Thursday, January 23, 2014

Experimenting with a biography

Woodthorne, it still has its old name on 'The Manor'

Writing stories;  LS and I were discussing writing autobiographies this morning, I said my childhood would best be represented in a News of the World story, and I did not like the thought of reading about, or indeed writing about old loves.....
But I have been mentally jogging around those early years, even found the old Victorian house I lived in when a child.  It is now a care home, uglier than I remember but still called 'Woodthorne'.  Google takes me on a 'street visit' and I note that that the side garden now has a bungalow on it. The house itself fronted on to the street with a large garden behind and in my childhood when everything must have a lot bigger, old pear and apple trees which we used to climb.  In autumn, Louise our Italian lady who looked after the house and us, would climb the trees and harvest the fruit, this would be taken down to the cellar in large baskets and stored on the shelves. The thing that brings a shock of recognition looking at the house is the monkey puzzle tree now somehow at the front, in my day, there was a monkey puzzle tree by the small back yard, and it always intrigued me firstly with its ugliness and then with its name.
Family dramas occurred in that house but that is another tale, but I will go back years before we moved into it.  My grandfather was Jewish and married four times, which is confusing, he also kept everything secret in his life so my coming into the world was kept from me.  He had by his first wife a son called Reg, my father, I came about by one of those illicit affairs, and upon my arrival was adopted by my grandfather's second wife, Catherine, who was Belgium and rather beautiful, according to the photo I saw of her.  Sadly she died when I was about two, cannot remember her but  her name appears on my adoption papers....
But the period before that has another story to tell: My grandfather worked in Belgium but during the second World War, had to leave as the Germans moved across the country.  He told of tying a mattress to the top of the new car and fleeing to the dock side where they got on a boat, all Catherine had with her was her little pekingese dog which she smuggled in her coat.
He was a very clever man, an engineer, and must have found a job fairly quickly at Villiers Engineering Company in Wolverhampton, and when I was about four years old married his third wife, and my half brother Peter came into my life.

There are moments of unhappiness in life that in many ways transform our lives, Peter and I grew up together, till one day at the age of  about 11 years, we were all put into boarding schools, I went with Peter and Barry, our cousin, to their school in Tettenhall, we were all crying at this sudden unexpected turn in life, and I was not to see Peter again till he was about 25 years old and have not seen him since.....
When I was about nine, grandfather took me over to Belgium, the house there had passed on to me because of Catherine's nationality, and I remember sitting in the lawyer's office and then driving out to this rather nice furnished house by a lake.  The house had been in the hands of a Belgian collaborator for years but he had now been brought to trial and the property confiscated.  Sadly I did not inherit the money at a later date, (though was it really mine?) it seems to have gone into funding Reg's new business, but of course this was just another secret that lay in the black box of secrets....
As I write this, I see the twisting and turning of many people's lives, as children we had a nominally happy childhood, though somewhat remote from the adults in our lives, holidays we were always sent away to farms or the seaside to manage on our own which we did through many adventures that children today would not have to experience.....


  1. Gosh, that is a more . . . unusual . . . childhood than the ones I am familiar with in my family and friends. Some very strong characters stand out though, and perhaps they were influences on you ultimately which strengthened and shaped your life. I had a rather ordinary boring childhood - though fun enough, with lots of freedom to wander for miles with foil packets of jam sandwiches and bottles of weak squash. Pretending to be horses (well centaurs really, as the top half was the rider and our legs the horse!) in the back garden - my dad must have despaired of his lawn after a summer of half a dozen of us "show jumpers" hurtling round it over bean stick jumps, creating bald take off and landing spots!

  2. Yes my childhood was unusual ;), not sure why it has come back to haunt me though, it made me more independent, can just imagine the 'centaur beast' we had a little gang on our street as well.......

  3. I do love the UK and Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are? Your story would make a good episode, but I am struck by the way that families and relationships in most of our backgrounds are much more complex and unconventional than we might expect. My grandparents were first cousins, for instance. I hope you keep writing about your memories. Jean

  4. Hi Jayview, tis true about the unconventional nature of families, no one in my family ever gets to grips with my childhood, they get lost somewhere in the middle of the story;