‘A Broken Wing’ p.5

Our days in Germany were coming to an end. I had loved our final Christmas . I never remembered another Christmas throughout my entire childhood  after that – or birthday for that matter.

No present. No special  food. No celebrations.  Nothing.

But for my sixth birthday I had been given a book ( by D, of all people) called Now We Are Six’ by A.A.Milne.  I read it from cover to cover, and after a week, I could recite every poem in it by heart.

My father and I were now alone in the house. A few  crates of belongings were stacked on the parquet flooring.  My father sat on one of them, and wept.  I remember hesitantly putting my little hand on his shoulder to comfort him.

Memories of the first six years of my life flashed before me:  summers by the Baltic sea, and holidays in Kitzbuhel ( in Austria). Pretty hand-made silk dresses, with delicate smocking – that I loved  to wear.  My excitement – just before she left – when my mother took me to have my photograph taken in Hamburg.  My last outing with her. She was obviously planning to take the photos with her when she left, I now realise.  For once, she had been kind to me.  My hopes that she might love me a little had been raised.

I remember, too, listening to ‘Dick Barton – special agent’  – on the radio; not really understanding a word, but being thrilled by the feeling of adventure. Also, our trips ( with coupons and ration books) to the Naafi – on Saturdays, and my enjoyment of tooth-rotting Mars bars and bottles of Coca-Cola.  Strangely enough, I have no memory of food from these days , apart from eating creamy birthday cake! Torte mit Zahne.

Dad and I clamboured into his Ford Prefect  and left.  It was night-time. It was going to be a very long journey back to the UK – and we arrived, finally, at Dover, after the Channel crossing.

I don’t remember saying goodbye to anyone.

When we arrived -again at night – in Dover, I hated the harsh sounds of the dockers swearing and shouting. It was foggy and bitterly cold. If this was England, then it felt and looked  like a miserable place, and I already hated it.

 

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‘A Broken Wing’ p.4

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.

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.

‘A Broken Wing’ p.3

Little did I know then, just how ‘mad’ our lives in Germany had become.

Through my child’s eyes, I saw a broken world around me: bomb sites in Hamburg , which I remember vividly; cowed people, ill-dressed and appearing silent and defeated. Obviously, I had no idea why.

But the drama in my own family was equally extreme and  intense. In the course of his work travelling across the country, my father had had a very serious car accident,   when his Ford had skidded off the autobahn near Bremen, and plummeted down a ravine.  He had been very seriously injured, and  was left in the freezing snow for hours before  he was found  and rescued by a concerned German family – named Barock.

His recovery was slow.  He had had a trepanning operation on his skull, and now suffered from severe headaches.  He was unable to work, and was granted compassionate ‘ leave of absence’ to get well again.  I recall him screaming in agony, and threatening to blow his brains with a gun that was in the house.  I saw him pick it up and lift it to his head.

No wonder my mother had finally fled.  The accident had left him with a complete personality change.  He had become disinhibited and would say and do outrageous things.

The final straw was when he went up to his commanding officer’s wife and told her that the hat she was wearing was ‘ridiculous’.

To complicate matters further – he had become emotionally attached to Sonia Barock  –  the young woman who had helped to save his life.  She saw marriage to my father as a way out of Germany. Her passport to freedom.  And, also, on the scene, was ‘D’.Obsessed with my father, and hovering in the background.

How and why had she turned up again.

He was eventually released from his employment in Germany.  It was the end of what could have become a very prestigious career in the Foreign Office.

The winters in Germany were severe then.  I remember the thick snow and icy paths. Snow that reached several feet deep – I would run through the tunnels dug by by Willi, the gardener that exposed the paths in the garden.

While the drama of my father’s agony continued, Elsa and Silly tried to make the coming Weihnachten as beautiful and magical and normal  for me, as they possibly could.

It would be my last Christmas in Germany.

 

‘A Broken Wing’ p.2

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.

 

 

‘A Broken Wing’.

‘My life has crept so long on a broken wing/ Thro’ cells of madness, haunts of horror and fear.  That I come to be grateful at last for a little thing’.

Tennyson  ‘The May Queen’ (1833).

I was five years old when I first saw her.  She was standing at the top of a flight of stairs, and as I looked  up into her angry, wild dark eyes, fear flooded through my small frame, and I thought ‘trouble’ has arrived.

I  saw her for the last time  lying dead in a hospital bed ,when I was sixty. And I feared then that she would wake up suddenly , for  I couldn’t believe that she had finally gone from my life.  The relief  was so  profound. This time my heart raced with joy and delight.

I was free at last!

But I never expected that from then on  I would have nightmares about her  for the rest of my life,  Recurring dreams that still wake me up in the early hours , if you will forgive the cliche, in a cold, icy sweat.  It feels like I am trapped in a life-long prison sentence that I can never be released from.  This is my story.

Wives of the Artists (p.2)

‘I’ve got an appointment at Art Curial at 8 pm – want to come?’, Vlado asked half-invitingly’ but Marisa knew that she was meant to refuse. He wanted to go alone.

‘No, thanks’, she replied. ‘Too tired’. I’ll stay here and watch the sunset. You go’.

After their meal, Vlado left for the rue Matignon with a folder of drawings.

The flat, shrouded in its white sheeting, was cocoon-like. Still. Marisa could hear the couple next door – both alcoholics – quarrelling.  The stillness of the evening was destroyed for her.  Even the cheerful light from the sunset failed to lift her spirits.

‘I must go out’, she thought, aloud.

The metro, at that hour, was quiet. Half-deserted. So many of the stations: Concorde, Etoile, Opera were brightly-painted and sunny.  Marisa’s carte orange gave her the freedom of the city. So she decided to take the train from Ecole Militaire to Concorde, where she could change trains for St.Paul-le-Marais.  The Reuilly-Diderot /Nation line would do.  This area of or Paris: Hotel de Ville, St Paul, Bastille was her favourite part.

She would walk across the Seine at the Pont Marie, on to the mysterious Ile de la Cite, past Notre Dame cathedral.  She knew that the bookshop – Shakespeare and Co. – would still be open, with its cheerful jumble of ex-pat Americans, snoozing and reading in the deep, comfortable armchairs.

When she arrived at St. Paul, it was raining.  The street market was still open, and she bought some creme fraiche and a bunch of  violets.  She wanted to buy some moules and fresh watercress to make soup, but she didn’t have enough money with her.

‘Marisa’.

She turned round to face the voice.  It was Velikovic.  The artist.  Everyone in the Parisian art world knew him.  He was a friend of Vlado’s, but rich, successful and influential.

‘On your own?’, he asked.

‘Where’s Vlado?’.

‘He’s working’, she lied.  She had convinced  herself that net-working and schmoozing round art galleries was a kind of work.

‘Well, you must come and have a drink with us’, he said.

She tried to protest. It was late. She was tired. She must get home.

‘But Stella would love to meet you.  Come’.

He marched ahead of her, and she followed him obediently.  He lived in a magnificent apartment overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame, so they simply walked back over the Pont Marie again.  It wasn’t very far to walk.

When Vlado  opened the magnificent  front door of their third floor apartment ( the belle etage)  and she walked into the large, elegant  rooms, she  felt that she had never seen anywhere more exquisitely perfect in her whole life.

The walls were painted in various shades of vellum and white.  Huge abstract paintings and  mirrors were magnificently lit by spot-lights; there were massive bowls of fruit, and flowers placed on fabulous antique pieces of furniture.

Like an acolyte in a cloister, Stella, Vlado’s wife, moved from room to room, bringing in tall, fluted glasses, wine, canapes and delicate pastries.  She, too, looked immaculate, dressed in a medley of parchment-coloured cashmere.  She seemed to blend into the colour scheme around her.

As she  poured the wine out, she raised her beautifully-shaped eyebrows and asked Marisa:

‘How do you like being the wife of an artist’.

‘I don’t know yet’, replied Marisa, in all honesty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wives of the Artists

The rue Duvivier in the 7th arrondisement in Paris  is a charmless street that houses the discreet, the elderly and the comfortably-off.

There never seems to be much sun in this street, but, at least, it’s within walking distance of the dusty Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower, and, on a stifling summer’s day, a coolness emanates from its grey stone and shuttered windows.

When the Lazars’ first arrived at Apt.3, 68, bis, Vlado moved the vast pieces of ornate furniture out of reach and draped everything with white sheets,  He then emulsioned the pale, patterned wall-paper white, so that this uncomfortable, claustrophobic flat gleamed like the shiny  inside of a shell.

Anything ugly or unaesthetic caused Vlado pain.  If he couldn’t eliminate some unpleasing object from his life and home  ( and the terms of the  contract forbade this), he would merely cover the offending object with white paint.

Marisa  had grown sensitive to this artistic compulsion of his. Living with him, she had learned how vital it was for everything to be perfect – even down to the design of his pencils ; the correct shade of colour; or the exact positioning of an ashtray.

The kitchen in the flat was galley-shaped and overlooked a small courtyard, where a group of elderly men played boules and smoked for most of the day. Marisa liked to hear the click-click sound of the petanc balls: it was peaceful and relaxing.  The men had made themselves a little camp around two old armchairs in this piece of scrap ground here in the middle of Paris; and, as she prepared their evening meal – frothy omelettes with a dash of cumin –  she watched their ponderous, measured game.

‘On mange’, Marisa called out to Vlado, she called out gently to Vlado, because she could see that he was concentrating on a drawing.

‘J’arrive’, he replied triumphantly, with a smile, relishing these new French sounds. His French was still rudimentary; and his English fractured even after having lived in London for twenty years.

Marisa lit some candles. It was dusk. Paris, outside their window, seemed, momentarily, at bay, as its bad-tempered inhabitants were now mostly  a table.