For the first six years of my life, from 1945- 51, I lived in Germany. And it was our last home near the Wahner Heide airbase that I remember most.
My mother had long ago left me behind to return to her life in the UK; and my father was physically absent a lot of the time, because he was working across Germany for the Control Commission in the Transport division. I remember the day she left. I ran upstairs to her, begging her to read me a story, and her reply was:
‘Go away, and leave me alone’.
Well, I never missed this emotionally- absent woman. I had loved her so much once, but that love was not returned. Now there was nothing to miss.
I had only fleeting memories of her – at drunken parties and gatherings that my parents held. There she would be : chain-smoking her de Reske cigarettes, drinking and flirting.
I would sit on the stairs – in my pyjamas- watching the grown-ups at play.
Basically, my parents abandoned me to be brought up by the members of staff who lived and worked in our beautiful house, which had been seconded from a wealthy German industrialist and his family. All were total strangers to me.
These kind Germans included Elsa ,our cook, and Willi ( her husband), the gardener. They were a warm-hearted, middle-aged couple, and Elsa took pity on this unloved, neglected and unwanted English kid – me- and lavished love, kisses and cuddles on me – continuously. She called me her ‘kleine Mandylein’, and I loved her lots. To this day, I thank God for her kindness and warmth.
There was also a maid called Cecilia – a sixteen-year-old Polish girl – working for us. I nicknamed her ‘Silly’, which she didn’t mind at all. How did she arrive here? What was her history? She must’ve been a displaced person. A refugee, I suppose. Anyway, she was a delight. Always happy and laughing, she was most affectionate to me. I adored her; and clung to her. She was so poor. She had no stockings and wore old boots without laces, and a skimpy dress. All the Germans around us had nothing. No food. No clothes. No belongings. They were desperate times. But Cecilia and I would play ‘hide and seek’ all over this magnificent house, with its parquet flooring, ‘sweeping’ marble staircase, state-of-the art central heating, and large garden, full of tall cedars and red squirrels.
Every day I would return from the Foreign Office school I attended to the warm kitchen in the house to my little disparate foreign ‘family’, and eat with them. The English teachers and other parents weren’t kind to me at all. But ‘back home’ I was loved and cherished.
To help them care for me were a number of ‘Gards’, as I called them : local girls from the village who all seemed to be named Hildegarde, Irmgard, Odgard – or so I thought. They were a savage bunch and I got slapped a lot. I suppose it must’ve been quite satisifying for them to wallop a defenceless English child . After all, we were conquerors living in their homeland now.
It was an intensely surreal set-up, however, and I was often lonely, troubled and vulnerable, with no one to protect me at all. I remember I had an imaginary playmate called Paul, whom I spoke to a great deal – in English and German.
My father would turn up occasionally, but I didn’t like him one bit. To me, he was a heavy, over-emotional man, who believed that it was a good idea for me to share a bath with him. I was deeply embarrassed by this and horrified at the sight of his willy floating in the water in front of me.
I didn’t know this, but my parents were now divorced, and, astonishingly, my father had obtained full custody of me.
It was into this potent mix of madness that ‘D’ arrived. My tormentor-to-be.