Before my mother bolted, she and several other Foreign Office wives had attempted to set up food kitchens for ‘the starving Germans’. But to no avail. Fraternisation with the enemy was strictly forbidden. Instead, gifts of bottles of whisky, packets of cigarettes, stockings and chocolate from the NAAFI were given to the German staff, to be sold on the thriving black market in exchange for food and fuel.
Most of the time, Elsa and Willi lived out in their own house,and possibly only stayed to keep me company overnight sometimes. They took me to their home, once or twice, and I remember that it was freezing cold and drab, with grubby, unpainted walls.
My memories of these early years are clear and sharp. I could remember having my first photograph taken when I was only six months’ old. I recall that my father was holding me awkwardly, in front of the camera and that the hand-knitted woollen baby suit I was in was itchy and uncomfortable and tight around my crotch and legs. I also remember being left in my high-sided cot for hours, and crying and hollering for attention that never came. Miserable and lonely, I stood holding on to the bars, with a sodden and full nappy hanging down. Somehow, I managed to wriggle out of the nappy, which was a relief. I was only about a year old. Just beginning to walk.
There were happy memories, too. A huge cream cake was provided for my third birthday – with candles on it. And at Christmas, Elsa and Cecilia gave me straw and carrots to put into my shoes at night ‘for the reindeer’.
A huge pine tree was brought into the house. I was shown it – bare and green. Then after a few hours, Elsa swept me up into her arms, opened up the double doors to the salon – and there it was – fully dressed in tinsel and covered in tiny, white lit candles. It glistened and glowed and I gasped with joy at its beauty. Truly magical.
In our black and white tiled Art Deco kitchen, I watched Elsa cooking and cutting up vegetables. It was a warm place, and she was always so loving and cheerful to be around. Willi brought apples in during the autumn, and we used to store them up in the attic. Sometimes the apples would explode in the heat caused by the highly efficient central heating, which sent Silly ( my nickname for Cecilia) and myself into near-hysterical giggles!.
Finally, a British family moved in to another large house in the opulent avenue that we lived in. They were called Howarth, and their son, Peter, was a year older than me. At last I had a child to play with. But our joyous games didn’t last long. Peter was very enthusiastic to play ‘doctors and nurses’ with me, and would lock the door to their study, while we both took our pants off to ‘examine’ each other. Mrs Howarth became enraged at this game, hammered on the locked door ( which Peter duly opened), to find us both half-naked. She then asked me why I had taken my panties off, to which I answered that I was hot.
I was not allowed to play with Peter again.
We were both bereft, and would catch glimpses of each other from the backs of our respective family cars, when we were being driven to our schools and back.
There was certainly a very febrile atmosphere at home. Maybe I was picking up on it. My father was like a stricken king, surrounded by two female acolytes – Sonia and D – and I presume he was sleeping with one or both of them. The neighbours were probably totally shocked by this immoral and irregular state of affairs.
D was a virginal nineteen, ripe for seduction, and utterly besotted with my father. To her, and later, Sonia, I was very much ‘in the way’.
Once or twice, D would play this thoroughly frightening game with me. She would put me into a rough army blanket, and tie it up tightly. Absolutely no air could get in. She would then spin me round and round – in the air and on the slippery floor, until I almost passed out . She would then untie me, and I would fall out red-faced and gasping for air.
It was terrifying. But what I most remember was the look of insane, evil defiance and triumph in her face. I am convinced that she thought of killing me. I have had lifelong attacks of claustrophobia ever since.