Simon Smith's Autobiography
Angela's first memory was of being held by her mother who pointed at the night sky which glistened with anti aircraft gunfire and flak. Most nights were spent sleeping in the air raid shelter which, shaped like an old gypsy caravan, would often be played in as if it was one.
A badly damaged German plane emptied its bombs one night as it descended. One bomb fell near to the house which blew all the windows in. Angela's brother, Sydney, came back a few hours later saying he'd found the burnt out plane and had removed the papers from the bodies of the crew. Such cold efficiency no doubt contributed to his choice in career. He became a bank manager.
* * *
The house in which I lived in Fulham for 20 years as an adult was bombed as well during World War 2. Once again a German bomber had been seriously damaged over central London, as it fell towards the River Thames the crew kindly emptied its payload of bombs. Its final route became etched upon the landscape in the form of craters, fires and tales of devastation. A straight line that led directly to its point of impact. One of the bombs an incendiary device landed on the house I lived in – this was 42 years before I moved in I hasten to add – which set it on fire. The fire brigade came around, put out the smouldering roof only to find that the air raid shelter was filled with petrol. The owner, who was a black marketer, was summarily arrested and charged. The bodies of the crew were buried in the cemetery behind my house.
My next door neighbours, Nellie, Elsie and Claude, told me this story. At the time they were still shuffling to the outside toilet through wintry nights and cleaning themselves at the kitchen sink.
World War 2 did not end in 1945 but faded out, still fades around us today. Just as the Big Bang Theory proposes that there's a background hum of radioactive “noise” crackling around the universe as a direct result of the violence of the Big Bang itself, so too with most trauma there's a hum within us all that continually reminds us of the violence that touches us.
During the last year that Elsie and Claude lived together, having been together for 50 years, Claude became demented and abused his wife verbally. She would come around to my place crying in her nightgown because she didn't know how to cope. She said she'd had 50 wonderful years with him but she never thought it would end like this.
* * *
Many of us feel that we have no potency, and no effect on others, but even when we're just passing someone else we may enter their minds and join in their internal dramas or affect their inner world without even doing or saying anything. To think a look we give someone or the words we say have no effect on most people doesn't seem real to me.
I used to hide my arms when I was in public but now I think that when people see me I probably provoke some questions and feelings in their mind. I can't control where their thoughts go, or if it's ultimately a good or bad thing, but just as if I'd thrown a stone in a lake I know I'm sending ripples out, and that's quite a fun thought.
* * *
Angela had not done particularly well at school. From puberty onwards she had the added complication of an undiagnosed condition of Narcolepsy, which manifests itself as sudden periods of drowsiness. Where she did have some talent was in her artistic abilities, which mainly included dancing, ice skating, and painting. When I was at Art College I had a lecturer who said that make up artists were latent painters and hairdressers were latent sculptors. So I'd better add to Angela's list “latent sculptor” because at 15 she left school to become a hairdresser.
At 9 years old Angela noticed a boy called Ian, she had a crush on him from then onwards. Ian studied Art, he was older than her but by the time she was 14 they were seeing each other. Ian, The artist, absolutely adored Angela, and she loved him too. But one day the son of the local greengrocer caught her eye so she dumped the Artist and went off with him. A short while later she realised that she'd made a mistake, dumped the greengrocer's son and got back with Artist again. This time though the Artist's vision of his muse had been dented. So as well as seeing her beauty he began to notice the differences between her and his dream-girl. One day they made love and she felt like he was no longer thinking about her, making love to her, she felt as if she was a piece of meat to him. A short while later he left her and moved on to another woman.
* * *
Angela was devastated. If one of the first stages in dealing with trauma is denial then it was here that she became stuck. For Angela the dream became one of her and the Artist reuniting and whilst she harboured this she would not be able to accept that he was gone. The space in her heart was not vacated for another person to be allowed in to. As Freud phrased it, she was “trapped in the grave” of a relationship. Unable to move on to pastures new.
With her heart still engaged to an absent other, her body found solace in acts of love and hate, and this is where my father came in.
If Angela represents the face of a coin that does not let go of those we love then Boris represents the face that will not hold on to anyone. This is the bad penny that's passed from one generation to the next. This is the hard currency of love between parents and children.
It is the lack of love that we perceive, whether there was adequate love or not, that drives us to either yearn for, or distance ourselves from it, within our adult relationships.
If both my parents had what is sometimes labelled “attachment disorders” then I had no chance of getting away with it unscathed.
* * *
When Angela was 18 she became pregnant. Her parents would have been mortified if they'd found out so she went to a back-street abortionist who used a syringe to pierce her embryonic sack. Angela got home afterwards and started to feel very ill. A doctor was called who took little time to work out what had gone on, using the excuse that she was mentally unfit to be a mother. Her father told her she was to have an abortion and got a Harley Street doctor to create the paperwork that would enable Angela to have, what in those days was illegal.
Already Angela was making emotional connections with the “baby” and while in the recovery unit tried to go and see babies that had just been born. When Angela came home the sense of shame and failure bore down on her so powerfully that any time for grieving the loss of a possible child was denied her. All she consciously felt was relief.
Years later she saw a “psychic” who, maybe taking a calculated guess referred to there being a child “who was alright”. Whether this was just a lucky break as far as he was concerned it was also one for Angela because it allowed her to cry about this episode in her life for the first time.
For me too the abortion was significant. When my mother realised at 25 that she was pregnant again, this time with me, she decided that she would not go through another abortion and knew she wanted me.
End of chapter 3