first memories part 1

July 27, 2006

1941 was not a particularly good year for Anglo-German relations. Although the Luftwaffe accomplished what many British people would have liked to do in wiping out the House of Commons, it also managed to bring the Blitz of London to a grisly denouement in May by taking the lives of 1400 Londoners. Life in London was getting tougher for those who survived. Since March, jam, marmalade and golden syrup had been rationed. June saw clothes rationing with people being given only enough coupons to buy four overcoats and a pair of Gucci sunglasses a year (though I have never owned four overcoats in my life). Although sweets were not to be rationed until the following year, you couldn’t buy more than 10 oz of cheese a week. Focaccia and latte were unheard of. In the middle of all this hardship, on August 14, to be precise, I was born somewhere in London of uncertain parentage and at an unknown time of day or night. This event, coinciding as it did with the signing of the Atlantic Charter between Roosevelt and Churchill, caused little stir at the time except for those directly involved. The official account of my origins was that my parents were killed in the Blitz. It was only when, much later, I read up on my history and discovered that the Blitz had in fact finished 3 months before my birth that I began to suspect the veracity of this account. And it was only some years after that that I was given a few crumbs from the table of truth.

My first years were spent in Hornsey, London in the home of a foster mother and her family of dustman husband and drunken postman son. Over the house hung the shadow of the elder son who had dropped dead with a brain tumour shortly before my arrival. ‘Mum’ was a cheerful woman with a bosom like a feather bed. Her main occupation was peeping through the curtains and commenting unfavourably on the neighbours. Her husband was a fervent Tottenham Hotspur supporter who later secured a job as a doorman at the Lyons Corner House in Leicester Square and whose digestive system required him to fart every 15 seconds. The son was a gifted pub pianist who couldn’t read music but could play anything he heard from ‘Knees up Mother Brown’ to Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. I would listen enraptured while he effortlessly coaxed tune after tune from his piano or accordion. I was three years and one month old when Hitler decided that Londoners were having too easy a time of it and launched the first of the V2 rocket raids. I used to run out into the garden when I heard one approaching and I soon became quite smart at raising the alarm when the change in the pitch of their whine signaled that they were about to drop. As something to amuse a young lad I found it considerably more effective than train spotting. My merry cry of ‘Mum, Mum, doodlebug come’ was quite a feature of our street life. Nights, meanwhile, were spent in the air raid shelter but I have no recollection of what went on. I do know that on one occasion we emerged in the morning to find that our prefabricated bungalow had been raised to the ground with only the two milk bottles left standing intact. Either milk bottles in those days were built like armoured tanks or house construction might have left something to be desired. Later, in a futile attempt to gain the sympathy of adults, I would claim to have dreamed that doodlebugs had got in my bedroom and were eating my toes. Fortunately such claims were greeted with the derision they deserved. Nowadays I would have been sent for counseling and probably suffered a lot more as a result. I also remember that I was in London for the VE day celebrations and was taken to the event in style in the basket of the milkman’s bicycle. He died the following year, which was too bad as I was hoping for another ride.

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One Response to “first memories part 1”

  1. Rakesh Says:

    You seem to have a very strong memory. I remember nothing of the first 5 years of my life 😦


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