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AN ANGEL IN THE WINDOW
My Parents and my Arrival
My mother said they fell in love on the train from Sheffield to London when my father pierced her with his deep brown eyes. She and her friend Vera were impressed by my father's glamorous life in London, so he invited them for a holiday at Easter. My mother stayed on and became pregnant with me in October 1944. The bombs were exploding all around but my father refused to take shelter in the underground, saying he would not die in the war. He was right about that but my pregnant mother was terrified especially when a bomb dropped behind Selfridges, just across the road, and broke all of our windows. Although I was cushioned inside my mother, I still have nightmares about bombs dropping and blazing buildings.
I was conceived on a Friday afternoon. My mother had packed her suitcase and was returning to her husband in Sheffield, but my father returned unexpectedly and made her pregnant on purpose. She knew this because he was usually careful not to. He told her she could give it away if it was a boy! My mother spent the entire pregnancy trying to choose between staying with my unkind father, with whom she was in love, or returning to the kind husband she was not in love with. He wanted her back and said he would take care of the baby—me!
My mother had only been able to leave her husband because of the war which enabled married women to work. She worked in the steel works where she met Vera from whom she rented a room. I don't know how Vera knew my father but he invited them both to London. My mother's marriage had never been consummated and he later divorced her when he wanted to marry someone else.
My earliest memory is of my conception but I did not realise I was remembering being conceived until I saw a sex education film in my teens. When I saw a sperm entering the egg, I remembered spiralling through a vortex and entering the egg, like a match being struck, as the sperm fertilised the egg. Increased magnification has recently shown that there is a flash of light when a sperm fertilises an egg. It was not a pleasant experience surrendering freedom to be compressed into matter. It was like being inside a miniature computer and I saw chromosomes dancing in an elaborate cosmic dance. Luckily I lost consciousness until I had become a baby floating in the amniotic fluid and hearing the beating of two hearts. I have spent my enter life longing to go home, to the love and unity I remember which is described by people who have had near death experiences. Up to the age of three I did go home but was then told to be here. I see now that I incarnated to experience life in all of its aspects which obviously includes conception.
Throughout her entire pregnancy my mother ate radishes which, according to Rudolph Steiner, are good for developing clairvoyance!
When my mother went into labour my father called a cab and put her in it. He did not accompany her or visit her in the Royal Free Hospital, where I was born on a Friday morning. She pretended to be asleep when the other proud fathers visited their wives and babies.
My birth was long because my mother was throwing up. She only started to push when she saw the forceps. I cried before I was fully born and the midwife said I had a strong pair of lungs. I accessed my birth through Rebirthing and it was horrible. I was born into a brightly lit room with a lot of noise. As my mother needed to be stitched up (I weighed 8 pounds) I was wrapped in a towel, which felt like sandpaper against my skin, and I was put to one side. I could smell my mother and feel her longing for me across the room. I was also longing for her. This first separation was primal and painful.
Growing up in Oxford Street
I remember being pushed in a pram in the rain. There were tall buildings looming above us, so it was probably Oxford Street where we lived. The pram hood was up and I was disturbed by my mothers gnarled hands. I knew even then that I was not safe with her. My very pretty mother hated her hands and often complimented me on my slender hands but not on my looks. She was disappointed that I did not inherit her pretty face and wavy blonde hair. “What a pity you aren't more like me,” she frequently reminded me.
My mother said I was a “good” baby, sleeping a lot, and only crying to be fed. She started toilet-training me when she brought me home from the hospital which involved putting a potty underneath me when I was breast-fed. As with all proud mothers, she thought I was “special” and other people confirmed this by saying I was “different” and “not like a baby”. I never cried for attention and could occupy myself, once by studying a book long before I could read. My father played loud classical music when I was asleep and people were amazed that I could sleep through it.
I started walking before I was a year old and on one occasion I scrambled down the stairs and was found walking down Oxford Street on my own. A man saw me and took me back. Talking was not so easy and I did not speak until I was three. I assumed everyone was telepathic and quickly noticed that people did not say what they were feeling or thinking. Talking was so difficult I remember being unable to pronounce button or milk which I called bunt and mink. Learning to blow my nose was equally difficult and I remember being unable to blow down my nose without also blowing through my mouth.
When I was about two years old my mother took me into Hamley's toy shop in Regents Street where I mounted a rocking duck with a bright yellow beak and refused to be dislodged from it. It was unusual for me to assert myself but I flatly refused to get off it. My mother called my father who told her to buy it for me. Then she and the shop assistant had to carry the rocking duck with me on it into a taxi. I was so attached to it, we took it to Sheffield with us, but my grandparents gave it away after I returned to London. I had probably grown too big for it but I was devastated.
I loved having a rest in the afternoon and retired with my pillow to a quiet room. I remember doing this at my grandparents where I rested on a sofa in their front room which they rarely used.
After the war all children of a certain age received free bottles of orange juice. We went to a place near Regents Street to collect it and I proudly carried it home in my little brown suitcase; the one I packed when my parents argued and I anticipated my mother taking the train to Sheffield.
As far as I know, I am the only person to have grown up in Oxford Street in a red brick building opposite Selfridges. The advantages were that I had a great view of the annual Christmas decorations on Selfridges, but most important of all I saw the procession for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II through our window in 1953. The disadvantages were that I had only a rusty fire escape to play on at the back of our flat and a park nearby full of perverts.
My father photographed the rich and famous in his studio at 469 Oxford Street. His clients included Lord Mountbatten, Dennis Price, and a very young Diana Doors. We lived upstairs. When I was a year old I wandered downstairs into his photographic studio and left my ‘calling card’ on the special stool his clients sat on. It was a very long stool and could accommodate a family. After a client almost sat in my steaming deposit, my furious father sent me to my grandparents to be “properly” toilet trained. My grandmother sat me on a potty and would not allow me off it until I had produced something. It was a great family joke but it scarred me for life!
My father humiliated me the way his mother had humiliated him. She had projected onto him her own shame of having him in the menopause, and insisted on being called granny. She told him in one of her letters, which I still have, that he would not have a long life because he had broken the 4th Commandment. It is obvious from these rather cruel letters, which beg him to stop sending photographs of naked women, that my father spent his entire life attempting to shock his mother—and everyone else!
My mother wanted to call me Delia or Elizabeth but it was my father who insisted on calling me Marilyn Diana—the names of two future icons: Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. The surname on my birth certificate is not even his real name! He changed his name from Sowter to Barry because he was a bigamist. This did not stop him from wanting to marry my mother even though he already had two wives! He later discovered that the legal wife had died in the Coventry blitz. My parents finally married when I was six.
My father was eccentric and hated wearing clothes. He often walked naked down Oxford Street after dark to post his letters. My mother worried that he would be seen and arrested. He was a naturist and took us on holiday to all of the naturist resorts in England. I loved these holidays because there were lots of other children to play with. My mother hated them. My parents were totally incompatible. He was an owl; she a lark. He loved the sun; she hated it. He was totally irresponsible; she took on too much responsibility. He was a spendthrift; she was thrifty. He broke the rules; she needed rules to live by.
He took photographs of naked women for publication in the Naturist magazines, but he had to erase their pubic hair which was considered pornographic in those days. This he did behind a curtain in a corner of our dining room. I wonder how many hours he spent erasing pubic hairs! He developed his photographs in a dark room he had partitioned off from the dining room and coloured his prints by hand. He was very artistic, which I inherited, and he gave me a wall to draw on in another corner of our dining room.
He told me a bomb had fallen behind Selfridges during the war and had left a big hole. I looked for it in the pavement and did not notice that an entire block had disappeared. My mother said it had shattered all of our windows and knocked her off the toilet. My father was psychic and said he would not die in the war. He said he would die with his shoes on but not in the war. He was right. He told my mother she would be safe with him and there was no need to take refuge in the underground where the inhabitants of London were sleeping.
My mother had a ration book, which she used in Selfridges Food Hall, but it worried her that a young assistant always gave us more than we were entitled to. In exchange my mother had to listen to her emotional upsets over the married man she was having an affair with who said he'd leave his wife but never did.
We lived on the third floor and my father rented out the floor above to a series of lodgers. One of them was called Colonel Collins with whom I fell in love. He had a ruddy complexion and took me for long walks in Hyde Park. He came from Limerick in Ireland. There was an air of melancholy about him—as if he had lost everything and had little left to lose. My mother told me years later that my face lit up in his presence. She said he probably had a wife and children in Ireland but he never talked about them. He disappeared without trace when I was three and a half. It was probably after Christmas because that is the last time I saw him. This was the first Christmas I recall. I could not sleep anticipating the arrival of Father Christmas and I can still remember my parents talking in another room. Colonel Collins gave me some cheap toys from Woolworths which I treasured.
I remember eating with my parents at our dining table. When my mother told me to fill a jug with water, I filled it from the toilet bowl because it was easier for me to reach. Nobody noticed. On another occasion I lifted up my dress and said “I don't have a willy, do I?” We had recently visited someone with a new baby boy and I had watched in absolute fascination when he was bathed. I was preoccupied with why boys had willies and girls didn't, and suspected it held some great secret. I suffered from penis envy and one of my fantasies was to pee all over my mother through an imaginary penis.
My parents were always fighting and often included me. If my father grabbed me first he thought my mother would stay, but when he locked me in my bedroom, my mother called the police to smash the window and get me out. If my mother grabbed me first, she ran out into the street to hail a cab. My father chased us in another cab—often to St. Pancras station where my mother caught the train to Sheffield to seek refuge with her parents. One night when we missed the train and had nowhere to go, we shared a bed in a hostel for homeless people, which smelt of urine.
When I was four we moved, with the photographic business, up to the fourth floor. I was disturbed by this move because I remember wetting the bed. I'd wake up in mid-steam and have to spend the rest of the night in a wet bed because I was too afraid to disturb my parents. At first I slept in the only bedroom where I had strange dreams. In one of them a stage coach pulled by horses appeared in my bedroom. In another dream I entered a space ship with a lot of other people. I also had a spooky experience in which I saw three sinister spirits dressed in black standing around my bed. I don't know where my parents slept but I was later moved into the dining room, which felt big and scary. I suspect that we moved upstairs for financial reasons. My mother had taken a part-time cleaning job. Now when customers came to be photographed, I was either locked out on the fire escape or in the bedroom—depending upon the weather! Out on the fire-escape I occupied myself with dangerous escapades. I squeezed through a gap in the rusty railings and walked on the outside of the fire escape, leaning back over a sheer four-storey drop. I also walked on a glass sky-light above an area where women were using sewing machines.
In 1949 I had an interesting experience when some spirit children I already knew came to say good-bye to me. The children's village, where they lived and which I knew, interpenetrated the room where I was. Is it a coincidence that I now have friends who were born in 1949? There was also an older spirit girl who often visited me. This is in addition to the fairies my father encouraged me to believe in. He showed me where they lived in Hyde Park and I imagined I was “away with the fairies” when I slept. A feat I accomplished at this time was to fly above the roof tops at night which must have been an “out of body” experience.
I have a rare happy memory of my mother showing me how to bake fairy cakes in the kitchen when I was four. Someone had made me a green apron, which I wore, and still have. When my mother baked, which was often, she always gave me the mixing bowl to lick out with a wooden spoon. I loved the sweet mixture. As I grew older my father became more interested in me. We had cuddles in bed on Sunday mornings when he pretended his hand was a spider coming to get me. We were both terrified of spiders! He also told me “naughty boy” stories from his own childhood. One of them involved a little girl and a doll, which he threw over a wall for fun. He did not smash up my little pink chair for fun. He did it because I told my mother something he had told me not to tell her. It was the little pink chair I loved and had been given for Christmas when I was three.
My father was always taking photographs of me in his studio and in Hyde Park where he preferred me to be naked in the summer months.
Shortly after moving upstairs my mother nearly died of pneumonia and I spent a few months with my grandparents in Sheffield where I felt safe. I remember knocking over the neighbour's two-year-old toddler in my eagerness to see the fireworks on the 5th November. For Christmas I was given a teddy bear, which I still have. My father sent me a cream and green replica of a coach which I played with underneath the kitchen table.
I attended the nursery at St. Stevens School at the bottom of the lane where we had little camp beds to rest on and small bottles of milk to drink from. I loved going because there were other children to play with. My grandmother often took me to the Co-Op shop where money was placed in a copper cylinder and sent on a wire to the cashier.
I shared a bed with my Aunty Nelly who had never married. She had beautiful long black wavy hair and a fiery temperament, which was blamed on our Spanish blood. My grandmother's father had looked Spanish. It was that side of our family that had the Spanish ancestor who came over on the Spanish Armada and was shipwrecked off the coast of Cornwall. Nellie was my mother's older sister who was killed the following year when a runaway lorry smashed her through a brick wall trying to avoid a queue of people waiting at a bus stop. They had been admiring my Aunty Nellie's hair when the lorry took her life. My grandparents lost three of their five children. Florence had been killed by a coach and horses on Christmas Eve when she broke free from her older siblings, Nellie and Bob, to look at a doll in a shop window They must have been totally traumatised. Both of them died in their 40s. My mother and her older brother Fred were the only two who lived into old age. As my mother resembled Florence in both looks and temperament, it was believed that Florence had returned, and she was spoilt.
When I was five my father took me to the Windmill theatre where naked women stood like statues on a stage. I always doubted this memory until I heard Bob Hoskins saying that his father had taken him to the Windmill theatre when he was a child.
My father also took me to the British Museum, after which I became obsessed with the ancient Egyptians, and frequently asked him to tell me more about them. I loved the fact that they wrote in pictures and I felt a deep connection with them.
Going to School in Mayfair
I went to school in Mount Street Gardens, a quiet haven in the heart of Mayfair, which was where the fairs in May were held when the area was surrounded by fields. The mothers sat on the benches in the gardens waiting for their children to come out of school. My mother and I walked home via Grosvenor Square and the American Embassy. The official address of my school is St. George's Hanover Square, but the entrance is in Farm Street almost next door to the Catholic Church, which I loved as a child, and still visit when I'm in London. I was not a Catholic but this church, with its smell of incense, felt familiar and I imagined I had been a nun in another life. It became my refuge.
I was a spiritual child who considered Jesus to be my friend. I often talked to him and wonder now if it was my teacher on the inner planes who looked like Jesus. I gave my pocket money to the tramps in Hyde Park because I felt they needed it more than I did.
I had been excited about going to school, unlike the children who bawled and clung to their mothers, but it was a disappointment. I was not popular and found learning difficult. I had a friend called Ursula Green whose parents would now be called hippies. They had six children who all slept in one bedroom and they were vegetarians. How I envied Ursula's special vegetarian diet which did not include the tough meat I had to hide in my cheeks, like a hamster. I can still taste the mixture of meat and custard I was forced to eat before being allowed to leave the table and spit the meat down the toilet. I vowed to be a vegetarian when I grew up, but it never occurred to me to be a vegetarian then. I have now been a vegetarian for over fifty years.
One time at school I decided to share with the children in the playground the sweets I had received for Christmas. I thought they would like me more but they merely gobbled them up and ran away.
I was very artistic and wrote stories in pictures by folding up a sheet of paper into little squares and continuing the story through the squares, a bit like a comic. I also made 3D villages out of cardboard with windows and doors which could be opened, and peep-shows out of shoe boxes in which I stuck trees and people who could be viewed through a hole in the box which was covered in grease-proof paper.
Everything in Oxford Street closed on a Saturday afternoon. It was like a ghost town with no shops open, no people, and only a few empty red buses. I did not like the deadness of the weekends, but early one Sunday morning there was a commotion and the sound of horses' hooves on the road. We rushed to the window. It was a dress rehearsal for the Coronation—complete with the golden coach.
Most of the properties in Mayfair had been requisitioned after the war to house the many bombed-out families. When the families were re-housed on the new estates in outer London, I lost many of my friends which included John Howard who was my first boyfriend. We were going to get married and chose my engagement ring from the window of an expensive jewellers in Mayfair. His father, a pilot in the war, had been killed. One day John Howard disappeared and I never saw him again.
The year 1951 was a memorable year. My parents stopped fighting and got married. There had been terrible fights: my mother running down Oxford Street, dragging me behind her, with my father in hot pursuit. I was always caught in the middle. On one occasion they each held onto one of my arms outside Lyons Corner House where, on happier occasions, we had taken afternoon tea in a genteel musical atmosphere. My father ‘won’ me but then lost interest once we were in Hyde Park. He had his binoculars focussed on the semi-naked ladies swimming in the Lido when I slipped on the slimy edge of the Serpentine and broke my arm. As he did not want my mother to know, he hid my wet clothes and put me to bed. My mother heard me crying in the night and took me to the hospital in a taxi. My father did not accompany us.
The Festival of Britain was held in 1951. We went to Battersea Fun Fair and my father took me on the Big Dipper where I levitated six inches off the seat on the downhill dive. Now I want to know when it was that summer that he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition and given a year to live. Was it before or after our ride on the Big Dipper? Did he risk both our lives?
We were a family at last—a happy family. We went on outings. We went to Ramsgate for a weekend and up in an aeroplane at the Farnborough Air Show, but my mother was too scared to go with us. It was the only time my father flew. My mother never did. My father predicted that men would land on the moon in my lifetime but not in his. He was right. They landed on the moon on my 24th birthday—the year I lost my virginity!
I cannot remember the last Christmas we had with my father even though I've tried. It may have been that Christmas when he gave me the enormous dolls house. Our front door had to be taken off its hinges to get it inside. It opened both sides and was fully-furnished. I may not remember because we were more settled as a family. We tend to remember the traumatic times but not the happy ones!
The summer of 1951 was the last family summer of my childhood. A month before Christmas, when the decorations were going up on Selfridges, my father died in front of us with his shoes on. My mother was hysterical and I stood in a pool of his warm wet pee—the last bit of him. His body was taken away and a policeman sent to tell us what we already knew. As I wiped away my mother's tears, I saw tears in the policeman's eyes. I had to be strong for her and did not cry over my father's death for another thirty years. A friend of my father's told my mother that he had lived for only six months after his diagnosis which takes us back to May. On my sixth birthday in July he knew he was going to die. He bought me a toy replica of the first polar bear born in London Zoo. I still have it.
The night my father died is etched in my memory. I was put in my parents' bed and watched the tropical fish in my father's aquarium. The sights and sounds of that night still haunt me. It was Friday and we had been eating fish with mashed potatoes, white sauce and peas when he left the table and died of a massive heart attack. Daddy never finished his dinner.
My grandparents joined us for Christmas and I was given expensive presents in an attempt to compensate for the loss of my father whom I saw on Christmas day standing in the lounge where we sat watching the television he had bought in 1947. I felt my father's presence for a long time and I sensed that he felt guilty about leaving us in a mess.
Apart from the photographic business, which was sold to pay off his debts, there were no savings and no widow's pension for my mother. She approached Social Services for help but they only offered to put me into a children's home. My mother had no choice but to find work. Having left school at fourteen, her only option was to be a cleaner in an up-market block of flats where cleaning, laundry and room-service were included. She had no time for grief or self-pity. She sometimes took me to work with her and left me in the basement where there was a laundry and a kitchen. An older boy, whose mother also worked in the building, locked me in a laundry basket which was terrifying.
In the school holidays I spent the days with a friend and her deranged mother who lived around the corner. Unfortunately I told my friend the difference between boys and girls, which caused her mother to chase me down the stairs screaming that I was “a dirty little girl”. I was not allowed to stay there any more after that, and I became a latch-key kid. I worked out that I was now half-an-orphan which caused mummy to smile in a sad way.
I was now desperate for my mother to have a baby, preferably a baby girl, and in response she did something very silly. She pretended to call the hospital and then told me they didn't have any baby girls but they would let her know when they did have some. I was thrilled because I thought this meant I'd have a baby sister in the future. I told my friends at school. Their mothers, obviously counting the months since my father had died, asked me if it was true. I said yes, it was. The baby never arrived and I began to question my mother about where babies really come from. She finally told me a baby grows inside its mother's tummy. “But how does it get there?” I asked. She looked very embarrassed and I—still illiterate—worked it out. She was embarrassed because it must be rude! I told my friends that a baby is planted inside its mother's tummy as a seed passing through the father's willy, which they could not believe. They asked their mothers who said I was lying. It certainly explained why boys had willies! For several years I believed that people had to “force” themselves to go through this bizarre process to make babies.
In June 1953 we saw the procession for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II passing underneath our windows. My mother rented out our lounge to a group of teachers, and my grandparents came to stay with us to watch through our dining room windows. But what was more exciting to me were the people sleeping on our doorstep. They camped on the pavement for days before and used special portable toilet blocks which had been positioned nearby. There was also raised tiered seating in Hyde Park. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and my mother made me a new dress for the occasion.
That year I was a bridesmaid to my cousin Sylvia, who was 12 years older than me. I went to Sheffield for the wedding and shared a bed with her the night before. I remember that the other bridesmaid was pretty with curly hair, and her mother had made a petticoat for her to wear under her dress. I felt inferior in my limp dress with my straight mousy brown hair and missing front teeth. By way of compensation I ran wild at the reception with some other children and stole the decorations from the wedding cake. Sylvia and her mother had to come to London to retrieve them. I went through a period of stealing small items, having no idea that it was wrong.
I had four other cousins who lived in Kent. Their father, my uncle Fred, had married a woman called Martha whom my mother and grandparents did not like. They said she was common. I remember staying with them and playing with Josephine, who was my age, and her brother Tony. The other two, Betty and Jack, were Sylvia's age. My mother and her older brother Fred both ended up living and dying in Kent but by then they were estranged.
My mother now had nobody to leave me with in the school holidays or when I was sick, so she just had to leave me. After she had gone I would cry myself into exhaustion. Once when I was on the edge of psychosis I saw an angel in the window. On another occasion some office workers heard me crying and, taking pity on me, took me downstairs into their office which used to be where we lived. All the walls had been demolished. Most of the time I was alone with the radio for company waiting for my mother to return home from work. I remember being sick with a high fever and hearing the walls shouting at each other. It was a bleak unhappy time for me. I felt abandoned and was envious of children whose mothers were at home with them. Now it is against the law to leave a child alone under the age of 12.
My father always had a cat and left us with Susie, a highly-strung pure white pedigree cat he had bought at a cat show. She must have had a miserable life with only the fire escape to roam and go to the toilet on. I remember when she fell or jumped down to the ground floor where she was trapped for an entire weekend because we could only rescue her through the back of a shop in Oxford Street. After my father died she went to the toilet in our bath and my mother took her in a box to the vet to be put to sleep. On reflection, I can't understand why she was not given a litter tray. We thought we heard her meowing for days afterwards. I now have three beloved cats in Spain.
I was taken into the marital bed after my father died and I remained there until I was twelve. One night I woke up and we were both covered in blood. I had no idea where it came from but it was a regular occurrence. My mother had bled all over a white carpet in the exclusive block of flats where she worked and I had watched as she desperately tried to remove the bloody stains. Just before my eighth birthday my mother received a letter from the hospital telling her to come in the following day for a hysterectomy. She put me on the train to Sheffield to stay with my grandparents. I had my name and address pinned to my vest and I spent the entire journey with the guard who obviously loved children. I had a wonderful time. It was like being released from prison.
Happy Memories of Sheffield
In Sheffield I became another person altogether from the one I was in London. I moved easily from being isolated, shy and timid to being popular, outgoing and friendly. My grandparents lived in a tiny house without a bathroom, an outside toilet, and shared a yard with three other terraced houses. It was the slum my mother had been desperate to escape from. For me it was paradise! The back doors were always open and wherever I went I received a warm welcome and something to eat. They were poor but generous and kind. In London my mother found no kind person to take me in when she was out working. In Sheffield the entire street took me in! The other children fought over who was going to sit next to me. I was a celebrity from London. To my grandparents I was their little princess. The squares of newspaper hanging on a nail behind the toilet door were not for my delicate bottom. I was given proper toilet paper—the type that can also be used as tracing paper! They emptied my chamber pot each morning and boiled an egg for my breakfast with strips of bread called soldiers.
They bought me some cheap clothes in a jumble sale, so I could play. I climbed walls, scrambled over bomb-sites, and even walked on a roof. I only wore the beautiful dresses my mother had packed on Sundays when I went to Sunday School. It was an idyllic carefree summer: playing outside all day and looking at comics in bed—having imaginary adventures with Desperate Dan and Keyhole Kate! I was always sent to bed at 7 p.m., accompanied by the music from The Archers as I climbed the stairs. I often rebelled but my grandparents insisted upon it. They were in their 70s, which is the age I am now. I don't think I would have the energy to cope with an 8-year-old. I feel guilty about my bad behaviour, but I felt safe enough with them to be naughty. Being retired, they had plenty of time for me. I'd sit on grandma's lap playing with the gold chain around her neck and breathe her in. All the children in the street loved my grandfather and would sit on his lap to be rocked in his rocking chair beside the fire. “But he's MY grandad!” I reminded them.
A friend decided to organise a party for my 8th birthday but it was wasted on me. I still do not like parties. I ended up playing with the younger children because the older children were playing games that involved reading and writing. They were playing Consequences.
I went to St. Stevens School at the bottom of the lane and, even though I still could not read or write, I was totally accepted by the teachers and other children. Years later, in my 40s, I was driven with my mother to where my grandparents had lived. The house had been demolished in the 1960s slum clearances but I found the exact spot where it had stood. Then we went down the lane to St. Stevens School, where I had been so happy. M mother complained the entire time because she could not understand why I needed to see it again. I could not tell her that it was the only time in my childhood I had been happy and felt safe.
My grandmother had dozens of friends and relatives. She was always taking me to see people we were related to. She had two brothers who must have had children and grandchildren. We went to Derbyshire where a relative had a pub and I was shown Little John's grave.
I remember one woman, who lived down the lane with loads of children, telling my grandmother not to let me play down there. It must have been where the very poor people lived. Of course I went down there to play with her children who were dirty and wore no underwear so they could relieve themselves wherever they happened to be!
My grandfather lit a fire in the kitchen every morning even in the summer. They had a big black cooking range with an oven and a plate to boil the kettle on. My grandmother cooked a roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding every Sunday. They did not have a fridge or a washing machine. Food was kept in a cupboard with mesh sides in the front room from which I'd help myself to a slice of fruit cake in the afternoon. As I crept past my grandfather, snoozing in his rocking chair, he often surprised me by saying “Ay-up!”
My grandmother did her laundry by hand and used a big iron mangle which stood in a corner of the kitchen. Then the laundry was hung out to dry on clothes-lines in the yard. In the winter it was hung above our heads in the kitchen on a wooden contraption which could be lowered. They all did their laundry on Mondays and we, the children, loved to run through the wet sheets. I was bathed in a tin bath in front of the fire every Friday night and then dried on the kitchen table.
I was blissfully happy and had forgotten all about my other life in London when an excited neighbour came running up to me in the street, smiles all over her face, to tell me the good news: my mother was coming to get me! I burst into agonised sobs and rushed to my grandparents where I fell to the floor begging them to let me stay. I have no idea what they thought of my emotional outburst. Of course, my mother had no intention of leaving me with them. We returned to London for some more misery. I remember walking to the end of the street, from where we waved to my grandparents, and feeling that my heart would break.
There were many other visits to Sheffield over the years. In the winter there was deep snow and we had to dig a path to the outside toilet. We made snowmen and threw snow balls at each other. I played with Diane, the girl next door—the toddler I had pushed over when I was four—and we played games in her house when her parents were out. Our favourite game was to blind-fold each other and guess what flavour had been placed in our mouths. This often included pepper and mustard as well as sugar and salt. Diane's father had an allotment in the countryside where we often went for the day. The adults sat in deck-chairs while we, the children, ran wild down by a stream nearby. Diane's father Tom had a stammer and couldn't get his words out but he was kind and we loved him. He had a big tent, which he erected for us in the yard, and we all squeezed into it and sat there for most of the day. We wanted to sleep in it but the adults said no.
I loved to get all the kids in the street to put on shows for the adults. I auditioned for singers, dancers and story-tellers, and we rehearsed until the day of the show. When I was twelve I made a speech about being neither a child nor an adult, and how difficult that felt. I was really upset when I could not play with my toys any more. One of the neighbours congratulated me afterwards which embarrassed me.
When my grandparents visited us in London, they took me to Regents Park and Buckingham Palace. The Royal Family felt like neighbours and one day I saw Charles and Anne in the back of a car being driven through Hyde Park. They were kneeling on the back seat and looking through the rear window which is how I recognised them. They were probably being driven from Kensington Palace. I also saw the Queen a couple of times when we had advance warning about where she was going to appear.
The worst part of being a latch-key kid is coming home to a cold empty flat. In Sheffield my grandparents were always waiting for me with a warm hearth and sustenance. In London I found ways of delaying my return home. I went home with other children until their mothers grew tired of me. I dragged other children home with me until their mothers wondered where they were. I visited the Catholic Church to pray and light a candle or I went up and down on the escalators in Selfridges. I would do anything to delay that awful moment when I opened the front door and found nobody there!
Living in Knightsbridge
When my mother was offered a job as housekeeper to Mr and Mrs Bertram Mills, of Mills Circus fame, she jumped at it. We were given a mews flat in Knightsbridge on the other side of Hyde Park. It was tiny with only one bedroom but we both hoped it would give us more time together. In the mornings she walked with me to the edge of Hyde Park, telling me to be careful crossing Park Lane, not knowing that the park was the most dangerous part of my walk to school. The perverts wore raincoats, which they opened as I approached, revealing their willies. As I had seen hundreds of naked men, it meant nothing to me. They never attempted to do anything to me. Just revealing all appeared to satisfy them. Only on one occasion did one of them approach me. I was busy making a snowman when he started helping me, telling me about his unhappy childhood at boarding school where he had been bullied, and gaining my sympathy. I did eventually notice that he was exposed under his raincoat and told him I had to go.
“Would you like to see me without my clothes on?” he asked me in an educated upper-class voice. “Thank you. That's very kind of you, but I have to go,” I replied, having been brought up to be polite! I ran as if my life depended upon it and tiptoed back in my own footprints in the snow to our front door in case he followed me home. I did not tell my mother about this encounter.
Hyde Park was full of what I thought were deflated balloons with a milky liquid in them. I often wondered what they were but when I picked one up, my mother rushed me home and gave me a bath. The deflated balloons with the milky liquid inside them mystified me and my friends for years.
At school I sat next to a boy who took out his willy in class and said he would beat me up if I didn't touch it. As it looked like a slimy pink worm, I refused. After school he followed me into Hyde Park and hit me repeatedly with a long cardboard tube. I desperately begged strangers to protect me from him but nobody did.
My mother and I did not have more time together. Mr and Mrs Mills had her working on Christmas day when I was locked in a back bedroom and only allowed out for the Queen's Speech. In protest I refused to stand up for the National Anthem, which embarrassed my mother who was a royalist. By way of compensation we were given free tickets to the circus at Christmas.
My mother was exploited. She worked all week, Saturday mornings and some evenings. I was still a latch-key kid. I spent a lot of time looking out of the window into Ennismore Mews where a pretty young blonde actress sat outside learning her lines. It was Virginia McKenna who lived in a tiny cottage across the road from us. Bill Travers, whom she later married, often picked her up in his green sports car. Richard Green, who played Robin Hood on television, lived two doors away but I never saw him. He lived next door to the back of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The good thing about living in Knightsbridge were the museums in Exhibition Road which I frequented in the school holidays. The one I liked the most was the Science Museum because it had a mock coal-mine in the basement. I had a new friend called Anne who lived nearby in Brompton Road. She had a lovely father but a cold mother who banned me from visiting Anne and her younger brother David. They visited me instead and confessed that Anne played with her brother's balls in bed at night. This is interesting because their mother thought I was a bad influence on them! They moved to a cottage in the country after about a year and I never saw them again.
I now had a boyfriend at school called Kenny who was also a latch-key kid. There were many children without fathers after the war. He took me home to the council flat, where he lived with his mother, to play with his cat's kittens. When the other girls in our class asked me what I saw in him, I replied “When you love someone you don't care what they look like.” He was actually a sweet little boy.
After I'd given up on having a baby sister, I wanted a dog. The people next door to us had a white miniature poodle, made pregnant by a mongrel who waited outside for an opportunity to mate with her. I would have loved one of those puppies but my mother was adamant.
Then I wanted a bicycle and even entered a competition to win one!I now understand why I could not have a dog or a bicycle. We lived in the middle of London. However, my mother did get a blue budgerigar and taught him to talk. He could say his name and address but it did not bring him back when a friend left the cage door open and he flew away. My mother was inconsolable.
My mother had a friend in Highgate who had three children my age. We often went on the underground to visit them and I ran wild with Carol, Richard and Vicky whose house backed onto fields and a stream where we played and picked blackberries. I thought they were SO lucky but they squabbled endlessly with each other, vying for their mother's attention. After these visits and my visits to Sheffield, I felt that happiness was fleeting and that I was condemned to having a miserable life with brief glimpses of happiness!
I went to Sunday School in a Congregational Chapel off Kensington High Street where we sang “Jesus wants me for a sun-beam” and were taken on outings, performed shows for our parents, received prizes for Bible study and generally had a lot of fun. Even the girl with Downs Syndrome was included in our activities. Every Christmas I chose a child from the Sunny Smiles book of orphans and gave her gifts. As I never broke my toys, I gave what I no longer played with or I sacrificed something I loved for the child I had chosen. This was a good exercise in giving from the heart.
Every year I always searched for and found the presents my mother was going to give me for Christmas. I stood on a chair in order to reach the high cupboard where my presents were hidden. It never spoilt it for me and my mother never found out.
I made friends with Patricia, the daughter of a park keeper who lived in a Hansel and Gretel cottage at Lancaster Gate. She was a strange little girl with long blonde plaits whose parents appeared to me to be old. They were always arguing, and if I walked in on an argument, the father apologised to me. We met on Saturday mornings to go to the cinema where crowds of over-excited children yelled and threw missiles at each other. Then, I walked hime with Patricia in the hope that her mother would invite me to lunch. Sometimes she took pity on me which meant I did not have to return to an empty flat. After her parents had retired to a small seaside town, she and her mother appeared on our doorstep. Patricia had grown into a blonde bombshell with big breasts—totally unlike her mousy flat-chested mother!
I remember the pea-soup fogs and not being able to see my own hand in front of my face. I walked across Hyde Park in a thick fog and was turned away by Patricia's mother. I had to walk all the way back home. The fogs were as a result of burning coal. In Oxford Street we had lived in our bedroom in the winter because it had a gas fire. There was no central heating in those days.
My mother never felt the cold but I did and was frozen for my entire childhood. We never had enough blankets on the bed and I suffered from endless colds and chilblains. I begged for fleecy-lined gloves and boots but she said she could not afford to buy them. However, she bought me exquisite dresses from Harrods because it was what she had longed for in her impoverished childhood.
She never understood how I could be cold when she was hot. She even slept with the window open in the middle of winter. Now I only open a window if it's 30 degrees in the shade! My mother often cried when the bills arrived. She had to choose between eating and heating, and chose to eat. I was a fussy eater—I still am—but my mother never forced me to eat anything I didn't want to eat. I hated salads and vegetables, and lived on baked beans and cereals. Her friends said they would force me to eat but my mother never did. I had free school meals which were also provided in the holidays at various schools. My mother insisted I go even though I often had to walk a long way for my lunch.
When my eyes were tested, it was discovered that I needed to wear glasses. This may explain why I still could not read although it's more likely that I was dyslexic! When I was nine I taught myself to read from a Noddy book. I had someone read it to me until I knew it off by heart. Only then could I recognise the words and transfer them to other books. I loved reading and devoured books from the library. I particularly loved “Peter Pan”.
My mother worried about my poor performance at school. The headmistress told her that all she could ever hope for was that I'd be a window-dresser! Years later my mother returned to tell her that I had gone to college to train as a primary school teacher. When asked what I wanted to do when I left school, I'd say I was going to marry and have children. I had absolutely NO desire to be anything but married with children. I adored babies and would happily baby-sit just to be close to a baby. I even changed their nappies!
When I was nine my mother brought a man home and introduced him to me. He gave me sweets, which I sucked in bed when he spent the night with my mother on the single bed in the sitting room. Their love-making kept me awake and I thought he was hurting her, so I stood outside the door wondering whether to rush in and rescue her. Often she left him in bed when she went to work in the morning. If it was a school holiday I climbed into bed with him for a cuddle, remembering the cuddles I had with my father. The intimacy I experienced with my mother's boyfriend grew more disturbing in ways that I could not verbalise. I saw him playing with his willy when he talked to Virginia McKenna through our bathroom window. At school I drew a picture of a naked man with a big erection which the teacher found. He was obviously shocked by my knowledge of male anatomy but instead of reporting it, he put my drawing in his inside pocket. He had the disgusting habit of fondling our bottoms up our skirts when he marked our books. We never told anyone—probably because we could not put into words what he was doing to us.
My mother's boyfriend did not make her happy. He was married and could not give her the security she craved. She smashed his gifts in a furious frenzy and ripped up a beautiful bouquet of flowers he had given her. She was never very gracious with gifts and once threw my bunch of daffodils on the floor, saying she hated daffodils!
He must have talked about leaving his wife because my mother received details of cottages for sale in the country and she said we might live in the country with him. I was excited about living in the country but not with him. I hated being in a city and longed to live in the country. I still prefer a rural setting to an urban one. In 1954 cottages in Buckinghamshire were selling for £500.
We went on holiday to Devon with the boyfriend in his car. I don't know what he told his wife! They left me on a beach and told me to stay there until they returned. At first it was fun playing in the sand but then I needed to pee. I had no idea where the toilets were and was scared to search for them in case they came looking for me. I was totally desperate and begged to be taken to a toilet when they finally appeared, but my mother ignored me. I've hated beaches ever since!
It was absolute misery for me being with him and the following year I did not accompany them on holiday. Instead I stayed with Eve, my mother's friend in Chiswick. Her odd husband took nude photos of me in their bathroom, which seemed perfectly normal to me at the time, probably because my father had taken nude photographs of me. Eve really cared for me, curing my cold and cutting my hair. My mother hated my hair, saying it was like rats' tails. She never knew what to do with it but Eve had similar hair to mine and cut me a fringe which suited me. I also spent time with Maxine, whom I'd known since I was five, and whose mother was heavily pregnant. She showed me the room where the new baby was going to sleep, and I thought Maxine was the luckiest girl in the world—even when she only had a baby brother!
That same year I went on a school holiday. We stayed in chalets at Grooms Holiday Camp where we had fun on the beach and on coach outings. Every night we sang “Everybody's happy, friendly folk in every chalet, down at Grooms's Happy Holiday Camp”. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing chicks hatching from three eggs in a birds' nest.
Back at home things were not improving. My mother had given her boyfriend a key to our front door, which meant he could let himself in whenever he felt like it. On these occasions he would remove his clothes and get me to masturbate him which made my hands ache. He never ejaculated and, on reflection, I see that he had sexual problems. He told me his mother had caught him ‘playing with himself’ and had humiliated him.
I decided to tell my mother what her boyfriend was doing to me. She was shocked and asked me to draw it. I did a graphic drawing of her naked boyfriend on top of me, and that night she confronted him, but of course he denied it. He even swore on his mother's grave, which he had taken me to! She believed him. I was heart-broken and wished him dead. He obliged me by dying of lung cancer. My mother was inconsolable and took me to the place where his ashes had been scattered until doubt entered her head and she ripped his name out of the Book of Remembrance.
By now I had failed the Eleven Plus and was attending a rough secondary modern school in Victoria where I was desperately unhappy. I was separated from my friends who all went to grammar schools. The other children at my new school bullied me and one teacher in particular humiliated me by reading my essays, with their numerous spelling mistakes, to the class. I was so scared of this teacher, I threw up every morning. My mother went to the school to complain but it only made the verbal attacks more vicious. I planned to run away and hide in a derelict building in Victoria where a school friend promised to bring me food. I had it all worked out when my mother announced we were moving to Chiswick.
Life improves in Chiswick
The move to Chiswick was the best decision my mother ever made. She rented a small one bedroom ground floor flat and slept in the sitting room to give me space as I entered puberty. We had a kitchen diner where I did my homework listening to Radio Luxembourg. For the first time in my life we had a front and back garden where my mother grew flowers.
I went to a secondary modern school in East Acton, which Adam Faith had attended, and where I was much happier. Here I was inspired by a wonderful English teacher who gave me extra tuition in her lunch break and saw in me the writer I would later become. I entered her class at the bottom and left it at the top. Sheila Smith was new from teacher training college and this was her first year of teaching. She was a truly gifted teacher, so different to the one who had humiliated me at my previous school.
With good references from Bertram Mills, my mother became the housekeeper to Commander Michael Parker and moved in royal circles. She frequently cooked lunch for Prince Philip who always thanked her and appreciated her cooking. Michael Parker boosted my mother's self-confidence, being a kind and generous employer, and not at all superior. She enjoyed working for him and only left when she broke her leg in the freezing winter of 1962/3.
It was in the back garden of our new flat that we found a baby blue budgerigar, which was weird because a friend had left the cage door open when she looked after our blue budgerigar in Knightsbridge. I had to take a bus to collect the cage for the new one we had found. We called him Billy because we both felt he had been sent by Bill, my mother's deceased boyfriend. Billy was with us for six years and was a delight. He talked and drank tea from my mother's lips when we let him out of his cage in the evenings.
On Sunday afternoons I took the bus to Kensington to attend my old Sunday School which my friend Patricia still attended. I took a new school friend called Carolyn who always gave me the giggles. At Sunday School we had to suppress our laughter until we thought we'd die! We really were the terrible twins. Even our names rhymed! At school we were obsessed with Mr Ellis, a handsome exchange teacher from New Zealand whom we stalked. Carolyn had a beautiful complexion because she ate raw onions like apples.
My mother already had friends in Chiswick and it had been through my mother's friend Eve that I met Maxine when I was five. Her family had just returned from Canada and lived next door to Eve and her husband. We had always played together when my mother visited, and when I moved to Chiswick, we became inseparable. She went to a private school but we saw each other every weekend and in the school holidays. We rampaged through our teenage years together, sharing our crushes, looking for boys in Chiswick House Grounds, being wall-flowers at dances, and screaming over the Beatles.
The Teenage Years
I had NO intention of growing up and even signed a Declaration. The reason was my increasing disillusionment with what adults did to each other, to animals, and to other people in the world. From an early age I had perceived that everyone was “dying for love” but nobody was able to give love! I was appalled by the wars and the social inequalities. I decided that something terrible happens to people when they grow up—and I was not going to let it happen to me!
My mother prepared me for puberty by giving me a packet of sanitary towels and a belt to hook them onto. I was not looking forward to having periods. At primary school a tiny 10-year-old girl in my class had started early and told the boys. My mother took me to be fitted for a bra just before my 12th birthday. I was a size 30 and I hung my head in shame. My periods started a year later and I was appalled. They began at school with cramps and a stain in my knickers. I went to bed and refused to get up for days. I cried and raved that I absolutely could not bear it. My mother made it worse by saying I'd have periods for the next 35 years! My friend Joan, who had already started her periods, finally persuaded me out of bed and into my school uniform. My periods lasted for ten days, were heavy, and I had terrible menstrual cramps. It was a miserable monthly event for the next 35 years! I have not had periods for over 20 years now and I still feel like cheering when I see the sanitary products in a chemist.
Joan lived nearby and called for me on her way to school. She had also failed the 11+ but was in the A stream whereas I was in the B stream. The A stream students were taught French and were expected to take GCE O and A level exams. The B stream were expected to leave school at 15 and were taught practical things like cookery for the girls and woodwork for the boys. The secondary modern school we attended was progressive and I was encouraged to take O level GCEs and in fact passed more than anybody else that year. Later the 11+ was abolished and our school became one of the new Comprehensive schools.
With my periods came pimples which plagued my teenage years and were a blessing in disguise. Had I known my oily skin would delay wrinkles in my older years, would I have complained less? Probably not. Unlike my mother, my skin was oily, and my hair needed washing more than once a week. We had always shared a bath, in which my hair was washed, but now I had the bath first and then my mother bathed in my dirty water. This was because she said she could only afford to have the immersion heater on once a week. After the children at school had shamed me in the playground because my collar was dirty from my greasy hair, I had to boil water in saucepans in order to wash my hair twice a week. My mother told me never to take a bath or wash my hair during my period, and the first time I disobeyed her was scary. It was an Old Wife's tale which I proved to be a lie. A relaxing bath always helped with my menstrual cramps.
Joan was in love with our gym teacher and I thought I was in love with Sheila Smith, the English teacher who had devoted so much of her free time to my education. As I rebelled against my mother, Miss Smith became my role model. The other girls called us lesbians but when Joan tried to climb on top of me on her bed, I did not respond or like it. I was definitely not a lesbian.
Maxine was in love with an actor called Brian Rawlinson to whom she remained loyal for years. He acted in The Buccaneers, a popular television program shown on Saturday evenings. We alternated between each other's homes: one Saturday at her home, where her naughty young brother joined in, and the next Saturday at my home where my mother made a delicious tea which she ate with us. We had tea on our own in the kitchen at Maxine's home and devised some gross contests. One was to see who could cram the most food into her mouth. The other was to see if we could put each other off our tea. I always won. Maxine had a mother and a father plus a brother and a cat called Petunia. I was not envious but I thought she was VERY lucky. Her brother Jonathan was highly intelligent and from an early age I could talk to him about the universe. After tea we acted out our one-girl plays for each other which involved complex family sagas. They were a bit like soap operas and each one would end on a cliff-hanger, so we could hardly wait until the following Saturday. It's surprising that neither of us became actors!
We also invented a host of imaginary characters who we acted out including “poor Colin”. We had no idea who Colin was. “Poor Colin!” we exclaimed for no particular reason.
We danced and sang together. Our favourite songs were “Cathy's Clown” and “As Long As He Needs Me” which we sang as loud operatic duets. We also had a ritual we performed with the Fyffe's banana labels which we stuck on a pipe in the hall. Maxine always came to my home for the Last Night of the Proms, so we could sing along with my mother and Billy the budgerigar.
When I was 13 Maxine's 11-year-old cousin Gideon came to stay. He was a a real character who swore, smoked, and said he'd had sex. I later fell in love with his brother Bart, who was my age, but whom I had never met. I gazed at his photograph and imagined our future together. Like me, his childhood had been traumatic. His mother had run off with the chauffeur. I thought we were well-suited and I loved the idea of being related to Maxine and her family. It's possible that we are related because our mothers were both born in Sheffield and had a Spanish ancestor who came over on the Spanish Armada and was shipwrecked off the coast of Cornwall. Bart, Gideon and their father all looked Spanish.
My feelings for Bart continued for several years although I had crushes on boys at school who weren't a bit interested in me! One had moved down from Liverpool. Although he teased me relentlessly, he was not cruel like the other boys, and he was very funny in and out of the classroom. I was to see a similar humour displayed by the Beatles a few years later.
I also had a crush on a boy in my class called Victor. One day when I was hidden behind a bookcase in the library, I heard a group of boys accuse Victor of liking me. “I would never like an ugly bag like her,” he replied. I ran home in tears and threw myself onto my bed believing that no boy would ever find me attractive. A few years later when we had both left school, Victor invited me out on a date. So, the other boys were right: he did like me!
Although my mother slept in the sitting room, she kept her clothes in the bedroom and could come in at any time. I had very little privacy but she never found the Woodbine cigarettes I had hidden which Maxine and I smoked when we walked around the block in the dark. I did not like smoking but Maxine became addicted to it and smoked until her first pregnancy when she had to give it up. I taught myself to inhale by looking in a mirror when my mother was at work. Then I'd spray fragrance to cover up the smell of cigarette smoke.
At school the other girls bullied me because I was still wearing ankle socks instead of stockings. I told them they would be adults for the rest of their lives, so why be in such a hurry to grow up? A few years later I saw one of those girls struggling with, and shouting at, two small children. She looked old and worn out, and did not recognise me in my white boots and mini-skirt. I can't remember when I started wearing stockings and a suspender belt. My first pair of shoes with heels were red, but one of them flew off my foot when I was swinging on a swing. It was damaged but Maxine carefully painted it exactly the same colour, so my mother would not notice and be angry.
I had problems finding clothes to fit me because I was small-boned. I never had weight problems but now I have osteoporosis! My mother had always bought me clothes and shoes a size too big, so I would grow into them, but I stopped growing when I was 14. A few years later trendy boutiques catered for teenagers but back then there were only clothes for children and adults. We were expected to wear the same clothes as our parents.
At school I was withdrawn and did not mix with the girls in my class who were dating and wearing make-up. One popular girl, who hung out with the boys behind the bicycle shed, disgraced herself by getting pregnant, and was expelled from the school. Our biology teacher, who taught us the Facts of Life, gave us dire warnings about being carried away by the “power of sex” and how sperm can travel up inside the vagina during heavy petting. I had no idea what heavy petting was but I now worried about getting pregnant from a toilet seat.
My mother was summoned to the school to be told by my concerned form teacher that I was withdrawn. She told him I was not withdrawn at home or with my friend Maxine. The truth was I had nothing in common with my class mates. They wanted to leave school and I was studious.
I started playing truant from school in the afternoons. I went home to listen to Bach. My mother had some wonderful classical music records which I played only when she was out. I loved these times alone listening to Bach's music in the lofty heights of aspiration.
Whereas the state of the world appalled me, the universe thrilled me. I decided that eternity is the reality and we are deluded by our brief lives on earth into thinking that things begin and end. This, I decided, is why we find the universe incomprehensible and mind-blowing. I also suspected that we are prevented from being anywhere else in the world—and maybe even the universe—by our limitations!
When I was fourteen a psychic told my mother that she would meet a man on holiday and marry him. As she was desperate to meet a man and remarry, she saved for a week in Devon. She had not been on holiday since she went away with the boyfriend but I did not want to go on holiday with my mother and was a misery. At my mother's funeral years later I cried more about my behaviour on this holiday than anything else. She saved hard for this holiday but she did not meet a man then or at any other time in her life! She subsequently became bitter about the fact that women she considered to be plain found men to marry them. However, my mother's friends' husbands were very attracted to her. One of them suggested paying her to have sex with him which she declined. Another friend's husband sent her kinky underwear. My mother became bitter and twisted about men. She told me they were all liars and bastards, and only wanted one thing, but I had to find one to marry me! With such a mixed message, it's not surprising that I never married.
My mother's friend's husband, the one who had taken nude photos of me when I was ten, often sat with me in the kitchen when his wife visited my mother. He told me he did not understand how women could enjoy sex. I was too young to respond and had not even developed a libido! On another visit he produced a gun and said he was going to shoot himself. I told my mother who told his wife who searched for the gun. It was a toy gun. My mother and I could not understand why he had told me this unless it was to scare me!
I read everything I could get my hands on about puberty and sex. I did not know then that the exquisite sensations which woke me up in the night were orgasms. I did not read that teenage girls, like boys, can have orgasms in their sleep. Not a wet dream but a dry one!
Maxine and I joined the Young Crusaders, an evangelical group run by Miss Nichols. We went every Sunday to be lectured about heaven and hell, and to hear about the missionaries sent to convert the heathens and save them from damnation. Miss Nichols was very kind and long-suffering especially when I questioned everything she believed in. “If people have never heard of Jesus, how can they be sent to hell, and what about mentally handicapped people?” I argued. What I could not accept was this whole idea of heaven and hell. A god who sends people to hell is surely a psychopath! Miss Nichols struggled with me but my final argument silenced her. Anyone good enough to go to heaven could not remain there knowing that others are in hell. I never resonated with religion and even then I was an Animist. God is in everything and everyone. It's pointless blaming God for the problems in the world because we are God's hands and feet. If something is wrong, it's up to us to do something about it.
At about this time I read The Diary of Anne Frank, which affected me deeply, and I started to keep my own diary and to write. I often stayed up all night writing, especially at the weekends, when my mother would have done the weekly grocery shopping, the laundry and cooked lunch before I got out of bed. She never asked me to do any chores, although she complained about my untidiness, and she did not teach me to cook. She was a wonderful cook but she said she could not bear to watch me because I was too slow and dreamy. She did everything with energy and in haste.
My mother was a lark and could not understand why waking up was so hard for me. When I crawled into the kitchen bleary-eyed in the morning she sang “Have you ever seen a dream walking? I have.” I hated it.
If my mother was upset or angry with me, she refused to speak to me for days. She slammed my dinner down on the table and turned her head away from me in disgust which hurt me more than harsh words.
After I saw a documentary about what happened to the Jews in the concentration camps during World War II, with piles of corpses and emaciated people, I cried and could not sleep for weeks. I was totally devastated and did not understand how people could have done this to their fellow human beings. It was incomprehensible and shattering, a loss of innocence from which I never really recovered.
I was now reading Charles Dickens and the Bronte Sisters. I loved Jane Eyre and fell in love with Edward Rochester. I had a slight flutter of sexual awakening as I imagined them making love when they finally married. Maxine and I read Lady Chatterley's Lover after it had been banned for being considered obscene, but it was too sexually explicit for me. I preferred romantic fiction.
When Joan got a Saturday job in Woolworth's, I went for an interview but I did not pass the maths test. At school I was hopeless at maths. Carolyn's father did her maths homework and I copied down his answers but unfortunately he could not do maths either, so we both had the same wrong answers! He was a fireman and obviously did not need maths to rescue people from burning buildings. At some point I was excused from the maths class and studied in the library instead.
I absolutely loathed Games and P.E. and always had excuses for not doing either: I had forgotten my gym shoes or my shorts, I had my period or a cold. The gym teacher was so annoyed, she told me to write an essay in my own time as a punishment. I wrote a brilliant essay on why I should be excused from Games, and she was convinced. I was allowed to study in the library instead. I was one of those children who nobody wants in their team because I had, and still have, NO interest in which side wins. I was put out to field where, lost in my own world, I missed the ball as it flew past me! Although I was a fast runner, and can still run for a bus in my 70s, I had NO interest in competing or watching games.
Maxine and I became obsessed with boys and were always out looking for them. We searched for them in Chiswick House Grounds. We went ballroom dancing, which I still hate, and were wall-flowers. We went to a youth club where the girls stood on one side of the room and the boys on the other side.
By now my mother and I were addicted to watching Coronation Street on our black & white TV. I still remember some of the jingles from the ads: “You'll wonder where the yellow went when you clean your teeth with Pepsodent” and “When you feel like a juicy treat, unzip a banana”. Only at the weekends did we drink real coffee, eat brown bread, and have roast chicken for Sunday lunch. They were all considered luxuries in those days when all eggs and chickens were free-range.
I wanted to stay on at school but my mother made me leave when I was 16. She arranged for me to do a secretarial course at Ealing Technical College because, she said, I would always find work. We were taught touch-typing, shorthand, book-keeping, English and Spanish, which I could not see the point of—not realising that I would live in Spain in my later years. I wanted to go to Art College and/or work with children. I hated the secretarial course and often played truant. Maxine also went to Secretarial College in the City of London.
At College I met Gillian who took me in hand. She taught me how to apply make-up and back-comb my hair. She had long shapely legs and high conical breasts which compensated for her large nose. She was not beautiful but she knew how to make herself look attractive. We went dancing at Hammersmith Palais to the latest dance music, which at the time was the Twist and the Locomotion, and I had a lovely red flared skirt for dancing in. We danced with lots of boys but we were never asked for a date.
My first kiss was horrible. Gillian and I had been invited to a party where we were paired off with a couple of lads and were expected to sit on their laps when the lights went out. Mine was called Phil and he stuck his tongue deep into my mouth. I was appalled. Later on a student at Ealing Technical College dated me, but after he kissed me, I told him I didn't see the point of it, and I never saw him again. Friends who found boy-friends disappeared from our lives.
Although I did not enjoy my secretarial course, I blossomed in that year. When I visited Joan at my old school, the boys in her 6th form class commented on my transformation.
Going out to Work
After leaving college I got a poorly paid office job in Hammersmith Broadway, which I hated. My boss was verbally abusive and had no sympathy the day I was late because Billy had died. Gillian worked for a man she called a Swiss Twit whom she loathed but later married.
During the harsh winter of 1962/63 my mother went to Sheffield to visit my grandmother and slipped on the ice. She fractured her leg and I had to find someone to meet her at St. Pancras station, but none of her friends wanted to drive there. I met her at the station and we had to pay for a taxi home. She then had to teach me how to cook from her bed and I had to empty the bucket she peed in. I pushed her in a wheelchair to Waitrose in Chiswick High Road every Saturday morning to buy the weekly groceries, and washed our clothes in the bath. We only had a small spin-dryer. I think we took our sheets to a laundromat nearby. I did not resent it at all and enjoyed the autonomy it gave me, but my poor mother had to resign from the job she loved with Commander Michael Parker.
I remember exactly where I was in November 1963 when my mother told me J.F. Kennedy had been shot. I could never have guessed then that I would visit where he was killed 36 years later on the anniversary of his death when I was in Dallas.
When I was 19 I had a pain in my right side and was sick, so my mother took me to see our GP. He sent me straight to the hospital with suspected Appendicitis which was removed a few days later. I stayed in hospital for a week and was not allowed out of bed. As I could not use a bed-pan, a nurse wheeled me to the toilet. In those days people were allowed to smoke in the hospital wards.
After my grandmother had been put in an Old People's Home in Derbyshire, we visited her every summer. We stayed in a hotel at the bottom of the hill and walked up it every day to visit her. The Home had been a stately home with a sweeping staircase, and still had beautiful gardens and views, but my grandmother was miserable there. She had expected my mother to take care of her and still begged to be allowed to live with us. We tried to make it into a holiday by having Bakewell tarts for tea in Bakewell and visiting Chatsworth House. When the hotel became too expensive, we stayed in a guest house in Matlock. Sometimes we took grandma out but not often because my mother was ashamed of her.
In 1963 everything changed. I got a well-paid job in Bedford Square near Tottenham Court Road. It was a firm of solicitors who were communists and worked mostly for poor people on Legal Aid. I worked on the divorce cases with Mr Stockman who was a wonderful boss and never complained about my typing mistakes. I typed the matrimonial reports for the courts which described grievances and abuse within the marriage. Here were two people, who had presumably been in love, slinging dirt at each other. I had to deal with a client on the telephone whose husband was breaking down the door to beat her up. Another client climbed out of the window to avoid her husband waiting outside. The most heart-breaking case was Drake vs Drake. After Mr Drake had run off with another woman, Mrs Drake had a breakdown, so he took the children from her, and as a result she killed herself. The file contained a letter she had written to her children for them to read when they were older. It was difficult for me to deal with such trauma in my teens but everyone in the office was friendly and Maxine worked nearby, so we could meet at lunch time or after work. We ate in the BBC canteen which was cheap and served good food. We bought our clothes in the new boutiques and bumped into pop stars in Carnaby Street. With my first bonus I bought myself a portable typewriter on which I believed I would write books—not knowing I'd write them on a computer. I also bought a beautiful antique desk in a junk shop for £15 which I sold years later for £850. At this time junk shops were full of antiques and my mother furnished our flat with beautiful antique furniture. She had exquisite taste in furnishings and music even though she had grown up in a slum. After giving my mother half my wages for board and food, I had plenty left over to spend on clothes and records. Then we discovered the Beatles.
We bought “Please Please Me” and loved it so much we decided to go to the Beatles live concert in the Albert Hall. We waited all day outside with the other fans. We thought screaming was silly and had looked down on girls who screamed over Elvis or Cliff Richards. This all changed when we saw and heard the Beatles. We had seats right in front of the stage and were transfixed by them. We were older than the other fans who were mostly still at school. This had advantages for us later when we were able to persuade young fans with tickets to sell them to us. I bought a ticket from a 12-year-old for the Fan Club Gathering. It was like a lottery. Only so many tickets were mailed and Maxine had received one. The Beatles were sitting behind a bar and, as we filed past them, we both kissed Paul McCartney on the cheek.
When people talk about the Beatles now, they complain that they could not hear them playing because of the screaming, but we heard the music even though we were screaming! We heard every beat and were delirious. I still can't see or hear them, even now, without feeling that old thrill. It was totally ecstatic and up there with peak experiences and tantric sex. Maxine and I became devoted fans and met in Chiswick High Road every Saturday morning to buy cards and newspapers displaying pictures of the Beatles. We hung out with other fans, and when the Beatles were in London, we gathered in the hope of seeing them. There were no mobile phones and no internet, but we always knew when and where they might appear. Our network was extensive. When George and Ringo shared a flat behind where I used to live in Oxford Street, we waited outside in the hope of seeing them. On one occasion, when they had been rehearsing at the Palladium, we surrounded their limousine where they were all sitting in the back. I was just the other side of the window where John was sitting and he pulled his gorilla face at me! They were probably tired and wanted to go home, but we were delirious and swooning in the road.
In our lunch breaks we went to where he had heard the Beatles might be, but when Maxine appeared screaming on the front page of the Evening Standard, her boss sacked her. So I found her a job in my office. We went every night to the Finsbury Park Asturia where the Beatles performed with the other Liverpool pop stars just before Christmas. If we did not have tickets, we bought them from the younger fans for an inflated amount of money. We had life-size posters of the Beatles on our walls and we bought their records. We were obsessed with them and their music.
There was a wonderful sense of kinship, which I later experienced on peace marches and at public demonstrations. We shared a common passion which was binding and inclusive. One fan, who had been George Harrison's girlfriend before he was famous, shared a photograph of him sitting in his family's back garden. We all had a copy of it. We spent the entire day outside Wembley Stadium when the Beatles appeared there and hung out with the policemen on duty. I remember one of them holding my hand —“I wanna hold your hand”—he was probably a fan too! Of course we were waiting for the Beatles to arrive and when they did, we all ran in that direction, with the mounted policeman galloping behind us on their horses. It was a thrilling time to be alive! My young god-daughter envies me for having been there when Beatle-mania was at its most intense!
In February 1964 we decided to go to Liverpool with two other fans, Jenny and Janice, to meet the Beatles' families. We had all of their addresses and took the night bus from Victoria to Liverpool. It was the weekend they arrived back from America. I have written about this in “Our Weekend in Liverpool”. We were invited into Ringo's, George's and Paul's houses, but not into Aunt Mimie's house. John's red-haired cousin answered the door and told us Aunt Mimie was in bed. I only discovered recently that she had been to America with the Beatles, and was probably suffering from jet-lag. We insisted on a button each from the famous button box and he fetched it for us to dip into. I still have my button. It was our last opportunity to visit their parents because after they had conquered America, the Beatles became mega-famous and had to move their parents who were besieged by fans. Now John and Paul's houses are open to the public. You can see it in the film “Nowhere Boy” where John's red-haired cousin is portrayed.
After our weekend in Liverpool we only attended one more live concert and I can't even remember where it was. Although we loved all four of them, we each had our own favourite Beatle. Mine started out as Paul but I ended up loving George the most, which is interesting because later we both turned to meditation and mysticism.
Our weekend in Liverpool was the climax of our involvement with the Beatles who spent more time touring around the world and less time in London. We now became involved with a group called the Ingoes and were Virginal Groupies. We travelled with them in their van to gigs in London and spent a lot of time at their digs in Lexham Gardens near Gloucester Road. Maxine and I fell for different members of the group and lived in hope that they would love us too!Mine wrote a song about me called “Why Can't I love her?” which just about sums it up. Fifty years later we are friends on Facebook. They were talented, their music was exhilarating, and I lost myself in songs like Smoke Stack Lightning. I always danced next to a speaker, so the music could enter my entire being. They played at the Marque Club in Soho where we met the Animals, Manfred Mann and other famous groups. We were now out a lot during the week and at weekends with the Ingoes wherever they were performing. Then they were booked as the supporting group at the Crawdaddy in Richmond, where the Rolling Stones had been discovered. The Ingoes played alongside the Yardbirds and we were there the night Eric Clapton left the group. The Ingoes became very popular and attracted more fans who hung out with them and even spent the night in their digs. A couple of 16-year-olds I remember in particular because they were both having unprotected sex and were highly promiscuous. In the end we grew tired of competing with other younger fans.
By now we both had long hair which we ironed with brown paper to make it even straighter, so that it hung like curtains. We were wearing weird combinations and going through a beatnik phase.
The All-Night Parties
I don't know when we started going to all-night parties but the first one I remember was in a posh flat in Earl's Court. The girl's parents were away for the weekend, and a lot of uninvited people showed up. There was an antique table with food and bottles of alcohol laid out on it. Did I imagine a priest appearing with a bottle of wine under his robe? As the night progressed and we all became drunk, someone fell on the antique table and snapped it down the middle. The food and bottles of booze slid off the table and stained the Persian carpet. People were having sex in the bedrooms and the toilet became blocked with condoms. Drink did not loosen my inhibitions but turned me into a moral preacher. I found the whole thing terribly sordid and went from room to room voicing my opinions until someone threw a glass of red wine over me! I spent the rest of the night in a borrowed dressing gown as my wet dress dried out on a coat-hanger over the bath. In the morning the girl was crying because her parents were returning and the flat was a mess. The antique table was broken, the carpet was ruined, and there were beer stains up the walls. We left to catch the early tube train back home without offering to help clear up. We didn't even know the girl who threw the party!
It was probably at a party that I met my first boyfriend Mac. He was a middle-class ex-boarding school boy who loved the fact that I was a virgin. He called the girls who slept around “slags”! We met every Saturday evening at a cafe in South Kensington to find out where the parties were going to be held. We were Gate-Crashers. I remember one party in a grand house in Kensington where each room was themed. There was a room to drink and eat in, a room for dancing and a room for hanging out. The people were upper middle-class but none of them noticed that we had not been invited. We just blended in.
My mother never complained about me staying out all night, saying she trusted me NOT to have sex or take drugs. At most of the parties we attended people were taking drugs and having sex, but I refused both. There was a basement flat we often ended up in, where Mac's friends lived, and where we slept on a mattress on the floor. Although we kissed and cuddled, I did not allow any petting, Mac never went any further than I wanted him to and we always kept our clothes on.
It was at this time in my late-teens that I started asking my mother why she had not sent her boy-friend away after I'd told her he was sexually abusing me. She never said she was sorry but instead blamed me for reacting to being sexually abused. After all, she said, a man had exposed himself to her when she was a teenager! I had no way of saying then that a man exposing himself is not the same as a man trying to have sex with a child or having a child masturbate him. If she had apologised, there might have been some healing, but she was totally defensive. She was straight out of Scott-Peck's book “People of the Lie” who take no responsibility for their shadow-side but instead project it onto others. Years later my mother told me she could not send the boy-friend away because he was the only man who told her she was beautiful, but by then I knew she was a narcissist. We had terrible rows which ended with me apologising and my mother sulking and not speaking to me for days; sometimes weeks.
Sexual abuse was not talked about then or indeed until the 1970s when it was estimated that one in four women had been sexually abused in childhood either by their fathers or a close family friend. Freud first heard about it from his patients but when he announced it at a conference in Vienna, he was ridiculed. Nobody wanted to believe that adults could be sexually abusing children. Freud invented the Oedipus complex but it's absolutely not true that children are attracted to their parents or invite being sexually abused.
Years later, when I was a therapist, I often worked with clients whose abuse had been denied by their parents, so that they could not trust themselves or their feelings. If a parent is abusing you but says they love you, it is a denial, and much more difficult to deal with. I was full of rage about what had happened to me and now suspected it had damaged my ability to develop a libido and enjoy a sexual relationship. My mother denied the fact that being sexually abused could have damaged me just as she denied my being cold or tired. “You can't possibly be cold” or “You shouldn't be tired at your age” was a total denial of my reality, and meant that I spent most of my adult life unable to recognise when I was tired, hungry or thirsty, but I always knew when I was cold.
When Maxine announced that she was going to work in Brussels, I was so exhausted from the arguments with my mother and the all-night parties with Mac, I decided to join her.
Life in Brussels
I found a secretarial job with Deloitte's, a famous accountancy firm in Brussels, who paid for me to stay in a hotel until my work permit carrived. I felt guilty about leaving my mother who had cut her hand the day I took the night-train to Brussels. She went with me to Victoria station with her hand all bandaged up. Maxine was already living in a YWCA where she had made friends with girls of all different nationalities. I moved in when my work permit arrived and shared a room with Charlotte, the dizzy blonde daughter of a psychiatrist. My job was deadly boring and involved typing accounts in different currencies. The other people in the office were unfriendly and I missed my interesting job with the friendly solicitors in London. However, my social life soared, We drank coffee outside the cafes in the Grand Plaz and went dancing in the various clubs. I celebrated my 21st birthday in the YWCA with Maxine and our new friends with whom we went sightseeing. There was just one problem. I was receiving letters from my mother's friends telling me to go home because my mother was not coping. I did go home for weekends but there was no way I wanted to live there! I bought my mother boxes of Belgian chocolates and had some of my salary paid into her bank account. I was a dutiful daughter and worried about her not coping. She had noisy neighbours, who kept her awake at night, and I had been told by one of her friends that she had gone to the police station in her nightclothes in the middle of the night.
In the YWCA we held seances on a round table in someone's room upstairs and were terrified when the table moved from one end of the room to the other, with all of us accusing each other of moving it. When it levitated and knocked a hole in the wall, we ran away screaming and never did it again. We had also dabbled with the Ouija board and contacted a deceased GP who wanted us to write to his wife and gave us an address in Ealing. Unfortunately we lost the address and could never confirm if his story was true.
In the summer we started going to Ostend. The first time we went I fell asleep in a deckchair on the beach and was badly burnt by the sun. I returned to Brussels with sun-stroke, swollen knees, and later my skin peeled off. Then we started going to Ostend for the weekend. We went on a Saturday, spent the night in a club, and returned on Sunday. Maxine and the other girls picked up American GI's from a base nearby and went with them to the sand-dunes. An American I was attracted to shared his sleeping bag with me and told me I was the most terrified girl he'd ever met. For me it was an endless night and I was too scared to sleep. I think I had one more weekend in Ostend, trailing behind my friends and the men they had picked up, before I stopped going. Then I was alone in the YWCA until my friends returned on Sunday night talking excitedly about the men they had met and what they had done with them.
When they announced they were going to Amsterdam for a weekend, I jumped at the chance to visit the Anne Frank House, and went with them. We booked ourselves into a hostel and then went into town where a Dutch woman befriended us. I asked her about the Anne Frank House and she said it was closed on Saturdays but open on Sundays. She then took us to a seedy night club in the Red Light district which I hated. The whole area was sordid with half-naked women sitting in red-lit windows. I did not stay long and walked back across Amsterdam to our hostel, remembering exactly where it was. The following morning I went to the Anne Frank House, which was closed on Sundays. The Dutch woman had lied to me. It had been open the previous day when I could have visited it instead of going to the awful club. I was devastated. I did not get into the Anne Frank House for almost two decades when I was taken there by my Jewish American lover.
That night in the YWCA I had a breakdown in which I regressed to being a terrified six-year-old. On reflection, I see now that sharing a room with Charlotte was not a good idea. She was extremely messy and flippant. Her end of our room was chaotic and she used my things without asking me. I snapped when I discovered she had used my bottle of TCP. Only one of our friends recognised the hurt child in me and treated me with extreme tenderness. I think her name was Jane. Charlotte could not cope with me and neither could Maxine. I felt I was being abandoned all over again. A doctor was called in and he put me on strong sedatives which rendered me incapable of doing anything for myself. I had to be bathed and dressed. As I could not go to work, I was sent back to London. The British Consulate paid for my flight and I was even accompanied by a doctor to Heathrow where I was taken to an room and given a choice: I could either go home to my mother or be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I chose the hospital because I knew my mother could not have coped with me having a breakdown. In fact I decided not to tell her and sent letters to my mother to Brussels where Maxine posted them for me.
The Psychiatric Hospital
At the psychiatric hospital I was asked for my mother's address but I refused to give it to them. I was put in a big ward and given three different pills three times a day. I had no idea what they were for. We were all drugged and were like zombies dragging ourselves around. It was just like the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” starring Jack Nicholson. We were woken up early to move our beds and clean the floors. It felt as if we were being punished for being sick. We, the patients, did most of the cleaning of the ward. I had the special weekly job of cleaning the music room which I enjoyed.
I saw a progressive psychiatrist called Dr Holmes who said I was full of pain and rage, and needed to scream, but displays of emotion were discouraged and anyone expressing any was locked up in one of the padded cells. We were told we'd be locked up in Ward 19 if we misbehaved which meant screaming, crying or expressing anger. This is exactly what we all needed to do! Instead we were drugged and threatened. Ward 19 was where the really crazy people were locked up. Ellis ward, where we were, was not locked and we could walk in the grounds, go to the chapel or to Art therapy in a nearby building where I spent most of my time. However, we could not leave the grounds.
They finally persuaded me to give them my mother's address, promising not to contact her, which of course they did. This was a big mistake which is why I did not want her to know. She came to see me and was furious. “This is all I need,” she complained. “I had to come here on three buses.” As always, she had absolutely NO empathy for me. Her visits did not help in my recovery and I knew then that I could not trust the hospital.
I can't remember when Dr Holmes disappeared but I did some research and discovered he had been an army doctor who was not considered qualified enough to work in the hospital. I saw a totally bonkers psychiatrist who blamed all of my problems on my mother's breasts. I did not follow his logic because my mother had breast-fed me, so how could that be the root of my neurosis? Then I did a painting in which I killed the Board of Directors of the hospital for sacking Dr Holmes. I painted them seated around a table with knives stuck in them and blood everywhere. The art therapist showed it to the mad psychiatrist who then refused to let me leave the ward. My mother had booked a train and ferry to Brussels to collect my things and came to the hospital to collect me. When she was told I could not go because of the painting I had done, she was furious and said they couldn't stop us. We ran down the corridor towards the exit but we were chased by the nurses who grabbed me and threw me onto a bed to give me an injection in my buttock. I was then Sectioned. This meant I could not choose to leave the hospital. I told the art therapist that I would never forgive her for showing my painting to the mad psychiatrist and I would not show her any more of my paintings, which I then did in the room I had now been given. It was a room with a high barred window I could not see out of—near the padded cells.
Every Thursday morning we were given electric shock treatment which involved having bolts of electricity shot through our temples. I then sat with the other patients who had received ECT that morning and we were all given cups of tea. The treatment gave me terrible head-aches and affected my short-term memory. I only discovered recently that ECT induces seizures and that it was used to cure anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and homosexuality. We were not told why we were given ECT but we were all hoping for a miracle cure! Some of the other patients had been there for years without making any progress. One young woman had been raped by her father, a famous artist who painted royalty. Another one had a psychotic episode every time she had sex with her husband. A young woman had milk fever after giving birth. One woman was waiting for a lobotomy in the hope of curing her severe depression. We talked about a new treatment in which patients were put to sleep, and when they woke up they had forgotten all the bad things that had ever happened to them. It was wishful thinking.
Some of the long-term patients had their own rooms with doors out into the grounds. One day a patient advised me to get out because if I stayed they would only make me much worse, which had happened to her. It was awful realising that my hopes of being helped here were delusional. The mad psychiatrist, unlike Dr Holmes, obviously had NO idea how to help me. I went to the chapel and prayed. Then I executed my plan of action. First I went back to the Art Therapy building where I painted delightful sunny pictures with blue skies and flowers. I did not tell anyone that I was depressed and suicidal. As I was now allowed out once a week, I went to an employment agency and told them the truth: I'd had a breakdown but now I was much better and needed a job. No response! So, I went to another employment agency and lied: I had been living abroad when my mother broke her leg, so now I was back in the UK looking for a part-time job. I had a job interview and got a job in an office a bus-ride away. I stayed in the hospital, went on the bus to the office, and came back in the afternoon without anyone knowing I was living in a psychiatric hospital. They were really nice people to whom I lied on a daily basis which made me feel bad. Then the mad psychiatrist declared I had obviously recovered and I was discharged after being incarcerated for five months. He did not even realise that I had fooled him and everyone else in the hospital.
The psychiatric hospitals were later closed by Margaret Thatcher and a lot of patients ended up on the streets. In this hospital I had seen wards of geriatric patients and wonder what happened to them. This particular hospital is now a gated up-market housing development.
I moved in with my mother who was now renting a two-bedroom flat on the other side of Chiswick High Road. It was in a lovely tree-lined area close to Chiswick House Grounds, and I had my own bedroom, but it was too late! I was terribly depressed, and commuting to the part-time job was too difficult, so I resigned, saying my mother had now recovered. I had lost my friends who did not want me back in Brussels, and what would be the point of my returning there?
I decided to move into a YWCA in East Acton where I met other young women my age. For £5 a week I had a tiny room just big enough for a bed and a desk, and which included breakfast and an evening meal. It was a good move and I could easily visit my mother. I made new friends, including a young woman from Nottingham who confessed that she was pregnant. I was amazed and had not even suspected. She'd had a holiday fling in Italy and had not told her parents. She went into a home for unmarried mothers and was expected to have the baby adopted. I visited her there. When the baby arrived she could not bear to have her adopted nor could she care for her. Unmarried mothers were not encouraged to keep their babies in those days. The baby was put into a foster home where she was neglected. I went with my friend for a visit and was so shocked I told social services. When the baby was two she was finally adopted.
I was still depressed, so my GP sent me to see a psychiatrist in St. George's hospital at Hyde Park Corner. He invited me to a therapy group which he presided over once a week. We were all depressed and sat in a circle talking about our problems which depressed us even more, but I met Roger who became my boyfriend. He was a bit older than me and, although I was attracted to him, he wanted sex as much as I didn't want it! He was always pushing for more intimacy whereas I recoiled from it. By now I suspected I was frigid. My mother really liked him and hoped we would marry but we had little in common apart from our depression. I loved his mother, who was a primary school teacher, and she encouraged me to apply to teacher training college. As I loved children, it seemed like a good idea, and it's what I did a couple of years later.
At about this time I discovered a lump in my left breast and my GP sent me straight to hospital where it was removed. It was a benign cyst but I was in a ward with terminal cancer patients who screamed in agony. One woman in the ward was always begging for pain relief and another woman begged to be put out of her misery. Now terminal cancer patients administer their own pain relief and are not left to suffer like this.
After I had split up with Roger I had a dream in which he told me he was marrying a foreign woman. A few weeks later I bumped into him and his new Czechoslovakian wife in Richmond.
I studied A level English Literature at Ealing Technical college, so I could get into teacher training college. I now had a permanent job at Wimpy the builders in a friendly office where I kept my books in the desk drawer and could study. With three of us in the office, we were over-staffed, and had very little work. Our office over-looked a park and I worked there until I went to college in 1968.
When Roger started seeing a spiritual healer, I asked if I could go too, and he introduced me to Tom Johanson who gave healing at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain in Belgrave Square near Hyde Park Corner. This was a huge turning point in my life.
Tom Johanson was then in his 40s, with thick greying hair, and he resembled a Tibetan Lama. I saw him for healing every Saturday afternoon for almost two years. It was the first time I had ever been truly listened to and, as healing poured through his hands, I felt the knots inside me begin to loosen. I had been folded in on myself and Tom unfolded me very slowly and very tenderly. Talking to him was a revelation because he was a Spiritualist and understood my inner experiences. My feeling of having been a nun in another life, he said, was obviously a past-life memory, and in fact I had been a Sister of Mercy in France. After I died in that life I was contacted by a group of females who rescued children. The spirit children who said good-bye to me in 1949 were children I had taken from gas chambers in the concentration camps, obviously not physically but in spirit, and I had taken then to the children's village to be healed. We had also rescued children from Satanic abuse and years later this memory was confirmed when I was given a book called “Michelle Remembers” in which, under hypnosis, Michelle remembered attending Satanic rituals in which children were sacrificed. She described a group of female spirits who came to comfort and rescue the children—and who spoke French. These memories and many more surfaced and I was even able to draw the spiritual dimensions I remembered from before I was conceived.
Tom also told me about his spiritual experiences and in particular about his guide who had brown skin and blue eyes. Years later a friend, who had never met Tom, painted a picture of a man with brown skin and blue eyes. It was Tom's guide. Tom explained that we all have guides and guardian angels who guide us from the spirit world during the time we are physically incarnated. I remembered the angel in the window when I was on the point of becoming psychotic and how that radiant presence had helped me to stay sane.
Tom's life had not been easy. He had been a sick child who knew instinctively how to heal himself. His first wife had left him and taken their child with her to Canada. Tom only found his daughter years later and was able to meet her before she committed suicide. She had been sexually abused by her step-father. This could easily have been my fate. Then Tom met Jeanie and was about to marry her when she died suddenly, leaving him bereft, but only in grief was he open to being told he was a spiritual healer. Up to this point he had been an agnostic commercial artist. He was amazed by his ability to heal and joined a healing circle. Then he met and married Coral Polge, a famous psychic artist. He later became Secretary of the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain at 33 Belgrave Square.
Although Tom died in 2002, his ashes scattered on a sacred mountain in Tibet, I can google him any time I need to be uplifted and reminded of how lucky I am to have met him.
Although my relationship with my mother was difficult and therapists told me to abandon her, I knew our connection was karmic. My mother developed Alzheimer's in her late 70s and I had to put her in a care home where she died in 1996. The care home had been a Manor House in the 16th century and was lined with wood from a Spanish ship wrecked in the Armada. What a weird coincidence that my mother should die in a place lined with wood from a ship in the Spanish Armada! Although I was with her for the last two weeks of her life, she had no idea who I was.
After her funeral, which was held in Maidstone, Kent, I returned to Scotland where I now lived. Three moths later I received a letter from the Crematorium asking me what I wanted them to do with my mother's ashes. I asked for them to be sent to me. That was in January. By March the ashes had still not arrived and I had forgotten about them when I heard my mother's voice in the middle of the night. “I'm trying to make contact with you,” she said. Two nights later she lay down with me on the bed, with her arms around me, and said she loved me. I woke up crying and said “I love you too and want you to be happy.” I looked at the clock and noted the time. Four hours later the postman delivered my mother's ashes. The fact that my mother contacted me four hours before her ashes arrived was a miracle!
Three days later it would have been her 84th birthday and on that day a letter arrived from Australia. It was from my mother's school-friend, who had emigrated to Australia, and she enclosed a photo of my parents and me that I had never seen. In this photograph my parents are gazing into each other's eyes. I am sitting between them, aged about two years, and both of them are holding me. I knew then that my parents were reunited and loved each other. They had both loved me but they could not express it because of their personality problems. I now suspect that my father was bipolar and my mother schizophrenic.
When I was 14 my grandfather was rushed into hospital with pneumonia. We immediately travelled to Sheffield to see him. By now my grandparents had moved their bed downstairs and were sleeping in the front room. I don't remember them ever sitting in that room. They always sat in the kitchen in front of the cooking range fire. We went straight to the hospital to see grandad, who had been delirious, but he recognised me and told me to do well at school. He would have died a happy man if he'd known then that I would end up with a degree in education and art. He died shortly afterwards and I never saw him again. He was 77. I was not allowed to go to his funeral, being considered too young.
My grandfather had been an ailing child with only one functioning lung. His grandfather had owned a big house and had a responsible job, but when he thought he had ruined something at work, he hung himself in the attic. His children lost status and were poor by the time my grandfather was born to an Irish mother whose maiden name had been O'Reilly.
My grandparents knew each other, probably from childhood, and when my grandmother became pregnant at the age of 17, she had no idea how the baby had been conceived or how it was going to be born. She was standing in the street holding my Uncle Fred when my grandfather's father came along and asked her whose baby she was holding. When she said it was her baby, he rushed home and forced my grandfather to marry her. They were teenage parents and two years later my Uncle Bob arrived. My grandfather had a menial job in the steelworks, where he lost his little finger in a machine, and could only afford to rent a tiny back-to-back house. It had one room on the ground floor, in which they lived, a bedroom on the first floor and another bedroom in the attic. They had no bathroom and shared a toilet with their neighbours. When my grandmother became pregnant with Nellie, she tried to abort her because they could not afford another child. With three small children to care for and support, they struggled. When a childless couple wanted to foster Fred, they agreed, and he spent most of his childhood with them. There are more photos of Fred when he was a child because his foster parents could afford to have them done at a studio. Nobody had cameras in those days.
My grandmother and mother were devastated when my Uncle Fred did not attend his father's funeral. Martha, his wife, sent a letter in which she wrote that he had been “given away.” My grandmother now lived alone which, after such a long marriage, must have been devastating. On top of this the road was being cleared in the slum-clearances and most of her friends and neighbours moved out into the suburbs of Sheffield. She was totally alone. Although I stayed with her in my school holidays, it must have been very hard for her to be one of the last people in her street. An entire community was destroyed in the process. People who had been neighbours for decades were scattered far and wide.
My grandmother was moved into a small studio flat nearby where she had a bathroom for the first time in her life, but she was not happy. We visited and slept in the one room: my mother sharing the bed, and me on a blow-up mattress on the floor which deflated every night. My grandmother had no hobbies. I never saw her reading a book or knitting. She just sat twiddling her thumbs all day. She was literate because I received letters from her. On one of our visits my grandmother clung to my mother sobbing and begging to be taken back with us to London. She said she would sleep in an arm-chair. I will never forget the scene. She was only 4'10" and appeared so frail. My mother had NO intention of having her mother living with us. She blamed her for forcing her into marrying a man she was not in love with. She was also ashamed of her and put my grandmother into a care home in Derbyshire where we visited her once a year until she died at the age of 84. My mother was with her when she died—still waiting for my Uncle Fred to visit her.
My grandmother had a difficult childhood. Her mother, who was an alcoholic—and probably a nymphomaniac—got drunk and ran off with men periodically. Her husband always took her back and forgave her, but my grandmother cooked for her father and two brothers from the age of eight.
Of the five children she had with my grandfather, only two survived. Then, in her 60s and 70s my mother left me with her. I owe her a debt of gratitude for, without her love and the love of my grandfather, I would have had a miserable childhood. I felt totally safe and loved by them. I could relax and be a child. I never felt safe with my mother whom I felt responsible for. Even as a very young child I knew not to bother her or my father. I rarely cried or demanded their attention. Even when I burnt my wrist on the open oven door at the age of two, I did not cry. My mother thought she had given birth to an angel but I was merely concealing my rage from her. I was naughty with my grandparents because I could risk it with them. Their love for me was robust and unbreakable. They gave me the most precious of gifts: happy childhood memories!
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