Saturday, 11 January 2014

The seventh journey

Now I am less than two days from the end of my seventh journey, the seventh substantial foreign journey I have made from my home in the Algarve. On Monday, the still streets, barking dogs and scowling faces of Altura will once again surround me. But on this Saturday afternoon I sit in Lavender Hill Library, in wet and stormy London, the city where I was born, and where I hope to die.

If ever I went to live in Italy, which was my old pipe-dream, I would probably be as much of a stranger as I am in Portugal. I would.have more fun. There would be more delicious sweets. But still the loneliness.

And I am certainly not lonely here, where the grand tenements belonging to Arab sheiks, Chinese warlords, Russian oligarchs and African dictators stand proudly behind the Thames Barrier, where the hopeful and confident young drag their little suitcases behind them in the streets, and where the grinning government issues the sternest of flood warnings to the cheerful English mourning their loaded fridge-freezers in the new wetlands of Somerset and Kent.

For how could I be a stranger here? I too am behind the Thames Barrier. I am warm. I am dry. My stuff is safe. The dark-skinned people in the restaurants, ticket offices and internet cafes serve me with great kindness. And I am popular with the Poles, Indians and Italians who run the hotels.

I came in on December 4th, 2013 via the overnight ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich. I thought I might be arrested on landing, so I had a slap-up three-course meal on the boat, costing almost forty pounds, one of the most expensive and one of the best meals of my life. Then I was up for a walk on deck, a leaf through the free copies of the Spectator, and an excellent night's sleep. At half-past-six in the morning I approached the mean and sleepy-looking male customs official at Harwich.

"How long have you been out of England?"

"Oh, a little while."

"And how long is a little while in your world?"

"Oh, just a month or two."

"Go on, sir."

And so to the slow train which will take me to the hotel I have chosen in Gidea Park in dreamy East London, and I listen to the announcements that my luggage will be destroyed if I leave it for a second, that if I see anything suspicious I must report it, that this delay is unavoidable and we will move as soon as possible. I stare with a foreigner´s wonder at the posters urging me to text this to such-and-such number in order to give to this or denounce that.

But finally the train moves, and in the ghostly winter dawn, in the comfortably unpopulated train, I contemplate with sudden joy the wooded countryside that still exists between Harwich and Manningtree, and wonder how I could ever have left my England.

Almost the first thing I do when I am ensconsed in a comfortable basement room in Gidea Park is to phone an old woman who lives in north London. She was an old friend of my mother, I have known her all my life, she is now almost ninety, and for some years has been in poor health. But she is one of the few surviving witnesses to the time in 1954 and 1955 when my mother was involved with two men: one that she met at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand, the one she probably married at the register office in Hendon, who was my official father; and the other one, the one she met on the tube train, when she got her finger stuck in the door, the German who spent his later life under Polish identity, but who I am almost sure was called Michael. He was my Dad.

I approach my phone call with anxiety, because this lady is so old and ill, lost her only son when he was still young, and I have bothered her so many times. I get through to her on this first morning, but her voice is enormously weak. She does not sound pleased to hear I am in London. She says she is too unwell to see me immediately. And she is "going somewhere now".

But to talk to her, and to try and get more details of what really happened with my father and Arthur Ernest Hills, is probably the most important reason I have come to England. So I put the phone down bravely, saying I will phone her in a few days. But, when I try again, another woman (?) says that my old friend is not in and puts the phone down. I wait a week or two, try the phone again without success, and then enter into email communication with the old lady's daughter. She says her mother has been in and out of hospital and is too weak to see me, but she will ask her again.

I try the daughter a few more times until email communication from her finally fades out. Two days ago I travelled as far as Wood Green, where we used to visit this family, who lived there then, when I was a child, and phoned the house of the old woman, further north in the most distant suburbs now, from there. The phone rang and rang and there was no answer. Perhaps she is still in hospital. Perhaps she is dead. And now there is only one more full day. Almost certainly I will not see her now.

And perhaps God willed it. For it was this old woman who finally told me, when I called her from Lisbon in early 2013, that the man who called himself Mieczyslaw Hufleit (she knew him only as Hupfleit) had been my father. Thus she rendered me the greatest service she could ever possibly have done for me. In a way, and I myself know this, I do not really have the right to expect more information from this sorrowful, exhausted and vulnerable person. And also I will not get it.

Anyway, during the five weeks that I spend in London, I busy myself with many other people, enquiries and appointments. I consult various medical specialists who diagnose vast numbers of problems with my ageing carcase, none of which they have the time to treat, so that I must return to England endless times, if I can be bothered to travel so far, to solve problems that are far from urgent, and to which they will give very little thought.

But my visit to London was more than just that. The people I knew varied quite a lot in how much time they would give me, but those who were almost strangers were often very kind, and I made a whizz as a fashionable fugitive at the homes of my old aristocracy friends in Earl's Court, Holland Park and Fulham.

I stayed for some days at various hotels in King's Cross, where I ate at a lovely restaurant called La Regina and found a bookshop that was previously unknown to me, Housmans, very right-on and left-wing upstairs, but with a dusty secondhand basement that reminded me of the old days.

And for Christmas and New Year I went to the Queens Hotel in Crystal Palace, where Zola had stayed before me. Here I spent much time walking through the sodden parks and poking around the vaguely Victorian shops. And I also enjoyed a magnificent Christmas service with the Salvation Army.

But I stayed the most often, like a homing pigeon, at a small guesthouse just opposite the council estate where I used to live, in the Wandsworth Road. Yes, those were happy days, especially the quiet evenings.

In the wet and stormy nights before Christmas, I loved to sit in the slightly dark local McDonald's just next to the guesthouse and contemplate with mingled sadness and an odd sense of freedom the small corner of London that was once mine and is no longer. I was reading a slightly preposterous but strangely comforting novel, Dancing with Eva by Alan Judd, which I had picked up in a doctor's waiting room in Rush Green on the first day. This featured a pair of ancient Nazis who meet for a splendid dinner by the fire in a manor house in Sussex that one of them now owns. Before the man dies, a death the woman, who owns the house, hurries along, they reminisce cosily about the old days in the Bunker, with Adolf and Eva, Heinrich and Josef.

And concerning my enquiries about my mother and what seem to be her three marriages, one of them certainly to the German passing as a Pole who called himself just Hupfleit, and with God knows what connections to the said Bunker, I made quite a lot of progress during those six weeks. More of that anon.

First I want to talk about an aspect of my time in London that was disturbing, although not as much so to me, perhaps, as it would have been to another, because I do not really believe in friendship.

I once had four close friends in London. They were (and are) Bill Hicks, Mark Casserley, Richard Pyatt and Stephen Cviic. I met them in the early and late 1980s and early 1990s, during the long years I lived in London and tried to be a writer, and they supported me in different ways in the frustrating but hopeful life I had then. They are fine specimens of Englishmen (although Stephen is half-Croatian), and they have in three cases held elite positions (Bill never has), and all four have beautiful manners and carefully-gradated voices, and they often show measured kindness.

During the terrible time that I went mad (as it seemed) I believed that some or all of these friends were spies for various powers and that one of them, or possibly two, had tried to kill me. They were all shocked, later, when I tried to commit suicide, and they attempted to rally round. But especially when I was committed to prison for two and a half years, my friendships with all four began to deteriorate. For almost a year I was in a terrible prison in Nottinghamshire called Lowdham Grange. It was three hours away on the motorway or by train. But none of them visited me there. I wrote all four of them long, affectionate personal letters from that prison. None of them replied.

As the crisis of my time at Lowdham Grange came, I had grim telephone conversations with all four, before my telephone was disconnected by the prison authorities.The worst one was with Bill on Christmas Eve, when he made his first threat to break up our relationship, threats that have many times repeated. I gave all four up in my heart, with a proviso about Bill. At about that time, I described them to a fellow prisoner, and he said they were certainly not true friends and when I came out of jail I should have nothing more to do with them. I corrected him by saying I could still use them, and he agreed that this was so.

Eventually I was sent back in Belmarsh. One morning, on Association about ten days before my release, I successfully jumped the phone queue and phoned Richard Pyatt. A dispute broke out over the line almost immediately we went through our opening greetings. I threatened him in the style of a hardened con, he said, "this is the end", and I have never been able, or wished, to contact him again.

Bill came to meet me at the gates of Belmarsh, with a glamorous young woman, Alecky Blythe, who was interested in concocting a drama about me, a play perhaps, or even a film. Tise occasion was all great fun, and I acted up like mad. But then they left me, first Bill, then Alecky. I saw Stephen a little later that day, and Mark on the following one. But the first evening of my freedom I spent alone.

Four months later, I left England, telling the remaining three friends that I was going for a brief holiday in Scotland, and having left a power of attorney with Bill to sell my flat and any other property I might own in Britain.

For many years before this time, Mark Casserley had done an enormous amount of practical, legal and literary work for me, but without ever showing me any affection. Particularly during the worst period of my depression, I had become heavily dependent on him. During the period in early2002, when I was preparing to leave England for Portugal in order to deal with my sick mother]s affairs, I had given him a power of attorney over my entire estate, as well as leaving it all to him, with the exception of two thousand pounds, which went to Bill.

But on an evening in late 2005 when Mark  helped me buy a new television and then would not stay to watch it with me, I began to hate him. During the time I spent in prison, when he adopted a judgmental attitude towards me, the hatred became more. I revoked the will in his favour shortly before going to prison and the power of attorney soon after I was released, just before giving the more limited power to Bill. I made no new will.

In the months when I was first abroad, Bill was successful, with great energy and determination, in selling my flat and putting all my stuff (an enormous amount of it) into a storage unit. He was considerably helped in this task by both Mark and Stephen. They thus did a lot more for me, but some essential link between us was now broken because they had not come to visit me during the year I was in Lowdham Grange and I made it plain to them that one of the essential reasons I had left England was to reduce my relationship with them because of this.

During the years in Portugal and elsewhere, I often phoned the three friends, and they were usually pleasant on the line, although, in the case of Bill, who was doing by far the most work, increasingly rude and impatient at times. I treated the three of them slightly differently in respect of what I was willing to say. to them. I mentioned quite a lot of what I was discovering about my background to Bill, discussed mainly questions of our mutual personal welfare with Stephen, and kept the conversation to general matters when I talked to Mark.

All three brushed away any suggestions that they might come to visit me in Portugal, and also (particularly Mark) strongly discouraged me from visiting England. It seemed, indeed, that I might be arrested if I returned there. Any future friendship would be on the phone, it seemed to the trio.

Now I come to my relations with them during the month and a bit that I have been in London. I had not told any of the three, or anyone else, that I planned to come. I planned to leave contacting Bill for a few days after my arrival, and Mark and Stephen for a few weeks, so that I could get the bulk of my enquiries into my background completed before they knew I was in the country.

But when I began trying to contact Bill by almost every method - home telephone, mobile, email - there was no reply from any of them. After a little while I began to try to contact Mark, by home and work land lines (I did not have his mobile number or email). Again no reply on many occasions. Two days before Christmas I phoned Stephen Cviic at home, my only contact for him. He answered the call, spoke to me very briefly and then more or less put the phone down on me. I have not contacted him again and do not intend to.

On New Year's Eve I phoned Bill on a line I had not used before, which was the home number of his partner in a country region outside London. I knew he was staying with her and their children over the Christmas and New Year period, and I believe he may have forgotten that many years before he had given me this contact. It was he who answered rather than she, he was extremely surprised to hear I was in England (or so, at least, it seemed), and quite upset, because his partner strongly discouraged contact on that libut he was not unfriendly, and accepted my suggestion that I should visit him the following Monday evening at his flat in London, a revival of our old custom of more than twenty years.

Returning to his flat after so long, I took him an excellent bottle of wine, we had a good time together, and listened to the three records - Walter Gieseking playing Debussy, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, in that order - that we had so often shared. But I did not tell him anything pertaining to my father. Everything was the same as it had always been, although entirely different. Well, old friendships die hard, and I intend to do my utmost to maintain this one, in the face of almost any discouragement. Bill remains my rock, with the proviso that even the sturdiest of rocks in modern England can always be washed away by the ever-encroaching seas, lakes and streams.

Three or four days ago I finally managed to reach Mark Casserley on his home telephone. He was suaver and silkier than Stephen Cviic had been, and said he already knew I was in England, because Stephen had told him. But when I proposed a meeting, he said that he did not have time to meet me during the few remaining days of my stay. I then brought our conversation to a speedy end, and, as with Stephen, do not intend to contact him again.

There are, as far as I know, no extant photographs of myself with any of the four friends. I tell of them only through my own memory, and whatever I choose to reveal of them could only be confirmed or questioned by what they themselves say, or have said, or through the memories of those who observed these relationships.

Now to the results of my researches into my mother, my father and Arthur Ernest Hills. I have visited the Westminster Archives and the National Archive; been in contact with the General Register Office in Stockport; attempted to contact the Co-op and Crawley Town Hall; spoken to as many private people as might be able to tell me anything; enjoyed a most helpful and friendly session with the staff of Lauderdale House, Highgate; looked for the register of my mother's marriage to my father in vain at two north London Catholic churches; and, after an immense exchange of emails, telephone calls and visits, consulted what I was told was the summary marriage register for March, April and May 1955 compiled, to the best of my knowledge, by the priest at the church of St Joseph's, Highgate Hill.

Here are the results of these researches, presented in as detailed a form as is possible in the context of an occasional blog.

There is a record of a civil mariage between my mother, known as Maria José dos Reis, and a man called (or known as) Arthur Ernest Hills, in the Hendon Register Office, on 11th September, 1954. About ten or twelve days later (the original document showing this is so fragile that I cannot get it out of the bag now to check the exact date), my mother seems to have applied for British naturalisation, and appears from the document to have been granted it.

On my visit to the National Archives, however, this document turned out to be a forgery. They had no record of my mother as a British citizen, although she certainly passed as one for about thirty years. The number on the fragile document in my possession, 30638, turned out to be the naturalisation number of a woman called Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein, born in Berlin in 1919, and at the time of her naturalisation in 1954 working as a typist and living at 24, Charlwood Street, London SW1.

With the help of a person I have been put in touch with and who has promised to help me with my researches, I checked for further details of this woman, and there is every indication that she was a real woman who died in 1991. She was not a mere alias of my mother. And I am left with the mystery of why it was necessary for my mother to enter into this elaborate fraud to gain naturalisation, when she had apparently married a genuine Englishman only about twelve days before.

There is a record of a second wedding to Arthur Ernest Hills on November 13th, 1955, about three months after my birth, at the church of St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, where I was also baptized. This second Hills union was once referred to by my elderly informant who lives in the centre of Lisbon as having been necessary because the church, seeing that I had been baptised there as Charles Albert Reis Hills on October 2nd 1955, insisted that there be a Catholic ceremony with the man recognised as my father.

About ten or twelve days after the date of the second wedding, a marriage for a Maria José dos Reis is recorded in the civil records in Kensington with a man called Geoffrey Searle. Many middle names were given for the woman, which I did not initially recognise, but the surname given before Reis was Martins, and this was the surname of the man my aunt Eva married in Portugal in 1958.

The whole name turned out, once again, to be that of a real person. She was one of the daughters of Manuel Martins dos Reis, the brutal first commandant in the late 1930s of Tarrafal, a sort of Portuguese Dachau in the Cape Verde Islands, where the political opponents of the regime of Dr Salazar went sent. What connection exists between my mother and this woman I do not know (in this case, it is is even possible, but not likely, that they are the same person). But, certainly, there are enough links between this document and what is known of my mother for me to feel fairly confident that this wedding is in some way connected to the second marriage to Hills.

No photographs exist of the second Hills union, to my knowledge, and probably none of the civil union, ostensibly with Hills, in September 1954. Instead, there is a vast collection of photographs in my possession of another wedding, to another man, part of the huge archive of personal memorabilia which recently reached me in Portugal, after having been kept in England for almost four years under the long-suffering and efficient supervision of Bill Hicks. It was partly because I was now armed with photographic evidence of this other unión, as well as one photograph certainly showing Arthur Ernest Hills, that I undertook what might be the perilous trip to England.

The most interesting of all the photos is the wedding group photo, which shows my mother newly married to my father in the presence of twelve other people (and with myself, a fifteenth, in my mother's womb). And perhaps you will say, how can you be certain the man in the photo is not Arthur Ernest Hills and that this is a third wedding, the second in date order, to someone else?

The two men, from their photographs, strike almost everyone as very similar looking but definitely different. Yet appearances can be deceptive. Well, if you want factual proof, this photograph cannot have been taken in September 1954 or November 1955. For this there are a number of reasons. The one that really clinches it is that the photo includes two of my aunts, Eva and Augusta. Eva arrived in England in about January 1955 (I have in my possession her permission to enter the country for working purposes, dated December 1954) and Augusta left before my birth, in the summer of 1955, as I was many times informed during my childhood and since by all my relations. This photograph must therefore have been taken between January and August 1955.

During the period of my earliest childhood, we lived in a single room in a large London Victorian house, 19, Hornsey Rise, N19, belonging to a Neapolitan Italian family called the Maccariellos, which had been closely connected with Mussolini and whose senior figure, Elpidio, had gone down with other Italian Fascists and some Nazis on the boat called the Arandora Star in 1940.

Gennaro Maccariello, Elpidio's son, was my godfather, and he lived in the house, as well as his sister, Concetta McLorg, and her Scottish husband William McLorg, their young daughter Catherine Tamara, later the dancer and choreographer Tamara McLorg, and Elpidio's elderly widow, Mrs Elisabetta Maccariello. 19, Hornsey Rise, with the houses alongside it, was compulsorily purchased and demolished by Islington Council in 1972 and Elthorne Park now stands on the site.

I was once told by the old woman in the centre of Lisbon whom I have mentioned many times in this blog, that my parents' wedding was at a Catholic church somewhere near the house of the Maccariellos. So, a few days after my arrival in England, in an early Saturday afternoon, I boarded a 91 bus on the Caledonian Road and travelled northward towards Hornsey Rise.

Sitting on the front seat on the top of the bus, I asked the woman opposite me, who turned out to be herself a Catholic, what Catholic churches were in the area. She was interested in my story, and mentioned St Mellitus, Tollington Park and St Peter in Chains, Stroud Green. She also said that there was one called St Gabriel's, but this had been built in the 1960s, so we agreed that this could not have been the one.

Over a week or two, by successive visits, I eliminated both St Mellitus and St Peter from my enquiries. But the priest at St Peter finally mentioned that there was also St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, and I suddenly remembered that had in fact been the one. So I hurried over to this mother house of the Congregation of the Passion in England, a huge Italianate or Byzantine edifice, whose great green dome on the hill, sheltering the smaller one, can be seen for miles, where the huge church, its reception area, and the monastery shut off from both, are so cunningly interwoven into the crenellations and battlements guarding them all from the exterior - whose outbuildings are so proudly distant from the main bastion across the Passionists' extensive ground - as to give the whole complex the suggestion of a slightly more modest Palace of the Popes at Avignon. The welcome I received there, perhaps unsurprisingly, was initially not so warm as at the two more demotic churches.

This church is only a little further up Highgate Hill from the Whittington Hospital, where I was born on 21st August 1955, and next door, just across Dartmouth Park Hill, is Waterlow Park. I possessed several photos of my mother heavily pregnant enjoying an excursion in a park with my father, the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, my aunt Eva, and a man whom Eva says was a Greek with whom she was romantically involved. On one of several visits I paid to the area of Highgate Hill, I was able to identify the exact spots in Waterlow Park where these photographs had been taken.

Next I visited Lauderdale House, which is just within the park, on Highgate Hill, a little up from St Joseph's. I enjoyed the café and the art gallery, and in the course of doing so approached several kindly and efficient staff members with my photographs, and they were very interested in them. With the help of a cultivated middle-aged lady in the gallery, the museum director, who was consulted in his office upstairs, and a pretty young black girl, who went with me through the grounds, we were able to identify the exact spot where the wedding group photo was taken, just inside the grounds of the house, and evidently just after the ceremony in the adjacent church.

Now all three old women who are my principal sources for the events of the relevant period agree that my mother was pregnant with me at the time of her wedding, or at least they have agreed on this when they have not been contradicting their own stories. I phoned the one in the centre of Lisbon during the course of the research. She said she thought my mother had been at least three and no more than four months pregnant at the time of the wedding.

My mother is not showing in the photo, but is holding a large bouquet of flowers against her stomach. She once told me that I had arrived early, at about eight months. This places the likely inception of her pregnancy at just before Christmas 1954, the earliest possible date for the photo would be in mid-March 1955, and my mother will have been just four months pregnant in late April and five months pregnant towards the end of May 1955.

Above the wedding group in the photo is a luxuriantly blooming tree. The weather in 1955 was cold and wet up until mid-March, but then April was exceptionally warm, while May became rather stormy, the last major storm being on May 18th. The day of the ceremony was a warm one, because the party are dressed in light clothing, and my aunt Augusta has her arms bare. I asked a young man in a tube train travelling towards Archway how long it takes for a tree to bloom after a cold winter. He immediately answered that it would take about a month. The tree would then have burst into flower in the middle of April 1955, and gone on ever more luxuriantly blossoming into May.

When I was finally able to examine the register at St Joseph's, with the help of people who shall remain nameless, we began looking in early March and went on into May. We were looking for a wedding within the possible time limits of late March to late May, a groom with a German name, and a bride who might conceivably be my mother.

When we reached a marriage which was solemnised at St Joseph's (as far as I could tell from the record I was shown) on May 21st 1955, exactly three months before my birth, we found what I believed we were looking for. We had eliminated all the weddings that were impossible, because the partners were so English, or had married before the tree can have been in flower, and therefore the one we found, however improbable it might seem, was the only remaining possibility.

I feel bound to point out, however, that the marriage I believed was the one appeared at the bottom of a right-hand page of the register, and because it united all the features we were looking for, and was already so late within the possible time limits, we did not turn over the page to see what marriages might appear on the following double-spread. I rather wish now we had turned that page.

The document is written, wherever posible, in Latin, and I give the English renderings where appropriate. The priest, Philip Hayes, CP (Community of the Passion) recorded a wedding between Donald Williams, formerly Schoenthal, the son of Fritz Schoenthal, and Josepha Moravcova (in Czech orthography there would be an acute accent on the final letter), the daughter of Joseph Moravcova (sic). The name Josepha is my mother´s name, because in Portugal the rendering used of the name Josepha, or Josefa in the Spanish version, is Maria José. This then seems likely to have been the wedding of my parents, even if they were using aliases.

The witnesses to the union were Samuel Scarlett and Frederick William Williams. The latter is possibly an alias of Fritz Schoenthal, although it is by no means certain, and this witness may have been my grandfather, because my cousin Brian has confirmed to me that one of the 14 people in the group photo, an old man whom I vaguely remember, and who was always said to be the father of Arthur Ernest Hills and also called Arthur Ernest Hills, was my paternal grandfather.

If this old man was the father of Arthur Ernest Hills Junior, and yet also my grandfather, this would mean that my father and Arthur Hills Junior were brothers. They certainly looked extremely similar, so much so that they can even have been twins. Arthur Ernest Hills Junior was extremely reticent about his first seven years, which would have taken him, probably, to about 1932 or 1933, the time when his ostensibly English and Scottish family mysteriously broke up and he was left simply with his mother, a woman called, or passing as, a Mary Martin Brown of Edinburgh.

If what can be deduced from all the above is true, she was not that, but a German Jewish woman who arrived in England some time in the early 1930s with one of two sons who had been born in Germany, leaving behind the other, my father, and the man who was the father of both, presumably a Nazi who passed after the war as Arthur Ernest Hills Senior, and Frederick William Williams, and possibly Fritz Schoenthal.

Going back to the document, there is a signature at the bottom of it, from a different and possibly later hand, of a Bonaventura Wilson, who was also CP, and was the priest who married my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills on November 13th 1955. Also given are details of addresses for the spouses and witnesses, and I omit these, because it seems on present information that these are mainly false addresses. The spouses are recorded as being of mixed religions, and since the fact that my mother was a Jewess is exceptionally well hidden and she would have had no motive to disclose this, I think it is more likely that it was my father who was recorded as a Jew.

Obviously the unconventionality of all this must lead to doubts about whether these really were my parents and whether this really was their wedding. A particular area of doubt must be the Czech surname of the woman, because my mother was quite obviously of southern European origin, although, as I have said before in this blog, of uncertain origin within that area.

However, this was the only entry in the marriage register I was shown that fitted all the conditions. And my mother was, as far as I know, already legally married at a registry office to Arthur Ernest Hills Junior, and my father, to the best of my knowledge, was an ex-German soldier on the run and usually passing as a Pole under the name Miecsyzslaw Hufleit  (only he usually called himself Hupfleit). So they would thus have needed to use false names, and these names would have had to be foreign ones, because it would have been clear to the priest that they were foreigners of some sort. He would have thought they were from northern and southern (or eastern?) Europe respectively.

The possibility also exists of course that there were other persons who were the genuine holders of the names used by my parents, and that Mum and Dad had either been allowed to use these names or had appropriated them. Yet another possibility is that Donald Williams was an alias used by Arthur Ernest Hills Junior and that he had lent it for the occasion to his twin brother. In that case it would be only the bride who had a false identity. Anyway, strange as it appears, there is a likelihood (I would not put it higher than that) that this marriage recorded on 21st May 1955 at St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, was the wedding of my parents.

And now my time on the computer at the crowded library on Lavender Hill is approaching its end. Have I given enough strange and sinister details? Will anyone believe this story? Well, life can be a funny business, and no one can pretend they know everything, that they have discovered all the details of things long kept secret and possibly dangerous to know. And I am conscious of a tendency in myself to jump to unwarranted conclusions. This library where I sit is the very library where I once believed I had just been assassinated by two black women as I alighted at the nearby bus-stop, and of course I am still alive.

But I calmly awaited my end on that occasion, and even felt a sort of strange joy, and I feel it now, when I think about my dear father and mother and their false wedding and their fake bouquet and their flowering tree.


  1. Hello Charles

    Sorry to have missed you in London. You may send me an email, no doubt the details are attached to this comment, although I have little confidence that you have familiarised yourself with this now traditional method of communication.

    The story is entirely believable, indeed whilst some of your writing about your history seems so strange as to allow a doubt to enter, the care given to research reported here gives it credibility.

    Incidentally I saw David within the past few months, who reminds me that it was he who introduced you to the John Adrian bookshop, where I first met you. Sometimes he gets in touch when he is in London.

    Incidentally last week I went for dinner to the Rotunda in the King's Place, which I had not heard of until you introduced me to it by suggesting it as a place to meet when you came out of jail.


    1. Dear John,

      How nice to hear from you! I am so glad that you are a follower of my blog and it gives me confidence that you can believe what I seem to have been finding out. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe that this is all true! Yet everything tells me it is.

      Of course I remember David, but I had forgotten that it was he who introduced me to the John Adrian bookshop. He thus rendered me a great service. Please send him my best wishes.

      I do hope everything goes well with your own life. I am well enough in the Algarve, but the problem with my leg turned out to be a complex fracture, and I have to return to England to have treatment for it, probably in late May or early June. I shall be in London a while, and we must certainly meet up then, perhaps again at the very pleasant Kings Place.

      I have familiarised with email as it happens, although I only know how to send an email to one person, not a round robin. My email is If you would care to send me an email, then we could certainly enter into regular email contact.

      All best wishes,