Saturday, 8 July 2017

The mother I hated and loved

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

After a quick pee, I lie long on the untidy white sheet as the sun streams in over the confined view of back gardens and dark houses. I have no commitments in the day that will ensue. Everything it will hold is designed to take as much out of the city as I can get and give back only what I choose.

The room is quiet around me in the morning. In the first two months I was here, the only sounds I heard were the birds at their song. But then the series of atrocities and disasters 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 untoward event, the attack at Finsbury Park, and that only killed one elderly Muslim. It was a grotesque anticlimax.

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 periodically 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 next door goes out of her room. I stay very quiet as she turns the keys in her locks, probably strews a wet wipe near our joint doors, and goes down the stairs. What a relief to be free of her unwanted presence! Greater peace descends on me as some music I love, perhaps Chopin's Fourth Ballade, surges towards a climax on the headphones.

But soon the woman is back. She has only gone out for her first smoke of the day. Once again I lie as quiet as I can, but the music is slightly 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 party," I say. "You gave your party twice at the Feel-Good Factory, do you remember?"

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

When I put my clothes on, the process is relatively quick. The clothes are ready from the latest wash in the packed chest of drawers. They are all creased, but who cares? I have never prided myself on sartorial elegance. I have no important appointments.

Then I put 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 by a colourful little wallet of its own, and that too goes to the right.

I pack a plastic bag with my current diary, an older diary 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 black man will be in the television room later, the mixed-race woman in the kitchen, I tend to wander about the garden, and the very thin, elderly Cypriot, to whom they 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 pop-ins 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 bliss punctured by alienation.

And what has led to this comfortable if slightly malevolent impasse, now that I am almost sixty-two? Why, 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, with a strong urge to rush 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!

But in the end I was ejected from her bed, and my oedipal Eden was over. Up to this point I had been a normal little boy. From then on I began to grow fat, incompetent and unmanly. She still loved me, but was deeply alone, and had grown to hate Arthur Ernest Hills.

When I came home from the school where I myself was isolated, she always had three things waiting for me that I loved: 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 attended 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.

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 unreasonable 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 used to laugh at her to her face. I used to mock her accent and call her strange names like "Goatie", which she particularly hated.

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 pointedly 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 those 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. And 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, and my mother would quickly 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 where I had eaten, 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. Now my reading was for a purpose, not just to assuage my loneliness.

These days I had a few friends, not many. Sometimes I went to see them, but more often I went for a long walk along Southgate Avenue towards the centre of town, singing and talking to myself. Occasionally the police picked me up as I walked, but after some time they learned to leave me alone. Those walks could be ecstatic. I didn't want to meet anyone. If I did, it would be disappointing. And my thoughts and my songs were a 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 deep friendship I shall never forget. I have had no other true friend, before or since.

For my earlier childhood with her had been dislocated. I had been born in London, but when I was less than one year old we moved out to the new town of Crawley in Sussex. From an early age I was possessed with the sense that Crawley was not really my home. We often used to visit London to see our friends the Mills family, who lived in Wood Green, and the periodic journeys we made there were one of the highlights in my childhood.

We would set out in the earlier morning to reach Leonor's house just before lunchtime. Our morning picnic was on Streatham Common, which was quite nice, but it was soon followed by the trauma of going through Brixton and the explosion of Arthur Ernest Hills' hatred against the blacks. Then, as we passed Oval and Kennington he would calm down, and Central London was a blank that I wanted to hurry through. For when we turned into the Caledonian Road we would be going into our own territory.

I would be deeply moved when we passed the house where I had lived when I was a baby, in Hornsey Rise. Then soon afterwards we would sweep up the hill to Alexandra Palace and the view from there never failed to rouse my deepest ecstasy. Then we bowled down again to Wood Green and the welcoming people that awaited us. I gained a sense of the magnificence and familiarity of London from those outward journeys.

But the inward journey was usually via Finsbury Park and my mother used to tell me that in the huge, dark houses there the "papoes", or "bogies", lived. This was an introduction to darkness. And how tired I became when we finally reached some distant suburb of south London such as Norbury, and then I gained the feeling of how alien and horrible London was, and again I have never lost this feeling.

I live near Finsbury Park now, and sure enough there has been trouble there. I have spent half my life in London and half away, and it is half my home and half an alien place, and I will never resolve this contradiction.

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. For just as Crawley was not my home, neither was England. I became so exited always that we were going to Portugal. I used to annoy the teachers at school by how I was endlessly counting the days. But when I arrived in Portugal I did not get the happiness I sought.

The man who was with us, Arthur Ernest Hills, ostensibly an Englishman, was not my real father, and perhaps subconsciously I sensed this. Certainly I had no trust in him.  He had originally come from Germany. This I had no suspicion of. Even less did I suspect that my mother was not totally from Portugal.

Because of the challenge to her nationality, she was deeply committed to that small country. And she made me a Portuguese patriot too. I came to view Portugal as my only country, in defiance of the facts as I then knew them, and even more contrary to what I have learnt in later years. I remember that, in 1966, during the World Cup, I  longed for the Portuguese team to beat Englan - after the quarter-final where Nobby Stiles persistently marked Eusébio - walking 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 great deal of love, comes from that time.

And even now, despite the generally easy if empty time I have passed in England, and the huge difficulties and endless negativity I have always experienced in Portugal, and my own considerable learned contempt and hatred for that 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 my mother's country. If there are none, I will refuse to buy that book. And a book that concerns England, of which there are so many, I may buy or I may not. But probably not.

 I am back now in the very streets where I was born. It moves me deeply to live in those streets near the Whittington Hospital. Some would say that my life has come full circle, that I must stay for ever now. Well, 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 a reserve country in time of need.

Nevertheless, I want 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 her 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 the knowledge about Ana das Meias - "Ana of the Stockings", my maternal grandmother - over many and difficult years and only recently did I know for certain that I was descended from her. So I think I will tell the whole thing more or less chronologically. It is going to take a long time, reader, and the writing may occupy me for well over a year, so you will need patience. The material is emotional for me, and the certainty with which I know it varies greatly, so there may be changes of style and register, abrupt movements back and forth in time. I hope the interest of my story will compensate for its length, complexity and diffuseness.

I will 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 was would be Donna Anna). I never knew exactly who this lady had been, but she was somebody quite important, 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 give the English translation. They were, "Mange, mange, bambino, tu sei si piccolino, e tua mamma e 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, it would be "killed" or "dead". Ana das Meias surely enjoyed the joke.

It was to be many, many years after my childhood that 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 sometimes known colloquially as "Zé Rito", which is a pun on "Zé Rico", or "Rich José". But this implies that his given name really was José and not Cesário. And my mother always told me that before being known as Reis he had had another surname. Mystery surrounds this 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".

Cesário dos Reis was married to a woman called Marcelina de Jesus, who came from a slightly higher social class than himself, being the daughter of a small pottery owner. 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; Maria Augusta (known as Augusta); Eva, my one surviving aunt; and Maria do Rosário (the most beautiful, the one who died first, the one I never knew, 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 in 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 soooner than I did that Marcelina de Jesus was not my grandmother.

But 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 Day 1968, in faraway Mozambique, and the news reached us almost immediately by telegram, my mother went into such a storm of grief that I have never forgotten it to this day.

Mum was a tomboy. She was always off from the house climbing trees and getting into mischief. 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.

Her relations with all of them 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. She was not sent to 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, it used to be my mother who was sent to the neighbours to beg, because of her daring and 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, seems to me the nearest of my aunts to being a witch, now an immensely fat, eccentric and talkative woman in her later eighties, who has become slightly malevolent, because she is a Jehovah's Witness. She has always had a strange soft spot for me, though, and she is my godmother.

Finally, after 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 documents surviving which refer to her, except her birth certificate, which date from before 1946.

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.

During the time in the late 1940s when my mother worked 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. ThisAugusta was the most sophisticated and wordly-wise of the sisters, and she was in some ways a sympathetic person because of this, 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.

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 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 being a true sister of theirs. I now believe that this strange statement reflected my fact that it was my mother who was the true 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, just off the Avenida. Up until recently at least this building was still there, and I used quite often to stand outside it and look upwards with emotions that I did not quite know, because in many ways, although I loved her, I did not really know my mother, and she gave me an edited version of what had happened in her life, to say the least, so that my feelings about places and things associated with her partake of this feeling of dislocation.

But I believe those were rather 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 as a chambermaid. 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 therefore it was impossible to sell. And at a certain point I lost the useless brush, which gave her sorrow.

But it was surely beautiful for her in the days she knew Rubinstein 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 marry or might not danced until night fell and other pleasures, despite the jealous brothers and hideous female chaperones, sometimes supervened.

As they evidently did in the case of Augusta. My mother told me once, in that 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 quite forgave her. She tried to quite a considera extent to help her during her last illness, but with not a penny of money, although my mother's money was locked up in various accounts, I clearly had little money, and Augusta was a wealthy woman. I cannot help remembering this aunt wih 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 who lives 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.

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 I wrote about her which some people have admired and which was published in Quadrant, the Australian intellectual magazine. My aunt Augusta, however, who read the story without much enjoyment, although she acknowledged it was well-written, said disparigingly that it was very simple. Les Murray, my editor at Quadrant told me, in contrast, that it gave him great pleasure to publish this story. Perhaps it is quite good as fiction, despite Aunt Augusta's opinion. I am sure now, however, that it holds only a certain truth 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. 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. That 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 Lisboans, 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.

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 romantic, many years later, make a gross physical proposal in the car he was proudly driving? And would a snobby aunt, who ran a fashionable coutourier establishment in the French style, want her nephew to be involved with the motor industry?

I also asked my aunt Eva - whom I did not tell about my theory that there might be two men involved - about exactly at what stage of my mother's career she had loved the pianist. 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 her, which is called "Meeting and Parting" (she wanted to be called Mirabelle in it, but I did not gratify this wish), I asked my mother 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 handsome 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. At one point I went to the Lisbon City Archives to check where this cafe might have been. But it was clear from their exhaustive record of cafes that no such establishment had ever existed there.

This makes it seem likely that the 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 seems to suit some Italian city, somehow, 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 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 leaped 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 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 series of points 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." I put this detail into the story. It follows from everything I have said that I do not believe this piece of dialogue to be quite accurate.

Perhaps he said something even more rude, about improving on previous encounters, or correcting their inadequacies. And I remind the reader that my aunt said that the long series of affairs which seem undoubtedly to have occurred ended in many abortions and the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon denied the abortions. So at least a possibility exists that children were born.

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 describe 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 later in this blog post.

The point of  this digression is to show that it is eminently possible that I have two half-siblings arising from the two romances I have described, the one born around 1940, the other in 1951.

Anyway, to return to the mainly very happy and certainly most 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 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 to something to many elderly Portuguese, because he wrote many books about the wonders and intricacies of the Portuguese language which were most widely disseminated. My mother used to own one, and it eventually fell to me, but, I think that 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 flesh.

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 the regime did not did not disturb his record of publication in his own country.

At about the age of twenty-four, Mum went to night school to learn to read and write, something no-one had ever thought of trying to teach her before. 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. She said he smelt.

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 happier than if she had settled for the elderly, kind and honourable gentleman. But I remember the words a woman speaks in a novel by Edith Templeton about not having married an elderly man: "Every day I am sorry. Every night I am glad."

She went to England. The chronology and the circumstances of her arrival are slightly 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, 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. My mother also met Leonor - who has turned up many times in these posts - on that day, because she was already a great friend of Isaura, and just possibly also a relation.

(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 this story of the 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. 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 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.

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.

The only tentative conclusion I can come to is that the business of getting out of Portugal was probably very complex, that several stages and the cooperation of many people mght be involved, and that the idea of a simple, definite arrival in the week of the coronation is probably too simplistic.

All this being as it may, my mother seems to have enjoyed herself in London. 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 people they saw. These also were among the most carefree times of my mother' youth.

Yet, as so often, those times were brief. Within about a year 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 in great detail 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 must tell this story again. So I will imagine it now, with the best of my heart and understanding, as I believe it to have been.

It was on the tubes. She was running to get the train. She almost made it. But just as she was about to jump on, the steel doors slammed quickly shut and, before she was flung aside on to the platform, her finger had been injured.

A man arrived on the platform at that moment. He was in his thirties, already balding, not very tall, but he had a fine figure, and there was something about his face, some hint of cruelty or suffering, which made him fascinating. He used gentle words. He spoke English well, but with a slight German accent. He took the weeping 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 pain.

If the station was Charing Cross, then Charing Cross Hospital was nearby in those days. People look at them in sympathy as they cross Trafalgar Square. At the hospital she is seen 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 now. During the war he had to be all brutality. But he cannot be more tender now.

She begins to take him in for the first time. Her sad destiny is sealed. And my own 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 does not want her to be involved with men. But she tells him enough to give more than a clue as to where she is living.

He goes through a long rigmarole over the next few weeks and eventually is able to track her down. 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? Perhaps. But does he tell her he also served in the German army during the war, because of the Nazi his father was? I think, perhaps 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 bears, not his real German identity. She would not have known the difference between a German and a Pole. And Portuguese girls in London go out with Polish men.

Or perhaps he just tells her he is just a German Jew. The fact that he is passing as a Pole is a joke between them. He does not mention that his father is a top Nazi, now in Englishman in disguise, until the said father has been met. That presumably happens when the plans for marriage are well afoot.

No, surely she meets the twin brother first. 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. It is a typical dance hall of the 1950s in the last years before rock and roll. It will be formal then, 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 surely 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 dominated by suffering and its sister hate. He prides himself on being an Englishman, yet he is not quite one, even though he has no foreign accent.

And he does not really like foreigners. Yet he has no woman. 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 paired.

The dance passes as any dance of about 1954 must have done and they are with the other couples in 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?

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 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 bigger, 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. And the family she herself lived in was united. The fact that he can never share her experience of family warmth leads her to feel pity for him. That she will marry him is sealed.

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

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. She anticipates a future which will be with him and will be happy and a partnership that will be lifelong.

The section that follows is all speculation, my own reconstruction of how things may have happened, based on what facts I have. On one of her meetings with her new fiance, Maria 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. 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,, so it will be a fine treat. Her lover meets her a little way away. Then they walk the short distance to where Arthur and the old man are waiting.

They 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 fat of his face.

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

"What is the problem?" my mother asks.

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

She flinches, and seeing her unease he says, "But that is not a problem now. You might even call it an asset, as it was before. These two sons of mine are both Jews, and I intend that 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 obeys 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 really Michael will be the groom.

Then 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 their hard eyes, her lover's eyes suddenly as impenetrable as the other two.

Then he takes her arm. We will really be married, Maria Jose, 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 in the war. I am in danger.

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

And the ceremony of tea and cake proceeds to its conclusion, and the old man falls silent. For he says nothing, nothing pleasant anyway, if there is no reason to say it.

But he says one more thing to my mother before he kisses her hand again in formal parting. "Remember, tell your employer that the name of your new husband is Arthur Ernest Hills. Tell the same to everyone else. It is my name as well and I will have it honoured. If you let the name Michael come out, there will be consequences."

And he waddles away, but no one laughs at him. And my mother bursts into tears, and Michael comforts her with embraces, and Arthur sits beside them with a strange, 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 all the experience in the world of the psychological manipulation of others. He knows exactly when to confront people with what they could stand or bear. My father is a man of honour, He would not have agreed to the first part if he had not known about the second. Simple, the old man thinks. Do not tell him about the second until the first is done.

Only a few weeks pass until the marriage. My mother has been working for a wealthy Jewess, Mrs Hirsch, who lives near Hendon Quadrant, and living in her flat, and she has to tell her employer she is leaving. Mrs Hirsch 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, 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 Hirsch.

But this is when my father has gone and Arthur, the grim reaper, has taken his place. In the tapes that Arthur is to make for me many years later, he remarks, I  remember, about the small role that love has played in his life. And then he says that he married my mother, and love had little to do with it, but that is another story that he cannot tell me now.

And he meant never to tell it. But I have found a lot of it out, you pathetic substitute for a father, whose grave in Pulborough churchyard I have visited twice but will never go to a third time.

You were not there on the day you were officially married. Did it hurt? You probably gave little sign of pain. But you had been hurt so much. You were punch drunk. I have to remember that when I am tempted to be harsh 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 has seen few quieter and more strangely dolorous ceremonies.

And my mother longs and hopes for happiness at this ceremony to which even her sister Augusta has been forbidden to come.

She believes her groom 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 and full of tenants. 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 is trying to make love to her husband.

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

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. Perhaps my mother is ironing. Perhaps he is 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."

"Well, be frightened. I have too much to hide. Now I'm reading the paper. Shut up."

"Oh, you bastard. Sometimes I wish I'd never married you."

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

The two other men arrive. There are two 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.

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.

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 i shown to my mother all the rest of it 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 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. "We have important business to deal with here."

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 never had proper German training. 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, 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, and finer, 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 command."

"Doesn't he talk fine?" says the grinning Arthur. "But he doesn't have the audience he used to command at the Sportpalast."

"Arthur!", says the old man, giving the name its German pronunciation, "she knows nothing about all that. And it is best she shouldn't."

"What is all this?" the woman screams suddenly. "What are you doing to me? I am a married woman! I am with my husband! I just want to be with my husband!"

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

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? What I have done?"

"Just tell her, mein Vater" her husband shouts. "Just tell her the facts 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, to be preparing for a substantial but concise speech, which he is clearly practised at giving.

"Since you wish it," the old man intones, "it shall be done. There is no need for hysteria, woman, 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 reliable daughter Helen, whom you have never met, and I think you would not wish to, and the corresponding copy of this document is already lodged with those in the British Home Office who can take care of it.

The purpose of this procedure, Jewess, is to frighten you, 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. You will be able to pass as a British citizen, but you will never be one. We can always expose you if we wish. The preparations for you to lose your citizenship of Portugal are well under way. We will soon be able to unleash all the horrors of being an entirely stateless person on you at any time.

There is one price for your continued reasonable life. It 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, you must never tell him. If you ever learn exactly who your husband is, you must never tell him. If you learn the horrors of the world as they have been perpetrated by us, you must never hint at this to anyone.

If you follow this vow of silence I am imposing on you now, your life can be a pleasant one and you will probably 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. If it is your blood I need to die in that bed, I will shed it, as I have shed the blood of so many. I am a machine for preserving myself, intelligent, pitiless, full of laughter."

There is a silence in a small, squalid and ill-lit room as the three younger people contemplate the full horror of the old man. It lasts a few seconds. Several seconds. They do not move. They do not speak.

Then the woman lets out a sudden cry which in a strange way expresses 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.

"Oh how I wish I had never met the man who wanted to help me. I could have suffered all the pain in the world if I had never met him," says my mother.

And my father says nothing, but pulls her 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 physically and morally unimpressive man, Arthur begins to fill in my mother`s false petition for citizenship in large and careful capitals and with a fine fountain pen that is secreted on his person.

Mostly he does very well, both in eliciting the details from my stony-faced mother, and in transcribing them into accurate English. Only once or twice he shows 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 assumed father, he has forgotten it. He doesn't want to know it really. The other two, being true Germans, certainly don`t know it. Arthur suggests Gillingham, because he has memories that the Auntie Connie he so briefly knew lived there. He is pretty sure this will not be checked. Nor is it.

"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 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 by birth and parentage. Over on the other side he writes her full name in capital letters.

"Now sign, bitch," my grandfather says.

And in absolute 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 stroking 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 true 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 necessary for us. There is no more sense in useless punishments than in pointless rewards. Now I shall append the date, so that you shall know you have my hand to it."

And in rather small, florid and decorative writing, 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 right? I have always loved the works of that sublime author, who to my mind outranks even our Goethe. Goodnight, happy couple, or as happy as you will ever be."

Just then 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 heavy tread on the stairs all the four occupants of the room seem locked in a dreamy and unreal silence, all standing bolt still. Then the old man raises his hand in a Hitler salute 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 follows, based on scanty and uncertain information over a considerable period. So I will go back to weighing up the evidence I have. Perhaps I shall tell just one section as a story.

I  imagine that the real love and trust between my mother and father must have died on the evening she signed the false document. I feel that she would have resented this 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 hated room, and then there would be the ambiguity of his return, wanted in a way, dreaded in a way.

But they must have been happy in love sometimes, and I surely on the date towards the very end of 1954 when my own life began in embryo. It almost certainly 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. So thanks Mum and Dad, I wouldn't have missed the life you gave me.

And their own lives surely became better now that my mother had this new life growing inside her. Things seem to have become quite social as well. My mother's sister, the slightly sombre Augusta, was still in London, but in about January 1955 the more comical and flirtatious Aunt Eva arrived, and also the slightly horselike but sharply intelligent woman who still lives in the centre of Lisbon, whose name I am not recording for now, although perhaps one day I will.

There was now a gathering of the clans in the northern city, and the 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 subject of their slightly formal romances. This was the stuff of life for the European foreigners in 1950s London. I can hardly imagine it now, although it has deep meaning for me, that city of bombsites, peasoupers and trolley buses, Kardomahs, new immigrants and endless cigarette smoke, and of 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 family and friends in Waterlow Park in Highgate in the summer when my mother was 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, near my 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 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, 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 now. There may be more journeys in my life,  perhaps to many countries, perhaps wild and disconnected journeys, but I hope also to cleave to the North London streets where I was born.

But 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 Italians, 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.

There is confirmation of this idea in all the photos from 1955 that date from before my birth on 21 August. 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". But, although 19, Hornsey Rise was close by, not even Gennaro, 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.

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. The whole thing seems utterly 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. But, since she was already officially married to Arthur Ernest Hills, 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. This suggests that the people invited to the wedding, who were about a dozen, formed part of an approved circle.

I explained the reasons in the previous post why I thought the wedding on 21st May 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.

The names of the bride and groom, as recorded on the certificate, are Josefa Moravcova and Donald Williams, born with the surname Schoenthal. He is the son of Fritz Schoenthal, who presumably at this date also has the surname Williams. The document is written, wherever possible in Latin, but one of the witnesses, in English transliteration, is Frederick William Williams. If Donald Williams is an alias of my father, then Frederick William Williams - the given names are those of the cruel martinet who was King of Prussia (could this be grim German humour?) -  is my grandfather.

The address of Frederick William Williams is given as 23, Church Mount, London N2. This is a very substantial mansion in an area of already resplendent villas in the area to the north and the very east of Hamsptead Garden Suburb, where Highgate, Hampstead and East Finchley all meet, and not that far from the centre of Golders Green. It is near to the A1, north of the Spaniards Inn, and only a few hundred yards from the Norrice Lea Synagogue.

It is the sort of place, I feel, where a top Nazi in English disguise, with substantial hidden means, and living largely apart from his wife, who stays in her humble suburban dwelling, might find refuge for a while.

Could this be the address where my parents were living at the time of the false wedding, staying with his father? As the reader will no doubt expect by this time, I have been there several times to case the joint. For many months in the summer and now winter of 2017 the house has been in process of redevelopment and behind heavy barriers, with warnings not to trespass and telling parents that they must on no account allow their children to play on the site. It is therefore difficult to find out much about the interior, or even the exterior for that matter.

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 dream, and then several in what is clearly the back garden of the 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.

I have compared the photos several times with what I can see of the shrouded house, and all I can say is that there is nothing to prevent this being the house shown in the photos. I can see one patch of the exterior wall of 23 and it looks roughly similar to the wall in the photos. There is at least one tree in what one can just glimpse of the back garden. And going down a small lane with tall hedgerows which runs by the side of 19, Church Mount (strange how 19 keeps on coming back in my story), it is possible to see that the back gardens of the row of houses with odd numbers between 19 and about 27 are substantially wooded.

Yes, it could be the house, 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 in the night-time, rejoicing in the lights above the otherwise silent houses and went faster than usual, until I came to Temple Fortune.

(This and the following three paragraphs form a later interpolation, beginning now at 5.47p.m. on the afternoon of Monday 23rd April 2018, St George's Day, a fresh, blowy afternoon following an exceptionally hot five days, and then a fine morning, when I decided to go and see 23, Church Mount again. I arrived there about an hour ago now.

This time the house was undergoing substantial works with much scaffolding, wrapping and commotion of hard hats, and with access now barred by a huge gate guarded by numbered codes, and I began shouting up to the men I could see at a high level, asking them how long the work was going to take now. They did not answer me, despite repeated attempts, and then I moved slightly and could see more workmen within the front garden. These also did not answer me at first, and then I heard one of them addressing another in Portuguese. I therefore addressed the nearest workman in that language, repeating several times, "How long is this work going to take now. About two or three months more? And he answered, in typical laconic Portuguese fashion, "Se calhar mais", "Perhaps longer", and turned away from me.

His foreman then came outside the enclosure and spoke to me. He seemed a polite man, perhaps not as simple as he appeared. He was a Romanian, and our pleasant conversation took place in English. I told him what the Portuguese workman had told me, and asked him how long he himself believed the work would take. He said he thought it might take another year. I said that the whole thing must be a multi-million pound project and he agreed. I asked him if he knew the name of the client for this work, and he said he did not, only that of the company for which he was working. I did not ask this, because it could avail my research nothing. We parted on good terms, and as I stopped for a quick pee in the quiet little alley that goes from by 19, Church Mount towards Winnington Road, it occurred to me that this work would obliterate all traces of the house that my grandfather, possibly, had known.

A minute or too afterwards, when I was walking along Winnington Road towards the main road, where I proposed to catch the 102 bus to Muswell Hill, a smart, black car, or possibly a small van (I am extremely bad with the makes and characteristics of cars and vans),pulled up at the kerb at a point just beyond where I was walking. It remained stationary for several seconds. Sensing possible danger, I did not move on, but stood stock still. This was at about 5.19p.m. this afternoon. Finally the car drew away towards the main road, and as it departed I memorised and then noted down in my pocket diary the registration number of the vehicle. It was S11 CME.)

Going back to the winter now, after my second visit there I decided to do a little research about 23, Church Mount, and its possible occupants around the year of 1955, but the whole thing took longer than I thought. The electoral rolls for the London Borough of Barnet were closed to researchers when I first tried to access them, and I have had to wait for over a month to continue this blog (I used the time to revise a lot of previous material in this and many of the earlier posts). Only today, Friday 15th December, 2017, have I received an email giving me the information I requested, the recorded occupants of that house in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

For 1954 no occupants are recorded. In 1955 Eve L. Shepherd-Walyn and Leonard Philips were supposedly living there. In 1956 it is only Eve L. Shepherd-Walyn. So whoever Frederick William Williams was, when he gave his address on that marriage certificate as 23 Church Mount, he gave an address where he was living either clandestinely, or only very briefly, or not at all. And perhaps, I think when I discover this, all the other addresses on the marriage certificate, like the names, are fake as well.

Where to find the kernel of truth in all this sub rosa information? Well, there is one strange clue, and it is connected with the name Williams, which I believe my father and grandfather were using as their alias. I discovered this clue in the London Metropolitan Archives. This was also closed, for holidays, when I first tried them, but eventually, a few weeks ago now, I found they held four items concerning the address.

This proliferation of records was because the house forms part of the Hampstead Garden Suburb and, in order to maintain the harmony of the architectural ensemble, it is necessary to ask permission of the organisation that oversees the suburb to make even the most trifling alteration to the appearance of any property within it. The huge planning archive of olden days has been turned over to the Metropolitan Archives for safe-keeping, and several records can be found for almost every house in the suburb.

The first of the four records for 23, Church Mount was of its initial building, which took place in 1936, at the behest of one Ernest Josephs Esq, who may have been either the first owner or the builder.

The next two records are requests for alterations from a Mrs M.E. Reichman. In 1947 she obtained permission to add a sink to the pantry and in 1950 she was able to remove a hedge along the front boundary. Mrs Reichman was therefore the occupant of the house for several years in the immediate post-war period.

It is the fourth record that really interests me. On 21st January 1954 a Mrs D. Williams, of 47, Southway, London NW11, was given permission to install an oil storage tank in the garden without altering its slope and with a retaining wall to be built around the enclosure of the tank to prevent its mouth falling in. The grant of permission specifies that "with advantage"  a hedge a few inches high might be built over the top of the enclosure and that this hedge should be painted a dark green colour.

Now the purpose of an oil storage tank is likely to be heating. Perhaps Mrs Reichman was a hardy soul and had kept her house cold. Since Mrs D. Williams is of NW11, she is clearly not living in the house at the time of the planning permission. And the fact that the house is empty in 1954 and that the occupants in 1955 and 1956 have quite other names seems to show that whoever wanted to move into a warmer and cosier house was not Mrs Williams. Yet a Frederick William Williams gives his name, entirely falsely it seems, as living at the house on 21st May, 1955. And the groom at the wedding, surely his son, and most likely my father, is a Donald Williams. So all that prevents him being the D. Williams who requested the storage tank is his sex.

As it happens, the surname Williams comes up at two other significant points in my story. The first is at the marriage of Joyce Frances Campion Wyatt, who was christened with the surname Campion in 1921, to William Ralph at St Augustine's Church at Gillingham, Kent in April 1944. The reader may remember from my previous post, "The beginning of the good years", that I believe the birth of this bride marked the first insinuation of people with a hidden German connection into the Kentish and Scottish families of Hills and Brown from which I ostensibly come.

One of the two witnesses to the marriage is a Percy (possibly Perry) Robert Williams. The other is my aunt Helen Vera Hills who, as the reader may also remember, I believe to be the alias of Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein, born in Berlin in 1919. It therefore seems quite possible that Percy Robert Williams is also an assumed name, although I have no further details of this person.

The third incidence of the name Williams is in the marriage of a Portuguese called, like my mother Maria dos Reis, but with different middle names, to Geoffrey Lionel George Searle, at the Register Office in Kensington, on 26th November 1955. The reader may also remember from my post "The seventh journey" that this Maria Manuela dos Reis was the daughter of the first commandant of the Portuguese prison camp Tarrafal which was a Salazarist equivalent of Dachau, and that I believe this marriage, for reasons I explained in that post, to be an event connected to the many frauds perpetrated by my parents and their circle.

This marriage was solemnised by licence before H.G. Williams, Deputy Superintendant registrar, and also J.M. (possibly N.) Mooney, Registrar, and the witnesses were a well-known portrait painter Gerard de Rose, who has died, and his wife, Noreen P. de Rose, who still survives at a very advanced age. I have spoken to her on the phone, and she was quite friendly, but she refuses, perhaps understandably in regard of her years, to meet me, and denies all knowledge of any Portuguese persons.

And there is yet another, indirect, connection with the name Williams. As I first mentioned in the post "The seventh journey", at the wedding of my parents my grandfather seemed to have been disguised under the name Frederic William Williams. And as I revealed in the previous post, the one about the background of my paternal family, my grandfather seems either eventually to have been murdered or to have escaped capture in a complex fraud involving four certificates of men called Hills or Hill and the first of these, possibly that of an invented person, has the name Frederick William Hills, exactly the same but for the surname as Frederick William Williams.  

The name Williams is of course one of the commonest of British surnames, but three, or possibly four, or even five, incidences of it in a family story which is replete with numerous deceptions  and false identities, does seem rather a lot, and I would not be at all surprised if all these people turned out to have been born with other surnames and if all of these surnames were German. In the case of Donald Williams this is certainly the case as he is recorded as having been born with the surname Schoenthal.

Anyway, it is now Christmas Day 2017 and I have decided to phone my very elderly aunt Eva who was a guest at the wedding of my parents and present at the reception. Earlier in the morning I had phoned Brian and Maria Streeter, and they told me that Tia Eva had been ill recently. Maria said that she had phoned her about two weeks before and she had hardly been able to speak because she had an overwhelming cough. Maria said she had a premonition of bad fortune and said she thought it was a very good idea to to phone that morning. My aunt is almost eighty-eight years old.

When I got through to her I addressed her not as aunt "tia", as I usually do, but as godmother, "madrinha". Her voice was weak and she was still coughing quite badly but was able to talk, and was quite alone on Christmas Day (I dared not mention it was Christmas as my aunt is a Jehovah's Witness). She was therefore particularly glad to hear from me, and I prepared to spend almost all the thirty pounds credit on my mobile and as gently as I could finally brought the conversation round to the wedding reception.

I gave her a description of 23, Church Mount, saying I had a picture in my mind of what the house where the reception had been held might have been like. I said I it was a large house and had a garden with trees in a luxurious suburb with a synagogue nearby, and that it belonged to my grandfather. Could that have been it? My aunt said that it more than sixty years ago and she could not remember anything about it. I mentioned that my mother had once told me that my father had been a terrible man but his father had been ten times worse. Then my normally most reticent aunt told me a surprising thing.

She said that, while she was in England, which was four years between early 1955 and 1958, my grandfather, while legally married to Winnie Chaplain, had married another woman altogether, in a different part of London. She could not remember any details of who the woman had been or the district of the city, but she remembered that my grandfather had said he was a free man and had a right to marry whom he chose.

When I tried to question my aunt further, she changed the subject. The three old women who have been my chief informants (one of them, Leonor Mills, is now heavily demented, and I will get no more out of her) have always been like that. They will be quiet a long time, then suddenly let something out. Then they clam up again, or deny what they have just said. They want me to know, but are too frightened of the consequences of my knowing

And my aunt and I went on talking as the credit approached zero on my new mobile phone, but I was conscious that it might be the last time I spoke to her, and I was filled with sudden love for my dear godmother and close relation and a wish to make her feel better. She said she thought her cough was flu rather than just a cold and spoke of how lonely she was on this day. So I said I was alone too, and reminded her that 2018 would mark sixty years that she had been in her little bungalow and I wished her all the best for the year that was to come. But that led to another, most terrible fit of coughing.

And I put the phone down with many farewells, promising to phone her again on her eighty-eighth birthday, 4th February, 2018. I will, if God wills, sing "Happy Birthday to You" to her in Portuguese. Last year I sang it in English, but in the coming year it will be in her own language. And I must ask her no more questions about the past on 4th February. It wouldn't be right.

As I looked round at the empty, white room again I pondered on what this new information might mean in the context of 23, Church Mount. A woman and a man were listed as living there in 1955. They names had meant nothing to me. But could these be the aliases of my grandfather and his new, bigamous wife? Or, indeed, of my own parents? Or were these people well-wishers who would allow this place to be listed as their official residence even while they allowed a dodgy couple to live there? I was to look up the unusual name Shepherd-Walyn on the Internet, but without result. No use to look up Leonard Philips.

Sometimes the researches I am making into my family history seem to lead only to further and deeper mysteries every time, without any prospect of resolution, just the endless chain of strange and untoward facts confirming that a deeper mystery lies here.

Perhaps I will tell a very small and trivial mystery here, 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 quite an important point. 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 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 there, 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.

And, 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 point in the story and illustrated a a slightly 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 would most plausibly fit this address. It was my parents who were living there, not Arthur, so the story was already 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 the story still involves them and they came to Golders Green, say, to meet Eva.

And, you, reader, will be saying, Charles, this is a very tenuous chain of reasoning. But remember how strange my whole story is, how many falsehoods and half-truths it contains. It is very trivial discrepancies like this that can lead us to feel that one version of events is more likely than the others and we can draw certain, albeit tentative, conclusions from the implications of the discrepancies. It is more like the Sherlock Holmes stories than the Gospels, or, at least, I hope it is. Call me a lumbering Dr Watson if you will!

Now do we have any clues as to the possible identity of the woman my grandfather had clandestinely married? Yes, there are one or two. I have referred many times to the group wedding photo of the ceremony at St Joseph's. It contains several rather striking-looking people. One of them is a dark middle-woman rather sweepingly holding 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,  my grandfather and this woman appear behind the couple, assuming a proprietary and weird air. This was the first sign that they might be together. 

And in several of the photos showing the wedding reception, 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 had ever said anything whatever about her. But the recollection appeared so clear on that first occasion that I am sure it must be genuine.

So is it possible to know anything more about this woman? Well, I can add two further details. I tried very hard to try and trace any of the other people in the wedding photo, if they might by any chance still be alive. Eventually, by a process too tedious and irrelevant to relate in detail here, I managed to find one. 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.

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 when I reached her, she was unable to walk although otherwise in good health. She would have been unable to answer 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 quickly took the photo from me and identified herself as the very pretty-looking young woman she had once been, wearing her black handbag nonchalantly on her left arm to match the white glove. The old woman greeted me as an old friend, and we talked for some time with mutual pleasure, and when I left she told me she hoped I would visit 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 almost nothing about that day and the people who had been there. I may refer just briefly again to the few things she could recall.. However, she remember the middle-aged woman and gave me the two facts I can now reveal: that the woman was Portuguese; and that she had lived in South Africa.

And while we are on the wedding group photo, do I have any other thoughts about the fourteen people who are in it (fifteen, if you count me within my mother's womb)? Well, there is a particularly 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. But 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. But she insisted that he had been totally an Englishman.

But she had only just arrived at 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. 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 her 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, 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 Josefa Moravcova, which seems to be the alias of my mother, is 29, Elvaston Place, several doors down in 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 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, if she existed, 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.

(While I am on the subject of 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, who is recorded as having lived at No 24 of Block 3 at Northwood Hall, a very smart and sinister block of flats (one can imagine Hercule Poirot living there), on Hornsey Lane, just on the Haringey and Islington border, and very close to the church of St Joseph where the marriage took place.

At the archive I was helped by two pleasant and intelligent female members of staff, who unearthed a great deal of information for me very quickly, so that I had plenty of time to enjoy the museum housed at the Castle, its park, and the slightly spooky beauty of this ancient enclave within Tottenham, as well as to discover that this No 24 was likely to be a true address.  Two people had lived in the flat for substantial periods of time, Donald Williams and someone called Anna Schoenthal (on the certificate, the original name of Donald Williams is given as Schoenthal). 

The archivists discovered that Donald Williams had arrived at the flat by 30th June, 1946, so, if Donald Williams was my father, this gives the latest date of his arrival in England. Anna Schoenthal joined him at the flat in 1947. Donald Williams is absent from the flat from the time of the 1956 register, which would make sense given that he had been married in May 1955. Anna Schoenthal remained on the register until 1970, and the archivists were also able to unearth a record of her death in Islington in that year, from which I immediately surmised that she had died at the nearby Whittington Hospital, where I myself was born.

I soon went back to the Westminster Archives and found the details of the certificate for Anna Schoenthal, which I ordered. She had indeed died at the Whittington, and had been born on 13th May 1880, in Germany, so that she was 90 at the time of her death. She was described as the widow of Fritz Schoenthal and he was a company director. Donald Williams was the informant, and he was listed as her son. His address was given as Flat 25 of Block Four in Northwood Hall. More and more it was looking as if these were real people and had nothing to do with my parents. The three other false addresses, and the many instances of the name Williams in my story, were still strange, though.

After some while, I went back to the Haringey archive and the electoral rolls, and it was a less magical visit this time, because I knew the museum and the park, and there were new staff on, indifferent people. And what I discovered about Flat 25 once again did not seem to confirm my theories. Donald Williams and Josefa Moravcova are listed as moving into the flat from the 1956 register, which would be natural in newly-weds, moving in to be close to his elderly mother. They are listed as living there continuously until 1977,and from 1975 they are joined on the register by Martin P. Williams, who must by their son. From 1977 to 1982 a gentleman called Harvey Cohen lives at the flat. Then it falls empty until 1984. And after that the endless whirligig begins of the names of new tenants which was characteristic of such blocks in the Thatcher years and beyond.

So far, so utterly normal. There is just one strange coincidence that relates to my story. The reader may recall from my previous post, "The beginning of the good years" that in 1982 my maternal grandmother faked her own death, and that this deception probably involved the murder of another woman in a London property, 29. Ariel Road, NW6, that also fell empty. Strange, two empty properties at the same time in my story. It could be a coincidence. Yet there are so many odd coincidences in my story.

But I am conscious that I have been going on about the Schoenthals, the Moravcova and the Williams for an enormous time, and perhaps they have nothing to do with me, so I will leave them for the present, perhaps to return much later in this post if anything turns up about them that could confirm my theories.)  

Going back to the wedding photo, there is one 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 they 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. 

Another person in the photo I have no clue about whatever. This is a tall, fair youngish woman who looks particularly tough and British and who is to the right of my grandfather, and seeming almost 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 to the dominating woman, behind him, and between him and my mother, is a woman who bears a strong resemblance to Helen's photo 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.

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, 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, and 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 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 idenitified by her as being called Laura, She has also long been dead. The identification of her had a negative usefulnesss, because someone had proposed she might be another figure in the story, and I can now dismiss this possibility.

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 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 looks a very jolly middle-class Englishwoman of her time, normally affable, sharp when required.

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, as befitted their relative levels of affiliation to England; Eva in a plainer ensemble, contrasting with the flowery, elaborate one of Augusta, reflecting the extent to which each outgrew their peasant past; Augusta, to the right of my grandfather, and with the entirely unknown woman behind her, smiling broadly in her ruthless way, while Eva, next to Rosa, gives a faint, 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 a  bow in her hair than a hat, carrying such a fine bouquet around her still slim stomach (although I am there) that you cannot see whether she is wearing gloves, smiling that full, brave, gallant smile that I remember, which perhaps hid 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. One would have thought him a very jolly old cove, if one 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. A smiling villain indeed, and God damn him.

And, yet, as I related in a very late interpolation in my last post, "The beginning of the good years", I recently discovered that he seemed to have been cremated before his death was registered, and that another man was certified dead in his place, and then that body supposedly went into a ground another name, but the cemetery has no record of this at all, a plot that even Patricia Highsmith might have had trouble dreaming up, so complex and impenetrable is it. Anyway, I think this all means that probably he was murdered. So the smiling escapes and the devil's good luck perhaps did not go on until the end. What goes around comes around, as I heard them say so often in prison.

No, alone among the screaming people of the old-fashioned lunatic asylum, where he had been taken protesting in a closed van, the evil old man would 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, as I said, the circumstances I have discovered are so strange and confusing that the possibility 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. But my point about the truth having a beauty of its own would still hold.

In some ways the theory that it was another escape, in order to send him on his way to South America and out of the hair of his family for good, fits the facts better. But I believe 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 joyful, 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 my grandfather was really dead. And Arthur Ernest Hills was such an inward, hidden sort of person. One knew his hatred was for real, but not his joy.

If it was a murder, I have to get used to the fact that my whole family was probably involved in killing him. This is hard for me. And, in spite of the horror of his personality, isn't it still a bit unlikely? Well, that sort of thing goes on in Greek tragedy. His wife Winnie hated him, surely, because he pursued other women, and his three children must have been ambivalent because they were Jews. And my mother hated him worst of all because he had tried to kiss her on the mouth. She loathed him with passion after that. She would have done it, surely. When he did that to her, probably 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 go to Argentina sufficient punishment. But I know she would have been capable of conspiring to get him killed.

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 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.

But perhaps they were not already there, but still at the other address. The recorded address of Donald Williams is very close indeed to Waterlow Park, but he is living there with Anna Schoenthal. And 23, Church Mount is not far. It could have been from any of those three, or indeed another, that my mother went to the Whittington Hospital for my birth.

Oh, parents of my heart, how sad that you were together so briefly. How sad 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, how sad that you finally betrayed me. For now I am left with a love for you that can never return.

And now it is the early evening of Saturday, 20th August, 1955, at whatever North London address, 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, is leaving the sinister address in the faint evening mist and among the unknown people. What is my mother's thinking as she lies on the trolley, clinging to its side in desperation perhaps? This is the third child that she has borne to termination. The other two she gave away. They were brought up, in one case by strangers, in the other by members of her family. She had no part in their upbringing. She saw them from time to time.

And is she praying: 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 who 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 now 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. 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.

And perhaps I shall make very roughly the same journey when I come to die, being borne rapidly through the hostile streets to the same hospital, to meet such a terrible black nurse to tend me. It is right, perhaps, that I should be. But I can never know the intensity of pain she knew at the beginning of my story. "No, you've got to push when I tell you!" the grim midwife says, bending over her. "Not now! You're killing your baby!"

"But |I've got to! I've got to do it now."

"When I tell you! Or you'll kill your baby."

"No, no, you don't understand. He's just wanting to come."

"I understand a lot better than you do, my dear. You're killing your baby."

Well, I'll die anyway, and what will the years have been worth? My mother always tells me that all the other babies born that night were black, that the midwife kept on going away to deal with these more grateful ones and then coming back to abuse her. Well, London will be infinitely more multiracial when I come to die even than it is now. I shall be alone in the final hospital and totally surrounded probably by blacks and browns. I shall not want to talk to them. I won't want visitors of my own kind. I shall be abused by the last person I see and abuse him or her in my turn.

And then, when the head is about to come out, my big, 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 21st August 1955.

And she sees the head as it comes, then the face that she will grow to love and hate, as I see hers. And the pain now is worse than anything that has gone before, with scream after scream being wrenched from her, in this grim old workhouse ward, as the midwife busies herself elsewhere.

And then I am born, the child of woe.

And the nurse is there suddenly, a bit friendlier now, and places me on my mother's stomach. And then all the love she will always feel for me comes in triumphant flow. But the place is the same. The woman is the same. The labour has been the worst she has known. She thinks back to her other son even as I am there.

And then pure love and joy takes over, as it is to do for many years.

And that is the last section of my own and my mother's story that I shall dramatise. We are in the present day 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 cannot be certain, being as impartial as I can.

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 for me 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 incontrovertible 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, the very city and the very area where I live now.

I was christened with the given 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 ceremony 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, whom I have also met, Napoleon was without doubt a Pole and, if my father was already passing as Polish at this date (not absolutely certain, because his naturalisation under the name Miecsyzslaw Hufleit only dates 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 incline to the belief 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, 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 long 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 I believe 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 met 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 remembering what I must keep from them. 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, though, perhaps.

In recent years I have sometimes tried to get in touch with the Maccariellos. Anthony Adolph, the researcher I replied, contacted a number of them of them on my behalf, but only Gennaro's Polish widow Teresa Stasinski 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, 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 a good, intelligent and charismatic person, and I would love to meet her.

Yet there is an unhealthiness in my attempts to recover this slightly mythical past. How often I go now to where 19, Hornsey Rise stood, where the Philip Noel-Baker Peace Garden is placed now within Elthorne Park. But what can I gain from a park where once was a house, from people with whom I was once intimate and will probably never know?

There is a photograph of me when I was a baby at that house. 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. It lies forever irrecoverable in the dark years of my childhood. Teddy was just there and I loved him and then he was gone.

And how often this pattern has recurred during all the years of my life. Someone, or something, has meant something to me, sometimes deeply, sometimes a long time. And then there has been something, or perhaps nothing at all. And my heart has turned against that person, that place, that thing, forever. And I have felt no regret, or only a sweet regret.

I damaged that photo of myself as a baby with Teddy. When I was at Oxford, I was going away for part of the first summer, but was due to return, and left that and another photo, with other things, exposed, in a damp storeroom. The other photo showed me looking very 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 other photo restored, and in its fine frame it still adorns the bookcase in my house in Portugal, to which at some point I must return. Then, if all be well, I will bring it back, carefully wrapped, to be with me in London.

And gradually I told myself about the image by the Eiffel Tower that it was only the first of so many things we must lose. And indeed I have now 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.

It 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, and old photographs showing the area of my earliest days. For this pub is almost opposite where 19, Hornsey Rise once stood, a little bit farther towards London, opposite the beginning of Elthorne Park.

One of the photographs is labelled Hornsey Rise, but it really shows the very top of Hornsey Road, and the range of houses in Hornsey Rise from 1 to 19 can just be glimpsed on the horizon, and our house 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 many many I have in my own collection show the house full on.

So I have lost 19, Hornsey Rise as well, and surely I will never even see an image of it, unless perhaps one day I could contact Tamara McLorg or another of her relations. Yet there really is a sweetness in sitting by that fire with my gin and bitter lemon and not quite being able to see the house. What do |I want as I sit by that fire? Only the journey home on the 91 and my comfortable bed. Not the house. Not any image of it.

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, the father, the son, I did not know.

It is a pipe-dream. But I want nothing else at all, except perhaps a comfortable journey towards death.

And it seems to have come so 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 had rejected her milk, putting my tongue out at the prospect of it. 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 increasing relish. On the night before she told me of her betrayal, 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. She must have been preparing herself for what she would say on the morrow.

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 on the wet mornings in my small white room, to stimulate my heart to love and justice. This morning I did not find the only one in which my parents and I are together. I didn't 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 Nag's Head]. 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 rebarbative 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 hunched back, Concetta dark and stern, the black dog Romanha (I suppose she was Romana to the Italians), who was such fun.

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 really handsome in family mode.

Yet it will so soon turn out to be a lie, that photo. Within a year or two he will leave us. Perhaps he was not philandering at that time, but he soon will be. Perhaps Isaura, the devil woman of my mother's life, is 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 the morning 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 either." I thought she was talking about Arthur. But it must have been Dad.

Sad, indeed. 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, written in a fluent and charming style, but sometimes betraying his foreign origin. 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, 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 - and a bit later he tells how at eight months my parents bought me a push-chair at Jones Brothers, which was a department store in Holloway Road and they took it back because there was something wrong in the wheel and 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 the pen Dad is using, 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. So they probably bought the book, which is an autograph book, in the centre of Crawley and perhaps my father wrote the first section when they got home 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 bues, 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, ending with "tadinha (tadine)", which I think was my version of "coitadinha", "poor little thing". 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 on through the Crawley time. There is one photo of  you with me in the back garden there, which I treasure. And what about 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 Portuguese, where the word would be "sapatinho" - perhaps 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 from us, and it is still there. I know much less 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.

Because 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 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 and on walking, and how I began to tease my mother by walking off another way when he told me to walk to her, Dad recalls the following visit: "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." 

Oh, what fun life sounds in those days, the days that were so rapidly coming to their end!

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 aunty 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. 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, indeed of all forms of transport, except cars, which I have never learnt to drive, so I cannot be fond of them. Trains, watching them and travelling on them, are a real passion, though, the time I feel most at peace. With music, reading and walking, I most love trains.)

"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, 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 Mum "maminlinha". And I have never lost my fondness for elaborate diminutives in the Latin languages, Portuguese and Italian. For instance, I used the nickname for my friend Stephen of Bambi, which often became Bambinello or even Bambinelinho, but not to his face, for fear of annyoing him.)

I now come to the last two-and-a-half pages of this small book of 27 pages (counting the title page, the last page with just three-and-a bit lines). I quote the final two paragraphs in full:

"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 ass well as all unknown children. His mother used to say he had a large heart."

It is a beautiful tribute my father pays to my tenderness at the end of the little book he wrote about me. 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 will see as I travel around London now. I have never kept an animal in adulthood. I do not tend plants. I have never loved a person. I pray that perhaps this alienation will enable me better to love everybody and everything. Or that I find the one I can love 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 if he had 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.

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 him.

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. I went to the British National Archives to try and find a reference to us as passengers on a likely boat, but found nothing for certain. The records of sea voyages at this time only include those that began or ended outside Europe, and it is possible that this voyage was simply from England to Portugal. But there was a record of one boat going out to Australia and stopping at Lisbon and other places, travelling in June 1957, and carrying an elderly Catholic priest by the name of Arthur Ernest Hills.

Now 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.

But let us say the whole party was travelling incognito, as may well have been the case, I can picture that disguising his identity as a Catholic priest might well have appealed to my grandfather's savage humour. I had the record of the whole passenger list for this boat photocopied at the archive, a pretty substantial numbers of pages, took it to Portugal on my last trip out there, and, because it was quite heavy, and other things seemed more vital, did not bring it back to England with me. I therefore do not remember much about the details, what port in Britain it sailed from, even the name of the boat. 

The main part of the list of passengers was a solid phalanx of Anglo-Saxon names. But at the end there was a short appendix recording foreign nationals on the boat. Among these were several who could be the members of our party incognito, including one family who sound rather exotic and whom I remember were stateless, but whose name and final destination I again do not remember.

Of course there is absolutely no proof that this is the ship were travelled on, and it is perhaps not even likely. The name of the priest is striking, though. This boat was sailing on to Australia, and I think it was also to stop at Colombo, although I do not suppose many of its passengers disembarked there. Most would have been going to Australia, the land of opportunity. There is one curious aspect of the photograph album of this trip to Lisbon. Nowhere does the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon appear in them. She had stayed with my father initially on the boat. It would have stopped at Lisbon several days and then gone on. Perhaps this taciturn woman went with it. Ditto my grandfather.

The photographs that date from this trip 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. There is one photograph which shows my mother with her father and a woman who does not appear to be his wife, I have often seen her image elsewhere and I have seen often elsewhere and vaguely remember her.

My mother is standing up close and affectionate against this elderly woman, who is wearing a smile both benevolent and sinister, and my maternal grandfather wears a twinkle in his eye and this is in contrast to the images of my mother with Marcelina de Jesus and where she typically looks very distant and they seem uncomfortable.

I therefore believe this may be the only surviving photographic record of my grandmother Ana das Meias, who was to die later in 1957 and whom I know from the indication I have cited earlier in this post - "Mange, mange, bambino...." - that I am likely to have met for the one and only time during this trip. Good I was with her once. Just once.

And now I come to the story of the years spent under the shadow of Arthur Ernest Hills, and the long years since then, which were mainly times of unhappiness and frustration, until I reached the period of today, dominated by chilly indifference. Many thousands were the opportunities I sought to exploit during that time, and the ambiguous people met in the course of my attempts at winning ways, and the partings involved in the rejections that ensued. If I were to try to tell anything like the whole of this story, the present post would go on for ever and memory itself scream. So I must become very 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 yet is apart from it.

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. The two men 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 helplessness, which dates from when I was about five. For many years I believed this to be my first memory. I am 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 the car, or near it. But I do not reach him.

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, mildly 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, 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, though. I did not go to nursery school. I was always by her 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 Carney'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.

But then came my salvation. I was immensely quick at reading, writing too. Writing, now, 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 believe that, in some strange way, we share the same identity). Of course I wonder how she reacted to the substitution of my father by the slightly stinky figure of Arthur. She 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, formal 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 smartness too, part of his general 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 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, 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 (usually 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. She must always have been missing my father, resenting his desertion, resenting 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 most solicitously, saying what sounded like "Sheberee."
I remember that again 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." I was astonished. 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 Industrial Estate, where Arthur was now a certified accountant. It was 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 was the first to be called to go to 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 elbow when the book mentioned that Elizabeth was a virgin!

And then I remember the time when I was perhaps nine 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, 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 fellow-feeling 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 Malthusian, as Darwinian, perhaps even as Hitlerian as you like these days.

Something has happened to me during my life, and I can sum it best by saying it has been a switch from love to hatred. Of course, experience has partly been the motor, but the driver of the car was my mother. I am like Estella in Great Expectations, with all her cold complexity and simple at the core. I have been trained not to love.

In a way, my mother, in her passionately southern way, and with her meticulously maintained house (until her final years - then it was Havisham-like indeed - I shall tell the story), was as deadly a figure to me as Miss Havisham - eternally mourning her lost wedding, dressed in the torn white crepe that finally caught fire, wandering in maniacal anguish through the ruined house - was to Estella.

My mother said to me: Love me! Love me! Love me! While I could love her, I loved. And when I hated her, I hated. And my mother's end was as Gothic as Miss Havisham's.

But back, 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. I've written about the first journey, by boat, and the second, in the Wyvern. The other two are from my deep childhood, and I have few specific memories of them, although I remember the tension as we crossed Spain and then the joy at the Portuguese border, the fear of the Spanish officials, the love of ours. 

And the joy of reaching Lisbon, and the cramped quarters of the two aunts who lived there: Tia Conceicao's ramshackle upper rooms above the grocer's shop in Alges where she lived with Tio Albino in happiness but without children, and Tia Eva's neat white bungalow by the last bell tower of the aqueduct, where she lived with a full family, the landscape of the Alcantara Valley by the station of Campolide - shabby, almost rural, historic - which, however much it changes, is the last link with my childhood, because my aunt lives there still.

And going out with my family and relations to the beach at Carcavelos, and after that to the pine woods behind to have our picnic, again I have no specific memories, only the film of happiness that lies over it.

And happiest of all is a specific 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.

Another memory perhaps from the time I was eight, less happy, deeply equivocal in my mind. We were going through France. I always loved this preliminary to our Portugal holiday, the journey through France. 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 that first day we came to a campsite by the river Yonne.

And I was mad to swim in that river. It would complete my freedom, my joy. But my parents were anxious. That river was dangerous for a boy. They held a long, anxious discussion 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 deeply close to him that day, really protected and loved by him. She did like him sometimes. And perhaps they saved my life. For what it has been worth.

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 phantasmagorical memories. 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 - 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 things German, which had made me so want to see Berlin.

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 thought I talked 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, but although she repeated this endlessly I cannot remember the details of it.

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, 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 to stay with them because being without them would be worse.)

But back to Italy. 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 Castel Gandolfo. We were in a huge hall with thousands of other people and he was carried in on a huge platform, riding high above us, a vision of worldly magnificence that has remained with me.

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, said they had the impression that my parents had visited that place, and this can 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. However, it is just possible that they may have visited Naples at this time and conducted business there.

My next memory of this trip 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 memory. 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 my 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.

All 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", and the reader could access this piece, so I will say no more about it except that it concerns how I came into conflict with Arthur Ernest Hills and my mother helped me thwart him by using cunning.