Saturday, 13 September 2014

Do I want to come back to London?

In what seemed likely to be my last summer in Portugal, I went to England. I stayed in London for three months, and the weather was muggy and changeable, like the climate of my heart. On 4th September 2014 I flew home.

A problem always awaits me when I arrive back in the Algarve, and this time, when I tried to withdraw money from the machine at Faro Airport, my card was blocked. I had almost no ready cash, but my favourite taxi driver Yuriy, whom I had phoned before leaving England, accepted my promise to pay him when I could, and drove me to my house anyway. And I lived there for the next five days on dried cornflakes, cloves of raw garlic, and the last of my summer fruits, and marched around the village, alternately threatening and cajoling the local population.

Eventually, having borrowed ten Euros from my friends Josefa and António, I got through to my bank manager, who unblocked the card and informed me that very little now remained of the £200,000 for which I had sold my London flat five years before.

I had been aware of the likelihood of running out of money during the long months in England. I tried every means of saving it, while simultaneously spending huge amounts on such projects as entertaining one of my friends to the opera in order to reciprocate her previous hospitality, giving my fifty-ninth birthday party in a raucous pub, and moving from one wildly expensive hotel room to the next. The knowledge of what trouble I was storing up for myself fuelled my growing hatred for my friends.

But in the five days since the unblocking of my card, I have resumed normal life, am well relaxed in the sunshine, and am beginning to lay my plans. The obvious solution now is to sell my Portuguese house, the last of the three properties I have owned. A pity perhaps, but do I really care? There are seven trees in my back garden (and a eighth, dead one), and the jacaranda has never fully bloomed for me. But the lemon tree has spiced my drinks in winter, the oleanders have bloomed pink and white, and the red rose spread most wildly. And one of my trees is something like a peach tree, and if I am very careful and do not travel much more (although I plan a further, brief trip to England), I might still be here when the delicate pink buds appear in February.

Today is 13th September 2014, the twelfth anniversary of my mother's death, an anniversary I sometimes forget but which today I remember. It is an overcast afternoon, and I have come on the bus to Tavira, a beautiful town with a fine river and not a single distinguished building, and the people here are as stony-faced as ever, and I feel depressed. But I am sitting in the library computer area writing this post now, and the place is quiet and lavish, and the bus will run home on time.

I was in my London flat for three decades, and then I sold it to escape my enormous debts. But I have been frugal in making the money last for five years of intermittent travel through nineteen countries, interspersed with stays at my Portuguese house. It has been a good time, although empty, because I did not make a single new friend. But I have enjoyed the fact that my view of life has had to become darker.

Almost every day during this period I took at least one meal in a restaurant, usually just one course, a glass of wine, a jug of water and a small coffee. But going round Italy, at the sunny lunchtime, it was nice to enjoy the "pranzo di lavoro", at an amazing ten Euros for three courses, water, wine, coffee and sometimes a small liqueur. And there was always a book to read, to increase the knowledge I have been gathering all my life, which is turning me into an almost total encyclopaedia now I am fifty-nine.

The Romans called such a self-contained period of five years a "lustrum", and they marked its beginning and end with rites of purification. I suppose the purge that preceded this time  was my prison term. That was the period at which I finally came to Christian faith, something which I could never entirely lose, whatever doubts might develop or remain, because I have given my heart to Christ and cannot take it back. Any time I see an image of the cross in a vulnerable mood I am a Christian again. And during these years in Portugal, entirely solitary in my sunny garden, and reading the Gospels at my table with what books of exegesis I had, it was easy to maintain my faith.

But Portugal, - my long association with it began before I was two, in 1957, when I came with my parents, my aunt Eva and at least one other person by ship to Lisbon, - surely I will leave it soon. How should I mark the end of this long and unhappy relationship? Well, I have one ambition that seems appropriate to me. It is to see the body of my aunt Conceição brought to rest in the family grave, a project to which I have contributed three hundred Euros, and the one resting place that this one childless aunt of mine so much desired. Well, dear aunt, lying in your grave alone near the family tomb you yourself paid for, you shall have your wish if it is anything to do with me.

The people I was always taught to believe were my maternal grandparents, the woman as well as the man, have long lain in the "campa familiar"; their eldest daughter, her husband, and two of this latter couple's children who died young are with them; my own mother also lies there; my aunt Augusta, who passed away in 2007, is in a grave nearby, like Tia Conceição, but has her widower, Adolfo Barata, "Adolf Cockroach", to make her arrangements; my youngest and most beautiful aunt Rosária was the first of all the sisters to die, in Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, in Mozambique, in 1968, and is buried there; and my one surviving aunt Eva does not wish to go to the family grave.

 So all will be complete, as far as my own responsibility goes, when Tia Conceição is where she wanted to be. Portuguese bureaucracy demands that a period of  ten years pass before a body can be reburied, and Aunt Conceição died in early 2005, and even after ten years they may not allow it.  But if I could be present to see it happen, then I could leave this complex and exasperating country in peace.

So the question now is England. Do I want to return there? Well, I may have no choice. The sale of the house will raise a reasonable amount, but it will soon be gone. Only in Britain, for what it is worth, am I a citizen. Only there do I have any chance of getting the goods and services I need and want without having to pay for them.

But say something unexpected happens and I do have a choice. Would I go back to England then? Well, I certainly don't intend to return immediately, not at least with the intention of staying. Even apart from all the other disadvantages, it would be too humiliating to creep in with my tail between my legs after five vaguely unsatisfactory years spent abroad. And England, and particularly London, is in the grip of monstrous costs and insane competition for key goods and services, particularly accommodation.

No, I shall blue the money on what will probably be a year and a half of further travel around the world, and once again I can try to save as much as possible by including as many cheap locations as might interest me. But I shall not stint myself. I plan to see the three great waterfalls of the world and hopefully get fucked for the third time, and I shall round off my travels in Ireland, because I have never been there, and it surely behooves me to know the fine eighteenth-century capital of Dublin in the way I do its counterparts, London and Edinburgh. Then, like many another hopeful, I shall cross the Irish Sea.

God help me! Is there no alternative? Well, as I said, I am mainly going to England for the English goods and services. But surely my destination must depend on what goods and services I want. What are my tastes and interests? Well, I am keen on music, literature and walking; am very dependent on the comfort of food; love to rest, relax and lie down; hate to work; enjoy stimulating conversation and undemanding social activities; take pleasure in a calm, seamless, slightly malevolent apprehension of life; and want to go on studying the world as if it were an alien place.

Clearly all those could be satisfied in England. But in my deepest longings I only want to be some handsome man's slave. Say I visit Russia. Say I meet there a younger and gayer version of Vladimir Putin. He wants to drive me to his dacha in dark forests near Moscow. I might madly go with him.

But if I am not to be spending my days transfixed to a post with nails as my gorgeous host takes the carefullest of aims from his crossbow at the bull's-eye on my naked flesh, I must face the more mundane slings and arrows of Employment and Support Allowance (if I can get back on it, that is).

During the long years that I signed on the dole in Clapham Road, I came to stare with a sort of incredulous joy at the rows and rows of my florid, awkward signatures that I could glimpse through the gap in the glass of the dole officer's glass window. What a kind and foolish state, I always thought, to give one so much money for doing nothing. In the thirty or so years that I signed on they only ever found me one possible job, and that was right near the start of my career, long ago, in Crawley, where I grew up, to be a printer's apprentice. How could I have explained to them that I would only succeed in getting the ink all over myself, that I was a writer, not a printer?

But I didn't have to bother even to meet them, because only a day or two after their letter arrived an unexpected further communication came in which it was announced that the authorities had micalculated my academic points, that these were better than they had appeared to be, and so I was on my way to Oxford, where I never wrote or researched a single word of my risible thesis during the eight idle months I spent there. Happy days. I could throw the pot of printer's ink in the dole people's faces, be hateful to whomever I wanted in Oxford, finally desert my supervisor without saying goodbye.

Oh, dear, the Golden Age of British Indolence, through which I lived so long, is no more! I shall be over sixty when I return to London, and you used to be able effectively to retire at that age on Pension Credit, and accommodation of your choice would be provided without question, but no more! At the age of sixty you used to enter a brave new world of a million free lunch clubs and endless health checks and the smiling love of everyone, but no more!  All you get now is the 60-plus Oyster Card, and that's just so that you can stand jammed-packed with a mass of multiracial others between office block and supermarket and home. And if you're not happy with the bus or tube or train, then it's on yer bike.  And if you don't like the bike, relocate to North Shields.

And the National Health Service is going exactly the same way. I will narrate just one incident from the three months I spent in London. I had come to England partly to try and get treatment for the persistent pain I was experiencing in my left knee. But getting an appointment for that knee took forever, and then I woke up one night with terrible pain in the right one. I was staying at that particular stretch of time at the Aber Hotel on Crouch Hill, an expensive and slightly chaotic place, but with pleasant Polish staff. After breakfast the kindly young Pole I particularly liked quickly fixed me a taxi to the Whittington Hospital, where I was born, and where a fancy tells me I should also die.

I waited quite a long time in Accident and Emergency, and then I was ushered in to see, not a doctor, who would very likely have been an Indian, but a female black nurse. She examined and discussed both my knees with every appearance of knowledge and then sent me to X-ray. It was only when I arrived there that I discovered she had ordered an examination of my right ankle. Nobody seemed in the least shocked or surprised by what they officially considered simply a mistake. I was laboriously sent back to the cow so that she could order the correct test.

I felt like asking her whether she would have treated a handsome young heterosexual black man like that. But of course I didn't dare. I would only have been had up for racism and all treatment would have been refused by the hospital authorities. Anyone else to whom I told the story would have insisted, in total defiance of the evidence, that the nurse had simply made a mistake, and many of them would also have assumed I was a racist. Well, perhaps I am a racist, but I don't want this woman, or anyone like her, at my deathbed. Which means not dying at the Whittington, or anywhere else in London, if one looks at the matter in the cold light of the facts.

But the most difficult aspect of all in returning to my native city would be accommodation. We lived when I was a baby near the Whittington, in Hornsey Rise, and something in me believes it would be right to go back to that area, anywhere in the streets around Highgate Hill, St John's Way and Hornsey Rise, in the northern part of the Holloway Road on either side, or in the area a little farther up, beyond the Archway. All this is in the postal district of N19.

We used to drive through our old neighbourhood often when I was a child on our way to visit friends in Wood Green from our home in Crawley, and even now I get a tug of the heart when I am travelling northward on the 91 bus, and a bit before the bridge on Hornsey Road that runs over the railway line between Upper Holloway and Crouch Hill (the bus stops just over the line), I see the curve in the road with the ragged shops and the three-storey brick houses, and we surge upward towards Hornsey Rise.

But when I make the journey nowadays the house of my earliest childhood is long gone, and where it stood Elthorne Park now hosts the Philip Noel-Baker Peace Garden, the alkies in their dazed groups, the brutalist African-style statue, the black, brown and white young footballers beyond the fences, the ghostly children's playground, the abusive mixed-race woman with her dogs, and the strange, enclosed mound overgrown with weeds, going towards Archway.

But this is a mysterious and deeply wooded place at night, as I have often seen it, and I know, because I have researched the matter, that the row of fine Victorian houses beginning with the tower once stood on the left-hand side as you went up, between Hazellville Road and what was then Duncombe Road (that section is now just a cycleway through the park, just before Beaumont Rise). The odd numbers started at No 1, which was the tower-house, then the tightly-packed addresses went up to No 13, and then there were the three large houses, No 15, No 17, and the final house, where we lived - No 19.

This area is in the very northern part of the London Borough of Islington. These days half the population of Islington are immensely rich social workers and the other half are their clients. I was eventually able to speak to one of the former group by phone. After some verbal swordplay I got out of her the monthly sum that the authorities at 222 Upper Street are willing to pay for a single person to live in the borough. It was £255.50.

"Christ!" I exploded. "But you can hardly get a single room for that."

"Quite."

"But what am I going to do? I'm an old man. I might need to get to the toilet really quickly."

"You could try Havering. Or Barking."

"I might have to try Totteridge and Whetstone if I'm not careful. Sorry, of course I didn't mean that."

"I have to remind you, Mr Hills, that we are not responsible for finding anyone accommodation. Our role is simply to give advice. And, Mr Hills, you really do need to equip yourself with a mobile. It's those who are quickest off the mark who get what little accommodation there is."

"Oh, well, thank you. Good bye."

Well, who else might be able to help me? Do I have good friends in London? I certainly have none anywhere else. But do I have any there?

I do know three elderly aristocratic ladies who sometimes invite me to lunch, tea or dinner, and they would be good for a few fake references, and that would have been enough in the old days, but would it now? Someone said the dole go through you with a fine toothcomb these days. Christ, they might even read this blog!

Anyway, the three old ladies - or my "drei Damen" as I sometimes call them - and their ancient male crony, an oily, upper-class aspirant writer who gives endless parties at his Earl's Court flat to try and win fame and glory, all knew Francis King, and I did as well, so we have an unfailing topic of conversation. And three out of these four fine gentlefolk rolled up to the fifty-ninth birthday party that I gave for £300 at a cheerful old Cockney pub near London Bridge, and there was an overall turnout of more than twenty people, and a good time was had by all. But one of my guests I didn't even recognise!

This malevolent ex-Rhodesian settler woman advanced uncertainly across the floor and the sweetest of the Damen had to quickly prompt me with who she was. About ten days later, another of the three - a less pleasant person than the one who had pointed out the Rhodesian - gave a dinner party where she and the settler took turns to buffet me away from the buffet table whenever I plucked up the courage to approach it. I seethed with annoyance but dared say nothing. The sweetest of the ladies, a highly elusive person, was not there. And the third and snobbiest of the Damen, who had not attended my party, but can well remember hearing Gigli sing at the opera in Rome soon after the end of the Second World War, looked on with the faintest of smiles on her strangely pursed up lips.

The other main contingent at the party was my London literary friends, and they were all most cheerful with their boyfriends and girlfriends and American acquaintances. And one fine other night of the summer I met two of the men, plus one boyfriend, at a pub in the vicinity of King's Cross. It was warm enough to sit outside, and I was staying at that point in a student room in nearby Camden Road, so I got deliriously drunk, and started demanding loudly that another long-time literary acquaintance should be murdered, and after we had left the pub and just before we were all about to part at the station kept playfully running into my companions from behind in drunken glee.

Then I staggered up the road that leads between St Pancras and King's Cross, which quickly turned into a mysterious little country lane, and it was an exquisite thrill to go through the verdant night and then finally reach the tall brown-brick houses of North London again. And I felt like a young student as I fell into bed. Well, I had been like a loutish boy when I was near the station, and a reincarnation of my old murderous self at the pub, so why shouldn't I be a young undergraduate again. How beautiful it is to recover the past. But such lovely evenings with literary friends only seem to happen once every ten years. Perhaps there will only be two more of them.

Also at the party was another friend of mine, neither literary nor aristocratic, a half-Greek half-Welsh racist Catholic ex-ballet-dancer schizophrenic woman, who came to the party with a boyfriend, or friend who was once a boy. Both of them are charmingly mad people, and afterwards they were going southward to where they lived in the same road in Streatham - she in a one-bedroom flat, he in a dilapidated house without water - and I was going back to the elusive Dame's spare flat where I was then staying, in Belgravia. There was a bus stop that would do for us all at Borough, so we walked there, and they were the last to remain with me of all the people who had been at the party. And I couldn't have asked for any better people to stand with at a cold and lonely bus stop late at night, and the first bus that came was mine, and I shall remember for ever their sweet faces as I was borne away.

Well, who else? Do I know a handsome, much younger man who would be willing to give a leg up to an older writer of talent? No.

And do I have a family on whom I could in the last instance rely? By far the greater part of my family is in Portugal, and so they are in a sense irrelevant to the subject of this post, but, just briefly, there remains my formidable and ancient aunt Eva, to whom, in a strange way, I am quite close, and when I was younger I was often happy with my cousin Aninhas, and I also quite like three sisters who live with their husbands and children in three houses around a crossroads at a rural place called Mangancha and whom I sometimes refer to as "the Mangancha girls". But the parents, husbands and children of the girls do not like me, so I am not welcome to stay for a night at any of their houses, nor at Aunt Eva's, nor at any house belonging to a member of my family in Portugal.

In England, as far as I know, there are few family members. There is a pair of twins called Christopher and Rosemary Hills, who are the children of the man who brought me up (he was perhaps my uncle). I am not close to them. Then there are Brian and Maria Streeter, whom I have mentioned often in previous posts. Maria is either my half-sister or my cousin.

On the evening of 21st July 2006, when I had tried to commit suicide at my London flat by taking a hundred paracetamols, it was Maria who instinctively knew that she must give me one of her rare phone calls from their house in Crawley. She found me confused and vomiting and the conversation ended quickly. But it was then Brian who rang the emergency services and shouted desperately down the phone at them that they must get help to me as quickly as possible. Those services came quickly and I threw up all the pills and suffered no harm. I therefore owe this couple my life itself and my regard and affection for them is more than I can say. But they are elderly, he is not in the best of health, and they have no vital interests except their own family, which they essentially understand as being their descendants. In many ways I have nothing in common with this pair, am even opposed to them. I would not dream of imposing on them at their home, nor would I be welcome there.

So, the final question, do I have at least one close friend? Yes, there is one, Bill Hicks, whom I have known for more than thirty years, who has done an enormous amount for me in spite of coping with a very busy life, who has always responded with generosity and warmth to my work as a writer, and who is a deeply honourable, understanding and intelligent person. Once again, when I speak of the people who are closest to me, I do not want to say too much. But, once again, Bill is a family man and his primary loyalty must always be to his partner, his daughter and his son. I couldn't ask or wish for it to be any different, but like everyone else I am looking for a relationship in which I come first. Also, our relationship has now hit considerable tensions.  Once again, he would not now welcome me to stay at his home.

And I suppose the upshot of all this is that in a way I have many links to London and England and in another way none at all. Really, I am a person with the fewest ties

The limitation, then, is money. Without that, I must return to London, and wi imaginable, any possible commitment I might still make lies in the future, and there is a deep, cold excitement in the unpredictability of what I could offer, suffer or inflict. And with any luck it will all be reasonably comfortable, and there will be a word of encouragement from a big black care assistant here, a devastating snub from some camp Anglican vicar there, until finally a kind Filipino nurse will fill me full of morphine and they will thankfully leave me to get on with it.

But what if my suspicions and theories turn out to be correct, and I am the grandson of some top Nazi and his Jewish mistress on my father's side and of mixed dodgy Jewish and Gypsy descent on my mother's? If this were all generally known, wouldn't I be rich and famous and able to go anywhere? My old pipe-dream used to be to live in Italy. Say some marvelously rich fixer, some Danny Deever of the New York jewelry world, decides to offer me a magnificent villa overlooking the sea between Rome and Naples and there is a train station nearby and by that time futuristic drones can take you anywhere you like anyway and Danny throws in a big guy from the nation I prefer - the English, or possibly a Scotsman or Irishman, I don't think I could fancy the Welsh - into the bargain? Well, so far, so hunky dory, but there is something about Italy that makes me feel inadequate and alienated. It is as if the richness, beauty and joy of that country do not match with the alienation of the life I have lived.

No, I can't stand Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium or Spain, and definitely not Portugal, I feel strangely at home in Athens, but could never speak Greek well enough for life there to be satisfactory. Latin America is a dull and crazy culture, the USA is alien, Canada is too po-faced, India anti-gay, the Far East robotic, Africa and most of the Middle East simply impossible, and Australian men are sexy but I am scared of all those great big empty spaces. So does it have to be England after all, and London, which after all is my own city, just as England is my own country?

But there might be a problem with England if the theory about my Nazi ancestry turns out to be correct. The English, among all peoples, are the keenest on moral responsibility, remorse and compassion, pious shock-horror, lifelong atonement, and unobtrusive cheerful volunteering. Well, I can't offer any of that. Those kindly hypocrites care much more about what you say than what you do, and what might come out of my mouth, despite all best efforts to make myself acceptable, could well lead to the mother of all Twitch-hunts.

And will I be happy in some swanky residence in Highgate, waking up to the gush on Radio 3, and then travelling down in the morning to the silent stares at the London Library, breaking for some wildly overpriced lunch, before going slowly back to the book-stacks and and suffering the chilly English politeness which is designed to make a suspect person feel small and dirty? How many times in the said library did I ask various of those smiling and affable members out for a coffee - these D.J. Taylors and Peter Parkers -  and never once did one of them accept. God, how I loathe them.

And, if questioned about my ancestry on BBC Breakfast, might I not be finished off by Naga Munchetty, with one of her male consorts putting in the final oar? Then I would be condemned in the newspaper-columns and at the dinner-parties and perhaps spat on in the street. The stares at the London Library would become hostile rather than just silent. Jason Cowley would get on his high horse about my lack of conscience. Perhaps I might even finally be arrested! Wouldn't it be easier to just let the Italians serve me another cappuccino?

It is really only the landscape of England, and particularly of London, that I love. That has enveloped me since I was born, and the books of information that I read when I was a deeply bookish child still spoke of England's great past. So I became enthused with the heritage of the English and my perception that they were sexily invulnerable. But something was telling me all the time that I was a stranger, a European stranger, a changeling in England's midst.

I love England, but the people of England are not mine. I hate what they have done to their own country, particularly the unbearable transformation of London into a foreign city, and I despise their tame acceptance of the vast number of non-European foreigners they have let in. It seems to me that they have sold their birthright in order to win two or three more generations of ease, and that of course was their right, but people who would do this are essentially contemptible and among such a people I do not wish to live.

Soon it wouldn't be them I would be living among, anyway. I was thinking all this summer as I walked around London that I simply couldn't stand all those heavily multiracial streets a moment longer. Surely that will only get worse and worse. But isn't the inevitable consequence of my absolute refusal to accept my own country that I must leave England, returning to North London, perhaps, only to die?

And the terraced houses, the double-decker buses, the woods, and the dark-green cemeteries, I shall miss more than I can say.

There is a short story by W. Somerset Maugham, a writer I loved in my teenage years and whose influence I could never lose, called "Mirage". It is about a man Maugham knew in his youth, when they were both medical students in the London of the 1890s, and whom he met again many years later. The other man got sent to prison and then he lived for twenty years in China. And the longing came to him, now that he had made his pile, to return home.

He came back to London, but he felt a stranger there. The girls, the glamorous restaurants, the cheerful friends he had known were all gone. He stuck it for about six months, I do not have the story in front of me and do not remember the exact details. He decided he must go back to China. He went through the long journey by sea. Then he reached the last stop before his goal, Haiphong in Vietnam.

It is there that the story takes place. The man calls on Maugham at his hotel and takes him to the ruinous house on a canal where he has lived for many years. He had gone there on arrival at Haiphong and met a woman who gave him opium to smoke. Now he is still smoking opium, still with the woman, and they have a child.

I, of course, will never have a child, or a woman, and I don't intend to smoke opium. But maybe I will one day be in an unexpected place, I will be in trouble, and a man will approach me. Or he might move off, but then he will return. And he might for some reason at present unknown stay with me.

And will that be me settled? As Maugham says of his hero at the end of the story, for the first time he holds the present in the hollow of his hand. But the master writer couldn't have summed up my own life so neatly. For that ex-con left England when he was young. And I walked so many London fields.

But if I could ever find that man, my need for my own country would go. And if I can never find him, I will be stuck with London and England till I die.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

The seventh journey

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

If ever I went to live in Italy, which was my old pipe-dream, I would probably be as much of a stranger as I am in Portugal. I would certainly have more fun there. People would smile at me. I would eat more delicious sweets and drink more delicious drinks. But I would probably still be lonely.

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

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

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

"How long have you been out of England?"

"Oh, a little while."

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

"Oh, just a month or two."

"Go on, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the terrible time that I went mad (as it seemed) I believed that some or all of these friends were spies for various powers and that one of them, or possibly two, had tried to kill me. (These things I still believe, as I revise this piece on 27th January 2018.)They were all shocked, later, when I tried to commit suicide, and they attempted to rally round. But especially when I was committed to prison for two and a half years, my friendships with all four began to deteriorate. For almost a year I was in a terrible prison in Nottinghamshire called Lowdham Grange. It was three hours away on the motorway or by train. But none of them visited me there. I wrote all four of them long, affectionate personal letters from that prison. None of them replied.

As the crisis of my time at Lowdham Grange came, I had grim telephone conversations with all four, before my telephone was disconnected by the prison authorities.The worst one was with Bill on Christmas Eve, when he made his first threat to break up our relationship, threats that have been many times repeated. I gave all four up in my heart, with a proviso about Bill. At about that time, I described them to a fellow prisoner, and he said they were certainly not true friends and when I came out of jail I should have nothing more to do with them. I corrected him by saying I could still use them, and he agreed that this was so. One of these friends I would never engage with again, one I would talk to only if I met him, one I would take back if he came to me, one I hope to hold on to.

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

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

Four months later, I left England, telling the remaining three friends that I was going for a brief holiday in Scotland, and giving picturesque details of this to them and my probation officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a strange feeling abour my many attempts to contact Bill. For instance, I tried him on three successive nights on his home number from a phone-box very near my old flat, so that if I had managed to reach him and he had invited me round I would have followed the same short bus-route that I had used to go to him, so happily, over so many years. I wanted him to answer, but there was also a strange relief in not hearing his voice and just going into the McDonald's across the road for a sticky treat and from there into the so nearby hotel to sleep. For the old happiness had already been spoilt by the many aggressive phone-calls I have mentioned, and from now on I was to be happy to see Bill and happy not to see him, as the occasion arose. The love I felt for him has gone for ever. But I have never lost my feeling that he could once again be useful to me.

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

Returning to his flat after so long, I took him an fine bottle of wine, we had a good time together, and finally  we listened to the three records - Walter Gieseking playing Debussy, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, in that order - that we had so often shared, and to which I always happily sang along with the two sides of Marlene, which finished with "Ich bin vom Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt," "I have fallen head over heels in love", the song known in English as "Falling in Love Again".br />
But as I have implied, my love for everyone, and including him, was gone. I did not mention anything about my father. Everything was the same as it had always been, only different. Old friendships die hard, and I intend to do everything to maintain this one, in the face of almost any discouragement. Bill remains my rock, with the proviso that even the sturdiest of rocks can be washed away by the ever-encroaching seas, lakes and streams of modern Britain.

Three or four days ago I finally managed to reach Mark Casserley on his home telephone. He was suaver and silkier than Stephen had been, and said he already knew I was in England, because Stephen had told him. But when I proposed a meeting, he said that he did not have time to meet me during the few remaining days of my stay. I then brought our conversation to a speedy end, and will never have anything to do with him again.

There are, as far as I know, no extant photographs of myself with any of the four friends, and I believe none were even taken. These friendshipd thus exist only through memory, and whatever I reveal of them could only be confirmed or rebutted by what they themselves say, or have said, or through the memories of those who observed these relationships, or, in the case of Bill, see him and me now. If they were asked, I do not expect the four friends would give a good account of me, and not necessarily a true one either. But in a way they did me a service when they did not visit me in Lowdham Grange, did not answer my letters from there, and reacted so unpleasantly when I phoned them in my desperation. Since that time I have never considered their interests or welfare. I have lied to them, and used them systematically. I do not care whether they live or die. If even one of them had treated me humanely when I was in Lowdham Grange, I do not believe I could have acted in the way I did and gained all the advantages that have accrued.

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

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

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

On my visit to the National Archives, however, this document turned out to be a forgery, or at least never to have been put into effect. They had no record of my mother as a British citizen, although she certainly passed as one for about thirty years. The number on the fragile document in my possession, 30638, turned out to be the naturalisation number of a woman called Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein, born in Berlin in 1919, and at the time of her naturalisation in 1954 working as a typist and living at 24, Charlwood Street, London SW1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The witnesses to the union were Samuel Scarlett and Frederick William Williams. The latter is possibly an alias of my grandfather, although of course it is not certain, and if he was a relation of Donald Williams, previously Schoenthal, then he had perhaps previously been known as Fritz Schoenthal, who is recorded as the father of the groom. Because the photograph really shows my parents' wedding, and if the wedding document also records it, then this witness would in fact be my grandfather, because Brian Streeter has confirmed to me that one of the 14 people in the group photo, an old man whom I vaguely remember, and who was always said to be the father of Arthur Ernest Hills and also known as Arthur Ernest Hills, was my paternal grandfather.

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

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

Going back to the document, there is a signature at the bottom of it, from a different and possibly later hand than that recording all the other details, of a Bonaventura Wilson, who was also CP, and was the priest who later married my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills, on November 13th 1955.

(A note on Bonaventura Wilson written in 2019. I went to a nursing home in north London this year and managed to arrange an interview with a priest who was 100 years old and had been at St Joseph's shortly after the period when my parents were married. He said Bonaventura, which would obviously have been the priest's name in religion, had been the rector of the monastery within the church, a Lancashire man in his sixties. a superior of great strictness. It was clearly necessary for him to countersign the record of the wedding. The priest conducting the ceremony, Philip Hayes, was a young man in 1955, like the man I spoke to, and both would have been absolutely under the authority of Bonaventura. Their superior, considering his background, I thought, and the nature of the Catholic Church at that time, might well have been willing to help a party of Nazis arrange an illicit wedding. I was pleased to find out the details about this long-dead rector, which could have been obtained in no other way than interviewing this man who had known him long before.)

Also given on the document I have are details of addresses for the spouses and witnesses, and I omit these, because on present information it seems that these are mainly false addresses. The spouses are recorded as being of mixed religions and it may be for this reason that the counter-signature of Bonaventura Wilson, the rector, was necessary. Since the fact that my mother was a Jewess has always been exceptionally well hidden and she would have had no motive to disclose this, I think it is more likely that it was my father who was recorded as a Jew.

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

However, this was the only entry in the marriage register I was shown that fitted all the conditions. And my mother was, as far as I know, already legally married at a registry office to Arthur Ernest Hills Junior, and my father, to the best of my knowledge, was an ex-German soldier on the run and after 1968 at least  passing as a Pole under the name Miecszyslaw Hufleit  (only he usually called himself Hupfleit). So they would thus have needed to use false names, and these names would have had to be foreign ones, because it would have been clear to the priest that they were foreigners of some sort. He would have thought they were from northern and southern (or eastern?) Europe respectively.

The possibility also exists of course that there were other persons who were the genuine holders of the names used by my parents, and that Mum and Dad had either been allowed to use these names or had appropriated them. A false name is a movable feast.A person can use more than one and pass on any one identity at will when moving on to another. There is the possibility is that Donald Williams was originally an alias used by Arthur Ernest Hills Junior and that he passed it on at a convenient point to his twin brother while himself slipping into another identity. My father in turn could have passed on the name of Donald Williams to another man when he himself felt like a change of permanent woman. Josefa Moracova could have been an identity used on a more temporary basis by my mother.

Anyway, strange as it appears, there is a likelihood (I would not put it higher than that) that this marriage recorded on 21st May 1955 at St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, between Donald Williams and Josefa Moravcova, was the wedding of my parents.

And now my time on the computer at the crowded library on Lavender Hill is approaching its end. Have I given enough strange and sinister details? Will anyone believe this story? Well, life can be a funny business, and no one can pretend they know everything, or that they have discovered all the details of things long kept secret and possibly dangerous to know.

And I am conscious of a tendency in myself to jump to unwarranted conclusions. This library where I sit is the very library where I once believed that I had just been assassinated by two black women as I alighted at the nearby bus-stop, and I am still alive.

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