Saturday, 8 October 2016

The beginning of the good years

Once again I am in the sumptuous and deliciously quiet public library in Tavira. The Portuguese sun is blazing down outside on an afternoon in the middle of October, and soon I shall reach the garden with a large milky coffee and perhaps a cake to think my thoughts in the fullness of my age.

The purgation of which I spoke last time, following my five years on the run, turned out to be another nineteen months in prison, and then three months in a grim hostel in Hackney. But the result of those two years at the mercy of the English state is that I still have my Portuguese house, and can enjoy the life here as I please.

For when I flew from Faro in the Algarve to Gatwick on 20th November 2014, I knew that I might well be arrested and was prepared for it. I had entered England twice before, but then I came by boat and gave no warning. I was slightly less secretive the second time than I had been the first.

And that third time I think I partly just wanted to test the water to see if I could go anywhere I liked without let or hindrance. Or perhaps I was growing careless. Or maybe I am a more calculating figure than the journalists who have written about me imagined, and finally reckoned that, with my money running out and the price of houses in Portugal approaching an all-time low, it was time to face the music.

I had booked my plane ticket well in advance, told many people by phone and email the exact dates of my intended ten-day stay, and had even mentioned in this blog that I planned a further brief visit to England. I was a little perturbed, to be sure, when there was an unexplained delay in boarding at Faro. And when in the row next to me on the plane there were two people sitting who were rather obviously plain clothes police I almost knew my number was up.

Then, when we landed at Gatwick, as two more policemen came on to the plane to make me stand up while the other passengers were told to sit down and told me to take off my belt and took me away in handcuffs I put a slight smirk on my face. I didn't intend to give them the satisfaction of thinking I was surprised or sorry. And, I´ll say this for them, they were the model of politeness.

I was taken to the police station in Crawley, the town where I grew up, and, although the bench was hard, I slept well that night, and during the day and the following morning I particularly enjoyed leafing through one of the books they had on an old dusty shelf. This was B-Berry and I Look Back by Dornford Yates, a tattered but still handsome old hardback, a good companion, genial lawyerly reminiscences of the ways of British justice, when a fair cop was penance indeed.

But I live in softer times, and was happy to arrive on the afternoon of 21st November at HMP Lewes, and for my first night was blissfully alone in the cell with a comfortable bed. The next day they put me in to share with a charming and mildly sinister Roman Catholic stalker who loved to say his rosary and play the guitar. We were together for seven weeks, and got on surprisingly well. It seemed like a wonderful augury that, contrary to what I had always believed, I was capable of sharing with someone else at close quarters for a reasonable time. It meant I would be capable of a love affair. And I shall long remember the dreamy view from our top floor window over the valley of the Ouse and the South Downs towards Newhaven, where for five days over Christmas the incinerator smoked with fire.

Unfortunately, in the New Year I had a blazing row with the Principal Officer over prisoners' rights to attend Sunday service, and was quickly transferred to HMP Rochester, which had been the first Borstal institution (the prison is high on a hill above Rochester, and the Kentish village of Borstal, after which all such institutions were named, lies just below it). Anyway, I was soon getting on well with the very English officers on D-wing at Rochester, who were like a faint modern reminiscence of what the original Borstal screws must once have been. And my fantasies about the place were well served by the two silver birch trees, stiff and bare in winter, outside the wing entrance.

I spent almost a year in this lakadaisical and no-nonsense prison, and although the Romany inmates quite often whipped out their impressive penises to show me, and occasionally pulled down my own trousers, and I spent most nights in my single cell hazy from passive smoking of ganga in the showers after a group of Afro-Caribbean prisoners used to burst in towards bang-up and smoke very close to where I was showering, I flatter myself that I retained the rough respect of most people with whom I had to deal.

At Rochester, however, I managed to gain the enmity of the head of OMU (Offender Management Unit), and when I was successful in gaining a parole hearing, this quickly led to my being transferred to HMP Brixton, as a punishment I think (the official reason was that it would facilitate local release). Almost immediately I arrived at Brixton, all my private papers were confiscated by the senior officer on the wing, a fierce female Nigerian. And for the final six months of my time I was locked in battle royal with this figure and her chief acolyte, an ambitious young white female officer. But I was successful in retaining my top-landing single room, and after four months was able to win back my papers, and also kept my job in the library for four months, so the honours were even.

I was endlessly adjudicated at the behest of the pair, but the governors who heard my case, who were all white, secretly sympathised with me and simply adjourned proceedings or gave me only the lightest of punishments. The wing was chaotic, but watching a group of 24 black men fighting in a huge melee on my landing had its more brutal attractions. And latterly I was successful in winning the friendship of a young, handsome and devout Irishman, a fine fighter. This added a humane note to the final days of my sentence.

I was released on 24th June 2016, having done almost the whole of my five years behind bars. The prison social workers assigned to my resettlement, who were all black, had declined to do anything for me, but once again I had my own plans well laid, and had won the support of the head honcho female psychiatrist, who was willing to certify that I was a danger to society. So, upon release, after four most agreeable nights in a cheap Indian hotel in Walthamstow, and one deeply happy one spent at a refuge near Hornsey Rise where I had lived as a baby, I found myself as a homeless person in priority need at the grim hostel in Hackney that I have mentioned. But even before my arrival there I had the date in mind - September 30th 2016 - when I intended to leave England once again. And I was going to leave via the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry, which we had often used when I was a child.

So I had three months to enjoy the city of my birth, the greatest city in the world some say, and certainly now the most cosmopolitan of all. And because for the first time I was living in East London, I wandered most often around that saddest of all the great tracts of the city. But of course, I did a lot of the north, west, and south as well. However, I went only a little to south-east London which long ago had been the scene of my most elaborate explorations. That lay in a past I did not wish to recall.

And, yes, it was beautiful to enjoy an Eton Mess and a glass of rosé wine for a bargain price on a hot afternoon in the garden of a gastro-pub in Snaresbrook; or to discourse with a learned Anglican lady on the Gospel of St John as we walked from the church of St Peter in-the-Forest towards the enveloping woods; or to approach the Olympic Park in Stratford on the top of a 388 bus, and in the huge, dusty field watch a mass of black children play football under the tutelage of one white bald instructor, and then to go on past the black bulk of the Copper Box Arena until we hit the brick white wall of the avenue.And there is no progressing further, I knew, for beyond lies the valley of the transport and the phantasmagorical towers.

And very phantasmagorical I myself felt as I went round London on the tube and the buses, the Overground and the DLR, and around me one group of people - the confident and professional young, for the most part of English birth - were fiddling endlessly with their hand-held devices or sequestered within their headphones, and the other group - the vast mass of foreigners - yelled away in their myriad tongues on the tops of the buses and often could not understand the simplest question I put to them. I belonged to a third group, the people who had once been Londoners, in whom members of the first two groups had not the slightest interest.

And as I worked out with greater and greater precision the best possible methods of getting from Stepney to Shoreditch, from Beckton to Bow,  I thought that the more closely linked became the transport routes, the further and further people were from each other in their hearts.

But did I care? In a way I did, because my mind gnawed endlessly at the alien scene, which seemed to hurt me at some core of my being, although I did not quite understand why. But in a way I did understand. I was a European, heir to the culture of Europe, and in the second place an Englishman, although not by blood. Yet, if it was the culture of Europe that I cared for, I had to acknowledge that Europeans had long lost their instinct for creating things of beauty. All they created now was ugliness, pretension and confusion. Should one really get sentimental about the decadent fag-end of a culture? Was perhaps not something totally new being created out of the ruins of the various European peoples?

And, then again, when the huge influx of migrants across the Mediterranean began in the spring of 2015, I was at Rochester, and I used to run naked and sweating around my cell shouting at the television screen: don't rescue these people, you fools, let the boats sink if they come from Africa, or, if they come across the narrow waters of the Aegean, just  shoot to kill on them! I felt like the Princess Cassandra in her tower as Trojan Horse after Trojan Horse was brought into the city. But were not my reactions hysterical, inhumane and pointless? Was I not myself in a way an international migrant being cared for by these humanitarian English? And if these hopelessly kindly Europeans were to behave almost as ruthlessly as the Nazis had once done, would they not have forfeited all claims to have a civilisation worth defending? And if a political system is weak enough just to allow itself to be endlessly invaded by all and sundry, is there anything that can be done for it anyway?

Let's be sensible about it, I finally told myself, and have an eye to the main chance. The migrants are coming mainly through Italy and Greece, and they do not at present hit Portugal and Spain. Your house is in Portugal. Say social breakdown finally hits Europe in the summer of 2017, the third year of the migration, and is mainly concentrated in Italy and Greece, with Germany and France suffering into the bargain, but Britain and the Iberian Peninsula largely exempt. Might that not be exactly the time to sell your house for a good profit to Northern Europeans (or southern Europeans, for that matter) seeking a safe haven?

Be rational, Charlie, look at yourself, you are an elderly gay man and have no children, you are a person of the most varied origins and have no nationality, you are a total scamp and care little for anyone. If you yourself survive reasonably intact through the few years that are left, should you not be happy?

And, in the summer of 2016, anyway,  the indications were that the migrant problem was dealt with and contained, that everything would sort itself out in its usual muddled way, that old Europe was canny and powerful enough not fundamentally to be disturbed. And so through humour and disquiet, through delight and discontent, that summer was passed, and in the endless journeys that took me to every corner of London and the Home Counties, and to the furthest borders of England, in the relentless and mainly futile researches into the origins of my family, which in recent years have come to obsess me almost to the exclusion of all else.

Gradually, through several long and complex posts of this blog, I have been revealing what I know of the origins of both my mother and my father, but my knowledge is far from complete, and it may be that the reader is puzzled and sceptical about what I have told him or her, and also confused about the details. So I will just try to summarise now what I have said on these matters, confining myself in this post to the origins of my father, and also to add quite a number of further details which for various reasons did not seem to fit in before. Where I have already given full documentary accounts of certain points I will not repeat them, and the reader will understand that there are certain matters, and certain interviews that I conducted, which I shall not elaborate on at this time. Because of the mystery surrounding my father and paternal grandparents this will be the longest of all my posts (unless the following one, about the background of my mother, surpasses it) and it is likely to be written over many installments into the new year of 2017.

The reader may remember that my search for the truth about my relations began a little before Christmas 2002, and a few months after the death of my mother when I visited an elderly female friend of hers who lives in the centre of Lisbon. During the course of my visit this person told me that my paternal grandfather had been of Polish origin, a fact allegedlyr evealed to her by my mother at around the time of my birth in 1955. This was so, even though my real paternal grandfather was identical to the grandfather I had known in childhood.

This paternal grandfather had the ostensible identity of an Englishman, Arthur Ernest Hills Senior, born in Dover on 1st June 1896. Arthur Ernest Hills Senior was the acknowledged father of the man who had brought me up and whom I had always believed to be my real father, Arthur Ernest Hills Junior. His birth certificate showed him as having been born at Sheerness, Kent, on 6th January 1926, the son of Mary Brown, shown on her birth certificate as having been born in Edinburgh in 1899. That Kentish and Scottish ancestry was always confirmed in my childhood by Arthur Ernest Hills Junior as representing his true origins.

During the years that immediately followed the revelation from the woman living in the centre of Lisbon, the story she had told was confirmed by two other old women. One of these was my mother's sister, my one surviving aunt, Eva, an exceptionally taciturn although very talkative person, a devout Jehovah's Witness, who also lives in Lisbon, in a small bungalow a little farther out of the centre than the first woman's flat.

She has known the first old woman for about sixty years, but they are estranged on religious grounds (the first old woman is a devout Catholic), and talk only on the telephone and that rarely. My aunt would say nothing more than confirm that my mother had also told her the story and that she believed it to be true. Since than time Eva has consistently resisted my attempts to find out more about the circumstances of my birth, although she has occasionally let some things drop either by accident or design during the many conversations during which I have tried to draw her out on the subject of my father and grandfather and also my maternal ancestry.

The third old woman, a very old friend of my mother's, lives in north London and has had no contact with the other two for many years. My aunt even denied knowing her, although she herself said this was a lie, and I am absolutely sure it is. Like the other two, she was part of the extended network surrounding my mother at the time of my conception and birth, which consisted largely of youngish Portuguese women who had come to live and work in England and their often Polish boyfriends and eventual husbands. But she was always more friendly with my mother than with my aunt or with the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon.

Perhaps because of her long English residence, this third old woman is a more open and unguarded character than the others, and I find her more sympathetic, although she too can be sharp, and also very reticent at times. Once again she sometimes lets something out very suddenly and then denies it again. I have got very used to this behaviour pattern with all three old women.

As I have previously related, the third woman was initially reluctant to tell me that my mother had even told her the story about my Polish grandfather, but at a later point she confirmed it, and added the detail that she thought my paternal grandfather might have been either a Pole or a German. She claimed hardly to know the difference between those two countries, but again I am sure she was not telling the truth.

This more sympathetic and therefore more accurate witness, although still alive, as far as I know, and in her early nineties, is now(as I write in later 2016) in a state of advanced vascular dementia and could suffer no relevant consequences from being named in this blog and would be incapable of answering any further questions about its subject matter. I will therefore reveal her identity, which I have been unwilling to do before. She is Leonor da Silva Mills and she lives in Winchmore Hill, North London.

For many years, during which she was in exceptionally good health for a woman of her age and I was still living largely in London, I used to visit her and used to ask about the background of my mother and father. At a certain point she mentioned to me a man whom she knew only by his surname, Hupfleit. He was, she said, an elderly Pole, although his name made him sound more like a German.

He was exceptionally silent, she said, but had known my mother well. After living for many years in England, he had gone with his wife Isaura, who was a close friend of Leonor's, to live in Portugal. As it happened, the name of this Isaura was familiar to me, because my mother had often mentioned her during my childhood. When my mother had arrived from Portugal on the boat Highland Princess on May 29th 1953 it had been Isaura who was waiting for her at Tilbury to show her where she needed to go to find her new employment in Bickley, South London.

But Isaura and my mother were not friends. I gained the impression in childhood that there was something unpleasant about her. My mother had never mentioned the man called Hupfleit who was her husband.

During the years after the initial revelations of the old women, I was preoccupied with the fact that my mother had left her house to the man called Flávio Rosa and with my plans to get him murdered, so I did not really try to follow up the strange story. I had been almost entirely out of touch with Arthur Ernest Hills Junior for almost twenty years, so it was not easily possible to ask him whether there was any truth to the story about his father having been a Pole

But during the spring of 2004 I became increasingly obsessed with the matter, and I can remember one very long and despairing walk around a far district of West London when I determined to write to Hills. This must have been before Leonor told me that Arthur's father might have been German rather than Polish, because I only wrote to ask him whether his father had been a Pole and did not mention any possible German connection. He wrote back briefly to say that the idea that his father had been Polish was nonsense, and very shortly afterwards he died.

In the spring and summer of 2005 I made my most ambitious journey yet, a three month tour of the Far East and Australia, I had now been in all five continents, and on my return I entered a phase of increasing depression and withdrawal about what seemed the impasse of my life. In December of that year I paid a highly disturbing visit to Altura, the site of my occupied house. On the day that I was due to fly back to London from this visit, Christmas Eve 2005, sitting in a café in the regional Algarvian capital of Faro, I suddenly began to have a series of extremely vivid memories of my childhood which had previously been blocked.

These memories were scenes of my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills engaged in international smuggling across the Channel when I was with them as a child on our continental holidays. I particularly remembered my mother hissing at me, "Whatever you do, son, remember, don't look at the customers!" That was her way of referring to the British customs officers. Then we marched on, with whatever was in my mother's and Arthur's luggage.

On the same day as I remembered their smuggling, during and after the flight back to England, my impressions broadened out into the idea that my mother had originally been of an Italian Jewish background, that on my father's side the background had been connected with the Nazis, and that a network of criminal intrigue had surrounded me from my birth.

Once back in England, my beliefs quickly became more alarming and sensational still, and I intend to describe this whole period of my life in much more detail in a later post. Suffice it to say here that I was quickly diagnosed by the authorities as being in the grip of a psychotic episode, but at least one psychiatrist later doubted whether I had been psychotic, and I myself do not now think that many of the beliefs I held then were untrue. Therefore, while highly disturbed, I was almost certainly not psychotic at that time.

During this period I visited Leonor again, the subject of Hupfleit and Isaura came up, and I believe it was on that occasion that she gave me their phone number in Portugal and encouraged me to ring them up for information about my parents. I seem to remember her saying that she was doubtful whether Isaura would entertain me and that it was highly likely, being such a reserved man, that Hupfleit himself would not answer the phone. But she still thought I ought to try the experiment of phoning them.

A week or so after this visit, during a late winter afternoon when I was alone in my flat, I put through the call to Portugal. As Leonor had predicted, it was Isaura who answered and, when she knew I was the son of Maria José dos Reis, she became extremely angry that I had called and said that she wondered how I had dared to do it. And very quickly she put the phone down on me. I was shocked and hurt by the violence of her reaction and for some years gave up the idea of contacting this couple.

Anyway, I was fully persuaded quite soon after this by the authorities and my friends, particularly the one called Mark Casserley, that I really had had a psychotic episode, and this new series of beliefs quickly led me into extreme depression, which my friends, including the said Mark Casserley, did little to try and alleviate. On 21st July 2006 I attempted to commit suicide, an episode described in a previous post. Recovery from my suicide attempt was to be followed in the late summer and autumn of that year by the resumption of my active plans to murder Flávio and  my arrest on 18th December 2006, which was the beginning of two-and-a-half years in prison.

 I could of course conduct no direct research concerning my family while in prison, but a subtle change came over my attitude to what was possible and likely concerning my ancestry. From the start, there were people surrounding me in the jail, both prisoners and staff, who thought it was unfair that I should be in that situation, and as a result, once people had satisfied themselves that I was not a paedophile (a suspicion that naturally arose), I was soon experiencing an atmosphere of warmth, defiance and community which I had never known before. I was to gain a new self confidence, a sort of roughness of the soul,  from having negotiated the prison experience, which is never again likely to leave me. A process of self-conscious alienation from my four chief friends began, which has continued with ever-growing momentum in the years since then (although I was long to remain friendly, at least to a certain extent, with Bill Hicks).

I began to see in jail how often and how widely the truth about human beings differs from the official version that is propagated of them. I lost all respect for authority. And I gained a feeling of comradeship with the rough, compromised and instinctive people with whom I was now surrounded, and who were not as sceptical about my strange account of my own family history as were my liberal acquaintances.

So when I emerged on 19th June 2009, this time with a secret plan to leave England again after three or four months, and perhaps not return, it was in a mood of openness and experiment towards my family research. To be sure, I did not initially do much of it. I wanted to enjoy myself in the brief time that was left to me in England. And I still needed to think about those matters.

As far as I then knew, Arthur Ernest Hills was my father, and it must therefore have been his father who had been the German or Pole. Since this grandfather, if he really was German or Polish, had been exceptionally well concealed as an Englishman, the whole thing would have required much money, collaboration and ingenuity, which in turn would have required a good motive for the deception. And this must surely have been a background in past wrongdoing. And that in turn made it seem likely that he had been a German rather than a Pole. Perhaps he had even been an important Nazi in his time.

But was this melodramatic scenario possible, given the well-attested English and Scottish ancestry of Arthur Ernest Hills Junior? Yes, it was, because an atmosphere of mystery surrounded him, and particularly his first seven years, which would have taken him to about the time of the Nazi takeover in 1933. His peculiar background made it seem possible that he really did had a foreign origin, and that he, and not some mysterious other German or Pole, had been my real father.

He was a man effectively without family. He sometimes told a sad story of his childhood. When he was seven years old, he said, which would have been around 1932, his family had been broken up by the Poor Law, he said. He had chosen to go with his mother, his elder sister Helen went with her father, and two very small children, Dennis and Sonia, had been simply given away and never heard of again. He sometimes spoke with sadness of the beautiful fair hair of his little sister Sonia. He had no memories of Dennis, who had been given away when he was too small to be remembered. He could remember his auntie Connie and his uncle Fred, who was a bus or van driver. Fred gave him a toy parrot which he kept almost until the end of his life, when his son Chris Hills destroyed it.

After the family break-up, his mother had taken up with a man called Percy Martin, with whom she had another son called Alan, and the family had lived a life of poverty, mainly on the western outskirts of London, constantly having to do "moonlit flits" to avoid paying the rent on the various houses they briefly occupied.

At school Arthur had been clever, but the other boys called him "Rat's Tails", Percy Martin had bullied him, he in turn had taken it out on Alan, and there was no money for him to attend further education. Then the Second World War had come, and he found a time of brief happiness and comradeship in the Home Guard. The sense of national unity engendered by the events of 1940 had also deeply moved him, and Shakespeare and Churchill were his lifelong heroes for personal greatness and literary style. But at some point early during the war - according to his own account, on one occasion that I remember, when he was fourteen years old - he had a flaming row with his mother, and after that point he never saw her again.

After the war, he struggled to find a job he could settle in, but was eventually able to start training as an accountant, meanwhile subsisting as a clerk. At some point he ran into his father again, on the top of a London bus. My grandfather was with his second wife Winnie, whom he had married bigamously, according to Arthur's account, and the older pair were sitting either in front of or behind Arthur, and Winnie suddenly recognised him and said, "Oh, look, it's Arthur!" And after that, he was in intermittent contact with his father, but relations between them were never good.

In the mid-1950s, he met and married my mother, who was from Portugal. They had first met at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand, where my mother was attending a dance with her sister Augusta. The two young women had both recently arrived from their native country and were working as domestic helps with rich Jewish families in London.

Accounts of their courtship from both of them varied strangely between my father desperately searching for my mother on the one hand, and Arthur not being that much interested on the other, but they were married, it seemed, at the register office in Hendon on September 11th 1954. Then there were more vague references to a later church wedding near the house where they lived, at 19, Hornsey Rise, N19, a house belonging to an Italian family called the Maccariellos.

They had moved to this house after the Poles who kept the house in Stockwell to which Arthur took my mother after the register office wedding - 77, Jeffreys Road, London SW4 - threw them out on discovering my mother was pregnant. When I was nine or ten months old, we moved down to Crawley in Sussex, and in that small yellow terraced house - 104, Brighton Road, Southgate - their marriage degenerated into open warfare between the inadequate, hysterical, fiercely nationalistic and racist man and the passionate, dominating, (and at least to me) fiercely loving foreign woman.

The one I hated, the other I adored. So I became a homosexual, a masochist, and a writer.

I remember one incident from my childhood, when I was perhaps eight or nine years old and when we were driving home to Crawley from Leonor's house, which was then in Wood Green, London N22. Suddenly my mother pointed down a road that led more or less towards Highgate, and said, "I was married just up that road."

And I was startled, and asked them both, because Arthur was present, "Why didn't you say, we were married just down that road?" And then they became embarrassed and I think Arthur said, "Oh, it was just a slip of the tongue. Of course, your mother meant to say, we were married just up that road."

I also remember a vague story that my mother told me once or twice that she had met my father when she had been on a tube train, she had got her finger stuck in the door and been in great pain, and my father, who was a total stranger, had come gallantly to her aid, taken her to the hospital, and then gone through huge efforts to contact her again because he so much wanted to marry her. This romantic story was never as much emphasised as the one about the Lyceum Ballroom, and I never remember hearing Arthur refer to it.

And, in the way that children have of simply accepting the facts presented to them, it never occurred to me that this story was not compatible with that of my parents having met at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand. Nor did I reflect that the story of the gallant gentleman did not sound like the snivelling figure of Arthur, who obviously did not love my mother very much. And nor did I notice that the man shown in a large number of photographs marrying my mother did not look exactly like Arthur either, although there was a resemblance.

At the terraced house in Crawley where my unhappy childhood was passed, Arthur Ernest Hills Senior sometimes visited us. He used to come down from London on the 710 Green Line bus terminating at Crawley and Arthur Ernest Hills Junior once told me that he lived near South Ealing Tube. Many years later, when I examined his death certificate, I discovered that his recorded address had been 9, Edinburgh Road, W7, which is actually in South Hanwell, near Boston Manor Tube, two stops further down the Piccadilly Line from South Ealing. There is a reason why I give this seemingly insignificant fact, to which I shall return later.

When he visited us, Arthur Senior was not usually accompanied by his wife Winnie, and there may have been a reason for this. During one of his visits  Arthur Senior tried to kiss my mother on the mouth. She had disliked him before this, and from that time onwards she hated him, and he was more or less banned from our house.

Since this incident probably took place when I was only about eight or nine years of age, and I never saw him again, I have no specific memories of my paternal grandfather, the Nazi in English disguise. except that a certain atmosphere of fear and loathing attended his visits. The very English Winnie, whom I met once or twice, was a nicer person.

The man known as Arthur Ernest Hills Senior is recorded as having died at the King Edward General Hospital, Ealing, near his recorded home at 9, Edinburgh Road, W7, of congestive cardiac failure and chronic bronchitis, on 16th February 1968. I think a telegram arrived at our house in Crawley. I remember that my mother, Arthur and myself were standing in the hall, and I remember Arthur saying, "Thank God the old bastard's dead!"

That was a decisive year for him, and one that stands out in a rather sinister light in my own memory. The death of his father in some way released him to begin searching for the mother he had lost contact with so many years before. This quickly became an obsessional search, which in some ways parallels my search for the truth about my own parents. In every place we went to he would ask if anyone had heard of a Mrs Hills. For some reason, he knew for certain that she would be calling herself that, although her connection with Arthur Ernest Hills Senior had ended more than thirty years before and, as I was later to find out, she was about to marry Percy Martin.

Quite soon after the death of Arthur Senior I remember meeting Arthur Junior's elder sister Helen for the first and last time. They had never got on from earliest childhood, but some piece of important family business necessitated that they should meet. Helen was with her husband or partner and my memories of meeting them are that we were driving them in a car through the further suburbs of West London at night until we dropped them at  a certain tube station, whose stark modernist outline and looming tower I seem to remember. I have a vague feeling that this station might have been Park Royal, because I seem to remember questioning Arthur about the grand name, but it could of course have been Hangar Lane or Alperton or any other of the stations on the Central and Piccadilly lines in that vast and anonymous landscape where both my grandmother and my grandfather lived.

Come to think of it Boston Manor Tube, built by Charles Holden in 1934, has that sort of modernist tower, and that was near the house where my grandfather had presumably lived with Winnie. Perhaps we were going there to talk to her, a detail erased from my memory if so, and Helen did not want to meet her so we dropped them at the convenient tube station so that they could continue their journey into Central London.

Because, for some reason, I believe that we were driving in towards London rather than out of it, although this of course may be a false memory. I vaguely remember that there were attempts at a pleasant parting, although Arthur and Helen knew they would never see each other again. And I also believe that Helen had told Arthur that she knew nothing about the possible whereabouts of the woman who was their mother. I think she was lying if she said this.

At some time after that, also in search of information about Arthur's mother, we visited a woman who lived in Gillingham, Kent, who, according to her birth certificate, was  my great-aunt and the sister of Arthur Ernest Hills Senior. She was usually known simply as Connie and, as she had married a man called William George Wyatt in 1921, she had the full name of Constance Gladys Wyatt.

(I will just record briefly here that many years later, I visited Connie's grand-daughter Susan Lakeman and her husband Michael, in nearby Chatham, and Susan said that neither her own mother Joyce nor Connie, whom she had known well, had ever mentioned a brother of Connie's called Arthur, and that she herself was of the opinion that such a person had never existed.)

(And another strange fact. The next-door neighbours in South Hanwell had moved into their house in March 1968, which was one month after Arthur Senior supposedly died, and they had known his widow Winnie well, but she had never mentioned her late husband to them, according to their own account, and they had been unaware of the existence of such a person. They were not friendly. Could they have been lying?)

(And a third strange fact, that appears from the electoral rolls. 9, Edinburgh Road had historically been the home of Winnie and her first husband George F. Chaplain, and their names appear on the 1950 roll. Then for a year some people called Wyatt, which is a family name of my relations in Chatham, moved in, and then from 1952, although they had been married in 1950, very soon after the death of George Chaplain, my grandfather and Winifred Hills are recorded. But in the 1952 and 1953 rolls he is listed as Arthur Hill, and only after that by the name he had assumed, Arthur Hills. It is perhaps an understandable mistake, but it suggests at least my grandfather's possible unfamiliarity with a possible assumed name.)

But, anyway, Connie certainly knew who Arthur Junior was, and made no mistake about his name, and received him, my mother and myself at her house. I remember very little of the conversation, or of Connie herself. But I remember that, although Connie did not know anything of the whereabouts of his mother, she was able to put him in touch with a couple who lived in Edinburgh whom she believed might have this information.

Accordingly, at some point towards the middle of 1968, I went alone with Arthur by car to Edinburgh for several days and I believe we probably stayed with the couple there. My memories of this visit are very fragmentary, and I have no idea who exactly these people were, although I have the clear impression that they were not relations of ours. Their welcome was very friendly, I remember.

There was one odd thing about them. They lived in a suburb of Edinburgh called Restalrig, and I can remember them making a point of telling me that the name of the place was pronounced with the stress on the second syllable. But in fact it is always pronounced with the stress on the first syllable. To pronounce it with the stress on the second syllable is the way that Germans would naturally pronounce it, and I also remember myself, in great surprise at their strange accents, taxing them with my belief that, although they were ostensibly Scottish, the way they spoke, and particularly the way they pronounced the letter "r", demonstrated that they were foreigners.

And they denied this, and the man of the couple, who was a jokey and avuncular type, I remember, took me on an excursion, I think to Arthur's Seat, and proved to me that his "r" was typically Scottish by quoting the ditty, "Round and round the radical rock, the radical rascal ran."

Anyway, whether or not this couple were in facts Germans, and whether my whole paternal family were, they knew the address of my grandmother and communicated it to Arthur. He told me at some point that this address was in Acton, West London, and at once again I ask the reader to remember, for future reference, that he had told me his father lived near South Ealing Tube when in fact it was near Boston Manor Tube.

I now come to the most painful of all my memories of that year of 1968. Arthur, my mother and myself set out, bearing flowers and other gifts, to the place in West London where my grandmother was living with Percy Martin, although not yet married to him (that came in 1969). My memories, which of course are perfectly capable of being false, are that she lived on the second and top floor of an old Victorian house. Arthur and I went up to her door, carrying the flowers and other gifts, while my mother stayed outside in the car. I remember that we knew for certain that she was in, although how we knew this I do not know. But she did not open the door to us. For many years I believed, which must be a false memory, that we had seen her eye looking at us through the spyhole. This memory is perhaps the most traumatic of my childhood.

Soon after this Arthur began a mad process of going out dancing to meet other women and after a while met a married woman with children called Kathleen Berg, and she became pregnant with his twins, Christopher and Rosemary Hills. She agreed to bear the twins on the condition that it would be he who looked after them as a single parent, and shortly after their birth, in January 1972,  she went back to her husband and her two sons by him and quite shortly thereafter she died.

Arthur left our house without a word in October 1971, in order to prepare a home in Pulborough in Sussex - where he worked as the company secretary of a firm called APV Spiro Gills - for the children who were soon to be born. He left on the very day that I began at a new school, and after a long period when I had hardly been speaking to him and my mother not at all.

When his children were still young, after Kathleen had died, and after my own relations with him had ceased, Arthur married a Pulborough woman called Rosie Rhoder, who had her own four children by a previous marriage. By all accounts, this was the one relationship in which he finally found happiness. When he died in 2004, he destroyed all his personal records, and left almost all his considerable property to his second wife, a small sum to each of the twins, and nothing at all to me.

I attended his funeral, and for two hours after the wake walked on the Pulborough Levels. I remember those hours as among the happiest of my life.

Now back to the summer of 2009, after my first release from prison and about five years after Arthur's death. Shortly before our relations ceased in the early 1980s, he had made a couple of tapes for me about his early life, dealing in rather harrowing terms with such events as the time his mother had spent the last money she possessed on buying a bag of chips for him, or one time when they had been walking together across a seemingly endless plain at Sheerness and he had become desperately tired and hungry. All these memories, of course, dated from after the break-up of his parents, which would place them in the mid-to-late 1930s.

Rather desultorily, alone in my flat that summer of 2009, I listened to those tapes again. He said in them that he had no memories at all of his first seven years, and began with an account of the journey he had made at the age of seven alone by bus from Victoria Coach Station to Edinburgh to stay with relations there just before the time of his family break-up. He challenged me to work out the date of this coach journey, which he apparently quite enjoyed, by relating it to the date of a certain football match. He seemed absolutely confident that I would not be able to solve this puzzle.

Well, yes, I never have solved it, but, anyway, it would probably have been about 1932, when it might have been expedient to send children with Jewish blood and Nazi fathers to England. Arthur's voice on the tapes showed that he had a definite, slightly whining London accent without any trace of foreign intonation. But I had heard somewhere that children lost their original language entirely if they came to another country before the age of eight. So, all in all, if I forgot the story about the tube train, which I often did, the hypothesis that Arthur really was my father fitted in every detail.

I want to insert at this point a memory that dates from 2014, from one of my two clandestine visits to England. I became friendly during the first of these visits with a gay writer whom I had known slightly for many years. He lives with a younger, butcher and very sleepy partner in a north London council flat. This partner works as an archivist and pays all the bills for their accommodation,  and the shambling writer is humbly grateful to his lodger, who has granted him sex on three occasions.

They once used to offer dinner to many smart and literary people but none of these snooty persons returned their invitations. So during the winter I clandestinely came to London they were eager to welcome yet another potential friend and the archivist undertook to help me with my family research without charge. I was initially delighted by my relationship with them, and they gave me a lot of presents during a particularly happy initial visit to their flat, on 5th January 2014. However, soon they were trying far too hard to press a mobile phone on me, and over a long period they would not take no for an answer, and the dogmatic writer once even suggested that it was my social duty to possess a mobile. My liking for them soon cooled, and the causes of dissension have become many more. But I have continued to accept the help particularly of the writer in many areas and am still just about on terms with him.

The archivist had been able to unearth quite a lot of family material for me, mainly on quite peripheral matters. But I soon gained the impression that he was not really trying to help me but rather to cast doubt on the discoveries I was making. The pair had offered me their friendship at a date immediately after I had discovered that my mother had never legally been a British citizen but had been using the identity of a woman born in Berlin in 1919. I therefore think it is possible that this couple (or perhaps just the archivist) had been commissioned to befriend me in order deliberately to mislead me about my family history.

One evening, early in our friendship, we were in the flat the couple share. The writer had gone out, and the archivist and I had been drinking quite heavily. He suddenly told me of a case he had heard of where a group of Nazis had murdered an entire British family and assumed their identities, and I also believe it was on the same occasion - a moment of intimacy between two people who disliked and distrusted each other - that he warned me that, if I got too close to the truth about my grandfather, someone might try to kill me.

I was too drunk and wild at the time to question him much about either of these extraordinary statements, but on a later occasion I returned to the first one, and asked him where he had heard this story. He said that he had no memory of where he had heard it, and this seemed extraordinary and quite incredible in an archivist. But I did not follow the matter up on that occasion. Certainly, however, if a group of Nazis had achieved such a thing, they must have had the co-operation of people at a high level in the British establishment, so they themselves would have been important rather than insignificant Nazis.

Later the writer and the archivist came to visit me in Rochester Prison, which would have been some time in 2015, and at a certain point the writer went to the toilet, a frequent habit of his. I now challenged the archivist with how strange it was he should not remember the source of the extraordinary story. He still said he could not remember where he had heard it, but he added one further detail, just before the writer returned from the loo: this assumption of identity by the Nazis had taken place before the end of the Second World War, not after it.

Anyway, in that summer of 2009 I knew nothing of these matters, and almost nothing of this couple, and was preparing to leave England without telling anyone where I was going, and in particular I looked forward to asking the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon more about the identity of my paternal grandfather. The Jewish Chaplain at Lowdham Grange, whom I had contacted during the difficult time I spent there, and who very reluctantly dealt with me, had said that this woman was surely the clue to finding out more about the mystery.

But, when I reached Lisbon, she said that she had told me all she knew. Nor was my aunt any more forthcoming. They were not pleased to see me and were horrified that I had skipped my licence and was therefore on the run. But I was now about to take possession of my house in the Algarve, which had been stolen from me, an event which took place on 13th November 2009, the very day that my licence was revoked in England and I was recalled to prison.

But the authorities in Britain had now no easy and cheap way of carrying out their threat, and even less so when five weeks later - as it happened on the very day that police raided my flat in Clapham, which was in the process of being sold under power of attorney by my friend Bill Hicks - I took off on the first of my extensive grand tours of Europe.

This first tour was to occupy me until the following July and broaden my cultural appreciation of many countries, and most particularly Italy. But, of course, the constant travel and visiting of monuments left me little time to think about my family background, and nor was I that worried by the English police, or what might be happening at my house in Portugal, or anything else.

But while I was in Vienna in that snowy February, where I was mainly following up my interest in the Lieder composer Hugo Wolf, and where Bill confirmed to me by telephone one blindingly white and dark night on the Ringstrasse that my flat was finally gone, I became desperate suddenly to know whether my paternal grandfather had been the top Nazi that it seemed possible he had been.

There was no obvious way that I could immediately find out the slightest detail about it, and I was not in England or Scotland to try to contact whatever surviving witnesses might still remain, but I did quickly join a website which allowed people to trace their ancestry by contacting matches based on the details that appeared on birth, marriage and death certificates. Since I was by no means certain that such documents could give any true information about my paternal ancestry, the enterprise seems rather a doomed one from the start. And I soon grew annoyed by the welter of possible matches who clearly had nothing to do with me and who rarely responded in any helpful or coherent way to what emails I sent them.

But this website did employ as a guest expert a well-known genealogical writer called Anthony Adolph. I soon sent him a message with the news that my grandfather had perhaps been Polish (I did not emphasise the possible German connection) and asking him what the likelihood was that this story could be true.

He wrote back at first very cautiously and politely, and I was certainly impressed with his considerable credentials, and believed, perhaps rather naively, that he could work wonders of research which would soon unearth the truth about what I now firmly believed to be my hidden Nazi background.

By the summer I was back in Portugal, and the six-month free introductory subscription offered by the website was due to expire. I still had plenty of money from the sale of my London flat, and decided to drop the website, which seemed to me utterly useless, and instead employ Mr Adolph to conduct enquiries into the possible background of my paternal grandparents.

He accepted willingly, and began with a general look at the ostensible antecedents of Arthur Ernest Hills in Kent. He was soon able to trace a detailed ancestry back to a shepherd of Westwell in the mid-nineteenth century, and quickly came to the conclusion that these were the true origins of my family and that the stories of the three old women were nothing but old wives' tales.

When it became clear that I was refusing to accept the incontrovertible truth he believed he had discovered, our relations turned from friendly to quite fraught. After some while, he even cited to me the principle of Occam's Razor, whereby you should be content with a simple, likely and logically powerful explanation rather than seeking far-fetched and implausible solutions to any problem. I bottled up the sense of insult I felt.

I also resented the implied aspersion on the veracity of my informants, whom I knew to be women of strength of character, shrewdness and good sense. They were usually very unforthcoming with information rather than, as Adolph implied, keen to spread false stories. As to myself, I believed that I always tried to keep my own wish to be really an entire European rather than partly English within reasonable bounds.

Anyway, Mr Adolph also persuaded me to employ the American genetic research firm Family Tree DNA to do a full genetic profile and, while I went on my second grand tour - which took me through the rural heart of France in the sunny October of 2010, and then to a slightly alienating Tuscany and Umbria in the wet November - the geeks did their work with the swabs I had provided from my mouth.

The results arrived by email towards Christmas when I was back in gloomy Altura, and they initially upset me very much. I hardly understood them at all, and did not see what possible relevance any of these arcane formulas could have to the family mysteries I was so keen to resolve. I have described these results in full in a previous post, so I will not repeat them again here, but in brief they showed that my paternal ancestry must lie either in England or at the western end of the North German Plain, and there was nothing to show which of the two it was more likely to be.

The relationship between myself and Mr Adolph largely took the form of a highly barbed although ostensibly courteous exchange of emails and occasional phone-calls, and and after the DNA results these continued with ever greater intensity, while he tried to show that the English ancestry was overwhelmingly more likely to be correct, while I desperately insisted that a father and grandfather from the North German Plain remained at least a possibility.

Mr Adolph appeared to have one trump card clinching his argument. On the line that led through the endless chain of fathers, I had six matches, all of them pretty remote, and one of them had the name of Andy Hills.

Mr Adolph immediately seized on this as absolute proof that the Kentish Hills family was my real ancestral line. I obediently followed his suggestion that I should email Andy Hills, who went under the rather strange email identity of "ktbrocks". But I received no answer on two or three occasions to my emails.

I used the putative Andy's failure to answer to point out to Mr Adolph that we knew nothing about this person or whether that was even the real name of the match. Some time later Mr Adolph used his connections with Family Tree DNA to obtain the address of the suppose Hills, which turned out to be in Great Broughton in Cumbria. He offered to write to him on my behalf. But Andy Hills also did not answer Mr Adolph's letter.

I will now insert an account of a series of events that took place this summer, the summer of 2016. I was trying to think of every possible way I could carry forward the quest, and I decided to go to Cumbria to beard Andy Hills in person. I would knock on his door! On 6th September 2016 I took the train northward to Carlisle - leaving the hostel without seeking the permission they required - and on arrival there lunched well at an Italian restaurant, bought a fine book at a huge secondhand bookshop, and took the bus to the picturesque town of Cockermouth, where I checked into an excellent hotel for three nights.

The following day I took the bus to the seaside town of Workington, where the electoral registers for the area covering the Broughtons are kept. A kindly woman looked up the recent registers for the address I gave. An Andy Hills did not live at that address, which was in Little Broughton rather than Great Broughton, but there was a woman who did. I shall not give her name. The official at the council office looked back for several years and there was no record of an Andy Hills at the relevant address, or at any other in the electoral area.

The following afternoon I went round to the address. A pleasant and entirely typical Cumbrian lady, the registered owner, answered the door. She told me she knew nothing of any Andy Hills and that she herself had been living at the house since 2008, a statement there was absolutely no reason to doubt. Previously the house had been rented to a series of short-term tenants and she suggested that perhaps Andy Hills had been one of those.

We politely took our leave of each other, and I went on my way rejoicing that, so many years after our initial difference of opinion, I had proved Mr Adolph wrong. And I returned to London and told the authorities at the hostel that I had been visiting an elderly, sick relation in Scotland.

Now back to the main narration.

After so much travelling, I set aside the year 2011 as one to live largely in the Algarve, and I overcame the loneliness I always feel here in various ways, partly by drinking too much, and partly by listening to a lot of music and leafing through endless books as I quaffed the said drink, and partly by beginning this blog, on 13th January 2011.

One theme that runs through it is the problematic relation that I have with England, to whose culture and national identity I am committed, but the people of which alienate me because I am not connected to them by blood and because their elite seems to prefer as members of British society people from the Third World rather than either the English working class or the European immigrants who are their cousins.

Be that as it may, through the spring and early summer of 2011, I managed to visit, as far as I know,  every English second-hand bookshop, however remote, in the Portuguese province, and by finally persuading a recalcitrant couple to allow me access to the warehouse where they had stored their books after their shop failedof , I was able to bring my tally to a score of twelve. I also attended during the year almost every lecture of the very British Algarve History Association, and of those I missed - except for one on Perkin Warbeck, which didn´t seem to count - I got the lecturer to give me a private presentation. And I spent much time seeking out good cafés and restaurants in the places I strenuously reached by public transport, which  had taken my fancy because they seemed to offer some cultural or historical interest.

By the time, in late March 2011, that I was subjected to the journalistic attentions of Len Port, a large, bluff, northern Irish Protestant who is the senior English-language Algarvian journalist  - he was interested in analysing the reasons for my crimes - I had again become very fat, a fact remarked upon by Port in his rather disparaging account of me.

But I struggled on in my self-consciously British and European way, and in the summer went on my third grand tour (to Spain, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy). And visiting these countries I continued to live far too well, and I spent my fifty-sixth birthday in the overwhelming heat of Rome, near the pyramid-tomb of Caius Cestius, with a Peroni, thinking that, if things continued like this, the road might be pleasant towards death.

Naturally I made little progress with my researches into my paternal ancestry during this time, although I continued to use the expensive services of Mr Adolph and Family Tree DNA. But I was also employing a competent researcher to look into my Portuguese ancestry, Dr Marta Páscoa Teixeira, and although she was equally as anxious as Mr Adolph to confine my ancestry to the country of my ostensible origin, my relations with her were more sympathetic.

Now the reader may remember the elderly couple who had gone to live in Portugal, Isaura and Hupfleit, who had known my mother well, and the fact that Leonor had given me their phone number, which was a landline. I had lost it by 2011, but I phoned Leonor again, and once more she gave it to me. Now, just as with an English phone number, the digits that immediately follow the country code indicate geographic location. And very early in that somnolent year of 2011, I  got Dr Teixeira to research which area this was in the case of Isaura and Hupfleit, and it turned out to be a  remote region of northern Portugal which for the present shall remain nameless.

Now, getting bored and lonely again in late October 2011, I set off on a mini-grand tour of the north, and as the third region to be visited I arrived at the one where Isaura and Hupfleit lived. It was 1st November 2011, and on this wet and gloomy afternoon I was in the chief, but quite small, town of the said rural region, having travelled there from the place where I was staying by taxi. The taxi was to pick me up again at six.

First I went to a café. There, on paying for my coffee, I got the waiter to list as many as possible of the various places in that region and wrote them down. Then I wandered round that places looking for phone boxes from which to phone Leonor. But the first two I discovered were not working and a second cafe I tried refused to let me use their telephone. It was getting on for six, and quite dark, when I finally found a phone box that worked, and phoned my chief source.

She answered quickly, I told her where I was, and she realised immediately that it was the region where Isaura and Hupfleit lived. I sensed that she was both very frightened at the idea of my going to see them but that she also wanted this to happen. I began listing the names of towns and villages that the waiter had given me."Is it this one where they live?" I would say, and she would say "No.". "Is it that one?" I would say, and again she would say, "No." Finally I named a certain place, and she said, "Yes, that's it!"

I said, "That's the place, is it?" and she said, "No, that's not it." But I was already used to her habit, shared by the two other old women, of letting something out and then denying it afterwards. "You've already told me, Leonor," I said. "Thank you very much."

She begged me not to tell Isaura that it was through her that I had found out the town where the couple lived, and I agreed that I would concoct some story. I thanked her again, put down the phone, and ran for the taxi.

I let two days pass before planning the journey from the place I was staying in to the one where Isaura and Hupfleit lived. There was an extremely early bus that went there and then a school bus at a slightly more civilised hour. I could not face the journey on the very early bus, and in Altura they let adults travel on the school bus. So I assumed the same would apply here. But when I tried to board the school bus, perhaps I looked too anxious and nervous, or was not well dressed enough, because the driver refused me.

 So I set off cheerfully to walk to the small town. It was fourteen kilometres but I reckoned I had all day. At a certain point I turned on to smaller road where I  thought I might get a lift. Quite soon a lorry picked me up. The driver was friendly but there was a very high step to the passenger seat. The driver helped me but from the first I was dreading the jump down.

The lorry driver dropped me, as it turned out, very close indeed to where Isaura and Hupfleit lived. I didn't know it, though, as my lorry driver friend said his cheerful goodbye. We were on the outskirts of the small town, by a bridge over a small stream, and just before a roundabout at the outskirts of the town proper. I did not dare ask him to help me. I felt I had to show him that I could do it myself. And, as I went, I held on to the handle of the door a little too long and suffered a wrenching pain to my left upper arm on that day of 4th November 2011 which would trouble me badly for months and whose effects will never quite leave me.

It was now about nine o´clock in the morning and the small town would soon be coming to what life it knew. I crossed the bridge over the stagnant stream, went around the roundabout, and began to ascend an old street that led upwards into the town.

Very soon I came to a small paper shop which was kept by an old woman who turned out to be called Dona Helena ("Dona" is the rough Portuguese equivalent of "Mrs"). I engaged her in my still halting Portuguese and it turned out she knew Isaura and Hupfleit well. Isaura was one of her customers and sometimes came to the shop, although Hupfleit never went out. Their address was in a block of flats which was quite near and back in the direction from which I had come. But, although the old woman knew exactly where it was, she did not know the details of the address and could not describe it to me clearly enough for me to find it.

She suggested I go to the post office to be told their address. But it would not have opened yet, and anyway I needed to buy a present for the couple. At a small gift shop I found a beautiful figure of an elephant for fourteen Euros and the woman in the shop performed the elaborate and efficient wrapping in which the Portuguese are so skilled.

Then I think I stopped to have a coffee and soon afterwards the post office was open. I approached the man at the desk and said I was looking for some very old friends of my mother's, an elderly Portuguese woman called Isaura married to a German or Pole called Hupfleit. He obviously knew exactly whom I meant (there surely could only be one such couple in that small town). But he said he had to go into the interior office to ask their permission to divulge the information. I waited for five minutes in some anxiety. But then he returned, and  wrote down their address.

The morning was now getting on, but I needed to do one more thing before I could approach Isaura and Hupfleit. I was privately sure that Hupfleit was more likely to be a German than a Pole. The name sounded more German than Polish and always had done, and the connections that I was uncovering pointed in that direction. Now if Hupfleit were a German passing as a Pole, that meant he was also an ex-Nazi, although he himself could only have been a young soldier at the time. I could speak German passably but I had forgotten a number of words. I planned to speak to Hupfleit in German to discover whether this was his language, and I planned to tell him that I knew he had been in hiding all his life but that I did not blame him for this. But I had forgotten the German for "to hide". I also wanted to say that I was trying to find out the identity of my grandfather, and I had even forgotten the German for "grandfather"!

So I had to locate the public library in the small town to look these words up in a German dictionary. I found it without too much difficulty, and discovered that "to hide" was "sich verstecken" amd that of course "grandfather" translated as "Grossvater". How could I have forgotten that! Walking around the library I prepared the speech I would deliver to the ageing Nazi. And I also rested for a while in the library and looked up some matters of general interest. It had already been a long and complex day even though we were only at the later morning.

Finally I was ready to set out. I had no mobile telephone and could not warn my intended hosts that I was coming, so I decided to return to the paper shop and get Dona Helena to phone them. I figured that Isaura would hardly be able to refuse me entrance if the old woman, who knew her well, was aware of how far I had come and what trouble I had taken.

Dona Helena, still alone in the shop, was understanding, and quite willing to help me. She phoned, and Isaura answered. I think the old woman introduced me and then put me on the phone. I said that I was only a few hundred yards away from them and would love to meet them and hear about the old days and anything they could tell me about my parents. Isaura said I could come over straight away.

So I negotiated the roundabout again and crossed the bridge once more over the stagnant stream. The block of flats where they lived was only a bit beyond that. They lived on the ground floor, I am not going to say whether in the right-hand or left-hand flat.

That caused a bit of difficulty, as it happened. There were no name plates for the two ground-floor flats at the main door and I am not good with right and left. So I pressed the wrong bell and the neighbour answered. This brought the elderly and still quite smart figure of Isaura to the door, so a bit of slight kerfuffle ensued at the first moment I met her.

Isaura and Hupfleit received me very kindly that day. She ushered me into their very tidy flat and the ancient but still slim and erect figure of Mr Hupfleit rose from his chair to greet me. They were absolutely delighted with the present of the elephant and quickly found room for it on their crowded mantelpiece. They both spoke quite good English and said I should speak in that language. Once of the first things I asked Mr Hupfleit was what his Christian name was, and with a smile he said it was Michael. I feel almost sure that this was true.

I had better go no further without confessing a rather shameful secret. Some years before, Christopher Hills, the son of Arthur Ernest Hills Junior by Kathleen Berg, had given me a very old and not efficient tape-recorder with a tape inside it. When I left England in 2009, despite my deep fear of technology, I had brought this tape-recorder with me thinking that one day there would be a person or persons I might meet whom I should secretly tape.

I had brought the tape recorder to their flat and had it in a blue bag I was carrying in which I think the elephant had also been. After a while, I was sitting on the Hupfleits' sofa and Isaura went out, perhaps to make some coffee or tea. Rather clumsily, just before she entered the room again, I set the tape going and, believing Michael had not seen me, put it on a ledge under a table beside me on the sofa.

After we had gone through the preliminaries of introducing ourselves, and Isaura had regretted the fact that I was so very fat, the first thing she wanted to know was how I had found their address. I had my story ready. I said that in the chief town of the district, the one from which I had phoned Leonor, I had gone into a café and the person serving me at the bar had known them. He had not had the exact address, I said, but he knew the town. From then on I told the story exactly as it had happened.

I now want to relate a strange thing. When I told this story, Isaura was astonished, and she instinctively exclaimed "Mamma Mia!" Now Isaura is to all intents and purposes a Portuguese, but this is a typically Italian expression, and no Portuguese would ever use it, and certainly not instinctively. (The word "mama" in Portuguese means "breast", as it happens.) So I  immediately challenged Isaura with my new belief that she was really an Italian, not a Portuguese, and began to address her in the Italian language.

She refused to answer in it, however, and kept on returning to the question of the man who had known her and her husband. Which was the café, she demanded, and what had the man been like? I could remember only that he had been a man and that it had been an entirely typical Portuguese café in a quarter of the town I could not locate exactly. That didn't help her very much.

She now proposed that we should ring Leonor and tell her the good news that I was with them. As usual, Leonor answered the phone immediately, and after a moment Isaura passed me on to her. I told her the story of how I had met the man in the café and how, surprisingly, he had known in which town Isaura and Michael lived. She silently absorbed this information, and when Isaura resumed the phone the two of them wondered over the strangeness of it.

I think I told Leonor at this time that Hupfleit's Christian name was Michael, a fact she had never known. (I have to record here that she had several times mentioned to me in London a person who had formed part of the social circle surrounding my mother called Oscar (perhaps spelt Oskar), and this of course raises the possibility that Hupfleit´s Christian name was not Michael. But I believe that it was. It is possible that Oskar was yet another nom de guerre, indeed of someone else.)

When Isaura was out of the room, I immediately engaged Michael in German. As I have mentioned, he was a notoriously silent man. He did not answer me in any connected way in that language. He simply said again and again "Ja", and this word was to recur many times throughout the day when he spoke to his wife, otherwise entirely in English.

He obviously understood every word I said, however, and seemed pleased that I did not in any way blame him for having fought in the war on the German side and for having had to go into hiding for the rest of his life. It obviously helped that they knew about my prison career and that I myself was currently on the run. And at a certain point he told me spontaneously that he had fought in Italy, the second fact he gave me about himself.

And Leonor told me once (I have forgotten exactly when) that it was in the German army that he had fought. And he looked every inch like a former German soldier from the Second World War. I personally have not the slightest doubt that he was a German not a Pole. At a certain point, he said that it was his mother who had been Polish, and I think this is possibly true, or perhaps true in a way, because those borders changed many times. This was the third and last thing he told me about himself.

Soon after that conversation alone with him, Mr Hupfleit excused himself for a while, and I was told by Isaura that he had a workshop in the basement (their flat was a maisonette) and, having been an electronics engineer by profession, and a most practical man, he was in the habit of repairing there quite often during the day to occupy and amuse himself.

I thus entered into extensive conversation with Isaura alone in their sitting room and we now got on surprisingly well. It is her loud, confident and insistent voice that appeared mostly on the tape I was secretly making, and the low and feeble voice of Mr Hupfleit, very occasionally uttering a connected sentence, featured only once or twice. Isaura answered none of the few questions I put about my parents, and implied she had barely known them. But she showed me with pride the visiting card of the boat in which she herself had come to England, at a somewhat earlier date than my mother, with its full list of mainly Portuguese passengers.

During her long years in Britain she had worked at once of the palaces of the Royal Family and she was able to tell me - as my mother, who had been a silver service waitress at several quite grand establishments, had also done - a delicious story about Prince Andrew. Isaura had conservative views, and a pattern of  ideas which might well be considered snobbish and racist, but then so did I, so that was no barrier. We both of us had a low opinion of the Portuguese, and enjoyed ourselves quite a lot slagging them off.

The pair gave me a delicious lunch, said that I was welcome to stay with them all the afternoon, and, as the last bus would surely have gone before I would be leaving, Isaura undertook, and her husband agreed, that they would pay for my return by taxi. As the afternoon went on, our talk continued pleasant, but I learnt nothing more than the facts that I have already related.

In the middle of the afternoon Isaura proposed that Mr Hupfleit should take me downstairs to see his basement workshop while she herself took a rest. I went with him gladly, because I was getting a little exhausted by Isaura. The downstairs workshop was very well stocked with tools and machines and I think the pair of us spent a considerable time down there.

I suppose that would have been the opportunity to ask Michael how well he had known my mother. But some instinct told me that I should not bother him with this distant past but simply concentrate on showing as much interest in his hobbies as I could. I don't remember a single word of what he said and I said in the basement, but I feel we were friends when we were down there.

Unfortunately my relationship with the couple worsened as the evening drew on. I caused a certain resentment by saying again that I believed Isaura to be an Italian and also by saying that I believed a certain photo in the room showed Mr Hupfleit with his mother while he said it showed his parents together. He began repeating many times that he hated politics and that politics had ruined his life.

At a certain point the tape I was making came to an end with a most ghastly click. I am sure Isaura heard it, although she said nothing. A little while later she went out of the room again to prepare supper, and I got Mr Hupfleit to rearrange the position of the objects on the mantelpiece, which had become a little disarranged by the insertion of my elephant. While his back was turned to me, I quickly and clumsily retrieved the tape recorder from the ledge under the table and quickly stuffed it into my blue bag.

During this more unhappy sequence of events I looked a few times at Michael sitting in his chair and saw with horror that he was periodically wiping a tear away from his eyes. He looked so old and unhappy, and I felt sad that it was I who had probably caused it, but was too embarrassed to mention that he was crying.

We had eaten our delicious lunch in their sitting room, but the much lighter supper was taken in the kitchen. During this meal Michael was suddenly afflicted with a severe bout of coughing and was fighting badly for breath. Isaura reminded me rather grimly that her husband was nearly ninety. I suppose I should have realised then how very close Michael was to death, and that I was lucky to have reached him just in time for me to be able to say I had known him. But I don't think I did realise this.

After supper was over, it was time to begin making preparations to go. I had the card of a taxi driver, based in the place where I was staying, and the couple were impressed that I had showed such efficiency. We phoned him and he promised to be over within fifteen minutes.

Isaura said she would come out to stand with me in the forecourt of the block of flats, but that her husband would not come out. My last memory of Michael is of him standing rather shyly in the hall and saying farewell to me and once again looking every inch the former German soldier from the Second World War that he had been.

It was cold as I stood with Isaura in the dark and windy yard. I tried to ask her a few more questions, but our conversation soon reverted to the usual generalities. The taxi driver arrived quickly, and Isaura was keen to take his card for future reference, because she said she often needed a taxi. Then she waved me off and I entered into conversation with the taxi driver. He turned out to know of the Hupfleit couple, as people in Portugal always do know about all the people who live in their localities, particularly those with unusual antecedents. The whole country is like a gigantic telegraph system, but nothing of what is passed on ever reaches outsiders.

The following day I returned to my home in the Algarve. I had to get three buses, the first to the local major city, the second to Lisbon, the third to my house. On the first bus I was sitting by a window with a seat beside me. At a certain stop, a youngish man got onto the bus. I saw he was sharply bearded but finely muscular, I smiled at him, and he asked if he could join me.

He was an American or Canadian, I forget which, but our conversation soon turned to Jewish matters, and I believe he was also a Jew. I told him that I was Jewish, but that, not having been brought up as a Jew, and having only recently discovered this identity, I knew little of Jewish matters. He undertook to instruct me a little, and said, which I found interesting, that the Ashkenazi Jews were not Semitic, being descended from the Khazars, who had converted to Judaism in the early Middle Ages.

This young man had to get off when we reached the local city and, just before he went, I said I was called Charles and asked him what his name was. He gave me a rather haunting smile and said his name was Michael.

I really enjoyed that all-day series of bus journeys. We approached Faro, the regional capital of the Algarve, not by the motorway but by the older road that my mother and I had often used when she used to drive me back from Lisbon, and this fact made me remember her with tenderness, which I did not always do.Then we went on towards my house. This particular bus was not supposed to stop at Altura, but we were near the end of the route when we approached the familiar place with the high-rise hotel and I was alone with the driver and sitting in the front seat. I told him how tired I was, and rather riskily for himself he stopped the bus so that I could just walk home and not have to take another one from the next place along the line. It seemed so kind of him and made me feel rather in love with the world.

In the next couple of days I just relaxed at home. On the afternoon of 6th November I was listening to a favourite record - the Mozart Piano Concerto No 13, K415, in C Major - and in the first movement there is a most haunting passage which passes by several times only later to return. And as it came round for the second or third time, and once again I surrendered to the wistful and fugitive charm of the melody, I wondered whether the man I had met, who had cried when he talked to me, was my father.

And then I entered a really beautiful period, when the winter weather was almost uniformly bright but rather cold, and I used to wander endlessly naked round the house and into the garden and I must have broken a glass because beneath my bare feet were thousands of the tiniest possible shards of broken glass but they were too small to do my bare feet any harm. `Verre cassé porte bonheur`, as the French say. And almost every early afternoon, after a snack lunch, I did Bible Study at my table in the garden and that was the still heart of my years in the Algarve.

And on the evening of 20th December 2011 I went quite late to the Internet at the Eurotel (I usually bought a very expensive glass of port and they let me use the computer) and discovered that new results had arrived from the American genetic genealogy firm, with which I had now tested to 67 markers rather than the previous 25. These results showed that I matched precisely one out of 23, 771 people who had tested with the firm from England at this more refined level, a result that was entirely statistically insignificant. Yet, at least officially, Arthur Ernest Hills had been an Englishman! Now, with a sudden access of joy, I was certain for the very first time that this dreadful man had not been my father. Yet the childhood belief that my father could only be Arthur was so strong that my certainty fell away again after a few days.

Right at the end of December my main bank card was mysteriously blocked, but this had happened before and I had a secret hoard of Euros in the house and if I used only a certain sum each day and confined my excursions entirely to the Algarve, there was no real danger I would run out of money or be left stranded. On 6th January 2012 I decided to go to my favourite haunt of Tavira, and while I was there I phoned Leonor, who confirmed that our two friends in northern Portugal were well. She did say one slightly strange thing, which was that, according to her, Mr Hupfleit was already ninety, while Isaura, whom I had met only weeks before, had told me that he was yet to reach that age, nor was his birthday immediately forthcoming, or surely she would have told me. If Leonor's version was true, and in her usual forthright way she insisted that it was, that would place Michael's birth some time in 1921, perhaps in the later part of the year.

On 10th January I did a more arduous expedition, right over to the other side of the Algarve, to the chapel of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, where Henry the Navigator is said to have prayed, riding over on a fast horse from his country house at Raposeira. When I returned from my own quite arduous journey to the railway station at Cacela late at night and was about to get a taxi in the town my card had been unblocked at the machine.

Pleased with the sudden access of money, I went to have a good lunch the following day at the restaurant of my friends Josefa and António in Monte Gordo, and when I came back to the house an English acquaintance, whom I do not much like, and who does not usually visit, called on me, and we got on better than normal. And, at roughly the same time, an elderly English couple had appeared in Altura with whom I was in the process of becoming friendly, and who are the only permanent friends I made during the five years I lived principally at the house. My liking for them was cheering me up a lot in those days.

And so, stimulated by so much society, after the acquaintance had gone, I went to Broadway, where they had a computer in those days, and began to write a new post of my blog.

It is the ninth post - "I called it ´Wintering in the Algarve" - and you, dear reader, could turn to it now. It is about the intense peace I felt in those days with my solitude diversified by reasonably pleasant company. And for the first time in my blog it mentions the mystery concerning my father, and mentions the two men, the one from the Lyceum Ballroom and one from the tube train, and my increasing certainty that they were not the same person, and that the man my mother met on the tube train was my father.

I began the post by talking about someone I had known in London who, as with so many of the people I knew there, so many of the people I have known in my life, was half friend and half enemy. I told how first I had known him without feeling and then broke with him without regret, and from there I moved on to the subject of my father. But the logic of this transition was perhaps initially not clear.

So the ending at first fell a little flat as I worked obsessively on the post during the long evening of 11th January 2012 at the computers in the Eurotel and at Central Sports Café (Broadway was always closed in the evening). I moved between them restlessly, but the machines were not responding to my efforts to write my still slightly unresolved piece. Just before the trouble started, I had phoned my friend Bill in London to tell him about the blog I was writing and its connection with the real identity of my father. After leaving Central Sports towards midnight yet another possible idea occurred to me that I resolved to work on the next day.

And, on the morning of the 12th, I awoke in the house and then fell asleep again, and when I finally woke for good, at some point in the mid-morning, a most beautiful last paragraph had occurred to me. It was a picture of myself in my garden, sitting at the table where I had so much peace, and it professed my indifference to knowing whether my father had been a German or a Pole. But something in the words themselves told the reader that nothing in the world mattered more to me more than knowing who he had been.

I hurried off towards the three computers to set the new ending down, but now my difficulties with the machines became even more hellish. By the end of the 12th I had the piece more or less exactly as I wanted,  but it had still not been possible to insert the final line-break because of the continuous playing up of the wretched modern technology. The whole of the grim 13th was taken up with the endless struggle to insert the line-break, although I also managed to spot a final literal and tidy up a few points of style.

On the 14th, the computer at Broadway had packed up altogether, but then I had the inspiration of going up to the social club, which lies right at the top of the settlement. There, the attendant young woman, in the intervals of talking on her mobile phone, was most friendly, and after some difficulty succeeded in inserting the line-break for me. This period was to be the start of many years of trouble with my emails, my blog and many other aspects of computers, which continues to the present and which I believe to form part of an organised attempt to prevent intelligent and disinterested people accessing my blog.

But I suspected little of what was to come when the lady inserted the line-break, and, to celebrate, I printed out a copy of my entire blog so far. And in the evening, free from creative endeavour and happy, I set myself to learning about early Christian texts at the hotel Internet,  particularly studying the Acts of John, which had been written by a cultivated Hellenistic gentleman towards the end of the 2nd century AD.

My work on that post was then chiefly on those three (or four) days in January 2012, although I have returned to it endless times since then to make small adjustments, and particularly to the last paragraph, that picture of ambiguous peace. It has been worth it to do so much work. To me this is the central post in the whole picture of myself and my background and my experience that I am trying to give in this blog.

And very bright but slightly cold weather went on all through January in the Algarve  until the almond trees began to blossom early in the fields. But then intense cold did hit Portugal and all Europe at the beginning of February, and I myself  broke the spell by going on yet another of my endless trips, again to Lisbon, where I had been so often before, this time to try and find out more about my mother's ancestry.

And at a date some time after that, while I was once again staying in the Algarve (I will never know the exact day, because my diary for that time is lost) I made one of my periodic phone calls to Leonor, once more from  Tavira, and received what should perhaps have been expected news. Mr Hupfleit had died some weeks before, Leonor could not remember exactly when. He had gone to the toilet quite early one morning, returned to the sitting room where Isaura was waiting, sighed softly, and was gone.

I don´t remember exactly how I felt, but perhaps I was not much moved. Because of the disappointment with others that has run through my life, I tend to be mainly interested in what I can get out of people while they are alive, and once I hear they are dead it is as if they have fallen through a trap door. But of course I expressed all the conventional regrets and said how sorry I felt for his widow. Leonor warned me not to contact Isaura, and she said that if I wanted any news it could be through herself.

I was eventually to discover the date on which Michael died, and I shall tell later how I came to know this. He died on the morning of 12th January 2012, perhaps at exactly the time when I woke up and knew exactly what I should write about my father in the final paragraph of my ninth post. That was six days after I had phoned Leonor and she had confirmed that he was still well. I had reached him in person just under nine weeks before that. Thank God for the happy and peaceful, the blessed, period that I spent in the Algarve between November 2011 and  February 2012. Whatever unhappiness I experienced at my mother's house, I was happy then.

And now I come to my fourth grand tour, that I made that spring and summer, a  lopsided journey, whose centre was a voyage right down the western coast of Italy, from the Riviera to Sicily. But this was preceded by stays in Spain, Switzerland and France, and then there was a final time in the north of Italy. And I bought far too many books on this journey and finished off by having almost all my by now unbearably heavy luggage stolen from me near the bus station in Barcelona. Many precious memorabilia went, some dating from my earliest childhood, as well as a long series of pocket diaries, a large number of dirty clothes, and almost all the books. I will relate only one series of incidents from from this journey.

In the ninth week of the trip, on 9th May 2012, I was staying in Naples, and had gone to Cumae, where the cave of the Sibyl once was (rather naively perhaps, I asked her if any good might come from the search for the truth about my father, and was rewarded with a flight of birds). Then I walked, I seem to remember, because no bus came, to the small local railway station of Fusaro. And at that sweet little place I had my hair most beautifully cut, and there was also a small internet café.

When I logged on, I discovered that I had a new match on a specialist service of Family Tree DNA relating to my paternal ancestry (or so it seemed).

I immediately emailed the person behind the match, and  quickly received an answer from a Professor Kenneth Nordtvedt who admitted in his email that he was not in fact a match of mine but had been pretending to be one because he belonged to my sub-clade (the genetic group that might come either from England or near the western end of the North German Plain). He was interested, he said, in discovering more about those who belonged to this group. According to him, it was quite rare. I was most startled, even so, that Family Tree DNA would resort to providing me with a false match on such a pretext and from that point on my automatic trust in their services was destroyed.

This Professor Nordtvedt, when I looked him up on the Internet, turned out to be quite a distinguished person, a leading American physicist, with a second string of genealogy to his scientific bow. He had been an adviser to Professor Reagan in the 1980s, and clearly had privileged access to the higher echelons of Family Tree DNA.

Despite the deception, I was thrilled that such a person was taking an interest in me, and thought it might augur well for my researches. But as I proceeded down the coast of Italy and plied Nordtvedt with more and more questions, he was able to tell me little of any interest about my family, while asking me far too much about myself. So our relationship became strained.

My last communication with him was from Reggio di Calabria. I was trying to reach him yet again, with what was by now an almost hysterically hostile message, when I learnt that my Yahoo email account, using the identity of "giannilamere", the one I was using to communicate with him, had been closed. That was the effective end of my relationship with this distinguished, but clearly not very honest, person.

The loss of my stuff in Barcelona, much as it grieved me at the time, led to a lightening of the spirit, and this had its impact on my body, which that July was as fat as it had ever been. I will give just one indication of my change of heart (and body).

At lunchtime on 2nd August 2012 I arrived in Faro, the capital of the Algarve, from somewhere further west, and, very tired and cross, checked into the Afonso III Hotel near the railway station. I then went to the Municipal Theatre to buy a ticket for a concert of German cabaret songs to be given there that night by Ute Lemper. But in the red, hot early evening I lay down in the most comfortable bed in my quiet hotel room. And I remember Ute Lemper and the prospect of hearing her fade into the past, as I moved towards sleep with ever more abandon, joy and certainty.

And with ever more certainty I was moving towards Israel. The time had come, I felt, to try and find out more about my Jewish identity through my mother. I left my home on the evening of 2nd October 2012, by the bus that passes just outside my house at 7.52p.m., the last bus of the evening, that goes only to Cacela, from which there is a train.

I had told Sue Hall, an Algarve cultural publicist who had become interested in me, that I planned only a "little amble" this time to balance my four grand tours. And indeed I began simply by travelling to the northern Portuguese city of Viseu, where I spent a few instructive days. It was not until 30th November 2012 that, having passed through 10 European countries, I took the flight from Athens to Tel Aviv.

I have told the story of my time in Israel quite fully in a previous post, so I will not repeat what I said there about the persecution, including an episode of what I can only call third degree, that I suffered under the hands of an Israeli security team, led by Glenn Bresler, the son of the well-known Fenton Bresler himself a powerful businessman with bases in Israel, South Africa and the United States. I will make only one further point about this episode. Glenn Bresler and his team were quite clear that I was a Jew. This must mean that they were in possession of the details about my maternal ancestry that are only imperfectly known to myself. But if I had been simply a Jew what would have been the point of persecuting me? Surely the fact that they were so zealous in confirming that I was not an anti-semite (and Glenn Bresler finally said that he was satisfied of this) is the clearest possible indication that the Nazi connection also exists, through my father?

Before I close these brief remarks on my Israel and Palestine experience, I will just mention a rather sad circumstance. I related before how, on 28th December 2012, I fled the hostel in Tiberias where the group were holding me a virtual prisoner and made my way into the Palestinian Authority. In order to avoid suspicion when I left, it was essential I carry only what I could get into a single bag, and I was forced to leave most of my luggage in my room. Among the things I left was the tape-recorder with the tape of Michael and Isaura. His voice had come out all too faintly on this tape and hers too insistently. I never saw any of those things again, so whether that tape still exists I cannot confirm.

And I came home ever so gradually from this most important of all my journeys, and as well as Jerusalem the Golden I also passed once more through Athens and Rome, and then on the long and exquisite boat trip  from Cività Vecchia to Barcelona (where I lost no luggage this time) there was a particularly lovely experience,  which I will allow myself to tell, although it has nothing much to do with the subject of this post.I was having lunch, the only customer, in the more luxurious of the two ship restaurants, and the maître d´ was an Italian longing to speak his mother tongue, while the waiter was a Nicaraguan who had a Brazilian girlfriend and was keen to engage me in Portuguese. And since I am perfectly well able to respond in either language, I got the best possible service from the pair of them and felt a real sophisticate into the bargain!

But good times must be paid for in bad (for nature abhors a vacuum) and the long period that I spent in Portugal from January to June 2013 was among the most melancholy of the stretches I passed there. Even the weather was much darker that late winter and spring than it been the previous one, the time that Michael Hupfleit died.

I thought about him sometimes, and the longing came to me to talk to Isaura again, despite Leonor´s warning. We had spent such a pleasant day together, surely it would be contrary to all the laws of politeness for her not to receive me again? Well, perhaps. And that spring I began restlessly travelling back and forth between the Algarve and Lisbon, engaged in yet more researches there into my maternal ancestry. Why not extend one of these journeys to the region where Isaura lived, alone now?

I will go back to tell of a momentous discovery I made in Lisbon that early April in a moment but  now want to continue the story slightly out of sequence, and tell of my second encounter with Isaura, which followed immediately after the strange Lisbon discovery. Once again, I took her a good present, a rather fashionable item that had something to do with Paris (I can´t remember exactly what  now), and I went straight to the town where she lived this time, checking into the best hotel there, a comfortable if rather dark and gloomy place. And the weather was pretty dark and miserable too as I walked from the hotel that very late afternoon and negotiated the roundabout and crossed the stagnant stream beneath the road that led to the modest but but quite prestigious block of flats where the widow Hupfleit lived.

When I reached the door I noticed a strange thing. There was now a nameplate giving Isaura´s full name. It gave her last surname as Hufleit, not Hupfleit. I immediately seized on this as proof in my mind that Hupfleit was an assumed name, and that Michael had pronounced it that way because, since he was a German, it was easier for him. I prepared myself to question Isaura about this when she answered. She did so quickly this time. I was shocked by her appearance. She was wearing a shabby, ill-fitting black dress, had become a lot fatter than before, and was now quite bent. The death of her husband had obviously hit her badly, and she now looked clearly the very old woman she was.

She was very angry that I had come to see her, but I had her cornered, and we spoke for a reasonable length of time on the doorstep as I desperately tried to win her continued friendship. She did not want to accept the present, saying that she hated Paris, but I opened it, and its smartness appealed to her, and she eventually took it. I cannot remember many details of what we said, and I am sure I learnt nothing more about Michael. I think she said that Hufleit always had been his name, and that the idea that he was called Hupfleit was a silly idea of Leonor´s. I told her that I was booked for a few days into the hotel, and we agreed that I might come to see her the following morning.

But when I returned the next day in high hopes, Isaura was not in. And I learnt from one of the neighbours, who was vaguely aware of who I was, that a relation or friend had appeared very early that morning to take her away for a few days.

It was sad to be in that gloomy town for a few days alone, and even the paper shop that Dona Helena had kept was gone, and I wondered if she had died too. But there was a grand municipal event taking place, so I was able to enjoy a magnificent free buffet in Portugal, a country where normally everything has to be paid for, down to the individual pats of butter in a restaurant. And the fact that Isaura had looked so old and helpless helped to humanise her behaviour for me and made me excuse it. The next time I phoned Leonor I said how much I sympathised and asked her to convey my regards to Isaura. Leonor said on that occasion that the name of Isaura´s husband had always been Hupfleit, and that the name Hufleit was unknown to her.

Now back to the momentous discovery.

The reader may remember from a previous post the occasion in Lisbon that April when I suddenly realised that the bridegroom shown in a number of photos of my mother`s wedding was not Arthur Ernest Hills Junior. The man marrying my mother in the photo and A.E. Hills Junior resembled each other very closely, so much so that they could be twins. And an old man appearing in several of the photos was definitely Arthur Ernest Hills Senior

I had been familiar with many photographs of my parents since I was a child, but it had never occurred to me to question whether they might show another man than Arthur, although I seem to remember that the sharp-eyed Francis King, on a visit to my flat, had noticed that the two men in my family photographs were different and had pointed this out in his ironic and offhand way. Perhaps other people noticed it as well, but they did not say it as openly as Francis. I turned aside his comment and he smilingly passed to other matters. So for many years I had never taken notice of what he said. I did so now.

For a long time in middle and later 2013 I used  to look at the photos again and again to try and check whether my belief that they were separate men was not just another illusion. And many more photographs arrived at my house in November that year to complicate the enquiry. The strangeness of what I had discovered was so great that my mind had to try and confirm it again and again, and a small part of me still does not believe what I know to be true.

It was only on my visit to London in late 2013, when I showed photos of Arthur and the other man to a Chinese couple with whom I have long been friendly, and the woman noticed that the men had noses of entirely different shapes, that I could be utterly certain that there were two men involved, Arthur Ernest Hills, who had officially married my mother, and the other man who had really done so.

And, then, later on, I was talking to an old friend of my mother's in Altura, and he confirmed to me that my mother had told him that the man shown marrying my mother in the photos was my father, not Arthur Ernest Hills. And my aunt and the woman who lives near the centre of Lisbon, although they sometimes revert to the official version that my father was A.E. Hills, have acknowledged by way of various conversations that he was not. The woman from the centre of Lisbon once asked me, for instance, whether I thought the two men were brothers, and gave a deep indrawn sigh when I said I thought they had not only been brothers but twins. And I was once talking to my aunt about my father, and she suddenly said, "You know very well who it was," "tu sabes muito bem quem foi."

My realisation that Arthur had not been my father was a very gradual business, and I think the whole process ran from about the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011 until towards the end of 2013. I suppose it would take anyone a long time fully to accept that something so fantastic was the truth, especially when they have been familiar with a much more conventional and normal version of events since childhood.

I was very alone, always travelling, physically present with every new person for a limited stretch of time, talking to others on a time limit over the phone, and the people to whom I tried to explain these things sometimes did not know me well, often had little knowledge of my family, and limited patience with the complexity of the situation. And in the case of my expert advisor Mr Adolph, and in several others, they cherished a barely-concealed belief that I was suffering from delusion and wishful thinking. My alienation from so many people that I knew took shape during this period because of the issue of my parenthood.

At around the time of the realisation at Lisbon, Mr Adolph had persuaded me to undertake another test to try to demonstrate to me the truth of my Kentish paternal ancestry. This was the Family Tree DNA family finder test, and my DNA was being matched with that of Susan Lakeman from the Medway Towns, the grand-daughter of the great-aunt Connie whom I had encountered in childhood. I had not met Susan Lakeman at this time, but was in touch with her by email and she kindly agreed to help.

The results arrived one day in that very early summer when I had gone to Faro and was intending to see an afternoon film. I logged on to the internet that lunchtime, and saw the confirmation that Susan Lakeman was indeed a second or third cousin of mine. Once again, Mr Adolph was to seize on this as proof positive that the Kentish ancestry through Arthur Ernest Hills was the correct one, and if I had not seen that the man in the photo was not Arthur only a few weeks before, I would have been forced to admit that Adolph was correct and would have been in despair at this unwelcome parent. But now I knew that stranger matters were afoot.

For I was moving slowly towards a truth that for quite a long time had been staring me in the face. At some point - I do not remember exactly when, or where the telephone box was  - I put through what proved to be a particularly important phone call to Leonor. I was making my usual rather desperate and undirected enquiries about my father, she was responding in an uncertain and increasingly alarmed way, and then she said, "I remember one thing for certain, your mother met your father on a tube train."

It was on that tube train, she went on with absolute conviction, that my parents had met. It was there that the gallant gentleman who had been my father had sprung to my mother's aid. It was he who had so persistently courted her. Could that be Arthur? I asked. Leonor would not say. But she had never heard of any meeting at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand. If that had happened, it must have been later. And it was not the first meeting between my parents.

Early that June of 2013 I planned to leave Portugal again and go on another roundabout tour of Europe, the exact outlines of which were unclear to me. I planned to start in Lisbon and go northwards from there, probably by train, perhaps by bus. And perhaps I would try to see Isaura a third time.What good would that do me? What could she tell me about who her late husband had been to me that I did not already know in my heart?

In Lisbon I stayed at the George V Hotel, where I had been a hotel guest for many years. It had been recommended to me many years before by my good friend, Professor Harold Livermore, who had now died but who used to stay at the place from the 1960s, ever since it opened. Even the young barman at the cosy bar remembered the professor and knew I was his friend, as did all the staff. That young barman used to say that I was like a son of the house. I loved the dark rooms with their old-fashioned bath-tubs. And the chief receptionist, Sr Luís Lopes, was a twinkling middle-aged worldly-wise Portuguese who was like a good uncle to me.

On the lunchtime before I was due to leave Lisbon  - it was 6th June 2013 - I asked Senhor Lopes whether I could put through a call on the hotel telephone. He smilingly agreed. I rang Leonor. She answered. At a certain point I mentioned Michael. Then I thought: it´s now or never! I asked her: "Was that man my father?"`

"Of course he was!`` she said. "Of course he was!"

And what did I say then? And what did she reply? I can't remember. I remember the face of Senhor Lopes as he watched me. And perhaps something of what I felt communicated itself to that smiling Portuguese. Did he know that I was trembling with happiness, almost bursting with ecstasy? Oh, of course he did!

There were three times in my life that I knew my father. The first was when I was a baby. It was he who had comforted my mother when she got her finger stuck in the door of the tube train, he who lived with us, first at the unhappy place in Stockwell where I was conceived, kept by Poles, and later at 19, Hornsey Rise, the house of a branch of the Maccariello family, from Casapulla near Naples. He came down to live with us in Crawley, the new town to which we moved when I was nine or ten months old.

He wrote a charming little book, a small blue album half-filled with his handwriting, about my earliest life. He gave it a title in Portuguese, "Diário de Carlinhos", "The diary of little Charles". It's about our life at Hornsey Rise and in Crawley and the sweet things I said and did and his love for me. It is written in good, careful English, but with many mistakes of idiom such as could only come from a foreigner.

The last section of the book, which is written in the past tense, mentions that I was then 20 months old, which would have been in about April 1957. It is therefore likely to be very soon after that he left us.

Some time in the summer of that year, and perhaps in June, at least five of us - he, my mother, myself, my aunt Eva and the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, and perhaps one other person - went by boat from England to Lisbon. The small photograph album I still have of the event shows he who was with us on this journey, not A.E. Hills. I surmise that tensions that arose on this journey, as well as his constant womanising, led to his leaving my mother and his replacement in our lives by the less impressive man.

In the front of the little album is my father's co-op number, so I presume he must have sent it to my mother in retrospect, perhaps offering some financial support through the Co-op. I still have this little book and hope to hell I never lose it. I have lost so many things in my carelessness and distraction.

The second time I met him was when I was about nine or ten years old, which would place this incident in about 1964 or 1965. I had a great desire to see the places where I had been born and had lived as a baby and my mother and I, without Arthur, came up to the place where the woman who now lives in the centre of Lisbon then lived, which was in St John's Wood.

There my father joined us. I know that this event really happened, because the woman who then lived in St John's Wood has confirmed that it did. My own memory of it exists, but is phantasmagorical and frightening. I still have a photograph of myself standing between my mother and her friend by a lake, which is perhaps the lake in Regent's Park. The woman has confirmed that this photograph was taken by my father.

My father and I left the two women, and went towards the area where we had lived our shared life. And I remember being with him in what must have been Waterlow Park, which is partly beneath and partly above the church where my parents were married and I was christened, and above the Whittington Hospital, where I was born. I think I probably believed I was with Arthur, because the two men looked so similar. But they were different, and this must have frightened me. And when we reached what I seem to remember was the bottom end of the park, overlooking the hospital and near to the church, I said something like, "I have to go back to my father now."

And he said, "I am your father."

And I shouted at him, "No, you're not! You're not my father! I want to go back to my Dad!"

I remember nothing more than this, but I can still see the look of shock and horror on his face.

On August 29th, 1964, my father married Isaura at St Mary's Church, Clapham, both of them having addresses in nearby Balham. I believe it may have been the sadness caused by his meeting with me which made my father choose to seek a life entirely elsewhere.

The day when I reached him just nine or ten weeks before his death was the third act of our father and son drama. I would not have missed that day for the world. For I have tangible memories of him now and know that he was a good man who was exposed to hateful experiences in his young manhood.

And perhaps it is just as well that our relationship in its three phases was so unsatisfactory. My mother once told me that my father had been a terrible man, but that his father was ten times worse. And a friend of mine once said to me (she was referring to Arthur, whom she believed to be my father, but it applies to Michael as well) that both my parents had been terrifying people but that I was ten times more terrifying than the two of them put together.

I think and hope she was exaggerating, but nevertheless perhaps it is best that I remember my father from the sweet little album he wrote, the ghostly figure he presented in the park, and the old man who cried when he met me. Because I would not wish to be any more terrifying than I am, as I might have been if I had fully known this totally adequate man in childhood.

Now back to my  narrative of the year 2013. As I said, my telephone call to Leonor was on the day before I was due to leave Lisbon for the journey northwards. Now I was desperate to see Isaura again and confront her with my knowledge that her husband had been my father. This time I went straight to her flat from where the bus dropped me, carrying my heavy bags. I had bought her another present, but do not now remember what it was, only that blue wrapping was around it.

This time it was naked fury when she answered the door. She threw the present away from her into the yard. She ordered me to leave her premises immediately and, when I said I wanted to talk, threatened to call the police. She had someone with her, in the background, a younger woman, a person whose exact identity I do not know but who I was later to learn was now looking after her during the day times. Both of them quickly left the flat, leaving me standing on the doorstep. After a while they returned with a group of policemen who asked me who I was. I told them that Isaura's husband had been my father, and they asked me if she was my mother. Policemen are pretty sarcastic in Portugal.

They ordered me to move away to a distance in the yard and I went with the present in its blue wrapping. I could see the pair of women explaining the situation to the police. The officers reached their decision. They took me away, I think in their car, and I left the present behind in the yard as the two women went back into the flat. The policemen were friendlier now, but warned me, when they stopped the car, that if I were ever to come back to see Isaura I would be arrested. This was of course a most serious threat, because I was on the run from the police in my own country.

The policemen asked me if I wanted a taxi, I said yes, and they called one for me. They escorted me to it, introduced me to the driver, and I asked him to take me to a nearby place where there was a railway station, from which I continued my journey.

That general European tour of the summer of 2013. the sixth such tour I had made in those years, was, like its predecessor, more a voyage of personal discovery than a journey devoted purely to pleasure. I visited five countries, and in the first four of these: France, Belgium, Germany and Greece (I visited Italy, as usual, to round the tour off), I had a specific purpose for my visit..In France, instance, I had been asked by the BBC to contribute to a Radio 4 programme about the Psalms, which I did with great pleasure at their studio grandly situated near the Etoile.

I will relate from this tour only the further fact that from Heidelberg I made my last phone call to Anthony Adolph, which followed by one of the uneasy and barbed emails that were typical of our relationship. I had parted with my Portuguese researcher, on more amicable terms, the autumn before. From that time also I started resisting the bargain offers from Family Tree DNA to take part in ever more recondite and inconclusive tests, and more or less stopped looking at their website. From now on, I determined, any help I accepted with my family research would be free and on my own terms. And, if people proved unable or unwilling to help me, I would take on any tasks myself for which I felt fit.

I have written before that I suffered a sudden injury to my leg on my return from the summer 2013 journey, and how I entered what I called my "quiet time", in August, September and October that year, when I just allowed myself to live entirely as I wished in Altura, because I could hardly walk anyway and such people as were available were not generally welcoming. It was a blessed period, a time for lying in bed and sitting on the sofa and at my garden table, a time for reading and music and Christian study, more than 12 weeks, 84 full nights, entirely at the house, the longest period I had ever stayed there, or am likely to stay there again.

Such society as I enjoyed during this period was mainly concentrated at the Snack-Bar Piri-Piri in Altura, where the owner, a buxom middle-aged artificially blonde woman who called herself Arlete -  according to one source she had previously been a prostitute in Spain - presided with a mixture of slatternly attentiveness and occasional sharpness over a motley crew of Portuguese, Bulgarians and English in the overcrowded and slightly smelly indoor premises and the narrow terrace outside above the steps.

On the latter the alcoholic old woman D. Isabel often sat alone. I sometimes joined here at her vigil, and we were often disturbed by the approach of a younger alcoholic and former druggy whom she greatly disliked but whom I had befriended, a man called Joaquim Agostinho, known by the nickname of  "O Breba", who a few years before had been recognised on the Altura beach by two English girls as being one of the kidnappers of Madeleine McCann featured on photofits sponsored by Kate and Gerry McCann on their website and widely publicised elsewhere.

This was at a period when the British police had not yet set up Operation Grange, and Joaquim had gone on Portuguese television to protest that he had nothing to do with the kidnapping, had won an immense amount of sympathy from the Portuguese public, and had hardly been questioned at all by the Portuguese police.

As it happened, my "quiet time" coincided with the period when the Madeleine McCann case, now subject to the full attentions of Operation Grange, seemed to be reaching a climax. There was a very high-profile Crimewatch programme, and arrests seemed to be imminent. I myself had long been interested in the case, and longed for Madeleine to be found, although I did not believe that Joaquim, who was a total blabbermouth and very disordered in his personal life, as well as being basically a good-hearted person, was likely to have anything to do with it. He was certainly a very active drug smuggler in a small way, but that was true of so many people in Altura.

I tried in my totally amateur and disconnected manner to find out as much as I could about Madeleine, and used sometimes to ask Joaquim about the case, but with no perceptible result. He seemed more sympathetic towards the McCanns, though, than the Portuguese public in general. And when I read in the press that six professional and enthusiastic Portuguese detectives had been recruited to work alongside the British police I experienced a slight chill, because I knew so well from bitter personal experience the Portuguese capacity for pretending to be what they were not and the deep servility and shamelessness that runs through their society.

At this period a middle-aged and heavily alcoholic Englishwoman called Coral joined the circle at Snack-Bar Piri-Piri. She claimed to have had her two children stolen from her by her ex-husband and to have rented a place in Altura to rebuild her life, and she spent quite a lot of time walking her dog Smiler on the Altura beach. I became quite friendly with her, but after a while she vanished. The story was that she had taken up with Senhor António José, an unprepossessing and rather sinister middle-aged Portuguese who had been Arlete's previous paramour, that she had gone to live with him at his home in some unspecified place, and then perhaps that the two of them had gone to live abroad. But I had no proof that any of this was the case, and it did occur to me to wonder whether Coral had suffered a more sinister fate at the hands of the rascally crew who gathered at Snack-Bar Piri-Piri.

Running on a bit into 2014, I will mention that I was to employ Senhor António José to do some work at my house early in that year, but he made such an appalling job of it, and Arlete was so indifferent to his poor workmanship, that this led to my leaving the Piri-Piri social circle, in which an immense amount of money was now being taken off me by the most varied means.

Towards the end of 2014 Arlete closed the Snack-Bar Piri-Piri and went off to parts unknown, as did many of the other people connected with the bar, including her dangerous boyfriend Alex, whom she gave out to be a Bulgarian, but who according to another source is a Russian. He suffered a near-fatal attack in the streets of Altura at one point, and, according to the same source, has gone back to Russia and is working in a factory there. I was myself threatened several times by handsome Alex, so am delighted that he is probably in Russia and exercising his talents for masculine charm and violence there.

And I will now tell of a most shocking event that took place in Altura towards the end of 2014. At a period slightly after the closure of Snack-Bar Piri-Piri, on the night of 11th to 12th October 2014, there was a huge fire at Joaquim's house and he suffered seventy per cent burns, injuries of which he died about two weeks later. I had meanwhile left Altura on 19th November when he was in the intensive burns unit in Porto and was to be arrested at Gatwick the following day, which was shortly before Jaoquim's death.

The official story was that Joaquim had committed suicide, but I had seen him selling drugs in Cacela on the day immediately preceding the fire and he had seemed perfectly cheerful. It is my personal belief that he was murdered to prevent him telling what he knew about any of the many criminal matters with which he was involved. I just hope that it was not his friendship with me that led to him being killed.

I mention all this because it seems to me possibly relevant to broader concerns, but I now go back to the immediate subject-matter of my family history and to the circumstances which led to the end of the "quiet time" in autumn 2013.

For almost four years a vast amount of the stuff I had once possessed in my London flat had been in store in a warehouse in Clapham, under the charge of my friend Bill Hicks, who had acted as my power of attorney in selling the flat. I had been chary of bringing it over to Portugal, because I longed to leave the country for ever. But now it was clear to me that my exit from Portugal was not imminent, that I was paying a fortune to store the stuff in London, that Bill was anxious to be rid of the responsibility for it, and that it contained many things which could be of interest to me at my house and be helpful to my family research. So, towards the end the "quiet time", after some thought, I decided to have the stuff brought over, and Bill was successful in finding a good firm to undertake the work.

At this same period I also planned yet again to visit the region where my father had lived, this time with the purpose of seeing his grave, if I could find it (it would perhaps be in the town cemetery), and also of obtaining his death certificate at the town hall, to see what information I could glean from this. In Portugal the traditional day for visiting the graves of family dead is 1st November, All Saints Day, not November 2nd, All Souls, although the latter seemed to me, perhaps wrongly, a more appropriate day. My stuff was arriving at my house on 4th November, a Monday, so, if I visited the grave at the traditional period, I would need to travel back from the region of my father's death on the 3rd. And I decided to leave my house on October 30th, a Thursday, giving myself time to collect the certificate on the following day before undertaking the visit to the grave on one of the two days after that.

That was the end of the "quiet time". I told the people at Snack-Bar Piri-Piri, with which I was still at that point associated, that I was going to visit my mother's grave, which lay in the region where she had been born, between Mafra and Ericeira, considerably to the south of where my father had lived.

I chose to stay in the small town with the railway station, and I went up by train, and planned to execute my journeys within the region entirely by taxi, using  the network of local drivers whose acquaintance I had made, whom I would swear to secrecy as regards Isaura. According to one of the drivers, she spent much of her time peering through her net curtains to see who was in what cars might be passing. If we drove past her flat, I would shield my head under the dashboard, I resolved.

I was able to obtain my father's death certificate without difficulty, and it gave me the date of death I have mentioned, and the funeral, according to Portuguese custom, would have been the following day. The certificate gave his surname as Hufleit, not Hupfleit, so my surmise that he had used the name Hupfleit because, as a German, it would have been easier for him to pronounce, must have been correct.

The certificate gave his date of birth as being  6th June 1922, which would make Leonor wrong about his being ninety at the time of his death (which I did not think she was), and said that he was the son of Valerian and Antonia Hufleit and had been born in a place called Dalhinow in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Clearly, no such place existed there, so that was one evident falsehood in the certificate.

But there was a place that had once been called Dalhinow, when it had been a place in Poland. It was now called Dolginovo, because it was in Belarus, in a rural area north of Vilna, a small place that had once been almost entirely a Jewish "shtetl" within the Pale of Settlement of the Tsarist Empire, and was later right on the border between Poland and what had become the Soviet Union. It was a place from which vast numbers of Jews had emigrated, while almost all the remainder were massacred by the Nazis in autumn 1942.

I found all this out quite quickly, from the Internet. And I had a Polish friend, a cultivated and moneyed person who lived in Dorset, who was able to do research for me in what Polish and British records there were, about Mieczyslaw Hufleit. My friend discovered that he had clearly been a real person, born on the date mentioned on the death certificate, in the said place, and and with the said parents. He had fought in the Second World War in the British Army, with the a Polish unit called the Third Carpathian Rifles, in Italy.

This person was later recorded as having married Isaura in 1964, which my father certainly had done, and as having been employed as an electrical engineer, which was my father´s profession, as having been naturalised British in 1968, as my father surely was, and with an address at that time of 104 Stapledon Road, Balham, London SW17, which was as likely as anywhere else to be where my father had lived.

But, as I have indicated, I do not believe my father was Mieczyslaw Hufleit. He was using that name. He was not naturalised British until 1968, so the assumption of identity could theoretically have taken place at any period up to that date. But there is an obvious time when it might have happened. My father fought in Italy, so did Hufleit. At the end of the war, and just after it, there was immense confusion in the area of the North Italian Plain, with retreating Germans, advancing Allies, Communist and nationalist partisans, and people who just wanted to save themselves, all wandering about and sometimes coming to deadly blows.

If a stray Polish soldier, fighting for the British, had walked into a ambush of  retreating Germans, what would have happened to him? What would have happened to his uniform? And in what uniform would his own body have been dressed? Clearly I don't need to say.

And I will be asked, as I was by my cultivated Polish friend, shocked by my story and my surmises, how I can be sure that my father was a German and not the Pole that he ostensibly appeared to be, the identity  that was accepted as being correct by the British authorities (they did not know the difference between a German and a Pole). After all, the woman who originally told me the story said the connection was Polish.

Well, there are many proofs, or at least indications, and I will summarise them under three main counts.

The first and the most convincing of all is that the genetic research conducted by Family Tree DNA into my paternal line on the Y-chromosome shows no trace at all of Polish or Jewish ancestry but places my father's line within a sub-clade confined almost entirely either to England or to the very western end of the North German Plain. The second count is that my father always called himself Hupfleit rather than Hufleit which he surely never would have done if he really had been the soldier from the Jewish shtetl in far eastern Poland. He also said his first name was Michael which is not the English equivalent of the name Mieczyslaw. There is a Polish version of Michael, although I do not know it. The third proof is that I met my father and, as I have said, he was nothing at all like what you would expect from the scion of an eastern European shtetl but every inch like a former German soldier who answered every question with a muttered "Ja", and who Leonor once told me, with her characteristic bluntness, fought in the German army rather than any patriotic Polish unit.

And I will just expand on a fourth indication, which is in some ways just as convincing as the other three. When I was a teenager, my mother went to night school to learn German and, although the grammar of the language entirely defeated her, she took great pride in being able to speak it and in later years had many German friends, including several who lived near her in Altura, two of whom were an elderly former Sudeten German woman and her husband, who lived just across the road. I myself, when I was about 14 or 15 years old, was sent to a German woman piano teacher who lived in Crawley. She had been a young piano student in Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. I asked her if she had been frightened by all the bombing and she said she had enjoyed it. I understood her reaction. And I was to follow my mother in having a passion for all things German from about the age of 18, and grew particularly to love Lieder, or German art song. I too have made a determined attempt to learn the language, and love to speak it at every opportunity, although, like my mother, I have only mastered the grammar at a simple level. When I finally took possession of Mum's house, I too became friendly with the Sudeten German lady, by then a widow in extreme old age. I thrilled to her stories of escaping the Russians in 1945 on a convenient plane. I felt very German indeed as I talked to her in our shared language of those heroic and tragic days.

Neither my mother nor myself ever showed the slightest interest in things Polish, although I do love Chopin.

Having gleaned what I could from the death certificate, the next task was to arrange to visit my father's grave, and one of the taxi drivers was able to learn from a friend of his where it was. It was not in the town cemetery as I had vaguely expected, but lay in quite a faraway city in a very large municipal cemetery where there was a special area called the "roseiral", the "place of the rose", because the bones of a large number of people lay entirely mingled there in an area which was marked only by a single rose.

It would have been possible to reach this place by train, but the journey would have taken all day and would have left me only a very short time to be at my father's grave. So I was persuaded to pay for a very expensive round journey by the same taxi driver, and to go to the place on the traditional Portuguese day of 1st November.

And perhaps it was just as well, because I found it an alienating experience to stand by the entirely anonymous expanse of brown earth marked by the rose on a terribly cold and wet afternoon, and both the taxi driver and I almost entirely forgot the words of the Our Father and the Hail Mary in our respective languages, I think because we both felt so bad. But how much more awful if I had stood there alone!

(Just a brief and rather strange aside at this point. It is extremely surprising how often the word rose comes up, in various languages, in my family history, and also just generally in my life. Perhaps the latter  is not as surprising as all that, because in the Latin languages Rosa or Rose can be a woman's Christian name or a surname for both sexes and it is also the ordinary word meaning "pink".

But, nevertheless, in Portugal one is constantly seeing the word in many contexts, and overhearing it in conversation. In Altura, where I live, it usually comes up in the form "O Rosa" (which could a reference to a man called Rosa, or known by the nickname of The Rose), and in the Algarve more generally the word often appears topographically in the form Monte Rosa, which is the name of  a Nazi ship which was captured by the British during the Second World War and later became the SS Empire Windrush. I believe Monte Rosa may be the code-word for an extensive criminal network based on Portugal's southernmost province.

And the instances of roses in my own family history are also very numerous. For instance the man who possessed my house, and whom I tried to kill, is called Flávio Rosa, which appears to be an assumed name, because it was not the surname of either of his ostensible parents, and, according to the story my mother told, he first drew her attention by coming to cut her hedge and then laying on it a single rose. And her maiden name was Reis, and if this is a Jewish surname, as I believe it is, that is only another form of Rosa.

And three of the six original matches on my father's line on Family Tree DNA, all Americans, have the surname Rose. And Arthur Ernest Hills had a daughter called Rose and married a woman called Rosie Rhoder. And I could go on, and perhaps I shall return to the possible significance of the Rose in my story in a later post. But, if I were to go into it now, vast numbers of readers would dismiss me as hopelessly prone to conspiracy theories, and my story is fantastic enough already, so I shall leave this subject for the present.)

So going back to my account of the chill visit to my father's region, I now had 2nd November to kill, and the friendly taxi driver, with whom I had now formed a bond, persuaded me to undertake a few more journeys, and we passed Isaura´s flat and I hid my head under the dashboard as I had planned, and we had a good laugh about this, and then he offered to buy me lunch, which cheered me up, because I had now spent a fortune on him. Then he drove me back to the uncomfortable and old-fashioned small hotel where I was staying, but the old couple who kept it were friendly, and we all had a good chat together about my father.

And the next day held the pleasure of my leaving their grim room and travelling back through dark and rainy Portugal to my own house, and the following morning, when again it was wet, I was standing outside the house and suddenly I saw the lorry rounding the corner which was bringing so much of my precious stuff from the London flat where I had lived for so many years. And a lovely Indian summer began from that time, as I gradually renewed acquaintance with my things.

Which shall I mention of the possessions in the 104 boxes that were allegedly arriving (Bill had mentioned this figure) and which the two burly workmen piled up on top of each other so closely packed in one spare room that it was to take months even to unload the stuff? Well, very early on, I found a pink bag with memorabilia of the Australian trip I had made in 2005, and in it was a card I had bought at the Circular Quay in Sydney of a most beautiful bronzed young Aussie surfer and that card has gone with me on almost all my travels since. Quite often it is the very last thing that goes into the bags when I am about to set off yet again. And how many a bleak hotel room table has my bronzed Aussie brightened up!

But I think perhaps it was 103 boxes that arrived rather than 104, because a certain number of things that were in my London flat never arrived, and I believe that to lose them for ever was the will of God. One of them was a formal photograph of my mother, glamorous and smiling, which stood on my finest bookcase at my London flat for so many years. When I left there for ever on 16th October 2009, I decided not to take this photograph with me, although I easily could have done, because it weighed little enough. But I did not really want it. But if I had known this would mean that I would lose it for ever, surely I would have taken it.

I will just mention one strange and slightly sinister thing. On 5th October I was inveigled once again into having lunch at the Snack-Bar Piri-Piri, which also meant paying for the lunch of the old woman Dona Isabel, and when we were alone on the terrace she told me that Arlete had told her that I had been to visit my father's grave, not my mother's grave, as I had told them. And, although I later questioned Arlete, I was never to find out how they knew that I had been to this region, and how they had found it out so soon.

The following day, I went to have lunch with my equally expensive restaurant-keeper friends Josefa and António in Monte Gordo, and after lunch I once again phoned Leonor from that place. She was becoming more hostile and uncommunicative these days, perhaps because she was beginning to suffer from dementia, and also perhaps because Isaura had been getting at her, blaming her for what she had told me and trying to get her to take it back. She never did this, but she was most reluctant to tell me more.

And, putting the phone down on her, and thinking about all the grim people I knew in Portugal, and the unsatisfactory life I lived there, the sudden resolve came to me that I must risk arrest and visit England so that I could talk to Leonor in person and get her to tell me more about all the people in the photographs I now had.

And during that November I unpacked as many of the boxes as I could, and began to arrange my huge libraries of books and records in the dusty, dirty rooms, and I did not mention to a soul that on 30th November I would be setting out, and I did not even confide it to my diary. But a few days before I went, I took comfort from a flight of birds going westward overhead as I came back to my house in the quiet evening along my silent street with the bag of clothes from the laundry that was to go with me on my journey.

I have told before of the first illicit winter trip I made to London, in the fifteenth post of my blog, called "The Seventh Journey". This was the title I gave it because I had made six huge tours in the four years before that. The following post tells something of my second, summer, stay in London. And the present one has given details of the third sojourn in my home city, after my release from prison.

There were also trips to the Azores and Madeira in 2014, the eighth and tenth journeys respectively, and the eleventh journey was the long one towards imprisonment and the hostel. And while I have been writing the present account I made what I thought was a magnificent (if strangely humdrum) twelfth trip, to four countries in South America - Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina - and wrote much of what you are reading there. I believe this will be the last of the journeys I shall make from the house. From the 13th journey I shall not return.

So many numbers of journeys and posts! Will that really be the end of all my to-ing and fro-ing, you may ask, dear reader! Will I be settling down then? I really don't know. But, for the moment, hoping not to try your patience further, I shall leave the chronological approach, because I think it would not help in the elucidation of  what I still have to tell. I shall close the post with a little more narrative, the story of my leaving England again in 2016, a pleasant note, I hope, on which to end.

I shall introduce this new section with a memory from the month after the arrival of all my things at the house. At a certain point I found there a photograph which I knew had been taken at the last birthday party that I had given at my flat, on 21st August 2009. It showed a youngish man who bore a strong resemblance to myself, particularly since I had lost so much weight in prison, but whom I did not immediately recognise.

Then it came to me. This was Chris Hills, the son of Arthur Ernest Hills Junior by Kathleen Berg, whom I had always believed was my half-brother. But how come the resemblance between us was so strong if I was the son of the totally unrelated German posing as the Pole Mieczyslaw Hufleit? However, there was one striking difference between our faces. Like my father and Arthur, we had a different shape of nose. Chris had Arthur's nose, and I had my father's nose. And my father and I shared the shape of nose of Arthur Ernest Hills Senior.

The reader will remember that the Arthur and my father bore a close resemblance to each other, so much so that they could be twins. And they seemed to have worked together closely as regards my mother. The only records of any marriages that my mother made record the bridegroom as Arthur, but all the photographs of any weddings or other occasions before about summer 1957, which often include an image of myself, show my father. However, Arthur Ernest Hills was the man named on my birth certificate as the parent and, although a photograph I possess of my christening on 2nd October 1955 ows my father, on the documents, once again, Arthur is recorded as the parent of the baptised child.

All these factors, taken together, show that the two men worked together closely at every stage in matters concerning my mother and myself and were in no sense, except possibly a very sublimated one in the case of Arthur, rivals for her affections.

It is impossible to tell for certain whether at my mother's first wedding, which took place on 11th September 1954 at the Register Office in Hendon, she really married Arthur, her official groom, or whether my father impersonated him. The available evidence is complex and finely balanced, there are no photographs which can be assigned with certainty to this wedding, and the remaining witnesses will not speak.

My own feeling is that my mother would have known what man she wanted and gone for him. The question has some potential practical importance, because whomever my mother married first was her real husband, and if it was my father, this makes his later marriage to Isaura bigamous and any inheritance she had from him by virtue of being his wedded wife legally invalid.

I went to the Hendon Register Office in the summer of 2014, and persuaded them to make a copy of the original document in their possession, something they were not officially supposed to do. The handwriting of the groom looks slightly more like my father's writing than that of Arthur. But just as their appearance was similar so was their handwriting, and the sample is very small. By the way, this document also has a small but certain sample of the handwriting of Arthur Ernest Hills Senior. He was an official witness.

Of the second marriage, which took place at St Joseph's Church, Highgate Hill, some time around April or May 1955 (possibly on 21st May), and which was the real marriage of my parents, there are many photographs but no absolutely certain documentary record (see my post "The seventh journey" for a possible identification of the ceremony and the names used by the participants.)

And the third marriage, also at St Joseph's, on November 13th, 1955, was officially to Arthur, and may have been really to him, because, according to the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, the church insisted on a Catholic wedding after my baptism on 2nd October, and would have been likely to make sure of perfect documentation and legality this time. And Concetta McLorg, from the Maccariello family, a staunch Catholic in whose house my parents were then living, arranged the occasion. However, there is no photographic evidence that could finally settle the matter, and it is possible that for a third and final time my mother married my father, for the second time under the guise of Arthur.

On the electoral roll Arthur Ernest Hills is recorded as living with my mother and myself at 19, Hornsey Rise, but the little book that my father wrote, as well as several photographs, and the evidence I am about to adduce, show that it was he, not Arthur, who did so. At the time of the register office wedding, Arthur was living at 23 Taviton Street, near Euston Station, and the rich Jewess for whom my mother worked in Hendon warned her never to have anything to do with a man who lived in a street near Euston Station. The evidence I am about to bring forward shows for certain that he continued to live at Taviton Street while allegedly married to my mother.

Now my aunt Eva is shown by a document in my possession as having gained permission to enter Britain in December 1954, to work for another rich Hendon Jewish family, so her arrival cannot have been before  about the beginning of 1955. My mother and Arthur often used to tell a funny story when I was a child about an episode playing cards with Aunt Eva when they were first married. She did not speak English very well, and as more and more cards were being dealt she grew more and more excited and finally began shouting hysterically, "Play the arse! Play the arse!"

This story was was always set firmly by my mother and Arthur in Taviton Street, ergo he must still have been living there in 1955 when according to the records and other evidence he was living either at Hornsey Rise, or before that at Stockwell, or at another possible address between the two.

When my father left us, probably before I was two years old, and possibly in about June 1957, Arthur seems seamlessly to have taken his place. I know for certain that this must have happened before the end of that year, because during the third stay in London I went down to Crawley and spoke to a neighbour of ours from when I was a child, Mrs Parr. She was still living in her old house at the age of about ninety, her husband having died at a similarly great age a few years before..

Mrs Parr confirmed that she had moved into her house from one nearby in the later part of 1957 and that the only man she had ever known to have lived as a husband with my mother was Arthur. She pored over the photographs for some time and was finally able to see that they showed two different men, and she also made the point that Mr Hupfleit and Isaura would never have received me if he had not been my father. But she herself had never known him. She was delighted to see me, by the way, and I her.

I am now going to tell of a memory that I have never told anyone. It seems to me right that I should mention this for the first time in my blog. What you tell just anyone so frequently does not give you the reaction that you want. There so often seems to be no particular person who is receptive to what you have to say. Better to try to broadcast it to the whole world, so that anyone who has ears to hear may hear. That is the whole principle on which I am writing this blog.

When I first attempted to be a writer my mother was fearful that I had chosen so unremunerative a profession, and slightly scornful of my efforts, but when I had a few things published - which was from the late 1970s onwards - she began to be interested. Once when I was visiting her (I think this happened in one of her houses in Crawley, which would place the memory before October 1983), she said she had a s story to tell me which she wanted me to write down and turn into a story of my own.

It was a most beautiful story, she said, but also tragic. I was very concerned for my independence as a writer at that time, and said I could only write the stories that were in me to write.

But she persisted. She said that the story concerned a pair of twins who were separated at birth but then many years later they met again. I said that was quite a hackneyed story, versions of which had been told by many writers many times. And she said, looking at me, that this story concerned me personally, and that one day I might be very glad that I had listened to her and written it.

And I told her that the story was her story and that she must write it herself. It was her story, she said, but also mine. She went on for quite a long time trying to persuade me to write it and said she would give me all the details to enable me to make it really good. But I was adamant that I wanted nothing to do with her story.

And the irony is that so many years after her death I am trying to write that story. Because of course the story she wanted to tell me.was the story of the twins who were my father and my uncle, the men known in later life as Hupfleit and as Arthur Ernest Hills.

There was one other time that my mother tried to tell me who my father had been. This memory dates from before the other one, from a period when I think I was living with my mother at home, which probably places it in the later part of 1977. My mother and I were parked in her car outside Crawley Cinema, or what once had been that establishment, where some years before I had had a most unsuccessful job as a cinema assistant.

The memory of this job set me to reminiscing about past events and I told my mother how much I had always loved the story that she had met my father at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand. It seemed such a romantic place for them to have met. And I think she began to tell me that she had not met my father at the ballroom but on the tube train. But I was so disturbed to have my romantic story rejected that I wanted nothing to do with her even more romantic one. And she abruptly drove the car away.

And, unless you count the time when I was a child, when she pointed towards the church where she had been married, those were the only times that my mother tried to tell me about my real father. I suppose it would have been difficult for her to have this story uncovered, and also difficult for my relations, including Arthur Ernest Hills and Michael. And perhaps it would have gone hard with me too when I was a teenager in the 1960s to have it known that my father had been a German soldier in the Second World War.

Would I have wanted to know the truth about my background during the time when the three principal figures were still alive? In many ways I don't think so. There are still people living, including myself, who could be damaged by this truth. I myself have suffered from several people through my efforts to bring it to light. They have been hurt, contemptuous, angry. But my mother, my father and my uncle are beyond being touched, and this frees me to go on. I will try to protect people who might be hurt, and soothe down those who do not like the story, but I now want to go full steam ahead to make the truth known.

Now, assuming that the two men really were twins (and I do realise of course that there cannot be absolute  certainty of this), I want to summarise what can be deduced or inferred from that fact. Now my father was a German, which means that Arthur must originally have been a German too. But because he had no trace of a German accent and did not know German, he must have arrived in England and assumed the identity of Arthur Hills junior before the age of eight. His recorded birth date was 6th January 1925, and his real date of birth would be fairly unlikely, perhaps, to diverge very far from this, so in that case he would have been eight years old at the time of the Nazi takeover in 1933.

The alert reader may notice a contradiction at this point. This is that I believe that my father was probably born in 1921 and also that the two men were twins. Since I believe them both to be persons of assumed identity, I cannot of course be sure of the birth dates of either of them. It may be that my father was not born at the early date and that this story arose because of the real birth date of Mieczyslaw Hufleit. It may be that the two men were brothers or half-brothers rather than twins. I suppose it is also possible that Arthur was passed off as a child of about seven when he was in fact about eleven, and this would make two very strange facts seem more reasonable: that he was allowed to make the bus journey alone from London to Edinburgh when he was ostensibly only seven years of age; and that the fatal quarrel with his mother, after which they never saw each other again, apparently took place when he was only fourteen.

But this hypothesis seems initially to fall because Arthur had no trace of a foreign accent, which would not have been possible if he had reached England much after the age of eight. This which would have been the case if he arrived in 1933 and had been born in 1921, or perhaps 1922. There is a fourth solution, however, and this is the one that I believe to be correct.

I have mentioned that two children of my grandmother were given away in England, and the elder of these, Sonia, was born - according to her birth certificate, which there is no particular reason to doubt - on 19th August 1930, at High Street, Hounslow. Arthur Ernest Hills Senior is recorded as the father of these children and this too seems likely to be true. This parent would almost certainly be the original Englishman.

Now on 17th November 1929, the Nazi Party scored a notable success in the Prussian local elections in Berlin, for the first time sending thirteen deputies to the city council. It was the first sign that could have told an intelligent observer, after the Great Crash of 1929, that the Nazis might eventually win power. My grandmother was a Berliner, and and it therefore makes sense to believe that her Nazi lover could have held high office in the Berlin Nazi Party headquarters. What if a sympathetic English milord had been present in Berlin at that moment, perhaps to enjoy the significant opportunities for sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, that the city so bountifully afforded?

Could not the electoral success at this point, and the warm welcome of the Nazi, have prompted the willing milord to put through a telephone call to London so that an inconvenient Jewish mistress, with her son and daughter, could be sent to England and a ready-made partner provided for her, to father two further children and to give the family a new name? And could not the preparations to dispose of the original holder of the Arthur Ernest Hills Senior identity also have begun in December 1929, to be fulfilled in December 1936?

That is one possible scenario. But remember that the archivist had said that a group of Nazis had succeeded in murdering and assuming the identities of an entire British family. It seems unlikely that a member of the British establishment, however compliant, would have been willing to connive in such a dastardly collective crime or that he or she would have had the power to do so. Surely the Nazis in question would have had to more or less arrange the whole thing themselves. And, if it was the family of my grandfather, surely it would have been one of his connections who made the initial infiltration, before the Second World War, and perhaps long before it, soon after the First.

Now, as it happens, there is the records of my Kentish family, a rather curious birth certificate, which I was provided with by Mr Adolph during his efforts to trace Mrs Susan Lakeman who, as the reader will remember, did indeed turn out to be a second or third cousin of mine.

Her mother, originally named Joyce Frances Campion, was registered as having been born on 24th November 1921 in Gillingham, and is recorded as the daughter of the great-aunt Connie, born Hills, that I met in childhood,and her husband William George Wyatt, whom she had married on June 15th 1921, five months before the birth. (By the way, one of the witnesses to the marriage was F.C. Hills, and as the accredited father of Constance, Frederick and Arthur Hills was Frederick Charles Hills, this must mean that Connie at least had true Kentish ancestry.)

Now why was Joyce given the surname Campion when her parents had the original surnames Hills and Wyatt? It sounds as if they did not really wish to own her. Could Connie really have fallen pregnant by a visiting German and married Wyatt in haste, telling him that the child she was expecting was his? Or could they have wilfully have adopted a foreign child, a member of the family of my Nazi grandfather?

There is another curious circumstance. The registrar Walter Harris has begun to record W.G. Wyatt as the father, but he simply wrote "Fath", and then in another pen and in smaller writing seems to have written "Father", and just above it the figure "18". And in the further margin there appears, in the second pen and what appears to be the same hand, "Eighteen" and three initials. The first one is "P", the second is indecipherable but might be a "G", and the third is definitely a "G".

What could be the significance of that figure and those initials? Well, the initials might be those of the real father. If we regard the second as a first attempt at the right letter, his initials were "P.G." And if he came from the paternal family of my grandfather, and was perhaps a brother, then the surname of my Nazi grandfather began with the letter "G".

The number and word 18 (Eighteen) could be the real father's age. In that case he was born in 1903.

And all good things come in threes, and there is a third curious circumstance connected with this certificate. It is dated 31st December 1921, more than a month after the birth.

Joyce Campion married William Ralph in 1944 and their eldest of their three children was Susan E. Ralph, born at Chatham in 1945, and she married Michael J. Lakeman in 1965, also at Chatham. It was this couple, still hale and hearty, she a fine-looking blonde lady, he dark-looking but fit, who received me, in a guarded but friendly spirit, in the back garden of the their Chatham house, when I called on them unexpectedly on the afternoon of July 31st 2014.

I questioned them about the possible German connections of the family I shared with Susan, and Michael surprised me by saying that, although there was no such ancestry in Susan's family, he himself had had a German grandfather, an errant sailor who had appeared in the Medway Towns shortly after the First World War. He also said that he thought he and I might  be related.

 (Oddly enough, the profession of W.G. Wyatt had been recorded as Leading Victualling Assistant in the Royal Navy, and his father had been a Master-at-Arms in the same force, and this seafaring background in the family of Connie's husband might have made connections with a German sailor possible. I did rather wonder whether Michael was transferring the details of his wife's family to his own, in order to confuse me.)

Michael, however, was proud of his German ancestry and was keen to engage me in that language, which he spoke so fluently that it might have been his father rather than his grandfather who was German. Susan, in contrast, was not keen to speak in the language and said she rather disliked it.  (Another point about her. As I mentioned before, she told me that her mother Joyce and grandmother Connie had never referred to a brother of Connie called Arthur. But such a person is attested in the family records. How natural the failure to mention him would be if their actions and ancestry had eventually led to him being murdered!)

Michael alone drove me back to Rochester Station in his car and we spoke mainly in English as he drove. But he returned to German as he dropped me at some distance from the railway. "Sie muessen sehr vorsichtig sein," he said to me, "You must be very careful." "Sie haben Recht," I said, "You're right."

Another strange circumstance of this visit was that I seemed to be surrounded during the journey down from London and back by Germans or people speaking in German. When I was buying my ticket at London Bridge, it was a couple with a baby, one member of which was German, who helped me buy my ticket at the machine. And when I got out at Chatham Station a couple of young men were speaking in German by the exit. And when I returned to Victoria Station in the evening, and went upstairs to the Wetherspoon's to relieve myself, a man coming out of the toilet door as I entered said, "Sie koennen sehr gutes Deutsch", "You speak very good German.". I had not spoken to him.

Anway, these matters being what they may, and returning to the inter-war period and Arthur and my father, if we thus posit that the arrival of my grandmother, Helen and Arthur Junior in England at the very beginning of 1930 or the end of 1929, then Arthur could clearly have been born in late 1921 and arrived in England just in time to lose almost all trace of his original language.

Now, if the two men were twins, it also follows for certain that they had exactly the same parents, and since Arthur Ernest Hills told me many details about his parents when I was a child, and obviously felt them very deeply, it follows that his account was substantially true, and almost entirely so for the period after the very early 1930s. This means that the people calling themselves Arthur Ernest Hills and Mary Martin Brown during and after the 1930s were his true parents. Now what can be known for certain about these two?

I will begin with Arthur Ernest Hills Senior, and go on to the case of Mary Brown, whom I believe, for reasons that I shall discuss, to have been really called Ida Friederike Charlotte Bleistein, born with the surname Friedemann in Berlin in 1894, and commonly known as Ida Lotte Bleistein. She is a well documented person. Of the original identity of my grandfather I have only the strangest of clues, which for quite a long time I was determined not to discuss openly in this blog post, but which finally I have laid out in the maximum detail of which I am capable.

So what can be known of him? I have already given a few documentary details of him near the start of this post. And, as I said, I remember him very slightly from my childhood, but only in a general way, without any  individual memory to lend sharpness to the picture. He was a deeply sinister, unfriendly and lascivious man, I know that. There are a few people who still remember him, and others who knew him who have died, and they all agree on this, so it must be true.

Arthur Junior used to say that his father had managed to avoid fighting in the First World War and after it had been a noted Communist agitator. He placed these events in Kent and at the Chatham Dockyard where his father had, according to the records, worked as an electrical wireman. That obviously wouldn't be true of the real old man. But I  wonder if the business about the First World War and the subsequent Communism could be true of his real background in Germany.

He would obviously have had to make the transition to Nazi sympathies, but I believe this often happened, most famously, of course, in the case of Dr Goebbels. He, curiously enough, also did not fight in the First World War, because of his limping foot. And at least one photograph that I possess of my grandfather as a young man, which I obtained from relations in Edinburgh in the summer of 2014, during my second clandestine visit to England, bears a very strong resemblance to one I saw of the young Goebbels. And the structure of my own face and head, and the shape of my hair, also resembles the little doctor's, although I do not have his sticking-out ears (my father had those).

Why did a possible identification of my grandfather with Goebbels come into my mind? That happened many years before I saw the photograph. As I have related, at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, I went through a mysterious period of mental disturbance which was dubbed by the doctors a "psychotic episode". But much of what I believed during that time has turned out to be true.  So it was not a psychotic episode. What I believed to be happening was true, although I may have misinterpreted certain indications.

I believed that a red light telling the time on the digibox above the television was going forward when confirming a supposition, staying still when denying it. This of course could be a common psychotic symptom. But the technology to set up such an arrangement also exists, and in spades. Nothing therefore can be proved for certain about this episode, at least from my end. It all took place in the solitude of my own room and I remember most of it in detail. In the following post to this one I will tell all I know about it. But because I am writing that post very slowly it may take me a long while to reach those revelations. I mean to choose the time carefully to discuss that material.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, whoever was behind the box eventually said that my grandfather was Joseph Goebbels.

But, you will say, doesn't that possibility fall, because you say you knew your grandfather in your childhood, while there is universal agreement that Goebbels with his wife committed suicide together at the Berlin Bunker on 1st May 1945, having first murdered their six children? Does anyone question that? No one, you will say. Well, yes, but they don't bother to question. All the interest is in Hitler and his possible escape. Or, in the past, Bormann. Or in the Hess possible double. No one wants to step out of line about the little doctor.

Yet, when one comes to examine all the evidence for Goebbels' putative death, which I have done countless times, again in the solitude of my own mind, because I have hardly dared to mention the outrageous possibility to anyone that he could have survived and been my own grandfather - because I don´t want to be seen to go out of line either, and once again identify myself as a potential madman, yet I was forced to it by the mysteries in my own life, and particularly by the fact that many years after the episode of the digibox I was given a photo of my grandfather as a young man which closely resembled the young Goebbels - yes the more and more you examine the evidence for the supposed suicide the more and more possible it seems that Goebbels escaped..

The evidence for the last days of Hitler and  Goebbels is very complex, and the endlessly-discussed details and testimonies of what happened in the complex of bunkers beneath the Reich Chancellery and its garden as the net of Russian armies squeezed ever tighter are so many and often so mutually contradictory that it is difficult to know where to start. But I will begin by saying that the evidence for the suicide of Goebbels has become much weaker in recent years without anyone at all seeming to notice or comment.

This is because of the final testimony given by one of those who had been in the Bunker, the last survivor, the bodyguard and telephonist Rochus Misch. He sat manipulating his wires immediately outside the rooms occupied by Dr Goebbels, so that their relationship must have been very close. Misch died, aged 96, in 2013, and shortly before he died, in 2008, published a book called in English (in which language it was published in 2014),  Hitler's Last Witness.

In this account, written without fear of contradiction by anyone else and (presumably) of possible reprisal, Misch tells a story different in every last detail from his previous testimonies and of the generally accepted account of the suicide of the Goebbels couple, which was already much disputed -  whether Goebbels took poison or shot himself, whether he shot his wife and whether she took cyanide at the same time, or whether they were shot by an orderly or SS officer while both biting on cyanide, or whether an SS captain was standing by but did not need to administer the coup de grace because they had killed themselves - but, anyway, their joint deaths were almost universally said to have taken place in the garden above the deep bunker at about 8.30 p.m., or perhaps a little earlier or later, on the evening of May 1st 1945.

But Misch has Goebbels, who was the new Chancellor after Hitler's suicide, not releasing him from his post for hours after that, says that he put through "call after call" to Goebbels during the period after 8.30, and that he seized a break during this long period to pack his rucksack, which was under his work-table at the post where he sat outside Goebbels' room in the deep bunker, to stuff his rucksack with crispbread, chocolate and biscuits in hopeful anticipation of his break-out to rejoin his wife and one-year-old daughter in the distant southern Berlin suburb of Ruedow. Then he says, "Long after midnight Goebbels gave me a sudden look as if he were seeing me for the first time", and at that point Goebbels released him from his duties, saying he is not needed any more.

"Les jeux sont faits," Goebbels said at this point, in elegant French, which is croupier slang for "All the bets are off now." Goebbels told him that the Nazis have known how to live and now would  know how to die. That quote was already well known, but was previously placed in the period around 8.30p.m. Hitler's pilot, Hans Baur, claimed while in Soviet captivity that it had been spoken to him, and in the book by O'Donnell which I shall be discussing in more detail it is addressed to Baur. But Misch and Baur were in contact during their period in prison, so the likelihood is that Baur heard the story that way.

Anyway, according to Misch's account, they were almost alone in the deep bunker by this point. Misch says that Magda Goebbels had retired to her room alone soon after the murder of her six children and that she committed suicide separately from her husband there. Her room was in the ante-bunker, or Vorbunker, while her husband's quarters were below, so that their bodies, if both died in their rooms, as Misch states, would have been widely separated. Misch says that he believes that no attempt was made to drag their bodies upstairs into the Chancellery gardens, and it was certainly have been an expenditure of effort which it is difficult to imagine anyone making at that point. It is possible that Misch is lying here, particularly about Magda, because this detail better fits the general tenor of his story.

The mass break-out from the Bunker, trying to find a way out underground through the Russian lines, was being actively prepared from about nine o'clock and and almost all of Hitler's staff - the pretty large number between one and two hundred persons, who had been in the Vorbunker and the Fuehrerbunker and the various other bunkers - would have been gathered in the upper bunker from that time being organised into escape parties by General Mohnke, who had been appointed on 22nd April by Hitler as commander of the "Zitadelle", the area of central Berlin containing the chief government buildings, and was thus in natural authority in the absence of Goebbels.

From about eleven o' clock the escapees began to scramble out of the Chancellery across the Wilhelmstrasse and through the U-Bahn tunnels and attempting to break out into the streets. They faced possible death or capture there, although many more were captured than died, and a few escaped detection and made it to the West. They would all have been gone by the late hour Misch is talking about, and Magda Goebbels, according to him, would have been dead for several hours.

Those two fervent old Nazis, generals Krebs and Burgdorf, who stayed behind, after sitting at a table together getting blind drunk, finally shot themselves, and the limping Schaedle, the head of Hitler's escort commando, chose the same route. Their bodies remained where they had fallen in the deep bunker.

Just above the Vorbunker was a field-hospital, where several hundred desperately wounded soldiers were being tended by a few doctors, a dentist and some nurses. These persons did not join in the mass break-out. The only electricity, air and water for the hospital was provided by a diesel generator in the deep bunker which was tended by Misch's friend, the other chief mechanical functionary in the place, the machinist Johannes "Hannes" Hentschel. The difference between the two was that Hannes, was a civilian, not an SS-man like Misch, and he would been therefore have been slightly in awe of of his friend.

Anyway, if we believe Misch's story, in the early hours of 2nd May 1945 there are only three living people in the deep bunker: himself, Goebbels and Hentschel.

Now we go on with the story. Finally Goebbels releases Misch from his duties and he pulls out all the plugs from his equipment and prepares to leave. Goebbels has retired to his own room. Misch invites Hentschel to join him in the escape. But Hannes wants to keep the diesel generator going so that the soldiers in the hospital do not die. He will wait until the Russians come, which cannot be many hours delayed. The two exchange letters to their wives just in case either does not make it. (Both are to end up in Russian captivity, as it happens.) Then Misch leaves, so that the only witness of what happened to Goebbels after that, if Misch is to be believed, is Hentschel.

Misch says briefly in the last chapter of his book that Hentschel told him in later years that within five minutes of his having left Goebbels was dead. He does not say how Hentschel knew this. Did he knock on the door of the private room, get no answer, enter, and find the body of the little doctor? It seems hardly likely in a humble machinist. Did he hear a shot? Misch does not say. Nor do we have any confirmation of the conversation when in which information was imparted, which was presumably a private one between the two old friends, in anything Hentschel ever said.

As it happens, there is a detailed account of what happened during those hours according to Hentschel. This occurs in James P. McDonnell's book The Bunker, which was published in the 1978 in English, being a version of a book published by O'Donnell with a German collaborator in German in 1975, and based on the accounts of the many survivors of the Bunker who were still alive at that time. It is therefore a very detailed and circumstantial account, contradictory at many points as might well be expected, and it is written in an odd poetic prose, with much mention, for instance, of nightingales in the Chancellery gardens. To me the poetry more often than not fails of its effect.

In this account, Hannes makes no mention, of course, of having been alone with Goebbels at the time of his death in the small hours. No hint of that story had as yet been raised by anyone. He has Misch soundly asleep during the last hours of 1st May and the early ones of the 2nd, so that he would have been entirely unable to do any planning or telephoning on the Chancellor's behalf. Everyone else was preparing for the mass-breakout above, and General Weidling, who was in command of the overall city defences, had gone to make peace with the Russians, and Goebbels as far as anyone knew was dead, so that there would have been no boss whose commands needed to be heeded and the exhausted Misch could sleep in peace.

Finally Hannes wakes chum Rochus up, they exchange the letters for the wives, and Misch leaves, and Hentschel is alone. O'Donnell's poetic style for once works strangely well as he gives a long account of Hentschel wandering about the bunkers and the garden, and intermittently tending the machine, until dawn breaks, and then  he makes himself breakfast, and at about ten in the morning a posse of Russian women officers arrive to pillage Eva Braun's wardrobe, followed by more conventional Russian forces.

Hentschel was mainly quite amiably handled by the various officers who arrived that day, although one captain held a gun to his throat and  pretended to draw a noose around his neck and threatened to kill him. But he was clearly a simply machinist and perhaps the Russians recognised him as someone rather like themselves. Like almost everyone else after capture, he was that day taken into NKVD captivity, and soon deported to Russia.

Why did the Russians do this? If they had kept all the prisoners they now had in Berlin, and used them to reconstruct the events of the last days in the Bunker, presumably all the mysteries that have come to surround these events could have been quickly cleared up, rather than leaving helpless confusion to develop many years later when attempts were made to collate all the accounts based on failing memories and possibly mendacious motives. And Hentschel had been in the Bunker right through all the events that marked the end of the Third Reich. Would he not have been the most valuable witness of all,immediately and on the spot?

But, anyway, his kindly treatment at the hands of the Russians continued, and was in most marked contrast to the prolonged tortures and solitary confinement meted out to those who had witnessed the  death of Hitler, his adjutant Otto Guensche, his valet Heinz Linge and his personal pilot Hans Baur. All these emerged from captivity broken men. In contrast, Hentschel was released much earlier than most of the rest, in 1949, and returned to Germany and in later years lived in Baden, where O'Donnell interviewed him. He died in 1982.

In 1946 Hentschel was among quite a large group of prisoners brought from Russia to Berlin to enact a filmed reconstruction of Hitler's death. But, since in May 1945 he had been or was in process of being deported, he was not among the much smaller group brought to the Bunker in the days immediately after the Russian capture which identified the bodies of Joseph and Magda Goebbels in the garden and their six children indoors.

Now, clearly, if the Misch story is true, Hentschel would have known, if he had been among this group, that these could not be the bodies. But, presumably, he would never have volunteered the information that he had been alone with the Chancellor of the Reich in the Bunker for five minutes and was the only witness of his death. So it would have presumably have made no difference. And O'Donnell would have had no reason to question the poetic and picturesque account he gave in the 1970s, even if Hentschel knew Goebbels was not dead.

Another thought. In his memoirs, Misch says that, like the three chief witnesses to the death of Hitler, he too had been heavily tortured in Soviet captivity, as would have been expected for those unlucky enough to fall into Russian hands. He says things got so bad that he begged to be shot as befitted a soldier. But his physically healthy state and serene demeanour in extreme old age, as evidenced by the many films of him when he became the last witness, do not suggest a person who has been through unbearable experience. I really hate to doubt him once again, because I have become rather fond of him at a distance, but I think he did not go through the same experiences as Guensche, Linge and Baur.

Now back to Misch and Hentschel and the possible events after midnight on 2nd May. The versions given by the two friends at the widely separate dates are so clearly incompatible in significant details that, like the versions of the arrival of one disciple or two disciples (John and Peter, or Peter alone) at the empty tomb of Christ in the Gospels of Luke and John, they cannot both be true. You cannot have the Goebbels couple dying separately in the rooms, he well into the small hours, she much earlier, and their bodies being found in situ, as would have been the case if Misch's final story is correct, or alternatively the two dying together in the garden at 8.30, or perhaps slightly earlier or later, and a discovery of the bodies where, in this version, they had fallen. One account must be true and the other false, or both false, either partially or wholly.

The version from Hentschel has the merit of being compatible with the universally accepted account, given with many variations, by the group of Nazi servants, and it squares with the evidence of the two half-charred bodies which were identified by a smallish group of people as being undoubtedly those of Joseph and Magda Goebbels. The account by Misch is that of a man standing alone and without corroborative evidence and given just before his death. You either have to believe this solitary witness or dismiss him. (Or a third alternative is simply to ignore him, which is what has happened, in the far from observant world of Nazi historiography.)

Well, you might say, if you wanted to dismiss this account, like an old Nazi, Misch simply  might have wanted to spread mischief before he departed. But, by all accounts Rochus Misch was a pleasant, amiable man, with the advantage of having been wonderfully tall and handsome in youth, an ordinary SS-man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, a typical soldier who did not think much, was basically honest, and in later years enjoyed reminiscing over his old photos to all the many strangers who came to interview him, including those from Tel Aviv. Most people who encountered him warmed to him, knew him to be a decent human being, and believed in his veracity. And he was compos mentis to the end.

And might he not have wanted to just hint at the truth before he went?

As it happens, O'Donnell's book contains much material based on interviews with Misch. He does not at this stage in any way dispute the conventional account and he does not say that he was present near the end of Goebbels' life. The Chancellor has released him from his duties well in time to join the mass break-out and it is a command from an unspecified source that keeps him at his desk into the small hours.

It is highly likely that Misch consulted with his friend Hentschel about the accounts they gave for the book, and it would have been highly unnatural if the whole group of ex-Nazis who were survivors of the Bunker, like any group of people who are under biographical investigation, had not consulted about what to tell O'Donnell. His book is likely to be half true, half false.

There is a lot of contradictory material in O'Donnell's account about the so-called "Schwaegermann incident", based on material from various witnesses, but apparently not Misch. This incident had also been mentioned by Hugh Trevor-Roper in his classic account, published in 1947, and is attested by Jochim Fest's much later book. According to Trevor-Roper, on their way back through the deep bunker from having burnt the bodies of Goebbels and Magda, Schwaegermann and Rach, met Brigadefuehrer General Wilhelm Mohnke,  in charge of the defence of the immediate area of the Chancellery, and in theory subordinate to General Weidling, but acting largely in independence from him), and Mohnke ordered them to set the deep bunker on fire. They made a perfunctory attempt to do so, but locked the outer door tight shut, and this meant there was a lack of oxygen and the fire could not spread. In O'Donnell's account the order from Mohnke comes slightly later, at around nine o'clock, and according to Fest, it is Schwaegermann together with several other SS-men who attempt the burning.

However, various people, including Misch and Hentschel, according to their own accounts, were still in the deep bunker at the time of the attempt, and Hentschel in O'Donnell's book says that Misch became furious at an action which he believed, quite rightly it seems, might carelessly and stupidly have killed them. He says that Misch did not dare to confront Schwaegermann, who was an SS-captain and therefore his superior. He therefore chased Goebbels' chauffeur Rach, who was taking part in the operation, the whole length of the bunker and gave him an enormous kick in the buttocks. Given Misch's size, this must have been very painful, as well as humiliating. Misch, in his late account, does not mention the incident at all, which seems strange. One would have imagined that Rach's behind would have remained long in his memory.

Mohnke, in O'Donnell's book, entirely contradicts the account that this was a stupid and murderous move. He says he believed, and at the point of writing still believes, that the deep bunker was entirely empty at this point of living people, so that the attempt to destroy all the evidence still present there of what had been the Fuehrer's last home was an entirely sensible and honourable move. This means that he convicts Misch and Hentschel of lying about their presence there, but the nature of their respective jobs means that this is by far their most likely location immediately after the presumed death of Goebbels.

This is a deeply mysterious incident. If Goebbels was really still alive into the small hours, he would have present in the deep bunker, lying low, at the point the attempt was made to burn it, and Mohnke, being in immediate command, would presumably have known this. Mohnke was a ruthless Nazi who had taken part in various massacres, well-attested ones of both British soldiers and Canadians. When he was captured by the Russians he was toasted with champagne by them, and this is another strange example of how those who might have had knowledge of the death of Goebbels were treated with conspicuously more gentleness than the immediate servants of Hitler.

Monhke's imprisonment in Russia was under good conditions, and in later years he prospered in West Germany, managing to escape all efforts to arraign him as a war criminal. Clearly he made friends everywhere among the enemies of his own country. There is a photograph of him wearing his full Nazi uniform during the war. He looks sensitive, intelligent, decadent and brutal. The same impression continues in a late film of him in which he declares that Hitler was only interested in sparing the people of Britain from bombing and being their friend. He could not have been a worse person, nor a much cleverer one.

Could this vicious and ambiguous man, knowing that Goebbels was still alive below and waiting on his expected escape, with Misch and Hentschel to help him, have decided to set them all unpleasantly on fire? Could he have persuaded Schwaegermann and Rach that their own lives would be worth nothing if they went into the post-war world as witnesses that Goebbels was still alive? But could they, inwardly still loyal to their master, or at least uncertain of the best course of action, have carried out the order to burn him and other colleagues in such a half-hearted way that they would not succeed?

In O'Donnell's book, Mohnke himself is one of the witnesses to the Goebbels suicide, which he describes in picturesque detail.  He says there were only three present as the couple went upstairs, himself, Schwaegermann and Goebbels' valet Ochs (whose name O'Donnell gives as Olds). He says that Goebbels, attired magnificently in hat, coat and gloves, took Magda on his arm, and passed the three witnesses,  standing there with the jerrycans, in entire silence. Upstairs, hidden in the darkness near the top of the stairwell (for blackout in Berlin that night was at 8.29, and this is presumably a minute or two later, so it would have been pretty dark) an SS-captain stands, ready to kill the couple if they cannot do it themselves. But his services are not necessary. Goebbels shoots his wife, who has taken cyanide. He then shoots himself while simultaneously biting on the capsule.

Now let us examine the other presumed three witnesses to the putative suicides in the garden at about 8.30p.m. (for most accounts place Rach among those waiting with the jerrycans). What can be known for certain about these three? Here again we come up against another overwhelmingly strange fact that once again no one seems to have commented on. This is that all three vanish from history.

The conventional account of the suicides seems to be largely based on the testimony of Goebbels' adjutant Gunther Schwaegermann who had been charged with burning the bodies, according to report, by Goebbels himself. Schwaegermann, an SS-captain who had been in Goebbels' service since 1941, a slightly stolid-looking man from his photograph who was perhaps comforting to women (Magda Goebbels is said to have sought refuge on his chest after killing the six children - her husband was elsewhere), managed to escape to the West after the mass break-out, was held in American captivity from 1945 to 1947, and gave a statement about Goebbels' death in February 1948 to the American journalist and lawyer Michael Musmanno, who had been present at Nuremberg and between 1945 and 1948 interviewed about two hundred witnesses from the Bunker.

This account is less rich in picturesque detail than the later account from Mohnke and differ from it in several significant details. Schwaegermann says that Goebbels and Magda went up the stairs together from the Bunker to the garden, while he waited behind on the stairwell alone. He waited until he thought he heard a shot, went upstairs, and found the bodies of Joseph and Magda lying lifeless near the entrance to the bunker, he appearing to have shot himself and she to have taken poison. He signalled to a group of SS-men to come with him to the garden with  jerrycans to burn the bodies. He then had an unnamed SS orderly fire an unspecified number of further shots into the bodies to make sure they were dead, and the corpses did not move. Then the bodies were set on fire, with a large ball of flame developing immediately, but the fire went out and everyone was too preoccupied with their own escapes to make further efforts to burn the couple, whose bodies were charred but still intact.

And this statement is the last certain information we have about Schwaegermann. No one knows exactly where he went or where he lived (although some accounts say he resided in north Germany, his home region). Nor do we know what he did in life, or how he died. He was born in 1915, so one presumes he must be dead. Everyone agrees that there are no surviving witnesses from the Bunker.

To see how much the suicide story varies we can look at the account in Hugh Trevor-Roper's classic book The Last Days of Hitler, which was originally written without using the testimony of Schwaegermann. This account unites lapidary prose of great beauty with a broad brush approach which is acknowledged by all to have come remarkably close to the truth, even if the available witnesses were few (because the rest were in Russian or Western captivity) and the material evidence limited. I will be looking at the Trevor-Roper account very shortly, but mention it immediately here to introduce the chief witness used by him.

(This was Erich Kempka, Hitler's chauffeur, a coarse, witty, squat and daring man, who escaped to the West in civilian clothes and by swimming a river, and who, in his own book, published in revised form much later than Trevor-Roper´s account, says that at about 2a.m. on 2nd May, during  the mass break-out, he met up temporarily in the streets with Schwaegermann in a group that included Bormann. He then says that Schwaegermann gave him an account of the suicide of the Goebbelses. Trevor-Roper's version is clearly based on this  account, and  also on that of Artur Axmann, the Hitler Youth leader who was also in the Bormann group during the mass break-out, and in later editions Trevor-Roper also seem to incorporate the testimony of Schwaegermann. directly. It seems to me likely that the whole account of the 8.30p.m. joint suicide derives ultimately from the adjutant rather than any other witness and that therefore, after he had begun to talk to Musmanno, there would have been a pretty urgent need by those who knew the truth to get rid of Magda's comfor.

Trevor-Roper has Goebbels call Schwaegermann to him in the evening, gets him to promise to burn the bodies of himself and his wife, gives him a silver-framed photograph of Hitler, and says farewell, as does Frau Goebbels. Then Schwaegermann sends Goebbels' driver and SS orderly (Alfred Rach and the man called Ochs or Olds) to fetch petrol for the burning. At half-past-eight Goebbels and Magda walk through the bunker. At the foot of the steps stand Schwaegermann and Rach, who are there with the petrol, and the couple pass them without a word. Almost immediately two shots are heard and Schwaegermann and Rach go up to the garden and find the two bodies, but Goebbels did not shoot himself in this version, he took poison, "The S.S. orderly, who had shot them, was standing by."

So we are now in a state of some confusion. Who shot whom while someone else took poison? Well, what was the testimony of Rach, he of the bruised bottom, who at least is named in Trevor-Roper´s account?

Again he vanishes from history. Some say he died in the mass break-out, some say in Russian captivity. Trevor-Roper has a few further details of him in the confused wandering through the streets. He was with Schwaegermann in the large group including Martin Bormann, the group got separated near the Lehrter Station, a smaller group went towards Alt Moabit, they walked separately and were soon divided, and then Treevor-Roper says frustratingly, "Schwaegermann and Rach escaped, the former into American captivity." And that is the last anyone hears of Rach. He is one of the very few final occupants of the Bunker to have no Wikipedia entry, and this is surely because almost nothing is known of him.

Finally, of these three witnesses, there is Goebbels' valet Josef Ochs,or Olds, who, according to Misch in his book, in fact had the given name Guenther, not Josef. By implication  he is likely be the the SS-orderly who shot the couple, although he was not a captain, so he cannot be the stand-by assassin in O'Donnell's version. Because the shooter is so rarely named, and there is such dispute about his rank or function, Schwaegermann, Rach and Ochs are all candidates for this mysterious figure in the semi-darkness, if indeed he ever existed.

There is a Josef Ochs who survived the war and who in the 1950s was employed by the West German police. He is sometimes identified with the valet and the shooter. But his details also tally with those of another Ochs who was present elsewhere during the war, but not in the Bunker. The figure in the West German police is never recorded, anyway, as having spoken about the events of 1st May 1945. There is a sparse Wikipedia entry for the Ochs of the West German police which says that he was involved in the deportation of Roma and Sinti people during the Third Reich, that he was present in the Fuehrerbunker during the last days, and that he died in 1987. But the entry does not identify him as being the shooter of Goebbels. Strangely, it gives the name of his father as Taunus Schmitten. It is impossible to say anything for certain about someone so extremely shadowy, but if anyone was the shooter in the shadows surely it was he.

For one out of three vital witnesses to a leading historical event to go missing would be unfortunate, for two to be absent would be suspicious, for all three to be unaccounted for begins to look like a deliberate stifling of mouths.

(And, in order to highlight how easy it might have been to arrange a confusion of identities in the case of senior Nazis, let me highlight the strange case of the man usually known as Hans Georg Fritzsche. He was Goebbels' second-in-command at the Propaganda Ministry and broadcast on the radio nightly everything that Goebbels told him to say. On the afternoon of 1st May 1945, according to the generally accepted version, he went over to the Soviets in an independent bid to surrender Berlin to them, they got him to broadcast a surrender announcement in the name of Germany, and he was thus a Soviet prisoner, embarrassingly one of only two senior Nazis to suffer this fate because most of the top people had positioned themselves where they would fall into the hands of the Western allies.

The conventional account is that because he was almost the most senior person they had, and because his boss Goebbels was not available for punishment, the Soviets insisted Fritzsche go on trial at Nuremberg, where he was by far the most obscure of all the twenty-one defendants. He one of only three of them to be acquitted. This was in spite of the fact that he had broadcast masses of anti-Semitic propaganda, while Julius Streicher, much more notorious but no more guilty in this field, was thought worthy of  the hangman's noose. The inconsistency of this was noticed at the time, and later a denazification court sentenced Fritzsche to nine years in prison. But once again he got off, being released in 1950, and dying (at least according to the reports) of cancer in West Germany in 1953.

Now this Hans Fritzsche is sometimes spelt Hans Fritsche (sometimes in the same article or book, with no one apparently have noticed the discrepancy between the two names), and while his Wikipedia entry gives him as having been born on April 21st 1900, Britannica believes he was born at Dresden in 1899. In a recent ill-written book based on the interviews a doctor allegedly conducted with Nuremberg defendants during the trials, the defendant Fritzsche himself gives the 1900 birth date gives and his place of birth as Bochum in Westphalia.

The name, in either form, is almost as common as John Smith once was in England. And since there is uncertainty about both the name and date of birth of this person, and since his face was entirely unknown to everyone in the West before late 1945, and to the Soviets until 1st May, and since he sat in the back row in the top left hand corner among the defendants and his face hardly appeared in all the photos, and since he wore dark glasses during the course of the proceedings, and since his defence was the last to be heard among the twenty-one when everyone was rushing forward to judgement, and since he perhaps didn't speak up very loudly at either of his trials (for the voice was probably known) - for all these reasons, the eminent possibility suggests itself that at least to me that this one person tried at Nuremberg was an impostor, sent into the dock with every character reference and with the assurance that any prison sentence would be considerably mitigated. The Soviets, in their malignant and deceptive way, could have arranged that.

And, after all the man was Goebbels' deputy. They had worked closely together for years. True, Fritzsche (or Fritsche) seems, at least,  to have made an independent bid to surrender Berlin unconditionally, which was against Goebbels' will. But Goebbels and Bormann had already sent General Krebs to the Soviets to try and negotiate a separate peace, so the idea of treating with them was clearly in Goebbels' mind. Could a false Fritzsche have been deliberately sent to the Soviets to follow up on something that had been agreed with Krebs?

Before the true or false Fritzsche went to the Russians, he first visited his office at the Propaganda Ministry to compose a letter to them. There he was surprised by General Burgdorf, who tried to shoot him as a traitor, but, who knows, since Burgdorf was an army man and his intended victim a propaganda boffin, perhaps he wouldn't have known the difference between a real Fritzsche and a false one. (It seems too much to suppose that the heavy old loyalist Burgdorf was in on the plot. The more sophisticated Krebs, already known to the Soviets and speaking fluent Russian, was perhaps a different matter.) Anyway, both of them committed suicide on the evening of 1st May, so they could tell no tales.

The day after the discovery of the bodies purporting to be the Goebbels couple, Fritzsche (or Fritsche) was brought to the Bunker garden to identify his former master. But wouldn't a false Fritzsche have been even keener than a real one to identify a false Goebbels? And wasn't Goebbels famous for saying that, if you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one? And why not tell multiple big lies, which then confirm each other? And if your accomplice is as locked into the mesh of lies as you are, then there is no danger of him ever telling the truth.)

But no one, apart from me, comments on the strangeness of all this, the inconsistencies, the facts that don't add up, the possibility of things being entirely other from what they are supposed to be.It is as if Goebbels is such a disreputable figure, lacking even in the sinister glamour of Hitler, just an evil lackey, that to question the fact that he must definitely have died is vaguely indecent. If you try to look up any possible doubts about his suicide, all you get is many accounts of the controversies that surround the murder of the six children. And this is no accident. That was such a horrific act, and so totally against human nature, that it removes all interest from the further actions of the zombie-like couple who perpetrated it. The sequence of dramatic interest reminds me of the weakness in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, where the scourging of the Saviour is rendered in such astounding and thrilling detail that the Crucifixion itself comes as something of an anticlimax.

But let us go a little further into what is known of the events of the final day in the Bunker, 1st May 1945, that strange, hectic day, when sensible and pacific soldiers and German were everywhere trying to make peace with the Russians, but vital, although small, swathes of Berlin remained in Nazis hands, and fighting continued sporadically with great intensity, as the remaining fanatics, Goebbels at their head, determined to fight on until the last drop of blood be spilled and until the final hour still to execute such compatriots as they could find who raised the white flag.

Can we be sure that there were only the three witnesses, Schwaegermann, Rach and Ochs?Absolutely not .It might have been more or fewer. The chauffeur Kempka, for instance, was notorious for endlessly changing his story, as well as for his coarse and picturesque language (he said, for instance, that, when Magda was with with Hitler, "you could hear her ovaries rattling"). In a 1971 interview, quoted in John Toland's biography of Hitler, which Toland treats as being an incontrovertibly accurate version of what happened, Kempka puts himself in the deep bunker at the critical moment, having come to bid the couple goodbye, and gives a version which includes the shooting by the SS-orderly rather than the higher-ranking soldier waiting in the garden.

So that would make at least four, possibly five, witnesses, although Kempka is almost certainly lying here. Then we have seen that Mohnke placed himself, again likely a lie. And Werner Naumann, Goebbels' press secretary, is sometimes mentioned as as possibly present. And also Rochus Misch, although not according to his own account. And Artur Axmann. Clearly if all these witnesses cannot be traced, or may be the subject of rumour, or are liars, the evidence of six or seven witnesses is not any better than that of none.

But the main reason why everyone is sure Goebbels must have died in the garden is that his supposed body and that of his wife were found and identified there, and this is in total contrast to those of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, whose only remains, as far as anyone can tell, ended up inside a cigar box. Obviously, then, the one pair died, since their bodies were found, while the other might just have escaped.

But is this too obvious? Could the body, as least of the man identified as Goebbels himself (for he would not have wanted the disliked and fanatical, if majestic, Magda to survive with him), have been left half-charred, and the face with it unrecognisable except in general outline, precisely so that a successful identification could be made by complaisant comrades and and all doubts be laid to rest while the little doctor, as far as his limp allowed him, sped away?

Who was the most senior Nazi who positively identified the supposed body of Goebbels? That was Admiral Hans-Erich Voss, the representative of Doenitz in Berlin, who participated in the mass break-out, was quickly captured, spent the usual period in Russian captivity, and died at Berchtesgaden in 1973. The others performing the identification were all minor functionaries who had never talked to Goebbels, but Voss knew him well and was on good terms with him. He was a cheerful, optimistic man and a true Nazi, who on the afternoon of 1st May urged Goebbels to join him and the others in the break-out, and he reported that Goebbels had said that he could not do so because he was burdened with six children and anyway had a limp. Yet only an hour or two later the first problem, at least, had ceased to exist.

The Russians have difficulty entering the Chancellery, and mastering its layout, and that of the various bunkers, but after noon on 2nd May, when it is raining, they come across two bodies near the entrance to the Bunker and an unnamed German shouts out, "That is the body of Goebbels! And that is the body of his wife!" A few days later Voss is brought to the Chancellery garden to identify the two corpses. The small, clenched body of the man with its blackened face has its right arm theatrically raised in a gesture of hatred and defiance which irresistibly brings to mind the conventional image of the little doctor, who according to one distinguished journalist had "etwas Marionettenhaftes" about him. A grim puppet indeed, it seems

But wait a minute. If a Goebbels body double had been finished off for the purpose, would he not have been instructed to make this convincing gesture? Rumours of Hitler doubles have been persistent over the years and according to several reports one was actually discovered in the Chancellery garden after the capture and only discredited when it was discovered he had darned socks. If Hitler could have a double, why could not Goebbels? And why were Goebbels' clothes not totally charred if he had been burned?

The metal brace that Goebbels wore on his right leg because of his lameness was present. The distinctive shape of the head was  right. His uniform was right. But these details would not not have been neglected in the case of a fraud.

And what about Voss himself? He is a prisoner, like the others. He is under duress. Here is a body which looks convincingly like Goebbels. It has already been convincingly identified as such. Is Voss going to deny that it is his old friend? There is no shortage of bodies in this area. Fifteen lie near the stairwell, countless more in the garden. Is Voss going to complicate matters by suggesting that one of the other bodies is more likely?

And would the Russians themselves have wanted that? We seem to have uncovered quite a lot of evidence that they treated witnesses to the death of Goebbels rather kindly. They were not known for kindness, particularly to Nazis. Perhaps they were just less interested in those who were not direct witnesses to the death of Hitler. But we know they had intelligence that Goebbels and various others were living in the Bunker in the last days. And it is just possible that Goebbels could have offered them something which might have been of value.

Could they have known, or at least suspected, that Goebbels was not really dead and the body a fake, and built up a system of collective security around the bodies by not testing the witnesses to the utmost? There are certain possible indications of this. For instance, there is the strange fact that in May 1945 Stalin, in conversation with the American Harry Hopkins, and in process of casting doubt on the death of many senior Nazis including Hitler, mentioned that he did not believe that "even Goebbels was dead".

And then there is the fact that in 1970 what purported to be the remains of the whole Goebbels family were destroyed in a river near Magdeburg, together with what was left of Hitler and Eva Braun. This is normally interpreted as an attempt to make sure that no further questions could be asked about Hitler. But not much was left of him anyway. Might it just have been the Goebbels body they were interested in destroying?.

And then the whole network of stories about the 8.30 ascent of the stairwell - witnessed, in all likelihood, by rather few people, reported to others as they ran around like chickens in the Vorbunker preparatory to the break-out, and to more still as they wandered around the insanely dangerous streets in the small hours - will have been constructed over the years with Russian connivance and Western complaisancy, and all the contradictions have developed because a whole set of invented stories will not easily tally, but no one cared much anyway, so no inconvenient questions were asked, and the ageing Nazis knew that any radical stepping out of line on the certainty of Goebbels' death would be rewarded by a car suddenly mowing them down in the street. And then the last survivor, at the end, told some of the truth, not all of it.

There is one more Bunker memoir I would like to mention. This is Until the Final Hour by Hitler's youngest secretary Traudl Junge. It was published shortly before her death in 2002, but she had mainly written it  in 1947, when this intelligent but perhaps rather naive young woman was still considerably under the spell of her former employer and imperfectly denazified. For this reason, perhaps, and because Traudl had considerable literary gifts, it lacks the copper plate sheen of mangled history that dullifies all the other memoirs. It is most immediate and directly written. I myself found it strangely harrowing.

It does not mention Goebbels very much. Traudl says she did not herself find him attractive, although many other women drew attention to his fascinating eyes, she says. She gives the conventional account of him and his wife being like ghosts waiting to die at the end. In the last days, herself considerably depressed and disoriented, she devotes herself to trying to reassure the six Goebbels children, and mentions the horrific detail that she saw what were presumably  their bodies being carried out of their room in two large crates on the afternoon of 1st May.

Then, shortly afterwards, talking about the general situation in the bunkers, and mentioning various details almost at random in the present tense, there is what to me seems a very revealing sentence:. "Goebbels walks restlessly up and down, smoking, like a hotel proprietor waiting discreetly and in silence for the last guests to leave the bar."

What if this rather innocent but observant and feeling young woman had suddenly seen something she clearly noticed but whose significance she did not understand? That Goebbels really was like a hotel proprietor waiting to clear out? That he really was waiting for all these people to leave?

Junge does not mention the joint suicide of the Goebbels couple at all in this early account, and one gets the impression that it would have been news to her in 1947. She says that Magda retired to her room after the killing of the children. To that extent at least, her account seems to square more with Misch than with the conventional account. She does not mention Misch or Hentschel at all in her book. Perhaps this glamorous young lady did not know those two rude mechanical types.

OK, now on to the two chief circumstantial pillars of the evidence.

The first main reason that everyone feels certain that Goebbels must have died rests on his supposed character. There are two clear stereotypes of this, which clearly contradict each other Immediately after the war this most physically unimpressive of the Nazis, besides famously having no balls at all (the scandalous reverse of the truth), was often portrayed as cynical evil genius and a Mephisto of irresistible propaganda. In this version he is a person of shifting and dangerous character, exceptionally difficult to read. This is the picture, for instance, given by the lively German-Jewish journalist Curt Reiss in his 1949 biography, which was based on many interviews with those who had known Goebbels, and whichseems to me still the most insightful account  of a figure who will perhaps always defy definitive treatment.

But there is another stereotype of Goebbels, on the face of it an entirely opposed and incompatible one: that of the loyal subordinate utterly devoted to Hitler, made by him, symbiotically connected with him, utterly dependent on him, and therefore only able psychologically to follow Hitler in immolating himself in the wake of that reassuring figure's absence.

Trevor-Roper, in his lapidary prose, presents the classic version of this character, although in his complex way he also always pays tribute to the intellectual qualities of Goebbels: "This time there was no Wagnerian drama; Goebbels did not attempt to compete with his master. As a tribal chief, Hitler might enjoy a spectacular, symbolic funeral; but Goebbels, as a secondary figure, would follow him, at a decent interval, unobtrusively to the shades."

The same humbly devoted figure, presented without any of the literary grace, little awareness of the psychological complexities, and very few of the picturesque details (since this expert eschews any reliance on personal testimonies as intrinsically unreliable and prefers to rely on the wisdom of psychologists diagnosing illness without ever having having examined their subject), has been given by the modern German historian, ensconced in English academe, Peter Longerich.

Longerich belongs to the school of modern historians who choose not to acknowledge that the evil of the Nazi regime is established beyond question and seek to blacken its name ever further by portraying its leading figures as having no redeeming features. To Longerich, Goebbels is a clear example of a narcissistic personality disorder, there is nothing much else to him, and his biography is a total demolition job.

Here is a summary of Longerich's ideas. Goebbels, hopelessly psychologically damaged from birth, finds a precarious and temporary salvation in his idolisation of Hitler, but his influence on practical affairs is always small, and he is not even a master of propaganda. The German people are never convinced, although they fight to the end. Hitler uses and ignores Goebbels systematically, prevents him marrying the woman he loves, and forces him to stay with his wife, and interferes endlessly with his private arrangements, but he never resents this, just goes on idolising his master, even when it is perfectly plain to him that the war is lost and that the position had been made hopeless by Hitler's refusal to try to negotiate a separate peace with either the Western Allies or Russia, so that therefore therefore his own head is on the block big time.

Longerich ends the narrative section of the biography with the death of Hitler on 30th April, as if the last day on earth of his subject, who just happens to be Chancellor of Germany at the time, could have no possible interest or significance to anyone.

Now let us look at another picture. It probably comes from that last final full day, 30th April, because, although the date of this event could also be the evening of 29th April, it better psychologically suits the first evening of Goebbels' chancellorship. On the 30th he would have full had the authority to give a party. Most sources do not mention this event, but there is more than one account, so it is likely, not certain, to be true

Early that evening Goebbels summoned the the Hitler Youths who were still hopelessly defending the Reich Chancellery to the Green Hall of that Institution. They were served pea soup sitting at long tables and Goebbels engaged in animated conversation with some of them. Frau Goebbels and the children were also present. After they had eaten, a naval cadet went to the piano and the whole party broke into the old National Socialist songs. Iron Crosses were presented to the young defenders. Then, with the youths drawn up in formation around him, Goebbels held them spellbound with his oratory.

What a picture of insouciance, charm and courage! And, yes, we know that he was evil, that there is something indecent about showing him bamboozling teenagers for one last time, and that presenting a positive picture of Goebbels does seem to reek of special pleading and pro-Nazi attitudes. Yet there is  the truth to be considered. It is no use denying someone the qualities he self-evidently has and which have been attested by witnesses. That does not take away from the repulsion such a man as Goebbels should rightfully exert.

There is a photograph of a group of Nazis waiting for the arrival of Hitler sitting on the  terrace at Berchtesgaden in 1938. Besides Goebbels we have Eva Braun, Kurt Janke, Albert Speer and Christa Schroeder (in whose memoirs I saw the picture reproduced). Goebbels sits at the edge of the group on the low wall, upper body held camply erect,  arms firmly folded, grinning all over his face, looking for all the world like a contemporary gay English aesthete, Stephen Tennant or someone, minus the wild hair.

And, of course, I know that Goebbels was nothing like a member of the Bloomsbury Group, that he wanted to exterminate them, that he hated homosexuals like Lytton Strachey, that he was totally at one with the other four dowdy Germans who are lined up beside him. Yet the curious impression - of what exactly? - is there. It permanently complicates the image of Goebbels.

No, this was not a humbly devoted incompetent. English historian Ian Kershaw, certainly no defender of his, gives a clear idea of the image Goebbels created for himself in 1945: "He was still a figure of remarkable dynamism, able not just to put on a show for the masses, but also to fire up those in his entourage and continue to represent the face of optimism and defiance. Yet he was among the most clear-sighted of the Nazi leaders."

It was Goebbels, in white overcoat, who presided at the Burning of the Books, that unforgettable intellectual atrocity. He who masterminded the Reichskristallnacht, the most carefully-organised and savage pogrom in modern history. He, it seems, who dreamed up the Yellow Star, that crucial moment in the destruction of the Jews. He who pressed insistently in 1941 and 1942 for Berlin to be made Judenrein, more to bolster up his own sagging position in the regime than from visceral antisemitism. He who let his wife kill their six children without even bothering to be present, an act so unnatural it perhaps has no parallel in the annals of mankind.

No, this man had more evil tricks up his sleeve than a whole cartload of monkeys, they were all as unexpected as they were ingenious, and he knew how to use affability, obsequiousness and sweet reason as well. How could such a person be utterly psychologically dependent on someone else who had clearly brought him disaster? How could someone like that be just a ghost waiting to die? The whole thing is a clear example of reading history backwards, from the supposed outcome to the motive for it.

And, if you look at it, the evidence from his supposed last day, and the period preceding it, does not consistently support the idea of a man determined to go to his end at whatever cost. He and Bormann tried to negotiate a separate peace with the Russians that last day. And they sent a telegram to Doenitz saying that Bormann at least hoped to join him at his northern headquarters at Ploen. And, giving evidence to the Russians while in captivity, the intelligence chief Kurt Janke (he who had seen Goebbels give his camp performance on the terrace) said that he had the impression Goebbels would stay loyal to Hitler until it was clear that everything was lost and then desert him.

Let us take Janke at his word and posit a cunning scenario. It is not impossible. It would in fact be a master scheme. Let us imagine Goebbels in early to mid 1945. The Russians are stalled from time to time, they are slower than expected, but quite soon they will be at the gates. At one point a Russian officer is put through to Goebbels on the phone by mistake and tells him quite plainly that if he caught after the war he will hang. Now say Goebbels wants to live. He considers the Russian's words. He is a man of striking and unusual appearance and he has a pronounced limp. If he simply goes into hiding after the war, as Himmler, for instance, is to do, he will surely very quickly be apprehended. That path is impossible.

But what if he was known for certain to be dead?

Then he can limp as much as he likes, Germany will be full of limping men, no one will ever think to identify him. He considers the plan. Clearly his fake suicide must beat the last moment. At any other time he will be detected. It must be after Hitler himself is dead and he remains. How to achieve this? Well, his own base is in Berlin, his residence is in the Hermann-Goeringstrasse, just a stone's throw from the Chancellery and very near the Brandenburg Gate, he often does the walk, it is across wooded ground. So the end of Hitler needs to be in Berlin. But how can he contrive this?

Why, he and his family will offer to share the Fuehrer's fate (and his family really will share it, he cannot escape if burdened with them, they must die). And before der Treue Josef and his loved ones, like obedient shades, as all the world will acknowledge, go to their end, he will persuade a grateful Groefaz to stay in Berlin and shoot himself and take Eva Braun with him and God knows who else beside.

But the evil little Joseph will limp away, perhaps joined at a dark moment by his loyal subordinate Fritzsche, who has been keeping a low profile in the bunkers these last hours, until they are picked up by the car whose driver will be murdered in his turn.

And, if this really was the plan, then every step of it potentially fits with the historical record. From early in 1945 he announces that at the end he and his family will kill themselves rather than risk dishonour. On 22nd April, the day Hitler has a huge fit and breaks down and tells everyone that he will stay in Berlin and die there, Goebbels immediately announces that he and his family will move into the two Bunkers so that they can share the Fuehrer's end. The children will only be allowed to bring one toy each and limited pyjamas, they will they will not need such things any more.

The modern German historian Joachim Fest has written a fine account called Inside Hitler's Bunker. It unites much of the literary elegance f Trevor-Roper with a painstakingly accurate reconstruction of events the Englishman cannot aspire. Here is what Fest says of the events of 22nd April as they concern Goebbels: "There is reason to believe that it was Goebbels's offer to face death alongside the Fuehrer that finally persuaded the still wavering Hitler to stay in Berlin."

Everyone else was trying to persuade him to retreat southward to Berchtesgaden, to which the way was still precariously open, at least on 22nd April. Bormann, with whom Goebbels was in uneasy alliance, had tried to persuade the latter to throw his weight behind this plan. And until 22nd April he had indeed seemed to do so. But now Goebbels pretended not to hear this typical suggestion of a "Soviet-type commissar", as he described him.

On the night of 27th to 28th April, after two days of exceptionally heavy bombing, Hitler becomes maudlin and hands out cyanide capsules with abandon in a macabre ceremony. Everyone accepts them with joy. Goebbels is foremost in his enthusiasm.

29th April passes with intolerable slowness. Everyone is smoking furiously in express defiance of the Fuehrer's command, Goebbels most malodoroursly among them.

On 30th April Goebbels seems to waver and suggest to the Fuehrer that the latter might still be flown out. But it is far too late by then. His suggestion is useless. The Russians are five hundred yards away. The die is cast. Hitler pathetically suggests to Goebbels that he himself might still get out. With moving tears in his eyes, Goebbels indignantly refuses.

On the afternoon of 30th April, Groefaz is gone, and Goebbels is Chancellor, disputing his illusory power with Bormann and with Doenitz in far-away Ploen. He and Bormann make one last attempt to make peace with the Russians on the morning of 1st May. It is predictably unsuccessful. Or it seems to be. Perhaps Krebs conveys some offer from Goebbels which is relayed to Stalin who just says "khorosho".

On the afternoon of 1st May, the six children, five blonde little girls and a dark-haired boy, are disposed of. Historians and witnesses dispute which of the ghastly pair were more keen for the deaths. I think it was he. She was in a state of breakdown, he was cool. She had human feelings, however perverted, he didn't.

The kids are left where they lay, or, according to some accounts, Bunker occupants need their beds for a kip and they are piled up in the corridor, having been carried out in crates. Who exactly stuffed the cyanide into their mouths we don't know. It could have been a doctor or a dentist, or Magda herself. She had to watch, certainly, and deal with the screams and struggles of her eldest daughter. He was walking about in the garden.

What happened in the early evening? Perhaps nothing much. Perhaps Magda just died in her room. But that posits the inconvenient business of dragging her body up to the garden. No, I think Misch lied there. Goebbels is more likely to have gone through the parody of going up to the garden at 8.30 with his wife on his arm. There he would have shot her, or more likely Ochs did it, and then he slipped back into the Bunker with a nervous grin to whatever witnesses  - Schwaegermann and Rach? - stood at the bottom of the stairwell. He will have known he could not let them live.

What about the hours after that? I think he left the Bunker very late, after everyone had gone. Misch and Hentschel are his allies, they are naturally humble men, stupid and loyal. Just possibly they already know that the Russians are going to let them off lightly. That of course must be speculation. It makes the story of the Goebbels escape more likely if the Russians connive at it, but is not absolutely necessary to the escape.

More crucially, the two simple men blame Magda for the killing of the children, and always will. Rochus Misch was to say on film many years later that he was sure only Magda wanted them dead and that Werner Naumann had told him that Goebbels himself wished them to be evacuated. Misch will have communicated this belief to Hentschel. Goebbels will  have had them lied to. But then he will have known that he could be sure of them, with their simple morality.

Misch has already sat outside his room for many days dealing with the telephone. Now, filled with unbearable anger against Magda, he spends the intervening hours after the death of the witch in making and receiving more calls, to arrange to spirit the Chancellor away.

Why was there a delay in beginning the mass break-out from nine to eleven o'clock (according to most, not all, accounts), when time was so precious? Because the interval was needed for Goebbels to make his plans. Why was the break-out ordered to take place towards the east, where almost everything was already in Russian hands, while, to the west, towards the Brandenburg Gate and the East-West Axis and the Havel, there were still quite large swathes of partly green and wooded land still in German hands, because the Russians, for symbolic reasons, had been concentrating all their attention on capturing the Reichstag, which lay a little to the north? So that this land, where Goebbels' residence lay, could be clear for the little doctor to use the best escape route.

Goebbels' security staff were still living at No 20, Hermann-Goeringstrasse, the magnificent palace that he had built in the late 1930s to replace an earlier Prussian building. One of the humbler of the staff was perhaps deputed to drive him and Fritzsche along the East-West Axis, and on his happy return his throat was cut. A vast procession of cars had been racing along the wide road that ran through the Tiergarten from the Brandenburg Gate all through the evening of 1st May, hoping, in spite of the heavy fire, to reach the one bridge over the Havel at Pichelsdorf that was still in German hands and thus escape to the West. At night, there was less traffic, less shelling, and Goebbels, Fritzsche and the silent driver got through.

And where exactly does he go that first day, the day the Russians enter into total control of Berlin, and long lines of prisoners begin to be marched towards the East? I don't know, but I will hazard a guess. Many years ago, in his youth, Goebbels had a mistress, a woman who was Jewish through her mother, a schoolteacher, a good woman who had loved him, Else Janke.

Goebbels had been fond of her as well (Else gave Josef the book in which he wrote his first diary),.But her Jewishness drove them apart in the period when he was rising in the Nazi movement. From 1926 he hardly saw her, and she married a policeman in their home town of Rheydt, Leo Herber. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Else faced dismissal from her job and persecution in Rhyedt. Leo came to Josef in Berlin to ask for his intercession in helping them. Josef agreed to assist, on condition that Else return all his letters to her. They were far too incriminating, telling of his love for a Jewess.  Josef gave Leo a job in the German film industry, which entailed a move to Berlin. The couple survived the war, or at least a German book says so. They might well have been in Berlin on the evening of 1st May.

Nothing is known of what happened to Else Janke after the war. Perhaps Goebbels had her killed after she had taken him in with affection and a diminution of the horror she must have felt.

At some point, Goebbels perhaps made his way back to his home town of Rheydt in the Rhineland. They were quite proud of him there. He had gained popularity during the latter stages of the war through his visits to the bombed-out cities, always carrying gifts, always smiling. The German population was sullen under the process of denazification. They only told the Allies what they wanted to hear. A German academic to whom I once spoke on the phone, who was from the Rhineland, told me pointedly once that at some point soon after the war a person appeared in Rheydt who looked remarkably like Goebbels and even limped like him. No one gave this person away.

And, when Rheydt was getting too hot to hold him, Goebbels took advantage of his English contacts, and his family already ensconced in England under many false names, and assumed the identity of Arthur Ernest Hills Senior that had been prepared for him. I would guess that might have been about 1948. He had been balding already. No he went entirely bald. He had been slim. Now he was terribly fat. He had looked quite young, now he was old. And he waddled so much now that no one could ever tell he once had a limp.

Arthur was surprised to see him on the top of the London bus. He tried to kiss my mother on the mouth. I remember him from my childhood.

It follows from my own and other people's memories of my grandfather that most of the records that exist of him after the Second World War in England are likely to be true. These begin with his marriage (a bigamous one, according to Arthur) to Winifred Chaplain, who was born with the surname Gay, on 16th December, 1950, at the register office in Ealing, a marriage at which the respective children of bride and groom - Richard Chaplain and Helen Vera Hills - were witnesses. After that there is his presence as a witness at the register office marriage of my parents in  September 1954, previously mentioned, and as a witness once again at the marriage of his daughter Helen to Frederick Patmore in January 1955.

Then there is his death certificate, which shows him dying on 16th February 1968 at the King Edward General Hospital, Ealing, and this was also the date of the registration. The informant was his widow, W. Hills, of 9, Edinburgh Road, South Hanwell, and she clearly lived at this address, but it is rather more uncertain whether he did. According to Brian Streeter, who remembers Arthur Senior well, this married couple lived apart, and he continued his lifelong pursuit of various women, which may well have led to him not being resident at 9, Edinburgh Road for long periods. In the wedding group photo that I talked about in detail in "The seventh journey" there is a sultry-looking middle-aged woman who was apparently a Portuguese who had lived in South Africa, and Brian told me once that at one point Arthur Senior appeared in Crawley on the arm of this woman rather than with Winnie.

I now come to present the evidence I have that my grandfather did not die on February 16th, 1968 as officially recorded, but that he was either murdered at a date around that time, or, less likely, that once again he escaped what appeared to be certain death by a series of cunning ruses.

The evidence concerning the second putative death of my grandfather was collected at a very late stage in the writing of this post, in the later part of 2017 and the early months of 2018, when I was already well into the succeeding post, "The mother I hated and loved". This means both that the section from here on for many paragraphs forms a lengthy interpolation in a text which was already enormous in its first version and has undergone much later revision, and also that the relationship between this and the following post at this point has become so complex and symbiotic that both sets of material are ideally read in conjunction

In the early winter of 2017 I had been back in London from my latest  sojourn for several months and my sporadic researches had reached a point where I became interested in finding my grandfather's grave. I visited a number of cemeteries near the house where he had officially lived with Winnie, but he did not seem to be in any of these, not even the huge Hanwell Cemetery, which was practically at the back door of the house.

Then I attended an event at a church near where I live in north London and this event was sponsored by a funeral parlour. After the service, I told a sympathetic mixed-raced woman who worked at this establishment about my search. She offered to help me make various phone calls free of charge from the her place of work and a few days later I took her up on the offer.

We were sitting in the outer office of the undertaker's as she prepared to help, I showed her the copy of my grandfather's death certificate, and she suggested that we phone a series of crematoria in the general neighbourhood of the house. She had a list of four crematoria, but three quickly proved not to have cremated any Arthur Ernest Hills. Then we came to the South-West Middlesex. When she got through to a man from this crematorium, there was a sudden phone call from the inner office of the funeral parlour, and the woman was forced to put the phone down, asking the man to ring back. He did so while she was away, and he was forced to leave a message, and in considerable agitation before she returned, I thought: she's found the one!

On her return I think she rang him once again (or perhaps he pre-empted her by ringing back himself) and, sure enough, he had the record of a cremation of one Arthur Ernest Hills for the relevant period, and he began to tell her about it. I overheard that the cremation had been on 25th January, 1968, and believed immediately that there had been a fraud. But the woman, although very kindly, would not accept any interruptions from me across the table, and she now had the death certificate in her hand and leaped to the very justified conclusion (on her part) that another Arthur Ernest Hills must be in question.

Meanwhile, the man was giving her the details of the cremation and I heard that the dead man had lived in Sunnyside Road, which is a street in Ealing, and that the informant of the death had been a woman, whose name I did not catch. I signalled frantically to the woman to continue taking down the details, but she quickly brought the conversation to a close, saying that this could not be my grandfather because, in addition to the discrepancy with the date, the man cremated had been 59 years old at the time of his death while the death certificate clearly showed my grandfather as being 71.

I felt disgusted by this outcome, but maintained my politeness to the woman and contributed to a heart problems charity for which a collecting-box was on the desk, and in return received a small badge of a heart which is still attached to the green jacket I was wearing on that day.

Later that morning, in great agitation, I phoned the crematorium myself, but they refused to give me the details over the phone because the information they had been given by the woman seemed to show that the man they had cremated could not have been my grandfather. I broke down on the phone, shouted at them and allowed my voice to break, and eventually they suggested I should put my request to their superintendent in a letter.

I did so, and in the period while I was waiting for some reply from them, I did what I had done before and checked the register of births, marriages and deaths for the relevant period. It confirmed what I already knew, that only one Arthur Ernest Hills in the whole of Britain was recorded as having died in the first three months of 1968, or in the later part of 1967, and this was my grandfather, on February 16th. There was therefore no death certificate exactly corresponding to the cremation in January, and the cremation must therefore have been somehow effected without this legal requirement, perhaps by a slight forgery in the green card which is given to the undertaker and which could perhaps differ in some small detail from the death certificate. But given that both the cremation and the death certificate recorded the deaths of men living in the London Borough of Ealing, within a short period of each other, and apparently with exactly the same name, it seemed to me overwhelmingly likely that the same person died and was cremated.

(There is a strange detail on the death certificate of my grandfather, most of the data on which I had already given and which is typewritten. In the box recording the causes of death, these are recorded as having been certified by D.E. Stapleforth and by this name is written the figure 7 with a dot following it. But this name has been crossed out and replaced by "D.E. Stableforth M.B". The registrar is V.M. Maidsent, recorded as "Deputy" and in the free space by this box is written "Seven V.M.M", with the final letter indistinct. It is of course difficult to speculate on what this letter and figure 'seven' might mean, but I imagine  it is a record of the number of times a correction had to be made.)

After a couple of weeks a kindlier person from the crematorium rang me and was willing to give me all the details of the cremation, which were fewer than would appear on a death certificate, presumably because they were based on the green card. I had misheard the date of the cremation, which was on 15th January, and the man recorded as Arthur Ernest Hills, aged 59, had died on 8th January. The name of the road was not Sunnyside Road but Sunnycroft Road, which is in Southall, and the number in the street was 47. The informant was indeed a woman, one Nellie Edith Collins.

I explained to the man that I believed a fraud had taken place, and he seemed to sympathise with my belief that the man cremated must have been my grandfather. But what action the crematorium proposed to take about it, if any, was unclear. I told him that I hoped they involved the police because this was likely to assist me in my enquiries about who my grandfather had been.

Soon after this conversation, I spoke with a young beggar who always sits at a point near the house where I am living. He is of a Maltese criminal family but perfectly pleasant himself, and I often help him with a pound or two, sometimes more. I told him some of the facts I have related above, omitting the details of the cremation as being too complex, and asked him for his opinion of what had happened.

He said that he thought my grandfather had almost certainly been murdered and a cremation somehow arranged because it was essential to dispose quickly of the body. The death certificate for my grandfather on 16th February had been procured by bribery and perhaps a body was not present to need disposal, so that any involvement of an undertaker would have been clandestine. The young beggar's hypothesis struck me as fairly likely, although I was worried about the formalities necessary at a hospital. The King Edward General Hospital was the main state hospital in Ealing at the time, and surely they would never have issued a death certificate without a corpse. It would be difficult, at the very least.

I suppose it is also possible that my grandfather did not really die, that the coffin that went into the flames was empty and someone else's body retained for later disposal after the death of my grandfather had been registered, so that the whole complex procedure was a ruse to persuade the world that my grandfather was finally dead. Anyway, trying to work out what had happened was doing my head in at the time I was talking to young Robert, so I took my leave, granting him three pounds on that occasion, because I thought he deserved it.

Some weeks after this conversation, when I tried to interest someone at the General Register Office by phone in the possible fraud, I discovered that there was in fact a death certificate which might be the right one, but it was for an Arthur Ernest Hill, not Hills,  Anyway, except for the suspicious discrepancy of one letter (and usually Hills get changed to Hill, not the other way round), this new certificate bid fair to fatally weaken my belief that it was my grandfather who had been cremated on 15th January. Dutifully, I ordered it.

The new certificate took several weeks to come, and in the meantime, getting very impatient, I visited the Hillingdon Register Office (because the death took place at Hillingdon Hospital, it would have been registered in the corresponding borough) and obtained a copy of it at vast expense and with a delay of only a couple of hours. The woman who dealt with the matter at the desk was rather surprised that I was requiring that certificate just then, because someone had apparently been asking for it recently, but she could not remember who this was.

The details on the certificate corresponded in most details to what I had learnt from the crematorium. The man, a motor accessories salesman and aged 59, had indeed been called Arthur Ernest Hill, but by the time he was cremated his name was recorded as Arthur Ernest Hills. The informant was not called Nellie Edith Collins but Millie Edith Collins and she was recorded as "sister", which could obviously be either a relation or a ward nurse. Her address, however, was given as 47, Sunnycroft Road, and, when I checked the electoral registers for that part of the borough of Ealing, I discovered that she and what must have been her husband were long-term residents at that address, that in the mid-1950s they had been joined there by two other people called Collins, and that in 1958 and 1959 these had been replaced by one Arthur Ernest Hill, who must surely have been the brother in question. He was not recorded as living at No 47 after that date, and after 1968 neither were Millie Edith Collins and her husband, their place being taken by another family.

I visited the South-West Middlesex Creamtorium to see what had become of the man called Arthur Ernest Hill. This involved a long and complex journey to the far south-western suburb of Hanworth - bus, tube, train, then a walk and further bus in the valley of the Crane. The place was most functional when I arrived, and bore the unfortunate resemblance that such buildings do to the gates of Auschwitz, and, although large numbers of hearses seemed to be drawing up and departing, the reception hall was unearthly quiet and empty with its many testimonials. After a subdued moment I pressed a bell, and a sullen male official appeared at the desk to attend me.

Initially, this person denied that any such man as I was looking for was buried at the crematorium (I had already spoken to him on the phone, he knew of the slightly confusing circumstances, and he was obviously getting suspicious of me), but when I gave him the death certificate he was able to locate the plot, which contained common graves, and also gave me a map to find it. But the different sections of the grounds were not clearly marked, and eventually I had to solicit the help of someone working near the furnaces. He eventually indicated me a most bleak piece of ground almost entirely undisturbed by memorials. Then he left me.

I became distressed as I stood alone there on that cold February day, but I was soon comforted by a friendly, simple and quite handsome gravedigger called Phil, who was working nearby and noticed how upset I was and asked me what was the matter. (I knew he was called Phil, because he was wearing the name on his warm jacket, and I knew he was a gravedigger becausehe was carrying a spade.)

Phil listened with sympathy to what he was able to understand of my story, said that these strange things happened in life, that perhaps it was a pig which had been cremated and not my grandfather, and he cheered me up quite a bit. I went my way to try and find the road back to Hounslow with a new spring in my step.

(I insert at this point the record of the investigations I made into what became of the body of my grandfather after he died, supposedly, at the King Edward General Hospital on 16th February. I began by looking at the records of the two big cemeteries very near his house, but drew a blank. Then, as I have already related, I used the woman in the funeral parlour to discover that he had not apparently been cremated at a range of local crematoria, but that the man called Arthur Ernest Hill had been. I phoned the Ealing Cemeteries Office, and there was no record of interment anywhere in Ealing. Later, I visited a number of undertakers in the Hanwell area - and four of these, three of them very long established, were in what seemed to be an undertaker's row, three in one street and the fourth a little farther away, in the centre of Hanwell - but none of them had any records of having undertaken the funeral of my grandfather.)

It is strange that a man with a wife should have been buried apparently without trace, and stranger still that a man called Hill on his death certificate was cremated as Hills (while his sister, called Millie, was recorded as Nellie.). But both of these facts are capable of rational explanation and would not arouse overwhelming suspicion in themselves. But I am now about to relate facts which cannot so easily be explained away.

During the period of these investigations I had visited the Westminster Archives, which are particularly quiet and peaceful, near to the Church House Bookshop and Well Cafe, and and the staff there are helpful and courteous, so that it always, up till now, seems a pleasure to go there in search of yet more mysterious certificates to order.

There turned out to be two more certificates of interest for men called Hills who had apparently died in the first quarter of 1968, and I ordered both of these on the morning just after I had learnt of them in the archive, sitting with my coffee and cake in the Well Cafe, having bought a a very cheap book about the Resurrection from friendly Frank at the bookshop, and then rushing back home to listen to Composer of the Week, which that week was Schubert.

When I received the two certificates, they turned out to have a lot in common, both being certificates of men who had died in mental hospitals, both 83 or about 83 years old, one a retired labourer, the other a carpenter, suffering from chronic melancholia or senile dementia as well as other ailments. The first was one Frederick William Hills, who had been interned at the Tooting Bec Hospital. He had apparently died on 5th January and his death was registered on 8th January, which was the same date Arthur Ernest Hill died in Southall. A check in the records, which are conveniently available on the internet for the London Borough of Wandsworth, quickly revealed that he was not recorded as being buried or cremated anywhere in that borough.

I will dwell a little further on this death certificate. First I draw attention to the fact that the man's given names were Frederick William and that, as I related in an earlier post, my grandfather seems on the occasion of my parents' wedding to have passed himself off under the name Frederick William Williams. The causes of death are recorded as broncho-pneumonia and congestive heart failure (as well as senile dementia), and the first two are the same, except in the exact wording, as the causes of death given for my grandfather on 16th February. The doctor registering the death is K. Hamadeh L.M.S.S.A, and this name is close to that of the doctor at the death of Arthur Ernest Hill in Southall (who again had similar causes of death), E.G. Hadaway, M.B. The informant was recorded as the nephew of the deceased, A.J. Hills, which is only one initial away from the name of the man who brought me up, A.E. Hills. He had an address in Horsham, Sussex, and this was very close to where we lived in 1968 at Crawley, Sussex. And the final odd coincidence was that the number of the certificate is 104, and we lived at that time at 104, Brighton Road, Southgate, Crawley.

Now on to the other certificate. This was the third death connected with the London Borough of Ealing, of one Robert Henry Hills, who was a patient at the St Bernard's Mental Hospital in Southall, the former Middlesex Lunatic Asylum,which dated back to the 1830s and was a huge institution famous all over the country. This man, as I said, had details very similar to those of Frederick William Hills - he was also 83 years old, he was a retired labourer rather than carpenter, and the causes of death were more or less the same (he was recorded as suffering from chronic melancholia rather than senile dementia). His death was certified by another doctor with an Indian name, B.D. Sood M.D, and whoever typed the document, perhaps a secretary in an outer office, had first typed "voronary thrombosis" which was duly corrected to "coronary thrombosis". At the far right-hand end of the certificate, beyond the material in boxes, are handwritten words which are difficult to decipher but which might be "fair deal".

Robert Henry Hills was recorded as having died on 7th March, but his death was not registered until 29th March. Actually, I think I may already have heard of him when I ordered the certificates, because possibly a little before that time I had been impelled to phone up the Ealing Cemeteries Office a second time (I had already been in touch with them, as I related, to try and find my grandfather's grave). I spoke on both occasions to a very friendly and open-minded lady called Elaine Robertson, who had been kind enough to send me the burial details that she had in her office, for Robert Henry Hills.

When I had received these, Robert Henry turned out to be in another common grave, at Greenford Cemetery, which was not particularly surprising in a old man suffering from dementia and apparently alone. But it was with a terrible start, when I received the death certificate and checked the details against those that Elaine Robertson had sent me that I noticed that he had apparently been interred on 20th March, nine days before his death was registered! Four people had apparently been interred on that day, the other three were on the previous page to Robert Henry Hills, and the one above him, George Steven Bryant, also a patient at St Bernand' Hospital, died age 75, had the same index number as Robert Henry, 52647. The register number of the burial for Bryant was 70 and for Hills 71. I very quickly phoned Elaine again to tell her these surprising facts, and, like me, she was very surprised, but she remained cautious, as public officials must, and said that she needed to check the records held by Greenford Cemetery itself.

Today, 2nd March 2018, the third day of intense snowfall over England, five days before the 50th anniversary of the putative death of a senile old man called Robert Henry Hills, I phoned Elaine Robertson again, she had looked at the cemetery records, and they had no record of the interment of Robert Henry Hills on the said date.

How is it possible to make any sense of this intensely strange concentration of of documents and the lack of them? Any reconstruction of what really happened is of course merest conjecture. But I will make an effort. The man recorded as Frederick William Hills was really my grandfather. He was done to death secretly at the asylum in Tooting on or around 5th January 1968. My mother and Arthur Ernest Arthur Hills Junior were in on the plot. All this was timed to coincide with the imminent death of an Arthur Ernest Hill in Southall. His sister Mrs Collins identified him in the normal way. Her co-operation would have been necessary, and she was rewarded with the werewithal to move with her husband to leafy Buckinghamshire. The body was taken to the undertaker, which was A. Spicer of Southall, where the body of my grandfather had also arrived.

 A coffin was prepared, and a sleight of hand with the documents changed the name of the Southall deceased from Hill to Hills and of his sister Nellie to Millie. The coffin that went into the flames on 15th January was empty, or perhaps, as my friend Phil suggested, it contained the body of a pig to provide some smelly ashes.

The conspirators now had the body of the Nazi and of Arthur Ernest Hill (now conveniently invested with the assumed name of my grandfather) on their hands. They were artifically preserved and Mr Hill of Southall was got into place at the King Edward Hospital, Ealing, in order for him to be recorded as having died there, under his assumed identity, on 16th February. Because he had not entered the hospital alive, a considerable amount of collusion was necessary to achieve this registration, and I believe both the agents of Israel and the British government to be involved in the plot.

My grandfather's widow Winnie was the informant, and it seems possible that she was also a conspirator. It is true, however, that she lived apart from her bigamous husband and that she may not have seen the body. But he would have been missing since early January. And how to explain that she never told the neighbours at Edinburgh Road that she had had a husband who had died, apparently, only a month before they moved in? No, she was in. Well, unless she had been done away with as well, of course. And her son.

If they had also been killed, their bodies were gone, and now just my grandfather's corpse remained. Another invented senile old man called Hills was pressed into place at St Bernand's Hospital, Southall. My aunt Helen was a mental health sister at one of the London hospitals, and she would have had the contacts to arrange all this invention of lunatics. But the fact that such an important person as the occupant of the hospital was involved means that this was arranged is a further indication of the widespread nature of the plot, everyone sworn to secrecy because a top Nazi was involved.

The conspirators didn't change the details they had used for my grandfather at Tooting  The registration of the death was delayed to arrange for the clandestine burial of the now two-month old body. I have related earlier in this post that for some reason it was necessary for Arthur and Helen to meet soon after he had received the news of his father's death, and and that we dropped her possibly at Park Royal Tube, having driven from somewhere further out of London. For the purposes of this reconstruction, let's say it was Park Royal Tube. We were coming from the cemetery at Greenford. The date was March 20th 1968. My grandfather's body, what was left of it, had finally found the earth.

An alternative scenario exists. My grandfather was in danger of discovery and his family helped him to escape to South America. They just wanted him out of their hair, not to kill him. Another old man was murdered at Tooting, or more probably his death was just hurried along. That person ended at Greenford.

On 7th March 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of what seemed the very unlikely death of Robert Henry Hills, after the intense snowfall had stopped, and it was a mild and damp day, I went once again to those regions of farthest west London in search of what I thought was probably was my grandfather's grave at Greenford. I was in the company of a friend who lives in those regions, someone I met in prison, a placid, comforting person, if a little uncomprehending. First we went to the management at St Bernard's Hospital to try and interest them in the fraud concerning Robert Henry Hills, and we met with a dusty response from two well-coiffed ladies. Then to the Salvation army pop-in at West Ealing for lunch, and then to talk to a friendly, slightly sinister undertaker about the strange and hilarious ways in which human beings treat their dead.

Then on to the large, well-tended and gloomy cemetery at Greenford, with a hazy view of the heights of south-west London in the distance. It was difficult to locate the exact plot from the map we had, and the few Indian figures flitting about the cemetery seemed mysteriously to vanish when we sought their help. But finally we were at what must be the general area, and I noticed suddenly that in among the individual graves in this section there was one patch of ground surrounded by a very low wall where there were no memorials. There was nowhere else that could conceivably be the place.

After a moment my friend wandered off, through the slight puddles that marked the untended ground, and as I stood in front of the small enclosure, and prayed in words that I do not intend to share with the reader, I experienced a sense of overwhelming peace. It was as beautiful as it was brief, for it left me as soon as my friend returned. Then I noticed that within the bare enclosure was one artificial flower. It was quite pretty, red and yellow as I remember. I asked the friend if he thought I should take it. He seemed doubtful. Better, he seemed to imply, to leave it where it was. But ,impelled with the sense of peace I had felt, I took the flower.

As we left the cemetery, and went to take tea at a peaceful little cafe in a parade of shops nearby, it felt awkward to carry the flower in my hand and, on my friend's advice, I put it in my pocket. We parted after the tea and Kit-Kat, to which I had treated him, and I walked through the path that leads through the valley of the Brent and under the Hayes and Harlington Viaduct, and I was alone as I carried the flower again.

And I walked on across the busy road at Hanwell to look once again at the house where my grandfather had reputedly  lived with Winnie, 9, Edinburgh Road. It was dark as I stood before it and I hurriedly retreated as someone came out of the next-door house where the neighbours had moved in during March 1968. This was perhaps a workman and I heard him say to those inside that he would go somewhere else and come back. He walked on and soon I lost him. The flower was once again in my pocket. Perhaps I looked at it one last time as I stood at the bus stop in Boston Road. I struggled upstairs in the crowded, swaying bus. By the time I got to Brentford Station the flower was gone.

And I am sure now that this was good. For it would not be well to remember my grandfather by so much as a single flower. During the time I was conducting these strange researches I was leafing once through a book about the final fate of the Nazi leaders in the Muswell Hill Library and it had a forward by the historian Andrew Roberts. In this he made the point that it was important for the general sense of closure, and particularly for the Germans themselves, that Hitler (and by implication the others) should be seen and known to have paid fully for their crimes.

This insight had not really occurred to me before, but as soon as I read Roberts' statement I realised that it was correct and that therefore, whatever my own sense of shock that my grandfather had probably been murdered, that it was a good thing that he had been. If he was a leading Nazi in hiding, we all know the name of the team that would have got him in the end, whoever they may have been helped by. It begins with an M and ends with a D and there is a double S in the middle. Good on them!.

Unless the whole thing was a gigantic ruse so that the old bastard could escape again? No, that was not it. For I remember Arthur Ernest Hills, the old Nazi's son, saying with deep feeling, "Thank God the old bastard's dead!"

And my own attitude to this grandfather, if he was Goebbels, must be as clear and uncompromising as that of any person who aspires to decency and right feeling. I will perhaps never be able to get rid of the instinctive ambiguity which comes from the fact that I knew him and that he was my own flesh and blood. But I must yield to no one in reasoned detestation of and abhorrence at his crimes. I could never defend him by as much as a single word. I could not have remembered him by so much as a single flower.

 Now I will just briefly relate various other things I know about my grandfather, or can reasonably surmise about him.

Before the dates of the various later documentary records, there are a number of memories that Arthur Junior gave of his father in England, which are likely to be true, and they include the fact that, before being involved with Winnie, he had been with a slatternly woman called Madge who always had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. There is also the meeting on the top of the London bus, and this is so strange it must surely be true. Arthur had no memories of him at all between the family break-up, possibly around 1932, and the period after the Second World War, and this would obviously be consistent with him really being a Nazi in Germany and therefore entirely inaccessible to Arthur, by that time in England.

Does this mean that we can be certain that he arrived in England, by unknown means, after the Second World War, perhaps several years after it, having been in hiding in Germany from early May 1945? I refer again to my unreliable informant the archivist and his statement that the assumption of British identity by the group of Nazis who had murdered an entire English family had taken place before the Second World War, not after that.

Now, assuming that the archivist was referring to my own family, this might mean that my grandfather had been planted in England by the Nazi regime during the 1930s, but it could also mean, as I have already discussed, that members of his family and other connections had been insinuated into Britain by various means after or around the period of the murders and that a sleeper identity had been created for my grandfather at a similar period, for him to use in the event of Nazi defeat and his own subsequent escape from either a faked death or the possibility of a trial.

This creation of a sleeper identity would obviously have been most likely to have taken place at the height of British appeasement of the Nazis, and I think historians would date this as being around late 1936 when the Abdication Crisis and the support given by Churchill to the King had discredited the former's anti-Hitler stance and the abandonment by the British Left of its previous commitment to peace, because of the Spanish Civil War, had given the Right a further impetus in its wish to appease the dictators.

Now, as it happens, I was able to unearth from my searches of the British records during my two clandestine visits to London the record of a suspicious death of one Arthur Hills, which took place at exactly this period, on 14th December 1936.

The said Arthur Hills was a plumber's mate with an address in Poplar, East London, and he is recorded as having died "opposite No 10" in High Street, North Woolwich. This suggests to me a possible fatal accident with the plumbing. The coroner for south-east London, W.H. Whitehouse, conducted an inquest on 16th December, and the cause of death was given as labar pneumonia, and rather tautologically, "natural causes", with the initials "P.M" appended, which I think must stand for "post-mortem".

The age of this Arthur Hills was recorded as 39, while the Arthur Ernest Hills born at Dover in 1896 whom Mr Adolph identified,tracing the facts back from the marriage to Winnie, as having been my grandfather, would have been 40 at this time. Obviously, it is not impossible that these two men were the same, and also that whatever sudden event befell the plumber's mate was engineered.

(A complicating aside at this point. There was also another Arthur Ernest Hills born in Kent in 1896, but this time not at Dover but at Faversham, on 20th November, the son of a William John Hills, who was the captain of a barge. When we were first researching who our grandfather had been, Christopher Hills and I had become very puzzled about trying to work out which of the two was connected to us, but Antony Adolph's research confirmed that it was the one born at Dover. Now the one born at Faversham, curiously enough, died in 1932, at just about the time that the break-up in Arthur's family seems to have taken place. He died on 13th April 1932, and the birth of Dennis Hills, who had been given away too young for Arthur to remember anything about him, was on 24th February. Arthur Ernest Hills born at Faversham was recorded as a retired private in the Royal Marines, his death, at the age of 35, was due to pulmonary tuberculosis, which men who had been wounded in the First World War often died of prematurely, and the young man's father, W.J. Hills, is recorded as being present at the death. Everything about this certificate must clearly be above board, yet because of the fortuitous date the death took place this is another opportunity for my grandfather to have acquired the identity of an Arthur Ernest Hills.)

Now, if we assume that either in 1932 or 1936 was the moment that my definitively grandfather gained his British identity, because the original holder of it was now dead (although the identity also seems to be prefigured from about 1930, because Arthur Ernest Hills Senior is recorded as the father of the two children Dennis and Sonia, who were born from those dates), do we have any information which suggests whether he took up the identity more or less immediately, or whether it was a sleeper identity?

Yes, there is one possible indication. Now the well-informed but possibly not truly helpful archivist drew my attention during the third stay in London to the existence of the 1939 Register, which was a census compiled in Britain at the outbreak of war of all civilians living in the country, British and foreign. It was drawn up by house-to-house enquiry and the archivist said it was useful and comprehensive. And, as a dutiful family researcher, I took the hint of this ingratiating person and went to look up Arthur Ernest Hills and other family members in this record.

Sure enough, there was a register of one Arthur E. Hills, born on the same date as the man identified by Mr Adolph as my grandfather, living with one Marjorie Hills, who could well have been Madge, and both are recorded as married, although apparently not to each other. Is this absolute proof that the assumption of identity happened immediately?

Well, not quite. This couple are recorded as living at 249, Barton Road, Lambeth, and, when I checked the street name in the A-to-Z it did not exist. It is of course possible that there was once such a street and that it was swept away by wartime bombing or post-war redevelopment, although the very high street number suggests that this is unlikely to have been the case.

Also, in the case of a sleeper identity, it would have been necessary for it to be recorded in the 1939 Register, which was hastily compiled in often indecipherable handwriting, and not checked, therefore easy to forge. And, if we are talking about possible forgery, I saw the record in computerised form and it could easily have been concocted for the archivist to draw my attention to it. I had told him about Madge. Or that hellish slattern, complete with dangling fag, could have been a present that came with the identity! Oh no, my dear archivist, you're not going to fool me as easily as that!

I myself, for what it is worth, incline to the theory of the sleeper identity. What top Nazi would have wanted to leave Germany at a time when every indication was that Hitler would lead his adopted country to ever more success? But might he not, if he were wise, have been glad of an insurance policy provided by some twinkling friend of his in the British establishment in case the plans of the said triumphant Hitler came to dust and ashes?

Well, all our plans might come to dust and ashes and, talking of the slightly sinister archivist, I am reminded of the fact that he warned me during that drunken evening that, if I ever came close to the truth about the identity of my grandfather, somebody might kill me. Well, very recently, there has been what appeared to be an attempt on my life, and it occurs to me that my own insurance policy involves telling the reader about this attempt, in order to deter those who may be thinking about repeating the experiment.

Now you may remember that I mentioned that, very recently, while writing this post, I undertook a South American journey, and it so happens that on 20th January 2017 I arrived by sea in Buenos Aires. This is is now almost a month ago, as I am writing at this moment in the internet centre of the social club in Altura on the afternoon of 15th February 2017.

Someone I had met in a bookshop in Montevideo had recommended to me that I stay in the suburb of Recoleta and I had looked up this smart area several times on the Internet and perhaps mentioned I was going there in an email. On arrival at the port, I took a taxi to Recoleta and the driver drew up at a point where there was a choice of three hotels. I checked into one called Urban Suites and, as it was lunchtime, I rested a couple of hours in my room and ate lunch there. I go pretty often to the toilet and, as there was no window in this bathroom, I am sure I must have gone in, perhaps more than once, and switched on the lights. Then I went out for a couple of hours to see the sights of Recoleta. I returned very tired and once more rested for about an hour on the bed.

Then I went into the toilet again and switched on the lights. Immediately, a small fire broke out within or near the light bulb. I did not react immediately to this strange event, but quite soon the room was filling with more and more smoke and, although I turned everything off, and the fire went out, this did not stop the spread of the smoke. Eventually I realised that I must exit the room immediately or I would be dead.

I quickly made my way down to the reception desk, where two young receptionists were on duty, both of whom had appeared since I checked in at lunchtime. Eventually the more sympathetic of the two, a sweet young man of Italian descent called Max, came up with me to the room and, although himself almost overwhelmed by the smoke, was quickly able to discover what the cause of the fire was. Someone had put a wet toilet roll inside the light bulb. And on this terrifying note (at least to me) I will close what I have to say for the moment about Arthur Ernest Hills Senior.

 And now to the mother of his children. These were officially four (although, according to a distant relation in Edinburgh, there were apparently five.)  The children were born, according to the records, to a woman called as Mary Martin Brown, born in Edinburgh in 1899 with ancestry that Mr Adolph traced back to Ayrshire in the eighteenth century. Now what can be known with certainty of her?

Well, of course, I never knew Ida Lotte Bleistein, which I believe to be this woman's real name, although perhaps the worst of all my memories is standing at the door which she was refusing to open to her own son and grandson. That was surely a terrible thing to do to a son she had once known, and I can only wonder what was the substance of the quarrel that took place near the beginning of the war, when he was perhaps only fourteen (or, more likely, eighteen).

The few other people I have met who knew her, relations of hers, also describe her as a hard, mean woman. Arthur always spoke of her with great bitterness, saying once that she was "a miserable bitch", yet, once, at my request, he showed me a photograph of her and one of his father. He said he would show me these photos once and once only, and he kept his word. I never saw those photos again. The one of my grandfather, according to what may of course be false memory, showed a very evil-looking young man lying on the grass of a park, the one of my grandmother a woman against the background of a great city. Arthur must have cared, to have kept those photos so long. Still waters ran deep with him.

Now, obviously, if my grandmother was really a German Jewish refugee, who arrived in this country with one of her twin sons, but not the other, and perhaps also her daughter, and then gave two more children away, it follows that all the details that relate to Mary Martin Brown before about 1930 have nothing to do with her. But can we also assume that everything that relates to Mary Martin Brown after her arrival, as with Arthur Ernest Hills Senior, is substantially true of my grandmother? I do not think we can.

This is because the original Mary Brown would have had to be disposed of - either killed, or given another identity - and the original identity would still exist and would have to be acknowledged if it were ever in question. And, if my grandmother continued to use her original identity for various purposes, as I believe she did, then she would have had finally to dispose of the identity of the original Mary Martin Brown before her own death, possibly when that person herself finally died, and by fair means or foul.

Now, as it happens, just as with Arthur Ernest Hills Senior, my searches of the records in England during my clandestine visits threw up the occasion when this disposal of identity seems to have taken place, and the interviews I subsequently conducted with other relations of my grandmother make it seem virtually certain, at least to me, that I have discovered at least the rudiments of the truth about this.

In the summer of 2014 I went to the Westminster Archives Centre and found a death certificate for  the Mary Martin born in Edinburgh in 1899, with which, as I now know for certain, from proofs I shall reveal after giving all the facts I can find, my grandmother had faked her own death.

She is recorded as having died at the Central Middlesex Hospital, Park Royal, West London, on 30th July 1982, of congestive cardiac failure and coronary occlusion with generalised atheroclerosis. But the death was not registered until 5th August 1982, because there was a post-mortem without inquest. This meant that the certificate of death carried the certification not of a family doctor but of  D.M. Paul the Coroner for North London, and it was filled out in the florid and almost legible handwriting of someone probably called Raymond O. Sullivan, Registrar for the sub-district of Park Royal in the London Borough of Brent.

On the day this document was signed, the body would have been released for burial .On that very same day, 5th August, another woman, known simply as Mary Martin, the widow of one Leonard Cecil Martin, who had apparently been born on 6th August 1896, is recorded as having died, at the Royal Free Hospital, in the neighbouring borough of Camden, but her death, for reasons unknown, was not registered until 13th August.

The causes of death, broncho-pneumonia and cerebro-vascular accident, were certified by the strangely-named F. Fortuno MBBS, and the signature of the registrar, recorded as being of the sub-district of Camden in the registration district of Camden in the London Borough of Camden, is entirely illegible.

I think this second woman was possibly the original Mary Martin Brown, born in Edinburgh in 1899, and that she is likely to have been done to death around 30th July 1982, either at her own recorded address or at the recorded address of my grandmother, and to have been rushed, already dying, either to the Central Middlesex or the Royal Free Hospital, or left for a while for her body to decompose in the heat of August.

Her own address, as recorded on the death certificate, was 29, Ariel Road, West Hampstead, London NW6, but, as I discovered from the electoral rolls towards the very end of my stay in England in summer 2014, this was an entirely empty house at the time of the widow's death and had been since 1978 and was to remain so until 1984.

Clearly the widow had not been living at 29, Ariel Road, and if one detail in a certificate is false, the whole thing is likely to be designed to deceive. This document is very sparse on detail and filled out in a careful but uneducated hand. The informant of the death was a Martin Lolliard (or possibly Colliard - the initial letter of the surname at the space reserved for it is half-way between the versions of capital "C" and Capital "L" that appear elsewhere in the document, while the signature of the person is entirely indecipherable,)

This person of uncertain surname had the usual address of 356/364 Grays Inn Road, and this turns out to be the address of Camden Council social services, so he was an anonymous council worker. His qualification for being the informant was "causing the body to be buried", from which implies, although not with total certainty, that, wherever the body began its journey, it moved towards its final resting place from the Royal Free. The fact that a council worker was the informant implies that the widow was a solitary person, the circumstances of whose death were of little interest to anyone.

If the widow was not living at 29, Ariel Road, this raises the question of where she really was living, and I think it is possible that her home really was 94, Vanbrough Crescent, the recorded address of my grandmother. This is a very small bungalow between two more substantial houses and seems designed for an elderly person to live in alone. As she was almost certainly also called Mary Martin, she could have passed for my grandmother.

Vanbrough Crescent is a quiet street in the mainly anonymous landscape of far West London near the White Hart Roundabout. But when I visited the area I discovered that the population in the group of houses surrounding No 94 had remained surprisingly stable and several persons who had grown up in the area were still living there in their middle and old age.

A number of these were willing to talk to me, and I showed them several photographs I had procured of my grandmother, and none of them recognised her, and none had any memories of a couple who could possibly have been Mary Martin Brown and Percy Martin. One of them thought her face might be vaguely familiar, but of this she could not be sure. I therefore conclude my grandmother and her husband almost certainly never lived at this address.

But it was certainly her recorded address and that of Percy Martin according to the electoral rolls. The 1978 register shows a Margaret Sell as living at No 94. My grandmother and her husband are first shown in the 1979 register, which became operative from 16th February of that year, shortly after the time, therefore, that 29, Ariel Road fell entirely vacant. My grandmother vanishes from the time of the 1983 register, as one would expect, and then Percy Brown is shown until 1993, the year of his death, I believe. From 1994 to 1997 an Antoine H. Estienne is recorded, and from 1998, for quite a number of years, Angus D. Loch.

When I visited the area I was told something about Angus D. Loch by the current occupant of 94, Vanbrough Cresecent. He had been a very shy and solitary black man who hardly went out except to his local church, and he had occupied the small house for about twenty years and died several years before I visited the area in 2014. I therefore conclude that he probably moved into the house at some time before the death of Percy Martin and that the said Antoine Estienne was another phantom occupant.

I shall always mention at a later point that one of my cousins remembered the woman calling Mary Martin and Percy Martin living mainly on the top floor of a council flat in Acton and had no memory of them living at Vanbrough Crescent, although he was her grandson and had known them both reasonably well

There is one final strange fact about 94, Vanbrough Crescent in relation to the Central Middlesex Hospital. It is nowhere near there. The hospital in question lies between Harlesden and North Acton. But Vanbrough Crescent is so far out in the western suburbs, in Northolt or Yeading, that it is hardly London at all. In fact, Ariel Road is nearer to the Central Middlesex than is Vanbrough Crescent. Why, if my grandmother really lived at the latter, was she not taken to the nearby Hillingdon Hospital when she fell ill from standard causes?

What happened, then, on or just before 30th July 1982, which led to the death of the elderly woman of unknown identity and address, but possibly also called Mary Martin? Well, the exact details of this complex plot will perhaps never be known, and are certainly beyond the present writer to unravel in detail at this point. I shall indicate shortly that there are people still alive who perhaps know these details, but unless and until they talk the whole plot will never be unravelled.

We are left with the fact that my grandmother did not die on this occasion and that another elderly woman surely must have done, because a body must have been cut up. One possibility that occurs to me is that there was some sort of administrative link between the Central Middlesex and Royal Free hospitals, so that a post-mortem could have been recorded at the one but really have taken place at the other.

 So on the one hand, we have my grandmother, now herself elderly but still in good health, living quite near all the locations I have mentioned, and perhaps fearful that, in the event of the death of the real Mary Martin Brown, her own cover would be blown. Then there is the more hypothetical figure of the elderly widow who, perhaps for money, had accepted a slight adjustment of identity many decades before.

Perhaps the two women had always remained vaguely in touch and, when the widow came to die, she made sure my grandmother and Percy Martin were informed. That would be the charitable explanation. Against this is the fact that Percy Martin was the informant of the death and that the death certificate, filled out with every possible detail, and leaving no space for suspicion of any of the authorities at Central Middlesex Hospital, except a possibly corrupted family doctor, says that Percival Conrad Marshall Martin, the informant, the dead woman's husband,  was present at the death.

There is also the fact that 29 Ariel Road had already been entirely empty for four years at the time the second woman died. Why? It was a three storey Victorian house in quite a prosperous if very transient part of West London. Much money could have been made from letting it out, surely. But what if it were more important for the place to be readied as the recorded address of a solitary and dying occupant?

Surely the unfortunate widow was done to death at 29, Ariel Road, that silent and empty house, with perhaps the only sound disturbing the killing the noise of the overhead train. Probably her pulse was lowered to a point where death would shortly follow. And it is the Royal Free that is the nearest hospital. Surely she was taken there. The Central Middlesex is just that bit too far.

I do not necessarily suspect the coroner. He would have cut up thousands of bodies of elderly women at various North London hospitals in his time .Once his work was done, it was for F. Fortuno to provide the certification. And for Mr Colliard or Lolliard to take the widow to her final resting place.

And what was the motive which could justify what seems to have been a particularly callous murder, surely carried out at by the ageing Percy Martin, with my grandmother, who was rather older than him, perhaps watching in the background?

There was an ostensible motive and a hidden one. The obvious motive was to get rid of the identity of Mary Martin Brown for ever. But the final motive must surely have been to try and make sure that no one ever found out the true identity of the man calling himself calling himself Arthur Ernest Hills and the fact that he was not the Englishman he claimed to be.

For if the woman recorded as his former wife had been shown at her death to be a person of false identity, suspicion would have posthumously fallen on him. Much money would surely have been available to attain this end, more than enough to keep a large North London house empty for five years.

I have gone to 29, Ariel Road many times, often at night, and stood outside this corner house in the weird district between the three railway lines. If my grandmother and Percy Martin used 29, Ariel Road for their schemes, they must have had a connection with it, and perhaps once had lived there. Again and again I have tried to remember if this can have been the house we visited in 1968 to try to see my grandmother, the time she refused to see me or her own son. But I have got no certain answer from myself. And Arthur Ernest Hills, her son, told me the house was in Acton.

At this point I ask the reader to remember -  I have mentioned it twice before in this now enormous post - that Arthur told me his father lived near South Ealing Tube when in fact he lived near Boston Manor Tube, two stops further down the Piccadilly Line. No, from West Hampstead to Acton Central on what is now the London Overground is five stops, but East Acton Station, which is on the Central Line, is so close to West Hampstead that, if a direct line linked them, the number of stops would be unlikely to be more than two.

Now if Arthur could tell one undoubted lie about his father, surely he would have been capable of telling a very similar one about his mother. He always loved to deceive me, in matters small as well as great. And my grandmother's grandson by Percy Martin, Paul Martin, when I questioned him, said that, although he remembered our grandmother as living on the top floor of a council block in Acton, he thought that 29, Ariel Road was a possible address for her at one time.

I checked the electoral rolls for 29, Ariel Road in 1968. There were six people living on the three floors of the house: a man and a woman with the surname Cadogan, two women with the surname Gardner, and a couple called James and Mary Singleton. One of the Cadogans seems to have died and the other was left. The Gardners were two women. It is therefore Singleton that I think possibly to be the alias of my grandmother and Percy Martin. But I acknowledge of course that there can be very little certainty of this.

I now come to the proof I have that my grandmother lived for several years beyond 30th July 1982, and this in contrast is quite certain. The summer of 2014 in London was a slightly depressed time for me, after the much more joyful winter visit, and I was slow to follow up my discovery of the two death certificates of possibly just one woman called Mary Martin.

But eventually I visited Edinburgh to find surviving relatives of Mary Martin Brown, and one of these told me that, although, as I already knew, Alan Martin, the son of my grandmother by Percy Martin, had died in 2006 - I had perhaps better make it clear at this point that the name Martin was in the family of Mary Martin Brown, and also the real, or assumed, name of Percy Martin - his widow, Margaret Hibberd, was perhaps still living.

The Edinburgh relation gave me the address for Margaret Hibberd, which was in a town or city on the south coast of England, and a few days after returning from Edinburgh I travelled down there for the day from London.

I arrived at the gloomy modern British High Street towards lunchtime, poked round the charity shops, had an uninspired but sufficient meal at a Wetherspoon, and booked my ticket back to Portugal at a travel agent's. Thus fortified, I got a taxi to the suburb where Margaret Hibberd perhaps still lived, but the taxi driver did not know the address, or claimed not to, although, rather strangely, he dropped me at a point which was, in fact, very close to her home.

I then got hopelessly lost for several hours, and wandered over vast distances, but I experienced the civility of many strangers, who tried to help me, and which I have to to admit, whenever I get exasperated with England, is one of the real joys of English life. So when I finally found the quiet house in the little cul-de-sac I was still in a good and hopeful mood.

Margaret Hibberd answered the door without delay, and turned out to be a quiet, elegant elderly lady. Although I was later to learn from her son Paul Martin that she had been frightened by my arrival, she was able to control this, and treated me with great kindness and civility. She  remembered her mother-in-law and Percy Martin well, although she said that family relations had never been close. She said that my grandmother had treated Alan very cruelly when he was a child, but he had been a good man and had not entirely deserted his mother. When I asked her if she thought my grandmother and the grandmother of her children could originally have been a German, she said that her voice had been broad Scotch but that there could have been some other accent there underneath the Scottishness.

We talked originally in her sitting-room, but later we moved to the cosy kitchen where she entertained me to a fine cup of tea and, I remember, a little thing to eat. There I showed  the two death certificates, and outlined the theories I had about them. She originally reacted negatively to this, and said there could surely have been no connection between those two documents. She said she could not remember exactly where my grandmother had lived or when she had died. It had been some time in the 1980s. Relations had been so very distant with the unpleasant couple and they had even grudged giving their grandchildren birthday presents.

It was getting towards the time when the last bus towards the railway station would leave that quiet suburb, and it looked as if I would have to go without having found out anything much. Then Margaret Hibberd suddenly said she wanted to tell me something. She had had a daughter called Suzanne who had died two years before but, if she had been alive on that day, which was 1st September 2014, would have been 49 years old. This would obviously place her birth some time around 1965, and she would have been around seventeen on 30th July 1982, the recorded date of the death of her grandmother.

Now Alan and Margaret had gradually become angry about the refusal of the grandparents ever to give their grandchildren presents.  And it had been on either Suzanne's 18th or her 21st birthday (Margaret could not remember which) that they had visited the old couple with Suzanne and more or less forced a present out of them. With quickening excitement, I asked Margaret if the woman calling herself Mary Martin Brown, my grandmother, had still been in good health at the time of this incident, and in her quiet and pleasant voice Margaret said that she had been, and indeed that she had lived for several years after that.

"Do you realise," I said, with deep joy, "you've just given me proof positive that that death certificate is a forgery?"

"Oh, well,"  she answered, "I can't help what I've said."

"Oh, God, thank you so much, so much, for telling me that."

"I wanted to help you. Now look, you've got to get to the bus stop. I don't think there's much time now."

We hurried into our outer garments, I told her to be sure she had her keys, and we walked towards the main road, where there was a most beautiful raised green, and she showed me the bus stop, we checked the time, which was enough, and with a slightly nervous but warm farewell she left me.

During our conversation Margaret had given me the address and phone numbers of her son Paul Martin, and some time after I went back to Portugal, I phoned him (actually I phoned him from the island of Porto Santo, part of the Madeiran archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean). He was friendly on the phone, but said firmly that his family had no German connection.

On the day before I left Portugal for England for the third time - where I was to be arrested on arrival - I received a letter from Paul Martin enclosing a vast amount of genealogical research and a huge family tree showing his Brown and Martin ancestry in the British Isles over many generations. The fairly brief covering letter said that he had now helped me as much as he could on the matter of our common ancestry and insinuated, in perfectly polite and friendly language, that he wanted nothing more to do with me.

While I was in prison, however, I determined to visit him when I could, and one weekday in the summer of 2016 I rather wearily set out from the hostel in Hackney to the place in the Home Counties, fairly near Reading, where he lived. I left at very late lunchtime because his mother had told me that he worked at a job, and even in the evening was often out walking his dogs, so I must time my visit hoping to catch him when he had recently arrived home from work (I had meant to go the previous Sunday, and perhaps beard him on a free afternoon, but had felt too weary and disinclined in my room at the hostel.)

And on this weekday, I arrived at the railway station of the unpromising little town at about five o'clock in the humid afternoon, carrying my present of assorted cakes in a box, and many photographs and certificates, as well as books and magazines to read, feeling pretty browned off. I soon managed to locate my cousin's house by asking some passers by where it might be. It lay at some distance, and it was too early to go there immediately, so I decided to have an early dinner at a pub. I had to walk up a steep hill to get to the nearest one, and I sat alone, eating my unexceptional meal, in the scrubby garden. Then the day continued hot and grey as I walked again with my heavy bag the considerable distance from the pub to the house.

It was Paul's wife Tessa who answered the door (he was indeed out with his dogs) and she was initially far from pleased to see what she considered a slightly doubtful cousin by marriage who had called without warning, having already been put off by letter. In my nervousness I immediately made a dreadful faux pas about her being Paul's second wife (I had somehow got this idea into my head, possibly entirely falsely). So my visit threatened to come quickly to a sticky end, but just then my cousin Paul, a relaxed Englishman in middle age, drew up in his car with his fine-looking dogs and without much further ado invited me into the house.

I went with the couple into their kitchen, and conversation continued difficult for a while, but then I offered my present, only to be horrified that in my energetic journeys round the Home Counties the cakes had become totally squashed. But this, rather than angering Tessa further, seemed strangely to lighten the atmosphere, and I eventually was able to question the couple about the elder Martins for a shortish period, and I am pretty sure that Tessa made me tea or coffee.

They did not add that very much to the vital facts given me by Margaret. She was still well, and I sent her my very best wishes. Like her, they could not remember exactly when the old woman had died, but they thought it must have been about 1983. Paul said that really he had hardly known his grandmother, she had been such an unwelcoming figure, and, as a child or young man he would hardly have noticed whether she had a German accent or not.

The most important thing Paul and Tessa said was something  that I have mentioned at a slightly earlier point in this post: they had no recollection of the couple living at 94, Vanbrough Crescent and did not believe this could have been their address. Their main memories were of the older Martins living on the top floor of a block of council flats in Acton. There had been a number of others addresses as well, and 29 Ariel Road NW6 might just possibly have been one of these.

(As it happened, the archivist had also unearthed quite a number of addresses at which Ida Lotte Bleistein had been living, at least one of which Ursula Helene had been living with her, and it occurred to me that, should I ever wish to visit any of the places which this ghostly grandmother of mine had haunted, I would be spoiled for choice, aside from the problem that she might never have haunted them in the first place.)

(One aside, though, in the conversation of the younger Martins, which added a pleasant note, was that they had just come back from holiday two days before, so if I had visited them on the previous Sunday, as  I had vaguely planned, I would not have found them in. A fortunate disinclination to see them on that day!)

Quite soon Paul kindly offered to drive me to Reading Station, which was not that near, and in the car,  without the dogs or Tessa, we had a very friendly chat. I told him about the blog you are now reading, and about my career as a writer, and he said he thought I might well have the makings of a book in my researches, and thought his children might be very interested in what I was doing, and that the possible German connections of the family might add a touch of spice.

And I left him finally with a friendly wave, and entered the cavernous world of Reading Station, and the fast London train was just leaving. I clambered on to it just in time and made for the buffet car, Sitting down there with a welcome drink and a snack, and breathing a sigh of relief, I was surprisingly and immediately joined by an old friend, so I had very good company to Paddington and beyond, and that is as far as I intend to enlighten the reader about the identity of this companion.

Now if my grandmother was not Mary Martin Brown, born in Edinburgh in 1899 (and I believe I have demonstrated fairly convincingly that she was not), what was her real identity? Once again, I believe I can offer a fairly confident answer to this question.

Now the reader may remember the most sensational of all the discoveries I have made, that my mother was never officially a British citizen, as she claimed to be for over thirty years, but used the identity of a woman called Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein, who had been naturalised in 1954 with the naturalisation number 30638 and who was born in Berlin in 1919.

I discovered this because I have in my possession a very fragile document that I found a certain point in my house and which is the petition of my mother for British citizenship. It has stamped on it the number 30638, which, as I said, turned out to be the naturalisation number of Bleistein, and it is dated 23rd September 1954, which is only 12 days after my mother had ostensibly married Arthur Ernest Hills at the registry office in Hendon. And this marriage would have given her the right to apply for British citizenship in the perfectly ordinary way, so that there was apparently no need for this elaborate deception.

For a long time, I puzzled over why my mother could possibly have wanted to do this. Ursula Helene was certainly a real person, about whom many details, obligingly discovered for me by the archivist, were on record, so it was quite impossible that my mother, about whose origins I was then very uncertain but of which I knew the outlines, really could have been Bleistein.

The name Bleistein is well known to be Jewish, and for a while I wondered whether Bleistein could have been an enemy whom this pack of Nazis had succeeded in blackmailing into letting her identity be used in this way. But wouldn't there always have been the danger that Bleistein would rat? Wouldn't it have been advisable at some point to get rid of Bleistein? Yet she had died in apparently a perfectly normal way, many years later.

Quite soon this theory began to seem wholly unsatisfactory. Above all, it still didn't explain why my mother had needed or wanted to go through with the deception. Then I thought about something she had always told me when I was a child, that when she got married to Arthur Ernest Hills, he had insisted that she give up her Portuguese identity. So, I suddenly thought, I think one day when I was in prison,  who was the that was in fact being blackmailed? Surely it was my mother.

She had lost Portuguese citizenship, and now, by being forced to go through with this deception, she was facing the threat that at any moment, if she ever blabbed about who her new husband and his relations were, she could be left in the position of being a stateless person, with all the terrible consequences that would entail.

Trying to imagine the situation further, I saw that the two men would have worked in tandem to blackmail her, the husband and the brother whom he had perhaps rather brutally supplanted, and my grandfather would have directed the whole ghastly process (there is a sample of what may be his handwriting on the fragile document I have mentioned.) As soon as I really thought about this theory, I knew that it was almost certain to be true

Now one thing follows from this. If my mother was force to use the identity of Bleistein, this means that Ursula Helene must have been very closely associated with these Nazis, and was probably a relation of theirs.

Now the reader may remember that Arthur had an older sister called Helen who had gone with her father at the time of the family break-up while he went with his mother. The reader may remember that I met her in my childhood. But what was known for certain about this Aunt Helen? When I finally looked into the matter in detail, which was in the summer of 2016, I discovered that there was only one document that told me anything about her for certain, and this was the record of her marriage, on 15th January 1955, at the Register Office in Ealing, West London, to one Frederick Patmore. He was recorded as a postman and she as a ward sister in a mental health hospital. Arthur Ernest Hills, her father, and an Edward Patmore were witnesses.

When my supposed half-brother Christopher Hills and I first became interested in researching our family history, we were puzzled that there seemed to be no birth certificate existing in England for a Helen Vera Hills at what was supposed to be her approximate birth date of 1919. But Chris was then told, I think by a relation of his mother's, that this was because Helen had been born in Scotland.

At a later point, Anthony Adolph discovered a marriage certificate for Arthur Ernest Hills Senior and Mary Martin Brown at Lady Glenorchy's Church in Edinburgh in 1918, and this lent credence to the idea that Helen must have been born, perhaps in Edinburgh, about a year after this marriage. There is a strangeness, however, to my grandparents having been married in this highly evangelical church, because everything that is known to them does not make them sound in the least like convinced Christians of a hellfire variety. I also notice from my copy of the certificate that one of the witnesses appears to have a German surname, not easy to transcribe, which again seems unusual in a marriage that allegedly took place in January 1918.

Because my aunt Helen initially seemed too remote from the main line of research, Mr Adolph never checked for her birth certificate. It was only in the disturbed summer of 2016, from the grim hostel in Hackney, that I finally phoned the National Archives in Edinburgh to try and procure the certificate. But it did not exist. No such person had been born in Britain.

A similar documentary silence surrounds the death of Helen Vera Hills, who had the married name of Patmore. No death certificate exists in Britain for anyone who could conceivably be Helen, although according to my relations in Edinburgh she has long been dead.

There is, however, a death certificate for a certain Helen Mary Elizabeth Hills, who had been born in 1908,  apparently with the maiden name of Harrigton, and who was the widow of one John Norris Hills, who is recorded as having been a park keeper. This Helen Hills had died on 31st May 1991, at the Edgware General Hospital. She had an address in Colindale, north-west London. The informant was Carole Keightley, a niece, living in Enfield, further to the north and east.

Once again there was a post-mortem without inquest, once again the death was certified by D.M. Paul, the coroner for North London, and the date of this certification was 7th June 1991. Underneath the main framework of the registration certificate are written the words: "Two Bk  Error in space 8 corrected on 2nd July 1991 be me B kenny (sic) Interim Register" The error in question is that "chronic diverticular disease", one of the causes of death, had been corrected to "colonic diverticular disease." There is also a correction in the line above, a simple spelling error unusual for a registrar to make when recording a a cause of death as metastatic pancreatic carcinoma. The first cause of death was bilateral broncho-pneumonia and ascites, and there is no correction in that line. The whole document was surely all compiled by the Mr Kenny who so strangely in a registrar, even an interim one, wrote the initial letter of his surname in lower case.

We now come to what is known of Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein, who had the married name of Langston, and we shall analyse the death certificate of that person, whose demise is recorded as having taken place on 9th August 1991 and which was registered on the same day (a little over one month, therefore, after the error was corrected in the death certificate of the widow Hills).

As we know, Ursula Helene was born in Berlin (see my post "The Seventh Journey"), but the death certificate shows her as having been born on 7th November 1919 in England. Once again, the principle applies (which we have seen in the case of the widow Martin, and also of my father) that if one detail in a death certificate is gratuitously wrong, the whole thing will be intended to deceive.

This fairly sparse certificate is written, as in the case of the widow Martin, in largely indecipherable handwriting at crucial points, but the place of death seems to have been Harestine, Harestine Drive, Caterham, the address of Langston may have been 51 Martimes Court, 9-11, Abbey Road, London, and the informant was Diane (or possibly Diana) Bramall who, as in the case of the Camden Council worker, had the qualification of "causing the body to be buried". The death was certified by P.J. Ward MR, with the causes of death given as cerebral metastases and carcinoma of the breast, and the signature of the registrar at the Surrey South Western Registration District, sub-district of Caterham and Godstone, is entirely illegible. The nearest I could come to it might be something like "Line Barrets".

What I think happened in this very palpable fraud, which is obviously closely modeled on the earlier one perpetrated in the case of the widow Martin, is this. My aunt Helen, whose original name was Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein, probably really died on 31st May 1991 and her death was recorded under the guise of the widow Hills. She was not buried as normal, because her body had to be available for examination in order to lead to the correction of the certificate on 2nd July. A interment was then further avoided, and the body was kept until the arrangements could be made for the false certificate with further metastases of cancer under the original name of my aunt to be ready. Then she was buried with all speed on 9th August.

This second fraud differs from the first one in that there is no suspicion of murder in this case, because my aunt Helen surely really died on the occasion of the first certificate and the two documents cover two identities but the same death.

Before I leave Urusla Helene, I will mention one further thing about her. We have said that the murder of the widow Martin was ultimately to protect my grandfather. This implies that my paternal grandparents at their separate West London addresses must have remained in touch. And surely it was in order to convey the vital information to her mother that her hated former lover was safely buried that Helen needed to be dropped with her male companion at Park Royal. Well, how good that I met my aunt just that one time, saying hail and farewell for ever at the starkly outlined tube station in the vast and anonymous wastes of West London.

Now if Ursula Helene was my aunt, it follows that her mother, of whom there are plentiful records, was my paternal grandmother. She was Ida Lotte Friederike Bleistein, commonly known as Ida Lotte Bleistein, born with the surname Friedemann (spelt on her death certificate as Friedeman), at Koepenick, in the far eastern suburbs of Berlin, on 11th April 1894, and she is recorded as having died, I am sure with total truth, at the Garden Hospital in Hendon, in the London Borough of Barnet, on 29th January 1987.

The death was registered on the day after the event, 30th January 1987, and S. Hart M.B. certified the causes of death as broncho-pneumonia and old age. The signature of the registrar for the Hendon London Borough of Barnet sub-district of the Hendon Registry Office is illegible and abbreviated, but I don't suppose there is anything suspicious about that. One slightly irrelevant point, but I will give it. There are signs in the document that this registrar was of foreign origin (for instance he or she includes a hyphen between the given names Ida Lotte and Ursula Helene.).

The informant of Ida Lotte's death was Ursula Helene Langston, whose qualification was that she was the dead woman's daughter. My aunt's address was given as Flat 168, 20, Abbey Road, London NW8. But there turned out to be yet another strange circumstance connected with this large St John's Wood mansion block. I visited it one dark and slightly wet Sunday evening and was let in by the friendly and talkative porter. He was interested to hear that my aunt had lived in the block, but there was no Flat 168. The present building had been put up in 1992 and had 127 flats. It was quite a high building and the porter doubted whether the previous one could have been higher or held many more flats. It therefore looks as if my aunt, for reasons unknown to me, but perhaps because of a lifelong schooling in deception, felt it necessary to give an invented home address even when reporting the presumably all too real death of her own mother.

My grandmother's last address (surely the true one) was Sunridge Court, 76, The Ridgeway, London NW11. This is a care home which, in Ida Lotte's time, was for Jewish old folk but now admits Gentiles. I visited this commodious establishment in Golders Green on a Sabbath morning when the men and boys were out in their suits and broad-brimmed hats and was delighted to learn from the friendly black receptionist that every man and woman residing in the 47-bed home has his or her own room.

Ida Friederike Charlotte Bleistein was three months short of her ninety-third birthday at the time of her death. Her life was as long as it appears to have been evil.

I will just briefly summarise, without adding all the details, the other documentary records concerning my grandmother's life, and indicate where there is lack of vital information. Bleistein was her married name, and the archivist discovered copious details of her husband's family, but really it is nothing to do with me. They were quite a distinguished and prosperous eastern European Jewish clan, engaged mainly in the skin and fur trade, from Poznan in Poland (which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was usually called Posen and was part of the German Reich).

From the late nineteenth century this Bleistein family had a branch in England, and from the time of the First World War certain members of it adopted the name Blyth or Blythe.

Members of such a family would not normally have married out, and this is one of many indications that my grandmother was a Jewess. There is no official record of when my grandmother entered Britain or when she acquired the identity of Mary Martin Brown. She is recorded as being exempt from internment as an enemy alien on 30th November 1939. There is no certain mention of her in the 1939 Register, and nor is there of Helen Vera Hills or Arthur Ernest Hills Junior. It is not known when her daughter Ursula Helene entered the country. My grandmother was naturalised British in 1948, when she was listed as a single woman with marriage dissolved, and her parents were recorded as Julius and Rosa Margaretha Friedemann, who were from Germany.

I will also just sum up what can be inferred from everything I have said about the general course of my grandmother's life. This adds many more, perhaps somewhat contentious, details. The marriage to the man call Fritz Philipp Bleistein in 1917 seems to have been fairly brief. There is a record of a Fritz Bleistein in the Bremen to New York ship passenger lists on 9th August 1921 and this could possibly have marked the end of relations between the couple.

It is therefore possible that Ursula Helene, born on 7th November 1919, was really of the Bleistein family, although the close relations of the latter with my grandfather perhaps make it unlikely, as well as the fact that my aunt Helen had the family nose, passed down also from my grandfather to my father to myself.

If Ursula Helene was the child of both my grandparents, then this will place the original meeting between them probably very early in 1919, a year or two after the marriage to Fritz Philipp, soon after the end of the First World War, and when my grandfather was perhaps still fluctuating between extreme left and right and would have had no connections with the Nazi Party, which then only existed in embryo.

Ida Lotte's sons who were later known as Arthur Ernest Hills and Mieczyslaw Hufleit (commonly Hupfleit) were the children of this Nazi, and their possible date of conception might be somewhere in 1921 or 1922, around the time of the departure of Fritz Philipp for America. Ida Lotte seems to have abandoned my father at birth and she brought Arthur, and probably Helen as well, to England with her when she entered the country, probably in late 1929 or early 1930.

She maintained contact with Arthur until around 1939 and with Helen until the end of her life. It seems that from the time of her arrival in England she was already using the false name of Mary Martin Brown and was recorded as the wife of one Arthur Ernest Hills, and it is therefore likely that she immediately took up with the original holder of this identity, with whom family connections had perhaps already been established by the Nazis, that he was the father of Sonia and Dennis, that his real wife was somehow persuaded to vacate the scene, and it also seems possible that both of them were later murdered at widely separated periods. What happened to the original Arthur Ernest Hills Junior, I have no idea.

Once in England, and probably in or around February 1932, the time of the birth of her son Dennis, Ida Lotte broke up with the original Arthur Ernest Hills Senior, her two children by him were quickly disposed of, and she took up with a man called Percy Martin, whom she married as late as 1969. Her last child, by him, was Alan Martin, with whom she maintained distant and unfriendly relations until her death.

Her relationship with Ursula Helene seem to have been warmer, perhaps because Helen lived close to her, and they occasionally shared accommodation, at a confusing variety of possibly true and false addresses in West and North-West London. In later life, Ida Lotte seems to have used other aliases, such as perhaps Mary Singleton. She seems to have been a murderess.

Quite recently - I am now writing in the summer of 2018, the last interpolation to this enormous post - I tried to find her grave. It was a hot afternoon, that of 11th June. I went first to the hospital where she had died, but they knew nothing, and they suggested I try the local cemeteries, of which there was a confusing variety. I had a long and tiring walk through the very Jewish area on the borders of Barnet and Golders Green, as the confident schoolboys in their uniforms and yarmulkes flooded the streets and the tops of the buses, and I had spent my last ready cash on flowers at the first likely cemetery, where there was no trace, so for quite a long time I went short of water in the heat.

Just before five o'clock I came to the huge Golders Green Crematorium. They were just closing the office, so there was no time to find out if there was any record of my grandmother there, but the extensive grounds stayed open until six, and they said I was welcome to rest there and leave my flowers in whatever place I thought suitable. The main part of the grounds was a huge, anonymous sward where vast numbers of the Jewish dead lay endlessly mingled, as in so many places around the world. My grandmother had been so very elusive throughout her whole life. Why , I thought in that melancholy place, should I not let her evade me to the end, lay my flowers where I might mourn?

I came to a place where there were roses. It was called the Byron Rose bed. As I said, roses and people called Rose play a large part in my story. And in the part of the crematorium where there were memorials many people called Rose were remembered. There was a very old lady standing by the Byron Rose Bed. I spoke to her, and she had a German accent. I told her my story and she encouraged to lay the flowers where I stood. She watched me as I put them down.

I turned to go. I said to the old woman, "Auf wiedersehn", and she did not respond. Then I changed the greeting to the more informal "Tschuss", and she smiled and said goodbye to me in the same word.

And I walked back across the huge sward towards the entrance, and, there, a little away from me, was a tawny fox, regarding me intently. I stopped a minute, and tried to hold the animal's stare for a few moments. The fox went down on her haunches and stared at me with a terrifying gaze. I left.

And that, dear reader, is the sum total of all the details I have been able to find out about my paternal grandfather and grandmother and my father and my aunt and my uncle.

And how one tires sometimes of all this raking into the lives of those who should have been close to one, but they weren't, whom one should have loved, but I never got the chance. And how I tire as well of their false identities, their shabby and malignant secrets, even, as I have been shamefully delighted to discover, that perhaps they killed people or were murdered themselves other family members! Isn't that enough, Charles, of your fearless but truly verbose honesty? Thank God you've almost got to the end of this post and can hopefully close it with something more pleasant. But the subject-matter that comes now is not really pleasant. Perhaps it gradually becomes so. You judge, dear reader.

I met a man in prison. He was a murderer. We were in Belmarsh together, on the same spur. He was called Wayne Collins and he was a hitman who had killed a man in front of his partner and four-year-old daughter and been given a minimum of 32 years. What I loved about him was that he was not crushed. He was a big and very handsome young body-builder and I first became transfixed by him when he was lifting weights most magnificently in the gym and I was going faster and faster on the cross-trainer and could not take my eyes off him until eventually he swaggered over to me to show off his full beauty.

Then I tried my best to be friends with him and he was sometimes nice to me but it all went wrong. Oh, darling Wayne, you're heterosexual, you're the most arrogant person in the world, you're totally devoted to your wife and daughter, you're in prison until you're old, what hope is there for you or me?

After I came out of prison, and could never see him any more, I went three times to the place where he had killed his man. It was a place right on the very outskirts of East London, in Wayne's own manor of Romford, a turning off the slightly larger road leading out of London at a place beyond the final London suburb of Noak Hill.

This is where London comes to a sudden end and it is possible to walk straight into the country on roads that are not too busy or too narrow. Of course, you will hit the M25 soon enough but nowhere else in London have I ever found it possible to walk straight out of the city into the green fields.

The murder-site is  Benskins Lane. The first two occasions I went there I walked down the lane and prayed for Wayne at various points, but that took a long time, and on this third occasion I wanted to go on, so I just stopped at the corner and said a quick prayer and in a way consigned him to my memory. It was quite a nice afternoon. It was six days before I was due to leave the hostel. The date was Thursday, 22nd September, 2016.

I walked on and soon came out of Church Road to the beginning of Goatswood Lane, where you leave the London Borough of Havering and enter Essex proper. After some hard walking I reached Murthering Lane, where it was very quiet and the road led northward over the M25, and now the country was deeper still. And at Navestock Heath, at The Old Village Stores, a woman was standing outside her house offering apples as windfalls, and I took three, and then a fourth, because one of the first three was rotten. And I ate the three good ones, and the rotten one the next morning, a bad day.

But this was a good one, and I said farewell to the woman and walked joyfully on, and saw two deer disappear into a wood and the flight of a bird, and then I came to the larger road that leads to Brentwood, and now I was as near to the station there as I was far from the one at Harold Wood, so once again I decided to walk on.

And it was miles to go, but I refreshed myself with Martinis at the Black Horse and the White Horse, and then on the endless walk through Brentwood there was always the lure of the train station that would end my journey. And when I finally reached it, what joy to discover that my travel pass, which I thought covered only the six London travel zones, was valid for inward travel there.

And I skipped down to the platform, and a train for London was just leaving. How sweet it was to roll back into town after so beautiful and spiritual a journey.

And it gave me strength for the longer journeys that were to come, starting with the leaving of the hostel on the Wednesday, where they hassled me to the last. But again what a delight not to look back as I marched out savagely with my luggage of two enormous and one small bag. All very difficult, but the 277 bus left from right outside the place and the Overground from Dalston Junction was relaxed and empty, and, although the walk towards The Lodge at Crystal Palace was absolutely awful, I was delighted to find that you only had to pay thirty-two pounds a night to stay there. I was to remain for two nights, before catching the Channel ferry.

And there were various bureaucratic problems on the following day, but I mastered them, and in the evening the archivist, thank God, was too busy to say goodbye to me. But his friend the writer came to the Victoria area, warning that he must be brief, and we had an enormous struggle to find a pub where we could sit down, but finally succeeded at the Wetherspoon at Victoria Station, and we overlooked the Kent trains and talked quite pleasantly, and only his farewell on the concourse carried a slight sting.

And how good to leave him and get a seat facing forward at a comfortable alcove in the train back to Crystal Palace, and the park when I returned was fresh and mysterious in the night-time, and in the early morning I had time, before I breakfasted, to do just the beginning of the local section of the Green Chain Walk, going south-eastwards, as I had done so many times during my long London years.

And on leaving the hotel on my way home to Portugal, the taxi driver, thankfully, took the responsibility for dumping my bags in the car for East Croydon Station, and then there were struggles there with altered platforms three times, but a kindly young man helped me, and when I was on the train, with my bags around me, it was great to watch the outer suburban landscape pass as we came into the rich countryside of Surrey and Sussex.

Then there was yet another change at Lewes, but there I met another most pleasant young man, blond and quite handsome this time, called Martin, and he helped me get my bags on to the Newhaven train.

And we went past the mysterious halt at Southease, in the valley of the Ouse, and then once more Martin helped me get the bags along the platform at Newhaven. He was going to his own home at Peacehaven, so he left me with a cheery wave and, almost falling over, I dragged the bags across the yard towards the ferry terminal. I bought my ticket there and, oh, it was so cheap, at sixteen pounds!

It was still late morning, and the boat did not leave until the later afternoon and there were no lunch facilities at the terminal and the rules said you could not leave your bags there while you went into the town. But the kindly people at the terminal understood the total impossibility of the situation and, with a nod and a wink, said I could leave my bags there just this once.

So I walked with my smallest bag, which was quite supportable, and where I was keeping all my most precious things, into the flyblown harbour town, and had a fine lunch at The Ship Hotel, and went prospecting for yet more books to take with me. My final score was to be fifty-five.  But I also had another plan. I would walk down to the beach where we always used to go when I was a child and which I had loved so much and not visited for many years.

The weather was bright and just a little windy and the sea air was fresh as I walked along the final stretch of the Ouse to the cliffs by the sea shore. And what quiet joy that was! The way was long, but I had time. And how I wanted to see once again the wonderful sandy beach where I used to come so often with my mother and Arthur on happy days during what had often been the sad times of my childhood.

I reached the line of the shore and began to walk along the sea path to the beach. I passed an elderly couple who were walking slowly ahead of me and asked them the time. Oh, they said, it was only just after two. I had plenty of time, I thought to myself, and once again I walked on. But when I reached the beach, it turned out, to my surprise and disappointment, to be stony. So what had happened to the beach I remembered?

I began to walk back and saw the elderly couple again. They were sitting on a low wall. My boat was steaming in from France. But there were still more than two hours before it would sail again. I hailed the old couple (they were not so old really, it was me that was getting old) and asked them where the sandy beach was. They said that it was hidden by the high tide but would be just beneath us and that the French now owned it and would not allow access.

We agreed that this was a pity, and I sat down beside them a while and we began to talk. It turned out that the woman was seventy-one years old and came from very near Hornsey Rise. When she was a young woman in her twenties, she had caught the 14 bus to her job in Piccadilly, at the northern terminus of the bus, which was just around the corner from 19, Hornsey Rise, our one-time home.

Of course we were no longer living at No 19 by that time, but it was certainly still there, not yet knocked down in the wholesale clearance of all the perfectly good houses in the Hornsey Rise area that Islington Council carried out in 1972.  We had lived in one room on the ground-floor of the house, opposite the Italian family, and my aunt Eva has told me that we lived on the side of the house next to Duncombe Road. It suddenly occurred to me as we talked that perhaps this woman had stood just by the room where we had lived as she waited for her bus around the corner.

It was a joy to meet that pleasant couple and find out about the strange link that bound us. After a while they left me and I lingered by the beach. But on the road coming back I saw them for a third time. They were talking to someone else, but the woman chatted briefly to me once more. Her name was Pam. We had a lot in common. Like me she had often taken excursions to Alexandra Park and still went there sometimes. Like me, she was a Christian. I felt that she had been sent to me at the last to tell me how much I belonged to England.

Then I had a good tea back at the port, retrieved my luggage, and boarded the boat with all the foot passengers. The crew had a trolley to take my two larger bags off me before I even  reached the gangway.

And I saw the sandy beach of my childhood as the ship sailed out to France. It moved me. But I once believed it was a beautiful and unforgettable beach. Perhaps I will not stand on it again. But what joy just to see it, with my hand on the rail and the Channel stirring, at the beginning of the good years.


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