had grown up in a poor farmhouse where they went to the back of the garden to perform toilet functions, and where either a shower or a bath would have been luxuries beyond imagining, and she was adept at thinking up ever new ways of saving money on small things.

I can remember that, as we approached the ugly white building on the charmless housing estate in the smouldering heat of the early evening, I was thunder-faced and hardly speaking to my mother. I probably gave her some ungracious word about how horrible it looked. I was always very direct about my feelings in those days, and in unguarded moments still am. I hated her house from the first, and over the long years I have been associated with it, have never ceased to hate it.

She put her foot down. A shower it must be.

I took showers for a few days, standing in the bath, and then, deliberately, I think, I fell down while taking a shower. From that point she allowed me to take a bath, saying, with quite a lot of contempt in her voice, that it was obviously too dangerous for me to take a shower. And, in my heedless way, I took my bath with alacrity, and did not attempt to deal with her contempt for me. After the bath, I would proceed to the terrace where, because the further houses of Altura had not yet been built, there was a dreamy view to the hills of the Algarve. I would sit down to write, trying to stave off her making of dinner, and fancy myself a second Hemingway.

Very soon the need to return to England, and so avoid being sacked by Alf Sorkin, came. My mother drove me to Tavira to begin the trip by rail. The one-way system in that picturesque town is notoriously difficult and the station lies up a hill and I always carry heavy bags. My mother found it difficult to get me to the station, I insisted she go on trying, and finally she refused. With shouts and curses I left her and stomped up the hill.

In those days the rail journey to Lisbon still ended at Barreiro on the southern side of the river and you then took a boat towards the city. It was getting towards evening as I stepped hesitantly on to the Lisbon side and by the waterfront I began searching for a cheap pension to stay in. I found one, up some dark stairs. 

I prided myself on my Portuguese in those days but it could still go badly awry. I still had my childish notion that all Portuguese were kind and tender. I was greeted by an unpleasant couple when I reached the top of the stairs. They told me the price of a room for the night, cheap indeed (although the room was horrible), five hundred escudos, "quinhentos escudos". I failed to understand and asked them to repeat. "Quin-hent-os!" the dark and leering woman almost shouted at me.

By the following morning I was to have absorbed the lesson that Portuguese people can be unpleasant indeed, certainly as bad as anyone else, perhaps worse, a lesson that was to be reinforced again and again in the thirty-four years that followed when I have come to Altura and the Algarve, to the area around Lisbon, to our terra of Santo Isidoro, and to parts of the north of Portugal again and again, and so often against my will. My hatred of my mother's country mixes so strangely with my childhood love of it and has become an irrational passion from which I pray to be released. 

On the achingly hot day following there was a six-hour delay before the train to Paris started creakingly from Santa Apolónia Station on the grim waterside. The overnight journey was most uncomfortable and the toilets were overflowing. With what relief the next day I reached the civilisation of France.

And that is where I intend to leave the chronological section of this post. I warned the reader early on that at a certain point I might just stop. And this seems a good point at which to leave it, at the beginning of my long association with the misshapen slightly dirty white house with red roof tiles in the Algarve which I was not going to be able to escape for thirty-four years. 

If I were to go on with the chronological account, it would be for paragraph after paragraph a story of  ever-deepening sorrow. I cannot bear to do it. And if I did tell this whole story, I would be forced to admit to many shameful things (besides the ones that are well known, my appearances at the Old Bailey and all that, a hackneyed and poorly understood story). I fear fessing up to all the true facts could lead to more trouble in my declining years.

(But before I sign off, I will just mention that there were a number of matters on which I promised further elucidation, and I cannot now provide all this here because of my decision to stop. For instance I promised to detail the whole process by which I came to know that Ana das Meias was my grandmother. Well, that is such a tortuous and peculiar concatenation of Portuguese stories that I could hardly tell the whole thing at present in any very coherent fashion. Ana das Meias had so many possible children and grandchildren my head reels. In another post I will perhaps detail the climactic moment when the fact that she was my grandmother became certain.

I also hoped to shed further light on whether my grandfather, known as Cesário dos Reis, was a gypsy and what his original name was. Well, that is so obscure and difficult to retrieve nowadays that I may  never get any reliable details about him. He could even have been a Gypsy Jew. Such an unheard-of thing does exist in Portugal.

More pertinently, in the previous post to this one, when I outlined certain features of this controversial period briefly, I promised to tell the whole story of the time in late 2005 and early 2006 when I was almost universally believed to be mad but was in fact sane. I said I would know the time to tell this story.

Well, I still know it. No one has ever really heard my complete version of that story. And it is very important that I finally tell it myself. It really relates, however, more to the identity of my father than my mother. It will be the subject of the next post, and telling this story will incorporate another promise I made, to tell the story of when I suddenly remembered how, in my childhood holidays, we drove many miles to enter Britain by another port than Dieppe, I think St-Malo.

I also promised, when I told the story of how my mother met my father on the tube train, that I would say why I believed the station to be Charing Cross. I will now tell this briefly. On 17th January 2006 I set off to see the site where we had lived as a baby at 19, Hornsey Rise. I went from my home in Clapham on what had once been the 77A bus (perhaps it was already the 87, but I shall always think of it as the 77A). Just by Charing Cross Station I changed on to the 91 bus, which would take me to Hornsey Rise, just as the 14 bus would have done when I was a baby. And just as the bus began to move, by the entrance to the tube, it came to me that my parents had been Jews. The day I knew I was a Jew was the greatest day of my life.)

So I reach the end of this story of inextricable love and hate, the love stronger in the first half of my life and the hate in the second, but strength coming much more in the second half, and only because of what happened in the first, and the love my mother gave to me then. 

And now, at the age of sixty-five, in the quiet and peaceful Westminster Library, on 5th January 2021, as the world itself seems locked down in the sort of hopeless confusion that I myself once suffered, I for my part feel deeply free and happy as I tap with enormous ease on the keys. I remember my mother now, as so often, and very well,  but I do not want her back.

And not wanting her back, strangely, was what she gave me in the end. She cared for me so much I learned not to care. She loved me so much I cannot love. I do not remember her love, but it surrounds me always, leading me sometimes to happiness, often giving me the strength for good things, balancing the joy and sorrow of each day.