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NOVELS | press review | Jane Haining | Death Row | Jewish | photos | oil paintings | Family Tree | Book Launch Central Library | Article in The List | The Star on Ictis | Curtain/Toynbee Theatre and Redbridge Youth | * | Children's lullaby poem | Dr. Kent's review of Ictis | LOURDES | Hippy days in St. Ives | Heroines | Autumn and me | Section 18 | Tom Keating | Section 20 | Section 21 | Book Cover | Section 22 | Qualifications | Section 24 | Section 25 | Section 26 | Section 27 | Section 28 | Section 29 | Section 30 | Section 31 | Section 32 | Section 33 | Section 34 | Section 35 | Section 36 | Section 37 | Section 38 | Section 39 | Musicals | Press review | Press Reviews | Press Reviews | PUBLISHED POETRY

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The Playground (revamped, not published version) By ELYSIAN FIELDS (Elaine Pomeransky e mail To all women everywhere, I dedicate the words of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest men this world has ever known: `Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity, the female sex, not the weaker sex. It is the nobler of the two, for it is even today the embodiment of sacrifice, silent suffering, humility, faith and knowledge. A woman's intuition has often proved truer than man's arrogant assumption of superior knowledge. There is method in putting Sita before Rama and Radha before Krishna.' (Gandhi). ‘When this old world gets me down and there’s no love to be found. I close my eyes and soon I find I’m in a playground in my mind. Where the children laugh, and the children play, and we sing a song all day… In the wonders that I find in the playground in my mind, in a world that used to be, close your eyes and follow me….’ (song ‘In the Playground in my Mind’ by Vance & Pockriss) The playground of life never changes. The bullies merely grow in stature, better able to conceal the ruthlessness of their species from when they had first played the game in the school playground. The bloody war on tarmac ground, the conflicting psychology of morality, where society teaches its novices the philosophical values of kindness, and yet, lives by an alternative code of conduct. Morality holds little meaning in the empirical playground where the aggressor always wins, and the gentle are considered weak and slightly retarded. Physical beauty only counts if combined with the necessary qualities of aggression, or what in mature years is called `assertiveness.' For, whether lovely or ugly, you only survive by selfishness. The destructive myth of selfless love is an alien concept to the majority. Psychological hedonism is the name of the game. Ah, but the time for such philosophical speculation is not for now, I will commence my story, the game of life. I have thrown the dice, there can be no cheating, the decision has been made . . . “Did you hear the one about the Loch Ness Monster… What’s the difference between the Loch Ness Monster and a decent, intelligent man?…. Ah, so you don’t know, well the answer is, the Loch Ness Monster has been sighted several times ha ha ha”. Poppy’s guest failed to respond to her joke, she thought she’d best reply to his question. “Yes Rev. McNab, that’s my maiden name, Poppy, Poppy Iyzs, derived from Isaacs” The man who sat before her resembled Rasputin rather than a Church of Scotland minister. Black clothes, long greasy red hair, an assortment of earrings. “Although I hear you liked to be called ‘Father’, but the Bible says to call no man ‘Father’ except your father in heaven….” she digressed as always. “Iyzs….is that a foreign name?” “Jewish, but not practicing, I'm already perfect” she laughed, “To think, if only I’d changed my name to Stewart or Mack something how different it would have been”. Handing him a cup of tea Poppy was concerned due to the quality of the water, opaque with the occasional black lump coming through the tap. She was even less happy about the local minister’s sudden and unexpected appearance at her front door situated on the 12th floor of the Leith tower block. The flat was mainly undecorated, window frames broken, yet, a clown she’d always been and a clown she would remain, laughing her way through life’s circus each time she fell from the trapeze. In fact, being a clown was the very reason why they’d first met. It was whilst she’d been living in a bed and breakfast near Edinburgh’s Grassmarket when she’d first heard of Rev. McNab, the Church of Scotland minister at St. Andrew’s parish church. Rumour had it that he was planning to be a clown for God, or something to that effect. Knowing, as a kosher fool she’d be his best candidate, Poppy had struggled all the way from the Grassmarket to Leith to meet him. Although he’d offered no feedback, and the visit less than productive, nevertheless, when she was offered a council flat in that very same area where Rev. McNab was minister, Poppy believed that God had managed to infiltrate Edinburgh’s housing department in Waterloo Place. “Maggie Dickson was hung in the Grassmarket on a scaffold…half hangin’ Maggie, you must have heard of her. Your council would have hung me if they could. Full hanging Poppy”. “I ken I shud ha’ come up tae see ye before noo… I did write a few letters on your behalf, dinnae ken if they helped”. His long strands of orange, greasy hair danced about his unshaven face like apoplectic ballerinas. Yes, he should have called before, he should have replied to her letters, for she’d been desperate, and she had no idea why he thought her name was ‘Ken’. “The flat was full of fleas, the windows still don’t shut, the rain’s pouring in …. And the council and social services treat me as if I were in a probation hostel”, but words would never be adequate to illustrate the hell she’d been through. “The Church of Scotland sponsored me to pay for a decorator… they paid him even though he didn’t do the work, Rev. Macdonald who’d offered the sponsorship didn’t seem to believe me, and left me in this pit…. Look” she pointed to the only decoration the cowboy had done, the wallpaper pasted on the lounge walls in opposite directions, bits stuck on randomly. Rev. Ewart McNab looked concerned, almost ashamed for his neglect during the past months, as she continued to elaborate on the incompetence and purposeful negligence of social services, housing authority and the Church of Scotland. “Do you know, even a professional architect, who’s a Christian too, wrote a letter to support all I’d said, yet they took no notice of him either, so it’s not just my word…I mean look at this, he’s just put a patch of wallpaper on to cover the gap, and see over there….he’s put the pieces of wallpaper on two different ways so that one pattern is upside down. I didn’t say they had to sack him, I just wanted one of the sponsors to check the work and say if it was okay for me to retain him as I didn’t want to get into trouble”. The minister remained silent, uncomfortable, guilty. “I wasn’t happy with the letter the director of Edinburgh social services Sydney Menzies, sending a copy to you and everyone else, even the block manager Willie Erskine. He also tells me, not asks me, that you will be my advocate. How can he do that, least of all disclose my business to all and sundry?” Rev. McNab made no response, just looked sympathetic. The unexpected letter from Edinburgh’s director of social services, had also informed her that she would have to continue with her no good social worker from Seafield social work centre, Eric Ogg. Poppy retrieved the abusive letter dated 18th December 1998 from beneath a pile of letters on the broken table, and re-read it. “Firstly, Sidney Menzies doesn’t comment on the fact I’d asked to make a formal complaint against him….and regarding my being told to declare myself homeless and that the social worker and O.T failed to offer me a lift to the homeless department in Waterloo Place with all my luggage he’s written, ‘In view of your mobility on the day …your apparent robust health I consider that it was reasonable for them to conclude that you would be able to attend the Housing Department office without further assistance….” The minister looked uncomfortable, as if he’d rather not hear what I said, perhaps embarrassed that he’d received a copy of this libel. “But Rev. McNab, they saw me undressed, they knew I had the whole of my back stitched and even had foam stitched to my skin and I was stitched down both hips all the way to my knees and had wadding and corsets and wasn’t supposed to bend or lift anything…they knew that I’d just had a blood transfusion…and on top of that they knew I had prolapsed discs, osteoperosis and a billion other things, and the only reason I was in that mess and they advised me to declare myself homeless was because they’d made my landlord dress and undress me”. “Perhaps they thought he was your boyfriend” “Of course they didn’t…I mean, if they had I wouldn’t have been getting rent for him from the DSS would I if anyone had thought he was my boyfriend. I’d initially come to housesit when he went on holiday, and then he said I could rent a room until I found somewhere of my own…. Of course they didn’t think he was my boyfriend, if they had why had the social worker before then offered a full care package if I got sick?” How gentle the cleric’s eyes were, full of empathy, Poppy trusted him, hating herself for her lack of total forgiveness, for her pain. “And he tells me, not asks me that you will be my lay advocate…after he’s sent you a copy of the letter. And apart from believing the staff who have lied, he’s gone and written, ‘we wish to concentrate on your abilities rather than your perceived disabilities….and he’s breached confidentiality to everyone, and refuses me a new social worker!…isn’t that illegal?” “But, why did ye come tae Scotland?” he whined, it seemed the only question public servants had asked since her arrival the previous year. She’d considered dying her skin black, then she could have sued them for racism, but as a white Jewish female Brit she had no rights. “Do ye hae a family?” Yes, she had a family, she even had a mother. How she’d ended up here, in this strange country amongst such cruel hostility Poppy had no idea. Public servants better suited to the witch hunters after their 1563 law had been passed forbidding ‘ony maner of witchcraftis, sorsaries or necromancie under pane of deid’. Never known such hatred, ill prepared for another planet run by too many pseudo fascists. Life was a rich tapestry so the saying went, but Poppy’s had been just a bundle of tartan knots. As the dog collared Rasputin sat before her drinking his tea, Poppy found it even more difficult to recall any time when her life had gone well. “Is this a photo of your mother…..sae tell me Poppy aboot your family….ye do hae a family?” How she longed to have a mental breakdown, it sounded like pure luxury. Envying those whose schizophrenia secured them a best friend, never lonely. Her life’s quest was simple, how to accomplish self annihilation of body, mind and soul without becoming a Buddhist. On that winter’s afternoon, sitting in her council flat, her mind was cracking like a damaged canvas, overwhelmed by surrealist images of past and present. Images copiously gunged onto the picture with the sharp edge of life’s palate knife, slicing into the crusty, flesh coloured dried skin. “Sae Poppy, tell me aboot ye mootha” Rev. McNab sipped his coffee, he’d dunked his biscuit into it once too many times and it was collapsing, ready to sink. “My mother… yes, she was very kind when I was young, spoilt me. Yes, she was very kind, my best friend. Always paying out, wanting me to have nice things, praised me for being pretty and clever….yes, always praised me” Ruth Stein, Poppy’s mother’s maiden name, second eldest from a family of five daughters, Faye, Ruth, Mabel, Cissie and Isabel. How often she’d told her how she’d pitied her father, an East End tailor, having to suffer five daughters and no sons. Never a classic beauty, she’d said as much herself. But, the men had swarmed, all her adult life they had desired her, wolf whistling at her slim figure, large breasts, jet hair and sensuous, highly glossed mouth. Only 5’2”, vaguely resembling Princess Margaret, how she’d loved to laugh, such flirtatious laughter, false, yet so effective. A talented dress maker, she’d frequently take her young daughter down the Roman Road market, constantly priding herself on her pseudo middle class standards and style of speech compared to her working class peers, trying her best to ignore the fact that she was still working class. Poppy allowed to choose the material for her new summer dresses, due to the fact that off the peg wouldn't fit. She had better clothes than anyone in my class at school, so her mother had said, but, if truth were known, she'd have preferred to have less clothes and more friends. Even at that tener age Poppy had known the real reason for the other children’s aggression towards her. In the ruthless playground of childhood, she'd displayed two of the most negative qualities, she was both passive and fat! Thirty five years later and she still hadn’t recovered from that unforgettable day when the ambulance had turned up unannounced, Ruth Stein failing to tell her the real reason for the hospital appointment. How she’d cried whilst being forced to parade in her white underwear before a dozen medical students at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital for Children. Then forced to lie on an examination table as the paediatrician poked and prodded her protruding little tummy and asked, “what names do they call you in school?”. And then diet had been mentioned, the word I’d associated with the greatest punishment in a home where food had been upheld as the only universal reward and pleasure. Poppy sobbed, declared before all the spotty medical students that she didn’t want to go on a diet, she didn’t want to be punished. Food, the only cause for her mother to speak with excitement, ‘have a nice piece of cake…ooh we’re going out for dinner….if you’re bored get something to eat’. Her father was even worse. Eating, life’s only pleasure now to be withdrawn, her only accomplishment in her young life and now she was to be punished. “So ashamed Poppy, you carrying on like that” her mother had admonished her all the way home from the hospital. But obviously not ashamed of herself for deceiving her child into the true nature of the hospital visit least of all taking any blame for allowing her only child to get into that state in the first place. The self praising mother, who never once opened her small, dark selectively blind eyes and saw that maybe the doctor thought less about the child’s behaviour and more about the negligent parents for having encouraged the child to get into that state in the first place. Poppy had never been encouraged to have friends, and throughout her childhood children weren’t allowed in the house, other than her cousins. But there had been just one time down the Roman Road market. Her name was Pamela, in the same class, a slightly simple, stupid girl whom no one liked. Without even asking her daughter, Ruth Stein had suddenly, and unexpectedly given the girl an open invitation to tea. Of course Poppy realised in hindsight that the only reason her mother presumed that they’d be best friends was because she’d seen they’d had just one thing in common, they were both overweight. When the girl arrived and had eaten her fill of her mother’s salt beef and latkes enjoying the full helpings of seconds and thirds which her mother seemed bent on encouraging, she then sent them both upstairs to be weighed. ‘Mummy, did you hear the one about the fish…what part of a fish weighs the most? Ha Ha! The scales of course!’ “Sae your mootha was a guid mootha…..why, what’s sae funny?” Rev. McNab smiled, bemused. “Well you have to laugh don’t you…I mean she’s a fucking comedienne….lives with my…..lives in Nottingham”. “And your fairtha?” “He’s dead….lucky bastard” “Sae ye had a guid relationship with him then?” the priest continued with his questions like some self appointed shrink. “He worked hard….provided….”. Her earliest memory of him had been when she was six years old, that Saturday morning when she’d been taken by her mother to nearby Tredegar Square to call for two older girls, Maralyn and Freida to go to the children’s class at the local synagogue at Harley Grove. As with most places of worship it had no doubt once been a church, and after it’s time as a synagogue would then become a mosque. That particular Saturday it was raining, so the girls mother aunty Sylvie informed Poppy on her arrival that her daughters weren’t going, but she could stay until the rain stopped. Poppy had a lovely time, it was rare for her to have other children to play with, being an only child. When the time came for home, aunty Sylvie saw her back across the road. Happy from the morning fun, Poppy had danced into the kitchen where her large, balding, bespectacled father was sitting reading his paper behind a cloud of cigarette smoke, whilst her my mother prepared the Sabbath meal of chopped liver, chicken soup, followed by roast chicken. The house had once been a butchers shop, and still looked vaguely like a shop from the front, and at the back an outside toilet which overlooked a yard and the side wall of the factory owned by her grandfather. The kitchen was smoky, one small window near the ceiling which didn’t open, the heating came from a paraffin heater. “How was shul Poppy?” her mother greeted the child who was soaked to the skin, and suddenly left the stirring of the soup, hurrying towards her with towels. Removing her dress and socks, she stood the plump child on an old armchair to dry her hair. “We didn’t go to shul mummy”. “Where have you been all this time then?” “Oh, Aunty Sylvie said that Maralyn and Freida weren’t going to shul because of the rain, so she said I should stay and play until it was time to come home and then she’d take me back across the road”. Suddenly, and without warning the volcano behind the newspaper erupted. “What do you mean!” the deep, paternal, cockney voice bellowed, “if you’re telling fibs I’ll give you a bloody good hiding… when I see aunty Sylvie I’ll ask her, believe me!” His protuberant eyes now wild with rage. The fat six year old trembled, shocked as her whole world collapsed around her, waiting to be tortured. “Den, Poppy doesn’t tell fibs, if she said they didn’t go to shul then it’s true”. But, at that moment the world she’d known through the brief years of her life had suddenly changed, the man whom she’d trusted and adored, her daddy had, in a split second, become her most feared enemy, and the balancing scales of justice had fallen into the pit of confusion. “My mother referred to him as the joker” Poppy offered the church minister another biscuit, knowing how he’d never joked to her, grumpy, depressed. “Sorry they’re only wafers…they stopped my disability monies”. It was still embarrassing as she recalled her father’s behaviour towards any child who’d happened to cross his path, pulling funny faces, or switching his hands across his knees, his only party piece. He’d failed to notice that his 16 year old daughter’s friends were no longer children when they’d turned up at the house, yet he’d still perform, rigorously flicking his lower lip to make a ridiculous bubbering noise as if entertaining a baby. Once the visitors had left, he’d ignore his only child or else threaten violence overtly or in overtly if she made her presence known. Large sasquatch hands, wild, protuberant eyes . Yes, the aggression was always there ready and waiting to erupt any moment like a pus filled boil in his grey, angry face. “On a couple of occasions he’d taken me in his delivery lorry….I’d perch on a plank of wood lodged between his seat and his assistant, an old man called George” Poppy expounded, trying to recall one of her more positive memories. She’d felt sorry for old George, especially the day she’d asked to meet her paternal grandmother. “We drove all over London, he knew all the streets, his general knowledge was superb. He claimed to have a friend who knew all the toilets in London and I was well impressed. And if he was delivering at Brent Bridge he’d say ‘do yer wanna see your little ‘ouse?’ and I’d run over towards a small sun house overlooking some water, my little house”. The clergyman smiled, how strange he looked, dark, almost black eyes half hidden behind his long, greasy ginger locks. Brent Bridge, that’s where her little house had been. ‘Do yer wanna buy her?’ he’d constantly joked to any strangers whom he met when she’d been with him. But Poppy already knew the stark facts of life’s unbalanced scales even at that tender age of 6 on that day at Brent Bridge when a workman had noticed her tubby belly and replied, ‘no thanks, she eats too much’. So animated, excitable in public, so morose, hostile and uncommunicative when alone with her. ‘I’ll give you a bloody good hiding’ appeared to be his favourite display of paternal affection. If it weren’t for the fact that both their eyes popped she’d have seriously wondered if he really were her father. “Hyper maniac” Poppy whispered under her breath. “Any grandparents? I hear that Jewish families are close….they tell me that Jews stick together” the minister began to fiddle with one of his earrings that hung from his lobe. Although her paternal grandfather owned the house in Tredegar Terrace where she’d lived during those early years, her mother had constantly moaned about the damp and the outside toilet, bearing little resemblance to its Georgian neighbours in the adjoining Tredegar Square. He owned both Poppy’s house, the adjoining house and the small lemonade factory beside it. How proud she’d felt whenever she’d attended bar mitzvahs, as it was always Iyzs's lemonade that adorned the tables. How sad then, that the man who owned the factory, her own grandfather, had never acknowledged Poppy’s existence from the day that she was born. Her father Dennis, who’d been named after his great grandfather Daniel, worked in the same factory. Poppy only ever witnessed them growling at each other like ferocious dogs, they never spoke, not as normal people. Sometimes, she’d watch her grandfather from a safe distance offering sweets or pennies to children who passed by with their mothers, but he never even smiled at his chubby young granddaughter juggling rubber balls by the airy nearby. ‘One two three O’Leary, my balls down the airy’ she could still remember the songs that accompanied the solitary games in her solitary life. ‘Each peach pear plum I spy Tom Thumb….over the Irish sea. Matthew Mark Luke and John…..’. Rumour had it that her grandfather was indulging in an illicit affair with Sadie Gold across the road, but Poppy didn’t think Rev. McNab would be interested in the wanderings of a circumcised Jewish prick. “My grandparents didn’t want my father to marry my mother, she was too poor, well that's how the story went. Didn’t even turn up on his wedding day…don’t think he ever got over it. Apparently, they'd gone off to Margate for the day with their other son Abe, and his family…they were freemasons you know, charity, compassion for everyone but their own. My dad wouldn’t join”. “Why, was he a religious man?” “No, just didn’t like anyone telling him what to do…he was just a stubborn bastard” Poppy began to sip her tea, worried about the water. She’d boiled it twice, even so, it was foul. “Do you think life’s a playground…you know, like Shakespeare thought it was a stage?” “Why a playground?” “Well, it can’t be a stage because on a stage it’s scripted, players exit at exactly the right time… in a playground you just keep falling over until one scab heals over the other and you end up scarred for life”. “So our lives aren’t scripted then?” he asked, still fiddling with his earring. Poppy laughed, “you mean are our lives pre-ordained…yeah, probably. Freewill’s a myth if you’ve an overload of testosterone, or the gene of a psychopath…or if your mother’s tortured you with cigarette butts and your father raped you nightly….but I suppose you’ll call me a cynic”. “Don’t you think that God might not have a script for each of us if we listened carefully to what He’s saying?” Poppy considered his words for a moment, then laughed. “So what’s the black kid’s script when he’s dying of starvation somewhere in Africa, did he forget his lines…or was he deaf?” The cleric laughed, placing his empty mug down on the cheap, second hand coffee table in the centre of the room. “So then, where was your favourite playground…you must have had somewhere you liked best?” No, she couldn’t think, all her memories were soiled, layers of pain upon more layers of pain. “Toynbee Hall!” she suddenly retorted. How she’d loved that Aldgate sanctuary, the stage, the lights, the atmosphere, it was magic! “I wanted to be an actress, my life blood, my raison d’etre”. Her mind now focussing on Wadam, the medieval turret in the grounds of Toynbee Hall that housed all the costumes. There was the new building, ‘The Curtain Theatre’. “Toynbee Hall was my paradise…. The only time I was ever happy…but we moved Mile End to Ilford when I was ten”. Thirty Seven Brisbane Road, inside loo and a garden, a new adventure in a place that looked like heaven, trees, grass and such blue skies. All the neighbours front gardens were filled with hydrangeas, blue, violet, blooming with the perfume of paradise, dynamic, virginal. Momentarily Dennis Iyzs had come to life, filled with enthusiasm, jumping onto the first rung of bourgeois home owner. He’d offered Poppy the small piece of garden at the farthest end of the lawn, as the only gardening she’d ever experienced was sticking a lolly stick into the fungus which grew between the sections of pavement in Tredegar Terrace. Now she’d have her own garden filled with marigolds, a beautiful golden cascade. It was only the following week when he’d changed his mind and had the marigolds destroyed and concreted over, and never showed any further interest in the garden after that. “Sae ye’ve nay brothers and sisters then….wha aboot pets?” Poppy gave a sigh, from her experience people didn’t want the truth, not if it was depressing. How often they’d questioned her, and after she’d responded, they’d only deride her for being negative. They’d wanted to hear a pleasant tale, but not too good or else they’d be jealous, perhaps she’d be more popular if she lied. “I can still remember it was a Saturday night in January….just after my eleventh birthday. I’d attended my drama class at Toynbee Hall every Saturday, I travelled all the way from Ilford as I’d loved it so much” “Aye, I did a wee bit of drama at school….I recall playing the part of the devil in a morality play”. But Poppy wasn’t listening, entrapped in her own memories. “We’d performed all over London, I’d been the Goddess Minerva cursing Arachne, the rest of the cast danced around me in a circle to the music of Zorba the Greek”. She’d worn a long white toga ‘yes, you shall go on weaving, the whole world shall admire the beauty of your weaving…’ even now over 30 years later she could recall every word verbatim. “A friend of Robin had written the script for the big new year show, she was our teacher, and Donald Walker was the director of the theatre…yes I think it was Robin or her friend who’d written it… I adored her”. Poppy was now back at that January night, the show was the crème de la crème. She’d played the part of a princess, a spaceman, a traveller with native Americans. Her father had driven them home that night, even he’d been impressed with the professionalism, the scenery, costumes and acting skills. Poppy still bubbling with adrenaline, the applause still resounding in my ears as they pulled up at Brisbane Road. The sacred aroma of greasepaint and musty clothes of days long gone remained with her as she relaxed on the wine coloured couch in the lounge, the television and cigarette smoke dominating the room. Her couch ever since she could remember, the chair nobody else wanted. In all her memories of childhood, neither parent had ever once sat beside her. “What are memories Rev. McNab? William James ….you know the psychologist, well he argued that memories are just knowledge of a former state of mind after it’s been dropped from consciousness.” The cleric nodded, but she knew that he didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about. “But what about the memories which never leave you, not even for a moment? Are memories merely neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, and personal identity only self delusion by proxy?” “Ye were telling me aboot pets” he tried to get her back to his original question, baffled by her words. She’d stopped smiling now, her face paled, large eyes looked even bigger. “Yes, they let me have a puppy” Robbie, the puppy was called Robbie. Only six months old…that night after the show Poppy had longed to be able to cuddle him on the couch but her parents had ruled that he had to remain alone in the dark, unheated kitchen”. Ruth Stein’s moods suddenly worse since they’d moved, insisting her husband took the puppy in the lorry on wash day. It had only been that previous month he’d got out of the lorry and gone missing, neither parent had any intention of finding him. Eventually, having listened to her daughter’s heartbreaking sobs she agreed to phone the police station in Bow. Sure enough Robbie was there, and was allowed to come home, but still given no love or companionship. Still buzzing from the applause, her brown eyes, almost as protuberant as her father’s, slyly focused on the television set as she awaited her mother’s praise, too cold to sit in a dog basket in the kitchen with the poor, neglected pup. How well she’d remembered all her lines, her voice clear, there had been no mistakes, awaiting for their praise, any moment now. ‘Charlie Boy wants the dog’ She could still hear her father’s grunting cockney tones to her mother, peanuts in one hand, stubbing out her cigarette with the other. Poppy recognised the reference ‘Charlie Boy’ as being one of his business associates. Although he’d never stroked the pup, merely thrashed the bundle of mischief for the least reason, his large manic hand crashing down on its small body. Shouting at him with his loud, aggressive voice, so the pup would whimper away and hide in the dark corner of the kitchen where he was forced to remain most of the time. Is wife totally ignored the animal apart from feeding it, everything was always too much for her to cope with, even a child. “Sae they spoilt ye being their only bairn, lots of cuddles I expect” he helped himself to another biscuit, his earring jangling every time he moved. Like an ice cold ostrich, her formidable head, styled in its usual tight, black bun remained motionless, her glasses only worn for television, masking any resemblance to the gentle, devoted, warm hearted, sacrificial mother who’d been praising her child all the way home… and herself. For of course, she was the only mother who bothered to accompany her daughter to the class every Saturday when other parents obviously weren’t as caring towards their children as she was. Yes, Poppy was just so lucky to have her. Every night perched on her hard backed chair in front of the small Bush television, smoking or eating peanuts. Her father was the same, with the added acoustic bonus of constantly blowing his nose like a foghorn. No they never cuddled Poppy, only each other, and only when in bed. ’Well Ruth, do you want to keep the dog or not?’ her father had growled out of the blue on that Saturday night. ’Do me a favour’ she’d hissed, Poppy could still remember the coldness in her voice. ‘ Charlie Boy can have him! He must be mad’. Yes, Poppy could still remember her mother’s mouth opening slightly to expose the crushed nuts between her teeth as her child glanced incredulously, they weren’t serious, it was a joke… wasn’t it? ’Okay, I’ll take him Monday’ he’d replied, Poppy just didn’t exist”. ’They must be mad!’ she’d repeated. “Odd, we’d only just moved to Ilford, it’s what she’d been wanting for years…yet it was as if she’d died, you know” Poppy mumbled to the priest, as if still in shock from the event of over thirty years ago. The woman who had once been her best friend had suddenly become a stranger. “Like it wasn’t the same kind mummy who’d loved and overindulged me…yeah, it was like she’d died…or maybe they just thought I had”. ‘Mummy, did you hear the one about the man who dragged a cabbage on a lead? No, well, he thought it was a collie” but on that Saturday night Poppy just couldn’t bring herself to laugh. “But she loved me, she did love me, sang me to sleep every night, ‘Guten abend, gute nacht, mit rosen bedacht, mit naeglein besteckt, schlupf unter die deck. Morgen frueh, wenn gott will, wirst du wieder geweckt Morgen frueh, wenn gott will, wirst du wieder geweckt’”. Early, on that Monday morning, through an upstairs window, Poppy had silently watched Robbie being bundled into her father’s car. Red, bulging eyes, tears that never were to dry, and a heart that bled forever. “A wee puppy…and I suppose they took it for walks wi ye…. And I suppose the puppy lived until it was old” “I suppose so…I was told Barking” “Aye, all dogs bark”. No, Barking was where Charlie Boy lived. “And ye had friends in Ilford?” Again his biscuit collapsed into his drink, as if he was unable to learn from his first experience. “You’ve just disproved Locke’s empiricist theory” she giggled. The minister looked up and smiled, totally unaware of what she’d said. Friends, what fat or placid kids ever had friends, after all she’d been born in a zoo. “Yes, Mia was my friend”. Mia, a pretty, fair, profoundly cockney girl, prematurely developed with huge breasts, with that peaches and cream look, from birth her only raison d’etre were ‘boys’. Poppy had known her from school, (Dane Secondary concentration camp for the mentally defective of Ilford, and if you weren’t . . . you soon would be). Known as a teaser to a guy called Dick, she’d been a problem from the very first day. Mia worse than an enemy, allowed another girl, Constance Bacon to steel all the money from Poppy’s charity tin which she’d collected selling raffle tickets door to door on cold winter nights for the voluntary ambulance service. When Mia admitted that Constance had stolen the money she displayed no shame. Often she’d wondered if the Beatles had heard of her, the fat football of Ilford whom everyone wanted to kick when they’d written the ‘Fool on the Hill’. Yet, at twelve years old, desperate for a friend, glad of the protection that the girl from Bethnal Green who could easily slap boys and teachers alike could offer, Poppy spent the following years succumbing to her every wish. Her wardrobe had subsequently become Mia’s, her home to be used by a gang of yobs because she fancied one of them, she herself returned nothing and during school hours avoided her plump, unattractive friend. It was odd, yet not obvious to Poppy why her mother had suddenly changed her stance on allowing friends into her home, constantly supplying them with coffee and cakes on a regular basis. Ruth Stein hated Mia with a vengeance, but it wasn’t because Mia was the greatest parasitical user in the history of pubescent tarts. Her mother’s sudden amiability towards the houseful of ‘friends’ and hatred for only Mia was that Mia had committed the greatest sin, she was female, all the rest of the gang were male. ‘Day after day, alone on a hill. The man with a foolish grin is keeping perfectly still. But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he's just a fool… They don't like him….’ (Beatles) There had been some respite from the bullying that first year of secondary school, when I'd been off sick for three months in 1966 at the age of 11. We’d been forced to do forward rolls at school without the mats, so I’d spent the afternoon doing the one act I was best at over and again on the hard, polished wooden floor of the school hall. The following day I could barely move, and my back was badly bruised and felt as if I’d slipped a disc. Mr. Pryson the orthopaedic specialist was, I’d believed, an honourable man, who’d sent me for physio, and although it failed to help he couldn’t resist writing in my notes not that he’d failed but, ‘A further bulletin about Poppy Iyzs who I am finding a difficult problem as she does not seem to have been benefited by any form of treatment that we have given her so far and physiotherapy also has apparently been of no value. Since she is completely pain free while lying in bed and does seem to have some stiffness in flexion of her lumbar spine I am providing her, as rapidly as possible, with a Glasrite lumbar support which I hope will help her where the other forms of treatment have failed…. I wonder if her apparently suppressed feelings about her obesity may not be a fairly large factor in this case’. Typical for failed NHS medics, what they couldn’t cure they would lay on the shoulders of the patient as some sort of psychological problem, and if that didn’t work then they’d blame your weight. Did the man really think I was purposely lying in bed feigning the pain which was crippling me merely due to some anxiety state? I had no problems at all about my size, I liked me, it just seemed to be everyone else who had a problem with it. Yet, what was even more frightening was that Mr. Pryson had also written in the letter to my G.P. regarding his concerns about my supposedly ‘suppressed feelings’ about my obesity, because my back was still painful longer than his text book had dictated. ‘If you do happen to see her in the interval you may feel it worth while trying her on something like Librium’. Yes, that was sensible to give an eleven year old who had shown absolutely no signs of psychological distress an addictive tranquilliser because he’d decided I should be depressed about my weight even though it was apparent that I wasn’t. But obviously he’d decided that I should be, and had concluded that as I wasn’t showing the slightest sign of any depression, these feelings therefore were being suppressed. What did he propose the Librium would do, reduce my weight? Thankfully the G.P took absolutely no notice of him, but it was intriguing as to whether Mr. Pryson would have offered such a drug to his own children just because their spine, which they had injured on a gym floor due to no mats and a negligent P.E instructor have been recommended Librium at the age of eleven because they’d failed to recover in the anticipated time. Would he have reached the same conclusion had I been thin? Yet, this scenario begged the question, what happened to the fat child who was depressed from being perhaps sexually abused, or neglected and beaten, would those like Mr. Pryson have totally overlooked all other factors as the possible cause? Of course, sensible parents would have ensured the school were blamed, but the school decided it would be easier to exonerate their own negligence, as every failed professional seemed to do, and blamed their victim. Guilty, always made to feel so guilty for a crime I didn’t quite feel responsible for. But, it was during that time when I was immobile when my mother, severely pre menstrual, decided to take over from the school bullies. It was one particular evening, my mother, who was usually gentle mannered and kind, had been in an uncharacteristically bad mood with my father, had suddenly jeered at me, "wait until you get back to school you'll be sorry!" it turned out that the headmistress had suggested to her that I see the school doctor about a diet. She'd only revealed her plans for me because she'd been annoyed with my father, screeching and cursing at us both before going off to bed, as if my weight was my fault and not hers, the need to diet a shameful crime, the word itself the ultimate of punishments.. My father had sat beside me on the couch that evening whilst I sobbed at my mother’s sudden hatred of me, I'd never recalled him doing that before nor since, and in an uncharacteristically gentle voice said, "you know you're overweight?" It had been so embarrassing, I was painfully shy, yet he was being nice, he'd never spoken to me with such civility before, it was almost worth the humiliation. And then, just as he'd paused for breath from reminding me of my excess flab, he suddenly, and unexpectedly introduced the subject of my going to a boarding school. I was thrilled, so excited, I'd never been so happy in my life, I’d be free of them at last. “Mummy, mummy, did you hear the one about the anorexic at a stag night?….the cake jumped out of the girl!” Yet, worse than being fat and shy was having a mother who was materialistically penitent. Of course by that following week after my father’s offer of liberation to a boarding school, my mother had screwed me up even more by simpering around me in her sweet little voice, buying me gifts, making me feel guilty for hating her, which was an ongoing situation throughout my life. “Use your loaf” my mother had gloated when I’d mentioned the boarding school, “he’s just an ostrich, in denial, doesn’t care about you, he's only offered boarding school because he’s annoyed with me!” How she had constantly revelled in reminding me that my father didn't care about me, and although I knew what she'd said was basically true, I also knew that she was more interested in keeping a roof over her own head than what was best for me. But, like all rejected lovers, I'd wanted to believe that he had cared, that he would keep his promise of sending me away. It was only the following week when I'd reminded him of the subject of a boarding school, he’d yelled his reply, “For crying out loud! Be bloody quiet!” and I knew then just how meaningless I was to him. Another step towards the art of self destruct, or else learn to play the game. ‘Your baby ‘as gorn dan the plug ‘ole, your baby ‘as gorn dan the plug, so next time yer barf yer baby, yer’d betta barf it in a jug!’ ‘But nobody ever hears him or the sound he appears to make…and the eyes in his head sees the world spinning round’ (Beatles) . It had been a hot Sunday afternoon when she’d suddenly changed her policy about telling lies, and decided that I must deceive my father about where we were going. And suddenly, deception was merely relative, depending on the relative one were to deceive. Brisbane Road was on the other side of Valentine’s park to where aunt Cissie lived, her house was on the wealthier side of Ilford, near Gant’s Hill. My mother had told my father, who spent most of his leisure time behind a newspaper or holding his head claiming headaches and growling, that we were visiting her sister. In actual fact she was going to a clandestine meeting with an Irish road worker called Barney, doing overtime in Beehive Lane, having already conned my father into employing him to do some crazy paving for us several months earlier. I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to lie, but somehow my mother had made me feel more sorry for her scrawny, simple minded Irish admirer and the fact that he’d be expecting her, and that she couldn’t go without me, than for my father. That afternoon I was torn apart, wondering which path led to morality, which was worse, to deceive my father or cause suffering to the Irishman. Objectively one might have argued that even though my father was tyrannical, he was still my moral priority. But, there again there was also a third person to consider, my mother. Perhaps at 12 years old I was too much of a utilitarian, so my mother won. I’d been forced to carry everyone’s problems, pity everyone else, but who was there to pity me? When we arrived at Beehive Lane and she’d commenced with her afternoon flirtations, what was there for me to do? Yet, how she’d complained as we walked home that I’d nagged her into buying me an Easter egg from the sweet shop near to where they’d been chatting, I was the nagging child, the nuisance spoilsport. Sunday afternoon spent playing gooseberry whilst my mother constantly performed, throwing back her small, dark head, laughing flirtatiously to a sad little Irish leprechaun who pandered to her ego. And why was I never allowed an Easter egg? Because we were Jewish, yet, we never mixed with Jews, other than her sisters. We were only ever Jewish when it came to Easter eggs and Christmas trees, and being Jewish had never stopped her from committing adultery. That following summer we’d holidayed in Cornwall. It was then when I’d had my first date with a boy of 19, the son of a Mousehole woman she’d been evacuated with during the war, he’d taken me to dance at the Winter Gardens in Penzance. My parents didn’t seem to mind the age difference with my being only 13, but then, her mind was on other things, mainly a man called ‘Lionel’. Lionel had invited himself to our home in Ilford that same year, in order to visit the boat show, which he said he attended annually. I’d wondered if my father were totally stupid, but, it was only years later, after he’d died when I realised that he wasn’t as stupid as he was selectively blind. “Oh go on come!” my mother had insisted, referring to the Black and White minstrel show which my father had offered to pay to take our guest to see. It was obvious why I didn’t want to go, having to watch my father being cuckolded, paying out for Lionel’s meals and shows, whilst he and my mother were conducting a sleazy affair under his nose. But, even as a 13 year old I didn’t like racist material, and used that as my excuse. “Oh don’t be silly, it’s not racist, Al Jolson was Jewish… anyhow they wear lovely clothes, don’t be silly, you’ll spoil it for us if you don’t come”. It had been the same year my pen friend from France had invited me to go and stay with her in Rouen. My mother said no because I couldn’t return the invitation because she was working. Yet, she’d been able to take a week off and plan outings for her own lover without too much grief, well, not for herself, as yet another step was being taken along my journey of brain annihilation. “Right, I’ve got my whistle on, going to see a man about a dog!” my father had said the following evening, popping his head into the lounge dressed in an evening suit, then happily left the three of us behind, as he headed off to the Casino above Harrison Gibson’s in Ilford’s High Street. “Oh, go to bed please Poppy, or else Lionel and I won’t have any time together” my mother pleaded, sitting on the couch beside the said Lionel, having covered both their legs beneath her dressing gown. My brain was in torment, right and wrong, which way did the ball bounce in this court of deception? Amazing how for the first time ever she was able to sit on a couch with her ‘bad back’, never throughout my whole childhood had she once been able to sit beside me. The following day as I looked out from the school window I caught sight of them walking home. I waved and shouted, but she didn’t hear, totally absorbed with her new lover, a man who would never have done the same in his own Cornish village, happy to allow my father to pay for everything, and their daughter to be forced into being the silent accomplice. There is always a price, and once again it was myself who paid it. Due to the constant headaches, I ended up having my sinuses cleared out again, but after the op the specialist said they had been ‘clear as a bell’ and wanted to know if there was anything troubling me. Nothing more than an adulterous control freak for a mother, and a depressive, violent and distant father. My father also had headaches, they’d only started after we’d moved to Ilford and her adultery had begun, and went on to last years. Sitting in his armchair holding his head constantly, two heads smashing against the cell door, watched over by such a sweet, kindly jailer, who kept her nails polished and her lips glossed. It had been on the morning of my thirteenth birthday when my father had hit me. Every time I stood up to walk to the door of the lounge he’d shout “shut the door!” before I’d even got near to it, and this had gone on for months, so that the voice was the cause of dread and internal shaking. It had been the same as a child when the news at nine had come on with the ‘bed!” syndrome, now it had been replaced with the ‘door!’ On the morning of my birthday he’d been moaning “shut the door, it’s cold” before I’d even left my chair, and then a moment later “turn the heater off it’s too hot”. So, after the third “shut the door it’s cold” and having not yet even risen from the chair, I’d replied sarcastically in undertones, “it’s too hot, too cold”, so he’d just lashed out and hit me bruising my legs. It had been on my twelfth birthday that previous year when he’d also threatened to hit me, this time for not wishing to acknowledge uncle Solly’s comment that I’d not removed the silver paper from my chocolate cup cake, I’d retained it in order to keep my hands clean, and so been reduced to tears. Of course my mother rebuked him, but later that same day, whilst he was talking to uncle Solly about his colleague’s son and how he was doing with his C.S.E’s I’d foolishly said “daddy, you never build me up”. His only response had been “when you do something to be proud of then I’ll build you up” and of course uncle Solly had also joined in, both only using the name ‘Aggie’ to refer to me as they always did whenever they were together. How they’d both belittled me, watching me beg like a dog for a scrap of respect, that I was also worthwhile, but it merely incited them to ridicule me more. I’d left the room in tears, pleading with my mother to stand up for me, defend me. “Well, you should have known better that to talk to them in the first place”. So I’d stood there devastated, pleading for her to offer some protection, a little support as my aunts stood listening in the background. My mother frequently brought up that incident for the rest of my life, as if it had been my crime for being upset “carrying on like that in front of your aunts”. Of course none of my cousins would argue with their mothers, who were much stricter than mine, but there again, they weren’t expected to be dwarf confidantes and confessional priests to theirs. If I’d ever argued with my mother then she’d say I needed a psychiatrist, and she’d say the same about my father. Constantly boasting to myself and her sisters whatever she bought for me, she’d also insist on informing my aunts about every disagreement we had. My father’s family were estranged, and my mother’s family whom we saw regularly, sadly even they seemed to have an ‘attitude’ towards me from as far back as my memory stretched. Of course I received Christmas and birthday gifts, but there was no real love, only all too often bitchy remarks, even my female cousins appeared to be of the same ilk leaving me to wonder what I’d ever done to deserve it, least of all why they felt able to say the things they did. “I don’t know why the family are like it to you Poppy, I think they're jealous, you’re too pretty” was my mother’s usual spiel from when I’d first noticed the problem, so I’d constantly beg her to tell them good things about me, but for some reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to other than to praise my appearance. Whenever she came off the phone she’d repeat what a third party family member had said or an opinion they’d had verbatim, as if they were all important, “aunt Cissie said that, cousin Nigel thinks this, or that”, but she never told them what I thought. Aunt Faye and uncle Solly’s daughter Elsa was the prettiest female in the family, five years older than me, slim, with big blue eyes, long lashes and light brown hair. Whenever Elsa had a new boyfriend my aunt would brag how wonderful he was, and then my mother would tell me as if Elsa were all important, “what a wonderful young man… thinks so highly of Elsa”, but it was never vice versa. Aunt Faye and Elsa vaguely reminding me of Miss Havisham and Estella, not in a bizarre or eccentric way, merely mother doting publicly on daughter as if the rest of us cousins were of lower status. Even so, they always laughed as I entertained them with my humour, wit, and singing Esther & Abi Ofarim's 'Cinderella Rockafella'. Yet, no matter how often I pleaded my cause to build me up too, just once, her reply would be “well, they wouldn’t be interested”. Of course their behaviour wasn’t all her fault, she said they’d been jealous of her and were now taking it out on me. That even if she’d bragged about me, they just never wanted to hear, they only wanted to hear bad things about me because of their jealousy. But, if that were true then she ought to have protected me rather than jump at the first opportunity to slander me to those very people she professed not to trust. Yet, all too often my mother made me feel like the lesser, unworthy member of the family, never quite good enough to praise…. other than for my looks as one would a three year old, like a favourite toy doll. She herself could fail in every way, just so long as I didn’t, only I had to be faultless, on trial before the rest of the world who were my judge and jury. Nevertheless, at least my mother wasn’t violent, and violence, and the threat of it seemed to be the only communication my father ever had with me. At thirteen, I’d resented sitting indoors every Saturday morning, eager to go shopping with my mother, forced to wait for the postman who was due to deliver Lionel’s weekly love letter from Mousehole. One particular Saturday the letter hadn’t arrived with the first post, I’d persuaded her to come to the shops as promised, but, whilst we were out, the postman had called, my father had returned home and steamed open the letter with the postmark from Cornwall, and I was blamed by her forevermore for the break up of their marriage. Somehow, my father also indirectly blamed me, as if my very existence aggravated him, I was her daughter, ‘always gets her own bloody way’, and if she were in a mood, then for her I’d be merely ‘a chip off the old block’. But, after the incident with the letter he rarely spoke to me other than to shout or threaten violence. Again it had only been my mother who’d wanted me to go on the school skiing trip to Switzerland, my father said it was too expensive and was furious when my mother paid for it alone, he wouldn’t even contribute towards a pair of socks. It was the same with everything, she paid, he grunted. Yet, there was always money to waste on an excess of food let alone cigarettes. Poor aunty Faye would struggle herself in order to send my mother a £1 a week to help out, yet if they’d both cut down on the food and cigarettes the money would have mounted up. In retrospect, if he could have afforded to, he could have done the knowledge and been a black cab driver, for he knew every street in London, or even gone to university, but, in those days things were hard. He never borrowed, nor was unemployed, hard work the Jewish ethic caused the jealousy of the natives, and once the Jews had moved out from an area and the Asians had moved in, they also got abused by the white natives for their hard work and business acumen. Of course school was equally as problematic as my home life, even Christine, the friend who'd dumped me in Christchurch primary and never spoken to me since, suddenly approached me one day in the cookery class having ignored my existence for years just to tell me that the son of my local greengrocer whom I'd once dated had really wanted to date her friend at the time and not me. Why she had taken such delight in trying to hurt me I'd no idea, of course a sharper, rougher girl would have replied "well, at least he fancied me, and who are you going out with… he obviously wouldn't fancy you at all!" and then smacked her in the mouth, but of course she wouldn't have said it to anyone but me. All those years fat, thinking myself a lesser human being, but now I was slim I still felt the same, still too soft, good hearted, now a thin docile duckling. Of course scientists had yet failed to discover the physical link between passivity and obesity and would rather search for some psychological connection, and as the world would some day discover, neither psychiatry nor psychology is a science. But naivety did flow through my brain, and there was little I could do. Except of course take some comfort from the great philosophers who had expounded that if evil was not innately bestowed on cygnets, then understanding such evil in other, lower homo sapiens would have to be an art learnt by the innocent, evolving swans in order to survive. But, instead of taking that one step above those un-evolved, I didn’t want to believe that if I handed my peer the sword they would all so readily would want to use it, and I just couldn’t face being alone in a world where no seesaw had a seat for me, and so I tried to un-evolve in order to play in their playground, yet another step towards brain reduction. By the age of fourteen I was slim, apart from my thighs that would never be like Twiggy’s, and Twiggy was then the height of fashion. Yet, even though now half the size, my legs were causing pain to the point the hips were locking and giving way and my knees were always swollen. The G.P had been pointlessly treating me for housemaids knee since I was 12, whereby I spent months on end wrapped in cotton wool and thick bandaging all for nothing. When the point came where I could barely walk, the orthopaedic specialist Mr. Pryson decided that I had knocked knees, expounding that of course this was only due to having been overweight as a child, and never considered the fact that I’d been diagnosed with deformed knees and been in splints as a toddler, and never once offered a check up to see how the legs were growing during the whole of my childhood. My father was severely knock kneed and the state I was now in was obvious to any fool that it was wholly genetic and nothing to do with weight, and the need for surgery only due to gross medical negligence. But in my notes dated 17th December 1968 he’d not written of the toddler who was found to be so knock kneed that she was buckled nightly into splints, the two year old who’d never once been offered a check up once the splints had been removed. Nowhere in my medical notes did it condemn the medics for not regularly checking on the child with naturally deformed legs, Mr. Pryson had merely written, ‘As I feared, her epiphyses are already united and therefore there is nothing we can do to straighten her moderate degree of knock-knee short of an actual osteotomy in the lower femur. Fortunately, however, she seems to be in a much better frame of mind today and in rather better health, and her mother says that she has clearly been getting less discomfort in her knees than previously. It is, I think, reasonably reassuring that her pains are in fact only intermittent and I would be more worried if there was a persistent pain in either knee, but this does not seem to be the case and I think we must assume that what discomfort she gets is from some strain from her genu valgum together with the rather obese overweight condition from which she suffers’. Well, this was slightly better than his last diagnosis when my back healed more slowly than his text book training had anticipated when he’d suggested Librium for an apparently happy child, but a fat one whom he couldn’t possibly envisage could be both happy and fat. Well, at least now my knock knees weren’t due to depression, and I was now only ‘rather obese’ merely due to my slightly plump legs but blind to my now very slim body. But to his medically trained selective eyes syndrome he was oblivious to the fact that in all the photographs taken of me at that time and to everyone else I looked positively thin! My mother had taken me to the foot clinic only a few months prior to my operation to have the varuccas looked at. Although slim… apart from my legs, I still didn’t want to undress when the doctor asked to look at my knees, but he was concerned as to why I looked so miserable. My mother had used my painful legs and hips that constantly locked and gave way, and concern about the forthcoming operation as the excuse for my distress. It appeared that everyone else could no longer see a happy fat kid, but a desperately unhappy slim teenager. Even my teachers and friends would comment that I seemed so depressed, yet, as always, it was only my parents who were blind, blind to their major contribution to the cause of my mental state. Nevertheless, luckily for me this melancholy was not during a fat period or else it would be tranquillisers on offer and not surgery if Mr. Pryson had his way. Of course my legs weren’t the cause of depression, but it suited my mother to believe it, insisting always that I had a happy childhood no matter how often I told her otherwise. And, if I was upset then it was my fault ‘surly, moody, a chip off the old block’. I hadn’t wanted to strip in front of the foot specialist, it was humiliating, but not as humiliating as my mother who’d proceeded to rebuke me all the way home. “I was so embarrassed, your legs are too big to wear such small knickers!” What underwear should I have worn I’d wondered as I limped home, and of course, whilst she was so busy rebuking my father and myself, no one ever thought of examining one who was obviously so perfect. But as the 17th century writer John Webster wrote, ‘she hath no faults, who hath the art to hide them’. And, of course I hadn’t seen the true nature of my mother yet, blind to her words, for, maybe, just maybe she hadn’t been as embarrassed as she was jealous. “Mummy, mummy, the girl went to see a chiropodist and said she wanted her feet checked…. But he said that he only did stripes”. Hips locking daily, knees constantly swollen and bandaged, with three varuccas on each foot, life wasn’t exactly a bundle of laughs, although of course now no one could blame the weight. My mother said that I probably inherited my knocked knees from her, as her own slightly touched together, but it should have been apparent to both parents as to where I'd got them. My father had suffered with his knees since army days, having all his cartilage' s removed, and when running across the Belgium beach he'd looked like a spastic, running with knees bent, crossed over each other, yet neither he nor my mother had ever noticed. And of course the medics who’d put me in splints as a baby had never bothered to offer one check up to see how the legs were developing, so I was to pay the price. Soon after the meeting with the doctor at the foot clinic I was admitted into hospital around October time. It meant breaking both femurs, a long and painful process, but there was little option. Of course that operation went wrong, perhaps an omen of things to come. The left leg didn’t set due to incompetent registrars, which meant a third operation to re-set it. I was in King George’s hospital in Ilford for 6 weeks, one leg in a traction and one leg in plaster and feet throbbing with veruccas (which I’d caught at Valentine’s Park pool having been dragged there daily by Mia , insisting that we parade about in our bikinis, her whole raison d’etre being men). Of course I’d learnt the innate nature of the nurse from my stay at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital years earlier and now was to be little different, for a little power to little people goes a long way. Naturally, the specialist Dr. Pryson said that I didn’t have veruccas… but I was the one who was eventually proven right. Although aunt Cissie lived near Gant's Hill, only a couple of miles up the road from King George's hospital, she only visited once or twice. On her last visit I was crying with pain from the plaster digging into my foot, it needed cutting the upper foot was numbed, the varuccas throbbing, causing the broken leg to move and the foot to cut against the plaster of Paris. But, my mother was not the greatest protector, and if she didn’t do something then, it would mean being left in agony another day and night. So I begged her over and over again to tell the nurse. Aunt Cissie was there with my cousin Nigel, her only response to the young girl with both legs broken was to say, “come on Nigel, we’re going home, Poppy’s just showing off!” . Of course one of the legs didn’t set properly, but I took it all well returning to theatre having it re-set whilst awake, took it all so well, the bitchy nurses, no t.v or entertainment for 6 weeks. In fact nothing got me down until they placed a senile old lady next to me, and then day and night the voice would cry “nurse! Nurse! Can I have a bedpan?” and then that achieved one more step towards mind blow out. Yet, even the mad old lady, and even having been made a cripple, I still couldn’t achieve a mental breakdown. It was whilst I was at home bedridden with both legs only just out of plaster when an ex boyfriend Barry and his friend had called unexpectedly. My bed was in the lounge, and my mother, knowing that I’d had no visitors since I’d been home still insisted on entering the lounge and watching Crossroads for the short duration Barry and his friend had sat by my bed, constantly interrupting our conversation to side with Barry when I tried to sarcastically rebuke him for standing me up six months earlier. Her excuse for ruining that afternoon was that she never missed Crossroads, and obviously had no concern that the visitor had once stood up her fourteen year old daughter. Yet, within a few months she said that she hated the programme and never watched it again. I’d only just started walking, still using crutches and begged my mother to go shopping with me as my first excursion out in two months. My father wanted to watch the t.v., so eventually my mother agreed to walk with me. I didn’t get far, it was only in the next street where I passed out. Somebody sent for my father who came in the car, my only concern was whether he’d be furious for having disturbed him. The January of 1970 I turned fifteen, flaunting my new legs at Ilford Palais. Well, in truth flaunting my slim body and one knee, the right one. As for the left knee, it was twice the size of the right one. I kept it bandaged, believing it was swollen from the operations, or that I needed to lose more weight, now only 8 stone. Of course the surgeon Mr. Pryson, who’d years earlier had recommended to my G.P who thankfully had ignored his suggestion that an eleven year old apparently happy child should be administered Librium only due to back pain which he’d failed to cure in text book time schedule, would be last to admit that my leg having never set correctly in the first place was any fault of his, causing lifelong pain and slight limp. Never throughout the following 30 years did anyone ever realise that it was permanently deformed from their handiwork. Nowhere in my medical notes did it mention having been in splints as a toddler and that not one medic had ever sent an appointment to have my legs checked, not even once throughout my whole childhood after the splints had been removed…Yes, it was to be my fault whatever they did wrong, always blaming the patient if they messed up, if a stone or two overweight then weight would be the cause, if slim, then psychology would be the cause, as never would it be entered in my file that they had messed up the op. Never did one of those sight challenged medical morons notice one knee twice the size of the other and offer at the very least plastic surgery so that I could at least look like other girls and not always feel guilty as if I were some way to blame for overeating and the calories all piling only onto the left knee. Nevertheless, I was now very slim for the first time in my life and apparently pretty too, and suddenly the young mohaired, Brut smelling men were flocking around me at Ilford Palais. Whatever group of friends I’d gone with, it would always be me getting asked to dance, whilst they stood and watched enviously. Other girls from my school would be there, those who had assaulted me in the past, causing me to feel so physically inadequate, yet they rarely, if ever got asked to dance, least of all any boy telling them that they were beautiful. Yet, psychologically I couldn’t handle it, for inside was still the fat, unconfident, bullied child. As for my childhood jailor Mia, well she’d liked me as her best football… until I began to blossom, when I’d lost four stone, when I got the men and she didn’t, it was then when she couldn’t cope. Throwing tantrums, demanding attention from any male who was with me without shame nor pity, she just couldn’t bear being second best, her friend the fat docile duckling had become a swan. So, whenever Mia bumped into me there and I was with a young man, she’d throw a tantrum insisting I walked home with her, even though I hadn’t spoken to her for years, or even insist on walking back with my partner and I, throwing another tantrum that she was going to have to go home alone, as if she expected the young man to dump me to walk her home. Yet, I knew full well she’d never have done it to the other girls at school. Although everyone thought her a tart, her boobs always arriving five minutes before she did, she had respect due to the fact that she had aggression, and could beat up a boy as easily as she could a teacher. She reminded me of the singer Lulu, they looked similar, round faced and large, green eyes and she was interestingly her favourite singer. For most of the time she’d ignore me at school, not even pick me for her sports team even though I was now slim when she picked the fattest or ugliest just to keep in with her gang… but never me. Then that same evening she would appear on my doorstep like a best friend expecting to use my home, food and clothes. But, we had a Lulu of our own, whose name was Lucille a pupil in our class, and someone it was cool to be seen with. Yes, our Lulu seemed to have Mia ’s admiration in every way. The girl was the envy of us all, beautiful, slim and ultra confident. How everyone had rushed to the window to watch her at barely 14 years old being picked up for lunch by her gorgeous 20 year old boyfriend Bradley in his smart car. But there was no way Mia would knock on her door, as then she’d have to take the back seat. What I failed to see was, it had little to do with Lulu’s looks as to why no one took liberties, it was all to do with attitude. For had Bradley been collecting me, Mia would have been down to the car like a shot thrusting her breasts into his ignition. My father, although he himself had had a fairly privileged background, seemed to resent the fact that I hadn’t gone to work at 15, he had no desire for private education let alone sending me to college, it was only my mother who seemed to want the best for me. My friends were taking Saturday jobs for pocket money, so, in order that my father might think better of me, I did likewise. Yet, how it hurt my legs climbing up the rickety steps in the store room of Ravels shoe shop in Ilford High Street during that Christmas rush. And my father didn’t love me any the more for it. “Go on, show your father” my mother insisted when I put on the mini kilt she’d bought me. I didn’t want to show him, he frightened me, I knew his reaction would be negative. Yet, secretly I thought he might love me now that I wasn’t a fat little kid, perhaps he’d be proud of his new slim daughter. “Bit short isn’t it?” he grunted, returning to his newspaper which had protected him from communication ever since I could remember. Rarely he’d ever give me a lift, even when using a stick. And if I were out late and there were no buses home, there was no way I would have dared phone him to collect me. Paddy had danced with me at the Palais one Sunday night, girls from my school looked on enviously. How odd, the girls who ignored me, treated me like the unworthy one were now all ignored by the young men whilst I had my pick. He took me to Southend-On-Sea for the day in his Ford Anglia which had flashy headlights, and we laid down in the boiling sun all afternoon until I got a headache. Long dark hair, pretty face, tight little top, mini skirt, with one knee larger than the other which I kept bandaged thinking that it would deflate some day in the near future, or that I still wasn’t quite slim enough in one knee. Sadly for it would take me another thirty years to realise that it was a surgical cock up that would last a lifetime, and no amount of dieting would give me a slim knee, the medics should have known at that time my leg needed further surgery and only plastic surgery could ever resolve its deformity. I hadn’t liked Paddy much, he was a 19 year old Catholic of Irish stock, his one interest was pubbing, and I was only 15 and still into growing up. I’d wanted to go to the fairground rides, buy the cowboy hats… but he just wanted his beer. He’d stood me up a few days after the Southend fiasco, and I didn’t realise who was behind it at the time. Unfortunately for me, I’d left my handbag in his car, so had to go to his house, where typical drunk, was still in bed at 3 in the afternoon. Instead of just going to his car to give me the bag, he’d insisted on driving me home, and asked me out again. My mother had pushed her way into the lounge, when she would never bother if I’d been in there on my own, and instead of saying ‘you stood my daughter up the other night!’, she politely asked “would you like a cheese sandwich with your tea?” And, after she’d left the room he’d rudely complained that he didn’t like butter and didn’t eat the sandwich, and of course once again stood me up that night after pleading for an hour for another chance. I couldn’t understand why my mother had made him so comfortable, he had stood me up after all, yet, here she was treating him like a king, and her own young daughter as totally worthless. Yet, it was even more strange to my young mind, when my mother re-entered and leant forward over the piano, her skirt rising high above her knees as she spoke to him, too young to see, now a blind, ultra slim docile duck. Two major clues for the taking, yet, I’d missed them both. My mother never would have offered a cheese sandwich to any of my guests if they’d been female, in fact she’d have ranted and raved for my bringing them home, secondly, I didn’t realise that there must be some unknown quantity as being the reason for my being stood up. Yes, I was green, but not as green as the teeth belonging to the girl whom I’d been stood up for. Paddy, although fairly good looking was a low life nevertheless, yet even I was shocked to discover that he’d got himself engaged to his friend Sammy’s sister… Constance Bacon, the same who’d stolen the raffle money. It wasn’t just her character, she had green, discoloured, gummy teeth, black rimmed glasses, and from that day on I should have known that men were beyond logical analysis, merely un-evolved Neanderthals, in particular Irish men, who sadly for me were the only ones I seemed to be attracted to and vice versa. All those years fat, believing it to be a major disability in attaining the full quota of pleasure which life had to offer, accepting a second rate existence, abuse from my peers and parents alike. Yet, even now that I was slim, someone like Constance had been preferable to me… and that was when I first realised that I’d got off on the wrong planet. It was the summer after my operation I’d toured with the Redbridge Theatre Workshop, performing the musical ‘The Matchgirls’. French students came to join us during one week during that summer, and the music played….‘In the summer time when the weather is high’ and most of us felt that we really could reach up and touch the sky. Abby was my best friend at school, a slim, blonde haired girl, who’d been lucky enough to go to Clarks private school but had decided she didn’t like it, and came to Dane Secondary dump to join in with the plebby patois of cockney cum Essex slang. Not a breathtakingly beautiful girl, but prettier than most in our class, she had more discipline then myself, she’d diet rigidly, I’d cheat and my weight slowly crept up, unable to live on the one tomato and piece of cheese which Abby consumed, even the English teacher told her off for looking so haggard. But Abby was so neat and sensible, I was slovenly in my school uniform, chronically depressed and so very wild. We would go to Ilford Palais together every Sunday night, dressed up to the nines. Nevertheless we wore our miniest dresses, highest heels, hearts beating with excitement as the lights went down, the florescent stars had appeared on the Palais ceiling and the boys would make their way over. Pushing their mohaired clad legs in between mine, pressing their unwelcome penis against me as we danced. I should have known then what their genetic code was, just Y Y and forever ‘why?’ Although I believed in equality, even before feminism became fashionable, I still had to conform to the world, act the part of lesser female if I were to be accepted. And so now began the new game which I would have no choice but learn to play or else there’d be no boyfriends, and no empathy from girlfriends who were happy playing in the substandard playground. Men were the leaders, which meant that as most of my boyfriends were less intelligent than myself, I existed in constant denial. And this was to be my first major effort in brain annihilation. How I tried not to think, to wish I didn’t think, at least I wouldn’t be so aware that they were lying when they did, trying to believe they were brighter than they were, wanting them to be better than I, now ashamed of my own intellectual advantages. As Simone de Beauvoir argued, woman can take only when she makes herself prey, she must become a passive thing… ‘Woman knows that she is not considered apart from her appearance’. And, as I was soon to learn, men didn’t like women who were equals, ones who were sharp, witty, which was why so often they chose girls much younger than themselves, in order to control. I’d gone on a double date for Abby’s sake, she was obsessed with a creep called Gary, so we’d gone out with them both. I didn’t seem to get on with mine that well, and it wasn’t long after when he boyfriend started to pester me over the phone asking me out. He’d managed to get my number by telling Abby that it was for his friend, but I’d declined, not least out of loyalty to my best friend. We’d double dated another time, when she had a crush on one of the duo who’d stopped in a Mercedes when we were walking home late at night along Brisbane Road. I’d wanted to walk on, but she insisted on stopping and chatting to the passenger. Both men claimed to work in Fleet Street, but, even at 15 most of the men I met in Ilford Palais (a few years later changing it’s name to ‘Tiffany’s’) all said the same, that they worked in Fleet Street. Both men claimed to be 21, and wanted to go on a double date, although they were both engaged to other girls, and both happened to be called ‘Jim’. Although I’d told Abby I definitely wasn’t interested, as the Jim she was set on was a billion times better looking than Jim the owner of the car, but eventually I gave in for her sake. Whilst I was stuck in the Merc with the ugly one whose car it was, with him playing intimacies with my underage body, although Abby had promised that this wouldn’t happen, she went walkabouts with her more handsome Jim. Prostituting my body for the sake of friendship, yet would she have ever done the same for me? Not long after that I met Pete , still only 15, he was 17. He’d hassled me at Ilford Palais to dance with him even after I’d constantly refused. “Please” he begged, standing in his smart shirt and trousers, “please just one dance because my friends are watching”, so the duck who had now started plumping out again, ended up dating him. He owned a sheepskin jacket and rode a scooter, and although he’d not taken his test, I occasionally travelled on the back of it. How often he’d begged me to get engaged, but I was only a kid, and hadn’t begun my life yet, and anyhow, I’d wanted to be a professional actress. Of course Mia , although I hadn’t befriended her for years, suddenly heard I had a boyfriend, and the same evening appeared on the doorstep insisting to come in. She spent the rest of the evening putting me down in front of Pete and refusing to leave, “I’ll go after you make me another cup of tea” she’d sadistically taunted, between fluttering her eyelashes at Pete. “I’ll go after I’ve had another cigarette” and yet, if I were to call at her home and she had a boy visiting, I wouldn’t even be allowed through the door. “Right, well come on Pete, we’re going upstairs” I’d said, rising from my seat. “That’s not very nice when I’ve come to see you” she slyly grinned. But, to my horror Pete refused, how Mia smirked, for had the roles been reversed, not only would I have been thumped, her boyfriends would have merely followed her, and left me sitting alone. That same evening I’d tried to dump him, but he was upset, arguing that he didn’t realise what she was up to and just hadn’t wanted to be rude and of course my mother had intervened, blaming me for allowing Mia through the door in the first place, having no interest about Pete failings whatsoever. Yet, I didn’t love him, and had no intention of staying with him, not long term, but every time I tried to finish the relationship he’d begged me not to, he loved me so he said, couldn’t live without me. He’d frequently buy me gifts and gave me his favourite Animals disc, ‘The house of the rising sun’. And, some months later, being a good friend, I’d set Abby up with Pete’s best friend also called Pete. Another of his friends John, had been the first on the list to have a blind date with her. They’d spoken over the phone, and arranged to meet at my home. She’d got all ready, even brought her overnight bag, but then Pete phoned to say that John had called off at the last minute because he didn’t like the sound of her voice. Yes, her voice was perhaps too much like her mother’s not her best attribute, but not so bad that she should be stood up. And so, it was Pete who ended up with her. Pete had minus 3 personality and matching looks and took an obvious dislike to me and also he and Abby didn’t like each other. But, as the love genomes would have it, they eventually hit it off. Although far less promiscuous than myself, as I’d already lost my virginity to Pete , not out of lust, purely for biological interest. I’d also wanted to ‘do it’ before I was sixteen, just because it was illegal, it made it more of a novelty. Although I was a little despondent when it happened, as Pete failed to reply when I said, “did you hear the one about Adam, the first thing he said to Eve”. Seemingly he’d engrossed himself with fiddling with my innards, but I didn’t let it deter me as I moaned out in discomfort, “Adam said ‘stand back, I don’t know how big this thing gets’” Abby would sometimes sleep over, and both Petes’ would come and stay the evening. I had two mattresses on my bedroom floor, one for me and my Pete, one for Abby and her Pete. Of course we never went to Abby’s house, for her parents would never have allowed it, but I nagged, my mother was too soft and gave me whatever I wanted, apart from her time. In fact, she didn’t really seem to notice me at all in those days, just working hard, and going out to a lonely hearts club. She didn’t seem to mind boys entering the house, it was just girls, but she tolerated Abby so long as there was a Pete with her. “Oh Abby, your Pete’s got a big head like that Paddy you once went out with Poppy” she came out with in front of the boy himself, much to my embarrassment. She didn’t mean a ‘big head’ attributing to him a quality of arrogance, she’d meant it literally, in the physiological sense. Yet, how was she able to recall Paddy so clearly, she’d only met him briefly once or twice. It was strange how my mother would suddenly have a tantrum when Abby had called over by herself, and even when I’d been on the phone to her, my mother would stand ranting and screeching outside my bedroom door even though she’d ignored me for all the hours I’d been in the lounge with her. She was the same to all my girlfriends, but never the men. My Pete worked in a bank at Stratford, the bank was changing to decimalisation and he had to work late. One night in early December, after my mother had gone out to her club Pete didn’t turn up. He was never late, he knew the phone number, so I sat worried sick. Eventually he appeared, “I’ve just come straight from the hospital… knocked down by the security van outside the bank” he’d elucidated. “They took me to hospital but all I kept saying was ‘I have to get to Poppy, I must see Poppy’”. It didn’t seem to make much sense, but he was crying in my arms. He claimed that he hadn’t come on his scooter, said that the doctor had given him a lift. I’d tried to dump him on numerous occasions, but he would cry, beg, and of course my mother would butt in so that I ended up staying with him for about three months. He gave me a garnet ring for my Christmas gift the week after the security van incident, pleading that it should be an engagement ring, but I declined the offer. However, he sent me the most wonderful Christmas card, large and padded telling me how much he loved me and always wanted to be with me and how I made him so happy. It was just a few days after Pete had given me the garnet ring having spent the day begging me to get engaged, as he seemed to do since the first week I’d known him, when suddenly his pleading took a different turn, “please Poppy, it might be our last chance”. But I didn’t love him, and I had plans of my own on the stage, I was only 15 after all. Once again I tried to end the relationship, but he said he loved me, having sent me cards full of love poems, and I just didn’t know what to do. My left knee which had never healed since the surgery due to the medical cock up had started hurting yet again. So I’d returned to see Mr. Pryson at King George’s Hospital getting there on the back of Pete’s scooter. I’d put on weight since I’d been with Pete, about a stone and a half in all, but still wasn’t fat. In my notes to my G.P on the 15th December that year Dr. Pryson wrote ‘A note about your patient Poppy Iyzs, who is very much overweight and still continues to complain of some pain in her right hip and right knee and a tendency for her left knee to give way. X-rays taken today show that the osteotomy sites have healed satisfactorily and I think there is no organic reason why these should still be causing her trouble. X-rays of her hips also show no evidence of any abnormality but she is about ten and a half stone, which for her height is far too much and gives the impression of being rather fat and flabby. I have urged on her the necessity to lose some weight and I hope that, if she comes to you, you will be able to reinforce the importance of this’. Oddly, he’d never mentioned the fact that the leg hadn’t set and had to be re-set by his bumbling registrars, and that for the rest of my life, even at 8 stone the leg was obviously, and visibly deformed and the fact that his X-ray hadn’t shown it was physically deformed was not the patient’s fault. In no way did my face nor torso give the impression of being either fat or flabby, able to still look good in a bikini, only a size 12, sometimes a size 10, and inundated with the admiring attentions of young men. Only my legs could be considered plump, just the way I was made, not my fault, no different from someone with skinny legs or red hair, and not from a gluttonous intake of food. Of course they’d never noted the numerous times I’d been 8 stone, for they never bothered to weigh me then as they couldn’t use it as a cop out. What Dr. Pryson should have entered was that the leg had not set according to plan due to his own incompetence, it had to be re-set, and the left knee was now permanently deformed, bowed and slightly shorter and twice the size of the right one and should possibly be re-broken and re-set or at least admitted for cosmetic surgery instead of leaving that young girl to believe that if she reached seven stone her knee would reduce in size and match the right one. The biggest joke was, that some years later, when I was exactly the same weight and height as I was then my G.P told me that I was too thin!! It was soon after my rejection of Pete’s engagement proposal when he suddenly said that he would have to have a break due to an epileptic problem. It didn’t make any sense, neither did the fact that I’d heard he’d had a works party but hadn’t invited me. His excuse was that we might argue there, but the young man was still constantly harassing me to get engaged, and each time I wanted to break up with him he’d be devastated. Now he was begging me to stand by him until he was better. So when Abby invited me out for a New Year’s Eve drink with her and Pete at the White Horse in East Ham, I’d agreed. But, due to certain things she said, I knew that something was wrong, and that maybe Pete wasn’t lying in bed sick but out at the works party. But, Abby refused to give details, as girls never seemed loyal to their friends as did men, apart from myself that was for having once prostituted myself for her. I’d left the White Horse early, too upset at Pete strange behaviour. Even though I hadn’t wanted to get serious I had agreed to remain faithful, he needed me to stand by him he’d cried, just until he was better. I could never hurt a boyfriend, so I always pushed it so that they’d dump me, then I’d be devastated, perhaps I had the makings of a masochist. Utterly confused, I’d gone to Pete ’s home after I’d left the pub against the wishes of Pete . Cheryl his young sister said that he was out at the works party. How could he be out, he was supposed to be so ill, I wasn’t even allowed another boyfriend until he got better. I’d caught the bus home to Ilford, and then bumped into the local yobs outside the Cranbrook pub trying to get off with me, but I was in tears, there was to be no New Year’s Eve celebrations for me. The following morning my father had entered the kitchen, thrusting a gift of a velvet choker into my hands. He seemed animated, happy for once. Usually he’d avoid me, but on this particular new year’s day he was almost normal. I was upset due to Pete and told him. It was the first time I’d ever been able to share a problem with my father, “forget him” he’d advised. Easier said than done, it was difficult to progress with a future life when the facts weren’t clear about my present one. Pete had emotionally blackmailed me, and I had the biggest conscience since the initiator of self flagellation. I could cope with being dumped, I could cope if he didn’t love me, what I could never cope with were lies, and how the person I’d spent so much time with could so easily deceive me without conscience nor shame. Other people just seemed able to live for themselves, but I couldn’t, I bled for the whole human race wanting to cocoon the world in a blanket of compassion. Guilty for their pain, and equally guilty for my own. My father had gone to bed by the time I’d left to catch the bus to East Ham, I’d go and see Pete’s parents, ask them to tell me the truth. How often I’d gone over it in my mind, that he refused to take me to the works party, yet insisted on seeing me, giving me a ring and telling me how much he loved me. When his mother answered the door I burst into tears, saying that I didn’t know what to do as Pete had said I had to stand by him because he was so ill. His mother looked at her husband and both were furious with their son, and like my own father told me to forget him. Apparently he’d been to the works party on that New Year’s Eve with another girl, and hadn’t returned home that night. Others learnt the rules after just one lesson, yet I didn’t want to learn, I didn’t want the world to be a battleground, nor become diseased in order to survive, I refused to change. Striving for the ultimate truth at all times, I longed for purity of the soul, and didn’t want to bandage my wounds with the negative survival kit as others seemed to do, to corrupt what I believed was the ultimate good within me. Was I more morally, spiritually evolved, although life would be a constant, lonely struggle to survive without the kit, or was I merely pathetically naïve? For Plato way back in the 3rd century B.C, quoted what he termed as Pindar’s question, ‘should I by justice or by crooked deceit scale this high wall and live my life guarded and secure?’ Back at school I tried to get over what Pete had done, no matter how hard I tried, I just could annihilate my brain and just crack up into memory repellent paradise. It wasn’t so much Pete himself that was the problem, it was how I’d believed his lies, how would I ever be able to believe any man if this little nobody was such an expert at deceit. Abby sat next to me in the classroom, and suddenly came out with how she and Pete had known from the start that Pete had met another woman at work, and his late nights in the bank had been counting out the number of decimalised nipples rather than coins. Neither had there been any accident with a security van knocking him over, the only security he’d been interested in was his own. How Abby had insisted on elucidating how both she and Pete had spent the previous evening gone out for an evening with Pete and his new ‘so beautiful’ girlfriend, a girl she had known about for some time but never told me. Yes, so beautiful Abby stressed, ”such a fun person, and they never argue, not like you did with Pete”. Why my best friend not only had lied to me for the past few months, but got such a buzz from watching me cry I was unable to comprehend as I ran off into the cloakrooms to weep. Diana Phillips a small, pretty black girl found me there and encouraged me to return to the classroom. Poor Diana, never did anything wrong but the teachers were constantly picking on her, reducing her to tears. Lived with an aunt, parents must have sent her over for a better life, too shy, too sweet for Dane zoo. She’d invited me to her church once, but I didn’t go. I was Jewish…. and I wanted to be wild. Abby was grinning when I returned to the class, “anything wrong?” she asked cruelly. Why was she being so hurtful, I was her best friend, none of it made sense. How she’d gloated about her planned trip to Spain with Pete and his family. Yet, I never said a word about Gary. Even several months after when, just prior to her inoculation Pete had dumped her as he’d met another girl on his first trip abroad that year, I’d supported her all the way, even though she hadn’t done the same for me. But, my compassion was short lived when, at school one morning at assembly she’d cruelly sneered, “your ex Pete called over last night, brought the handbag my Pete bought for me on holiday. He was really pleased to see me, do you know, he said that he’s always fancied me. Then he gave me a long, long kiss goodbye. Then he said, ‘do you know Abby, I’ve wanted to do that for a long time”. Of course she wouldn’t have dared to say it to some of the other girls in our class, least of all Mia or Lulu as they’d have thumped her. So why was she doing it to me? Should I have told her about Gary? Instead, the next time he phoned I invited him babysitting with me, yet, I was still too soft to tell her and cause her pain. And then it was Mia’s turn to reappear having once again gone out with her other friends to the Palais, upon noticing me getting all the male attention, her sitting duckling… once again I found myself being controlled by the pretty tyrant with big breasts, demanding I didn’t walk home with a young man who’d danced with me, as she had no one. Although the same short stature as the topless model Samantha Fox, Mia was far prettier with lovely green eyes, and would always rule the game. She’d started calling round to my house on a regular basis, even dragging me along on a double date with her cousin boy Fred. To her horror, the moment he set eyes on me he seemed in love, to the point we dated for several months. His favourite band was T. Rex, and although only 17, he always dressed smartly, although I was too easy to please and ended up most dates at his local, where the topless go go dancers performed. Most weekends I’d end up travelling from Ilford to his parents flat near Liverpool Street station, and making my own way home at 1 a.m. battling with all the other nuisance males on the way. It was over when I discovered that the week he claimed to be working away, he was actually going on another date. I was devastated, not so much about losing him, but that boy Fred felt that he’d needed to lie. Of course I only saw it from my own wounded perspective, totally oblivious to the fact that I’d made it clear that I went out with other men. I’d even told him to get a test at the Whitechapel clinic to check that he hadn’t contracted a venereal fungus disease from me, no wonder he’d been looking around elsewhere. But, I’d just started to take the pill… and of course I couldn’t let that go to waste now… could I? ‘Well she’s a woman of gold and not very old u-huh-huh’ (T. Rex) ‘Let’s Play Sex’ was the next playground where I swung. Confidence hadn’t matured with my looks, the duckling now a swan who didn’t know how to fly. I needed love, someone to carry my ego for me, reassure me, but there was no- one. My mother was too absorbed with her own marital problems, her own ego, never wanting to listen to my ‘rubbish’, just constantly telling me how pretty I was. I’d been her novelty child, whom she’d doted on and absorbed herself in until she’d bored with my father, and then I too had been dumped. My father was supposedly working all the time, but I could never have spoken to him. He resented my intrusion into his marriage, I sometimes believed that he actually hated me. On a few occasions, modelling myself on my elder cousin Elsa’s actions towards her own father, I’d cautiously approached him as one who had entered a dragon’s cave, and placed my arm gently on his shoulder whilst he sat in ‘his’ armchair, desecrated unto him alone, hiding behind a book and an eternal cloud of smoke. On this unique occasion of display of affection, the moment my father felt the warmth of my hand lightly rest on his jumper, his loving response had been to bellow “don’t!” Even though I’d put on weight from the pill, I looked curvaceous and not fat. My face, with its high cheek bones looked slim, my large almond eyes black lined with false eyelashes had fluttered just once and the men had run towards me like brainless Christmas turkeys. And, as long as they chose me above all the other girls as first choice, then I’d achieved, and my ego had survived yet another day. Their desire was my only criterion for acceptability and success. Naively, I mistook their desire for affection, and mistakenly, I’d thought that I was in control. Nevertheless, my sexuality had suddenly given me power over this strange gender, uncomfortably napping whilst their hot, steamy bodies gyrated above me, pleased when they dumped the other girls with skinny legs and pretty faces in favour of me. Yet, I’d never loved any of them, my friends constantly rebuking me if I found fault with a boyfriend, telling me that I wanted too much, but, why shouldn’t I have had the best? Men scared me, it was due to my father, I’d known it all along, by sleeping with them I temporarily disarmed them. It felt good when they chose me to sleep with above the other girls, they thought me beautiful, exotic, innocent, and had the most ‘beautiful eyes’ they’d ever seen. Nevertheless, I was always baffled why my one night stands felt so guilty that they couldn’t even look at me the following morning, infuriated by their egos, their conceit that they’d dared to think that I’d want to stay with them. They were life’s takers, seeing only from their own perspective. Women were different, their only interest was to please the men, pandering to their tastes and desires. Of course I knew how to project the chaste look, that’s what often lured them, for men all wanted the eternal virgin, perhaps that was why so many of my lovers turned out to be Catholic. I despised them all, but mostly for their incessant need to lie prior to their poor penis performance. As for my own sexual satisfaction . . . nothing changes throughout the generations. What confused me even more was the fact that if I hadn’t slept with them, if I hadn’t tried to please them, they would have wanted me even more. But, those were the rules in the sexual playground. ‘Well, she’s faster than most and she lives on the coast u-huh-huh’. Every evening, after college near King’s Cross, where I studied drama amidst a bunch of egocentric starlets, only aware of the few who held me in contempt, I’d return to Ilford station and walk the long distance home to Brisbane Road, on a deformed leg that medics insisted was fine, constantly in pain trying not to limp, to be normal, join the world and be accepted into it’s playground of cloned players. Continually renewing my diet, my mother’s words of warning that I’d become ill if I didn’t eat played like a curse in my brain. I’d hear her voice in my head during sleep, or when I was spending the night in the bed of a stranger I’d met in The Room at the Top, Ilford’s main nightclub for over 21’s, situated above Harrison Gibson’s where the casino used to be. Many a night the gland ripened males, (mostly married unfaithfuls), questioned my origins, world touring my dark eyes, and long, black hair. They thought me `the double’ of either Cher or Elizabeth Taylor, depending on whichever way their fancy took them. But, when I confessed that I was neither from Italy, Greece nor Spain, but was Jewish, they began to gaze at the profile of my nose and refused to believe me, Ilford was my introduction to passive anti- Semitism. Yet, I'd slept with them, slept with them all, and there was one thing that they had in common, they were all incredibly useless in bed. As the Kinsey report had concluded, ‘for perhaps three quarters of all males, orgasm is reached within two minutes’. In fact, compared to me, Mia was like the virgin Mary, merely a teaser, nothing more, reminiscent of a politician her words outweighed her actions. The bouncers always let me in for free, they fancied me, yet also pitied me, telling me straight what they thought of my parents for letting a 16 year old go there, let alone walk home alone at that time of night. But, my mother was at her boyfriend’s and I rarely saw my father. Reubin, a Jew of 25 had signed me into the club when he’d seen me downstairs talking to the bouncers, he’d then pressured me to go back to his bedsit in Seven Kings as it was too early for the club to get going. How he’d gone on that he had friends who were film directors such as Roman Polanski and that there were parties I could be invited to, which was how the greatest actresses got their parts, but of course there would be a price to pay. And, obviously my kosher cousin Reubin was to assess my own performance. And so I’d played the game, aware that I would have entertained him just the same without all the spiel, but deceit was obviously a male turn on and who was I to have ruined his three minutes. What did surprise me was that once we’d returned to the club he gave me an address to go to in the West End. I’d turned up at the office during a college day, it was some sort of agency run by another Jewish man who looked to be in his fifties, and a younger man of about 25. Both men looked at my breasts and said that I was well developed for a 16 year old. Although naïve, not quite so much as to not have known the game they played, and so I played my own game, feigning such innocence that they both agreed that I should continue at college for the time being, rather than attend their celeb parties. Such nice Jewish boys… for pimps. As for The Room at the Top, it was like my second home. Sometimes I’d spend the whole evening standing downstairs talking to the bouncers, for anything was better than being in the house alone. Usually though, I’d seek out the best looking and wait until he glanced across, catch his eye… and then he was mine for the taking. Naturally, being an honest daughter, I confessed to my mother everything, but her only comment to her child who was sleeping with two or three different men in a week was not ‘precious beautiful Jewish princess, please don’t allow men to use you’ but jeered, “I don’t know how you can let them see your fat legs!”. Crawling out of the strange home where I lived, my ego naturally remained in the gutter, for, although I knew that I could get any man I fancied wearing my long dresses and false eyelashes, I couldn’t take it seriously, for if they’d see this Cinderella in the daylight undressed and without make up, the spell might end. The bouncers, like so many men would suddenly declare themselves experts, not only in female physiology of which they really knew nothing, but also the female mind, constantly tell me that I’d be a lesbian by the age of twenty the way I was going, that sleeping with so many men would eventually bore me and then I’d turn to women. Of course no one ever said the same to the hunky stud as he bragged about his ‘scoring’, he was never warned of the dire consequences of life long servitude to anal activities. Often too tired to go to college after late nights, my parents didn’t care either way, no one was interested in me, my father resenting the fact that I hadn’t started work at fifteen, my mother’s youngest sister, aunt Isobel, telling me how much I should appreciate my mother for letting me go to college and should take elocution lessons due to my cockney tones. How nice it would have been if someone said something positive to me, just once. Yet, my pronunciation un-received cousins weren’t working, they stayed on at school and went to university, and no one ever told them how to speak or how lucky they were… but then, I suppose their mothers didn’t constantly complain. But, she was tired, returning home from work at Selfridges in the hat department, buying me whatever I asked, speaking to me sweetly, lovingly. But always bragging to others, strangers to whom she’d never normally speak she’d insist on telling them what she’d bought for me, even telling me that aunt Mabel had turned up at Selfridges with my cousins and how she’d shown Leah the black cloak I’d just bought and left with her whilst I’d gone off somewhere. “I felt so sorry for Leah” she’d expounded upon my return. “She’d said to auntie Mabel how she’d have liked a lovely cloak like yours… Mabel just snapped that they couldn’t afford it…poor Leah”. Yes, my own heart went out to the cousin who’s favourite game had always been one of spite, saying to her younger brother “let’s not play with Poppy… Pop fat, Pop fat!” Perhaps morally I should give her my cloak and go without it, poor Leah. Why did my mother insist on showing it to them, she knew that sometime later they’d abuse me for being spoilt, why couldn’t she just buy me one item without telling the world. Nothing she said was ever to build me up to her family, almost as if she had an aversion to that, I was her mere golden globe award, a trophy of her devotion and generosity and so the world would think her a sacrificial wonder mother, and myself a spoilt brat. I’d never seen auntie Mabel laughing to her children or happy when they were around, perhaps Leah deserved the cloak… but I loved it too much to part with it… anyhow I still recalled not only the bloody nose but the occasion at our cousin Lawrence’s bar mitzvah when our older, pretty cousin Charlotte had been allowed to bring a male escort with her, even though apparently the only one she could find was gay. “I don’t think it fair” I’d moaned to Leah and Becky, one of Lawrence’s cousins from his father’s side, “if Charlotte could bring her boyfriend then why couldn’t we”. “Don’t be stupid Poppy!” Leah had barked, “who do you know who’d wear a suit?” Becky looked at me stunned by my cousin’s blatant rudeness, and I’d raised my eyes back as if to say, ‘this is how my family always treat me’. Nevertheless, inwardly I was devastated, too naïve not to look introspectively, too blind to see the green eyed kosher monster who’d never had a boyfriend in her life. How would she know if my boyfriends had suits, she’d never met any of them… too trusting to realise that all this negative anti Poppy information had neither hatched directly from either Leah or her family…it had all come from my mother whose hobby it was to discredit me to her sisters. My mother who so enjoyed flirting with any young man whom I brought home and never once showed an ounce of disapproval towards them, it was only females whom she faulted. Her sisters, her whole life constantly trying to impress them, confess to them the sins of others, her loyalty never to her husband or child as theirs was, I was her sacrificial lamb there to atone for her own imperfections. And to show she was penitent for pushing me to the limit whereby my bags were packed, she’d then buy me whatever she knew I’d wanted that month, so sweet, so innocent of blame. Yet, there was one gift my mother couldn’t buy me, that was happiness, my depression had set in long ago. How she’d looked forward to her evenings out at the lonely hearts club, I always knew about her life, her friends, her problems . . . but she was uninterested in mine, she would give me anything… anything but her time. Her only display of affection since I was a young child was to buy me things, I would happily have forgone a dress for a moment of quality time with her, the same time she gave to her sisters and lovers. Her problems were my problems and if I didn’t want to hear then she would punish me, my problems were of course my own. And with every relationship I ever had my head would spin, unable to get on with any other element of my life, my days spent analysing the mentality of whatever plonkhead I was with. As time wore on my mother had little interest in any sort of family life, out nearly every night with her boyfriend, frequently repeating the excuses generally along the lines of, “well, a woman in work said that you’ll be gone one day soon, so why shouldn’t I go out. I’m only here for your sake.” I reassured her that I wasn’t bothered, that I wanted her to be happy . . . we both hated my father. I’d listen for hours to her problems, and if ever I refused, my head spinning with it all, my young mind bursting until I could take no more, then I was ‘a chip off the old block’ and forced to look at my father’s dirty underwear that she’d had to wash, as if I were personally responsible. All her marital problems had become mine, and if I objected, she’d pick up the phone to her sisters and slander both my father and myself within our hearing . . . then she’d go out to the club, my head still spinning from her voice. That nagging, monotonous voice haunting me like a nightmare alarm, ringing for an eternity, a voice that no one could unwind. My mother had always needed men, for her ego, for support, yet, somehow, she’d managed to retain her dignity, and the world thought her a decent woman bordering on the middle class and prone to morality. Even her sisters appeared to advocate her adultery, it was alright, she was unhappy, my father wasn’t nice to her. Yet, apparently for me, a young girl merely to talk about boys had gained for me the title ‘boy crazy’, or, at least that’s what my mother had told me my aunts would say, and confirmed my belief that they didn’t like me. What her docile duckling failed to realise was, that it had nothing to do with any of my own shortcomings, it was all about her own image, that her daughter had to be perfect in everyone’s eyes. “They think you’re boy crazy….yes Poppy, I know you’re nicer that Leah, not spiteful, don’t tell lies…and of course beautiful, but she doesn’t talk about boys”. “Mummy, mummy why are men like laxatives…. Because they both irritate the shit out of you!” During my college days my mother had found herself a new boyfriend, someone from the club called Frank, her thoughts now taken up with him, her guilt thrust onto my shoulders. My mother constantly bragged about his daughter Susan who was about 5 years older than myself, and I always felt like a failure. He’d visited the house once when my father was out, I’d returned home to find him sitting in the lounge. In retrospect, I suppose I was hurt for my father, but at the time didn’t understand why I reacted as I did, but blasted out something about Paddy (of the Ford Anglia Bacon fame) and my mother. I suppose even what Mia had once told me had been stored somewhere, now to be released. It had been a few years earlier when she told me that she’d gone to a party and Paddy was there with Constance. Apparently he’d said to her that my mother had tried it on with him, I hadn’t believed it of course, well, not then. One evening in April the phone rang, “Poppy . . . it’s dad,” I was slightly taken aback, as I rarely saw my father, which suited all three of us. Strangely, the aggression had gone from his voice. “Phone mummy, tell her I’m in hospital”. “What’s the matter?” “I’m in hospital, they think it’s my heart”. “Mum’s at aunt Mabel’s it’s Seder night” now recalling my aunt Mabel having spoken to me on the phone several days earlier, trying to justify why they hadn’t invited my father, out of loyalty to my mother, and tried to persuade me to go, they just didn’t understand. She’d even offered to invite my father if it mattered so much to me, but I still declined, my loyalty uncertain of which side of the fence morality lay. She had her family and my father had his, I had no one. Yet, whatever he was, he still lived with us, he was still my father. “Yes, I know she’s at auntie Mabel’s, phone there and tell her where I am “. Even then it didn’t occur to me why he hadn’t phoned her direct if he’d been able to use a phone to phone me. “What’s the matter?” my mother demanded, having been summoned to the phone by her red bearded, Scottish brother-in- law uncle Hyman. “Dad’s in hospital!” “I’m not interested”. The following day I pleaded with her, begging her to visit him. “I know why he’s gone in” she’d sneered, munching into her peanuts, begrudging her evening in with me and not with her ‘gentleman friend.’ “Do you know what he said to me yesterday morning?…He told me to . . . piss off”. Personally, I couldn’t see that it was such a big deal, the students at college said it to each other all the time, I regularly said it to potential lovers, it seemed to turn them on. But, obviously it was something my father had never dared say before. What were words in any event, just sounds invented by someone, meaningless until we gave them meaning. ‘Piss off’ did it mean to urinate in a different direction, or perhaps it was just a fun if not somewhat vulgar expression, or was it merely a form of abuse? Even Wittgenstein argued ‘in the language of everyday life it very often happens that the same word signifies in two different ways’ The remainder of that evening was spent with me begging with her to visit him, eventually she relented. The following day I went alone on the long journey from Ilford to the hospital near Tottenham Court Road. It felt strange, I didn’t really know the man, we had no relationship, yet, he was my father, I was duty bound to love him, I was all that he had. “Mum’s coming tomorrow” I smiled nervously of the man whom I’d only known as a tyrant, tentatively handing him the gifts I’d brought. “I don’t want to see her!” So I trudged home and cancelled the appointment. Being an only child was just so… so riveting! My mother had been undisturbed by it all, she had her own private life, and I’d had to respect that, yet, the game wasn’t equally balanced. If one of my girlfriends sat chatting with me in my bedroom, the kind, placid, over-indulgent mother, would creep up and listen outside the door, eavesdropping on our conversations. Her behaviour would suddenly, and uncharacteristically become maniacal, so rude and hostile to these girls. Yet, if it were a boyfriend of mine, how differently she behaved, how she danced round them, offering them food and such a warm welcome, totally unconcerned as to whether they were suitable for her one and only daughter, even if she knew that they had abused me and I didn’t want to see them again. Mia occasionally called if she thought I had a new boyfriend, just to flutter her false eyelashes and lean forward to show her breasts. Of course I’d failed to realise that Mia’s treatment had little to do with what I looked like so much as how she could control the relationship. Other girls she knew, some ugly, others three times the size of myself, she never dared demand from nor abuse because she knew she’d never get away with it. How often she’d watch jealously as men would stare into my eyes and ignore her, even her own cousin she’d watched melting into my eyes, whilst her date ignored her. Mia just wasn’t used to being second best, and Mia was a screamer of course, the type of base creature, when vying for any male attention I’d be getting, would make some sort of howling noise, a shout, a squeal anything to be noticed. But she was pretty, a natural and I believed that I definitely wasn’t, Mia was Ilford’s answer to Samantha Fox. When would I be beautiful enough to win all the friends, be the person voted ‘most popular’ to join the girlie cliques. Even when I was slim, when I was the one at the Palais getting all the dances whilst my critics merely had to stand watching from the wings, still never gained me their respect. Yet, what I hadn’t realised was that looks weren’t the important factor into winning the friendship/ respect match, it all came down to the primitive power game of who could beat their breast the loudest in this strange jungle of female egos. The successful human was the egocentric, the person who placed him or herself first, never analysing their own actions towards others, never selfless, they were the main players in the game by their own authority. Yet, their greatest assets were neither physical, intellectual nor spiritual, their only attribute was the only one needed to survive in an animal world, they possessed the DNA of aggression. How passionately my mother and Mia hated each other, but I should have smacked Mia for saying that my mother was a ‘slag’, as my mother appeared to the world as a respectable, lower middle class, kind and attractive lady. Whereas Mia’s own mother was at least 18 stone, profoundly cockney, her only interest was going with her husband ‘rabbiting’ in the woods, slightly simple and far more worthy of ridicule. But, if I’d even thought of saying a word against her mother whom she’d adored, then she would have floored me without a second thought. Although I knew that Mia was in fact the worst friend anyone could have, what I didn’t realise was, that both she and my mother were so alike, well, at least in two areas. They were both jealous, especially of me, hated all other females, and of course, they were both man mad. How pleased Mia had been when my weight had gradually crept up from the pill, how easily I’d allowed her to get away with her constant exploitation, dominating, threatening, always siding against me, using me when there was no one else, knowing full well that there was nothing about me that she valued. I was just there to be used when others had discarded her, the eternal stooge, and why I’d both feared yet needed her, who knows. Perhaps I was lonely, unable to get a decent friend, or maybe the docile duckling just couldn’t say ‘Stop!’ It was early that summer of 71 when I’d met Doug. Mia had insisted that I go to Valentine’s park pool in order for her to parade in her bikini and me to wobble beside her in mine. She was going out with a recently separated East End docker then, Rusty. His married mate Billy had a crush on me, and when I’d mentioned that he should be spending his days off with his children, he’d dragged his poor baby daughter along. “My wife likes me to do this to her” he began as I held his pretty baby Tracy in my arms. Then he got a shoe lace and began to softly hit me with it, “my wife says it turns her on”. “I’m going in the water”. My body was okay, my red bikini looked fine, it was just my legs. “I’m staying here and sunbathing” was Mia’s response, as she happily lay in Rusty’s arms, her breasts sunburnt before the rest of her. It was only several minutes after I’d entered the pool when a handsome, moustached man dived in the water and made his way over towards me. Of course, the very moment Mia spotted me being chatted up, she flew out of Rusty’s arms and jumped into the water. Screams were now raging above the chlorine, shrieks loud enough to burst the ear drum. Having spied a man chatting me up and not herself was too much for her to bear. Yet, however loudly she shrieked, feigning it was due to the coldness of the water, the moustached man never once glanced round. And so that was the end of my sado- masochistic days in relation to a shoelace. His name was Doug, a 26 year old saxophonist who seemed besotted with me, and insisted on driving me home in his Triumph Herald. It was further to walk to his car than it would have been to walk home, but, then that’s what 16 year old girls do, so Doug and I started to date. I hated drugs, and I was only now discovering that the musician was also a drug pusher, and it had become a constant battle to convince him that I didn’t want any. After several weeks of constant badgering Doug managed to get me to swallow some speed, but the only attraction he had for a naïve 16 year old was his saxophone and Triumph Herald. Only 16, uninterested in a lifelong commitment and so only saw him on the condition that I could also date other men. But for me dating meant sex, it also meant having affairs with the middle aged bouncer from Room at the Top who’d taken numerous Polaroid’s of me topless in Epping Forest. Not always as naïve as I’d like to imagine, like on the day when my mother had said "if I discovered you were taking drugs Poppy I'd call the police". So off I stormed upstairs and returned with some hash which Doug had left in my bedroom, "go on then" I taunted lifting up the phone, "tell the police!" Frank had taken my mother to Butlins that same summer of 71’. She’d harassed me to go with, just to ease her conscience, but I’d been adamant. My father had also sneaked off later that summer to Belgium, telling us that he’d gone to the Norfolk broads, but he hadn’t invited me, he had no conscience. I was the only one that year who didn’t get a holiday. It was during the time my mother was at Butlins when my father was suddenly different towards me, as if he’d been a stranger, starting to tickle me in a flirtatious way, as if he had forgotten I was his daughter. I knew that I had to protect us both, as if he weren’t all there mentally, alone with a young woman, as if she were someone else’s daughter. He even bought a cannabis joint from my boyfriend Doug. But, he didn’t smoke it, he’d only got it to leave conspicuously in the house for my mother to find on her return, causing me more stress than it did him. Both angry with each other, yet neither seemed concerned that their only daughter was going out with a drug pusher. That same week aunt Isabel had phoned. “Hello, how I you auntie Isabel?” “Is mummy there?” “No, she’s gone to Butlins”. “Well, I hope you appreciate what mummy’s doing letting you go to college….you should get elocution lessons Poppy, you speak far too cockney, you need to learn to speak properly if you want to be an actress”. Yes, well that was my family for you, I’d been the one who’d passed the audition out of the many who’d applied, I was the one whom my drama tutors said had talent, yet still not a kind word from my family. Obviously most of this was my mother’s doing, moaning to her sisters. But it wasn’t only my mother who held up my every burp and fart for public analysis. There was of course the Narcissistic, big breasted, mouthed and fisted Mia. Apparently my sex life, which had obviously been disclosed by Mia to Rusty, was of even greater interest to the East End dockers. In fact, according to Mia, they seemed to get far greater satisfaction from the sex life of a 16 year old, than I ever did. Mia had even set me up with one of Rusty’s married friends another docker, Jimmy. He’d met me at King’s Cross Underground after my guitar lesson at college. It was just a stupid game, pressured into against my will by Mia who had given him my phone number without my permission, but that was Mia for you. Sadly, for all concerned 26 year old Jimmy seemed to have fallen madly in love within the first week, saying how he’d wished he’d met me prior to a trial separation he’d had the previous year but now had a young baby, and like most men, had little interest as to whether the feelings were reciprocated. Mia had been telling me confidences about Rusty and Jimmy, and when it all came to a head she begged me to carry the can “well, you don’t care about Jimmy do you, but I love Rusty”. So, in order to protect her relationship I’d taken the wrap, so that put paid to me and the East End dockers, although I knew only too well that Mia would never have done the same for me. But, I wasn’t bothered, Jimmy had become a nuisance, phoning me up late at night feigning to his wife he’d gone out for cigarettes, expecting me to run at of the house to spend another hour together. So unaware, typically male, not even realising that I didn’t fancy him, the love affair had always been one sided. Trying to keep my studies going, I made vague efforts to continue my drama course. Poly was a plain, stocky pupil in my year, they called her Lee for short. For some reason she’d taken a particular dislike to me snubbing me, encouraging the others not to allow me entry into the club for budding starlets. Her favourite game being ‘let’s ignore Poppy.’ Although I’d been told that she’d enjoyed bullying girls at her previous school too, my wimpish nature cowered under her, there was little I could do. Ben, our tutor, seemed to adore her, always saying “lovely Lee,’ so there was no one whom I could tell. Of course the other students knew, but most didn’t care . . . and it was then that my eye make up analysis began. For the only interest she and a few other girls seemed to take in me was to criticise my make up. But, I was blind, locked in a cave of naivety, where I was the property of the world and never the judge, even though it was I who got the men and not them. Never did I concern myself with what they wore or absorb myself in them enough to constantly criticise or pick on anyone, just longing for the acceptance into their playground. Most people would have learned at that stage in life, if not before about the universal game called ‘jealousy,’ but not me, since my first day at Malmsbury Road nursery school I’d just wanted to fit into the jigsaw of friendship, to have a little girl think I was pretty enough to come up and say ‘can I be your best friend’. But, now that I was attractive, the men fancied me not them, so what was it that the world wanted? Lee didn’t have one boyfriend, I had loads, yet still I was treated like a leper. How hard I tried, never being rude, always there to be used . . . but, still I was alone, never a part of the crowd, the eternal onlooker. However, my cowardly spirit was forced to take hold of itself one particular day when Lee walked into the toilets and rained her fist into my arm for absolutely no reason. Who could I tell? Ben called her ‘lovely Lee’. Even Paul Ham, one of the few boys on the course, (who some years later hosted a children’s t.v. series, proving my theory that callous egocentricity ensured any ambitious performer success), made it obvious that he despised working with me, no matter how much our tutor praised me. Most of the other students wanted to be drama teachers and Ben had told them that was all they’d be good for, I was one of the only students he said had talent despite my depression and lack of enthusiasm to the course, least of all my constant absenteeism . At first, I thought it was due to my working class background that the attitude had arisen, particularly from Suzi a plump girl suffering from an acute outbreak of received pronunciation, who had long, ginger hair and a reasonably pretty face full of freckles. However, Suzi palled out happily with Polly, a pleb profound, and most of the drama clique, the unattractive goblins would all go off together . . . but, they rarely invited me. Helen, a small girl with a bubbly personality said that Lee had done similar cruelties to girls at their school and I should try and ignore her, but my question was, why did she have to pick me? What chemical did I emit that informed the animal world that I was up for being savaged. What I was blind to was the fact that firstly, it was only Paul and Lee who disliked me, the others were merely oblivious to it all. And, of course there were those like Gail whom I saw on a t.v ad years later, and Sonya, both beautiful girls, who were never invited to join the obnoxious little clique, and despised far more than myself, the difference being, they didn’t care. Life depended from the way it was viewed. For example Gail wouldn’t have worried why they hated her, for she held them as being totally worthless, so their rejection wasn’t even noticed, and she definitely didn’t wish to be associated with them. Only a girl called Jill, a pretty, friendly, vivacious blonde, invited everyone to her house near Shooters Hill for a Christmas party at the end of our first term at college. I’d taken Jean, the girl who used to work with my mother, we’d been to a party previously where I’d been chatted up by a guy she fancied, and she’d constantly put me down in front of him. I didn’t understand, because Jean was so pretty herself, looked the double of twiggy in virtually every way. Nevertheless, once again at Jill’s party she’d whispered “he’s nice” referring to the best looking guy in the room, just as the said young man turned to me and said, “wow, haven’t you got beautiful eyes”, which didn’t go down too well with Jean. She ended up with his less attractive friend, Suzi’s brother. The one I was with was called Dominic, a student of statistics at a London university. Suzi told me at a later date how much he’d liked me, he’d wanted my address, she’d give it to him sometime, perhaps. Dominic obviously didn’t mind my make up, but I never saw him again. Suzi now spent her spare time trying to flirt with one of the second year boys with whom I’d been dating previously. Steve lived in Harold Wood, did the lighting for the Queen’s theatre in Hornchurch, he came from a lovely, normal family who invited me to tea on Sundays and played the middle class game to perfection, whilst I felt like the abused leper, having crawled from the Brisbane Road fracas, carrying the shame for the parental circus at home and guilt for my own promiscuity. He’d wanted me to spend Christmas with him at his gran’s but I cooled off, I was in no fit state to play happy family charades in bourgeois-ville, and I was wild. Although I wasn’t in love with him, my ego was shattered when he’d dumped me. But, perhaps it had nothing to do with Suzi, but more to do with the fact in my naivety I’d told him of the men I’d been sleeping with at The Room at the Top during that Christmas vacation. Yet, as argued by the West Country philosopher Prof. Ron Atkinson in his book ‘Sexual morality’, ‘Sexual morality and morality generally come within the scope of intelligence. Moral thinking is continuous with humane, practical common sense.’ But sadly I lacked both, and my quest to achieve brainlessness and self destruction still remained unaccomplished. I’d met two different men on my 17th birthday, the 8th January, which I spent at Ilford Palais, now called 'Tiffany's', having gone there alone, as the girls I knew were either too immature to go out late or else too jealous to accompany me. Mia wouldn’t ever dream of going out with Lulu, who was far prettier than myself, I’d presumed that she’d always been too jealous of her to ever socialise outside school, although at the time, in typical duckling fashion I merely blamed myself as to why I had no decent female friends. Yet, it wasn’t Lulu’s looks which posed a threat to Mia, it was the fact that she would never have allowed her dominance. Martin was a sailor, he’d arrived with his friend and felt that he couldn’t abandon him that evening, but we arranged to date. It was the end of the evening, the lights down, the artificial stars glowing from the ceiling above as the slow dances began to play. Already having refused the various men who’d asked me to dance, I sat down in a nearby chair exhausted, having little idea why I didn’t go home. My left leg, still damaged from the operations would hurt after a few dances, and so I just watched the two dozen clubbers who were still left on the dance floor. It was then when Christie had approached, a cloned mod, smart and handsome in his mohair suit and smelling of Brut, tall, shoulders back, cropped hair, dark, intense eyes and spoke in grunts. “Do you wanna dance?” “No thanks”. “You what?” he’d snarled, as if he was about to smack my lip rather than kiss it. “Okay, yes, I’ll dance”. "What's your name?" "Christie" “Christine?” "Christie!" he shouted above the music. Well, never heard that name before, sounded a bit odd for Ilford. He looked like a young, darker version of Paul Newman “You look like Cher”. Well, that was a start I supposed, but then not very original. He said that his hobby was boxing, which seemed to be the same hobby of many of the best lookers there. “Had to give it up, didn’t want to get ugly”. “My mum’s cousin was a boxer”. “What’s his name?” “Al Philips” “Oh, the Aldgate Tiger!” Yes, I was proud of the man whom I’d only ever seen once from a distance at a family bar mitzvah. Even when he’d walked me home in the early hours of the morning over the dark, secluded Plessey bridge, I was terrified as he pushed against a side door that opened onto the steps leading down to the railway lines, but thankfully it was locked. A man from Tiffany’s had tried to rape me only a few months earlier, but I’d never learnt the dangers of going home with a stranger. By the time that we reached Brisbane Road I was a total wreck. Then suddenly he pulled me into a garage forecourt, pushing me hard up against a brick wall pressing himself onto me, it felt more like I was fighting off a potential rapist, than being with a lover. But, my relationship with Christie never got off the ground, as with every date there was something he would do which would leave me devastated, and I always felt as if he found me merely usable until something better came along. Yet, for some reason I was ashamed of my time at the Room at the Top, scared someone might tell him, sadly, if I’d been a male it would have been entered on my c.v. Too honest, that was my problem from the day I was born, confessing my sins to one and all, unable to even consider deceit. Our first date he’d taken me to the General Havelock, a pub opposite Tiffany’s where we’d first met. I’d seen some girls from school at the bar, they ran over, apparently they knew his brother. “Are you Mickey’s brother Christie?” they’d asked, as I caught him staring down at the slim legs of one of the girls. The girl wasn’t pretty, nevertheless, I definitely wasn’t impressed, feeling totally inadequate for not being able to wear a short skirt. “Like her legs?” “No….just like the colour of her tights”. “I’m wearing that colour too”. He never did it again, but it was the first time that it had ever happened to me be it so briefly, that a man I was with looked at someone else, and so the date was destroyed, another step towards the suicidal self destruction plan. Christie had walked me home after he’d drunk his pint, and we’d headed straight for my bedroom as did all my boyfriends, whilst my mother was out at Frank’s house. When it was time for Christie to leave, I accidentally pulled up his flies too quickly. “You stupid cow!” he’d shrieked, only to then say how sorry he was, and hoping that I would still keep the date we’d arranged at his flat the following week. The penis, what was it about that tiny object which engrossed both men and boys, and steered them throughout their lives like a diviner’s rod to water? Freud, having wanted to screw his own mother presumed that all men did, just as he’d presumed that women, for some strange reason suffered from penis envy. What could he say which would ever cause a woman to envy a growth, the smelly, unattractive tumour that seemed to have been attached by its designer purely as an afterthought. Man was obviously the anthropoid, the missing link, which is why they had nipples, a mere testosterone mistake, a manufacturing cock up. Yet, men were obsessed with this weeping growth, constantly touching it, repositioning it, thinking of it. Even their clothes were designed mainly with it in mind. Phallicism, being the worship of the penis, was obviously what Christie suffered from. In ancient times such worship was practised by the Semites and Greeks, it was unfortunate for Christie that he was of Irish stock. But, it was a growth nonetheless. ‘It may even happen that the penis is considered to be an anomaly, an outgrowth, something vague that hangs, like wens, breasts, or warts; it can inspire disgust’ - Simone de Beauvoir I’d spent all my days analysing what he’d said, trying to make excuses for his dire behaviour, uncertain whether to dump him or not. I was bored, lonely, too unhappy at home to cope with life, even though I knew I should forget him, as each time I’d excused his atrocious behaviour, he then went and said something even worse. The man who could never relax, pay a decent compliment, nor look me in the eye, and whose main idiom was to frequently grunt ‘bollocks’. When I arrived at the bedsit he was sitting on a chair, immaculately dressed and had already drunk half a bottle of whiskey and trembling with nerves to the point he’d looked ill. “Didn’t think you’d come” he’d said in a meek voice, as if relieved I had. “You look really nice”, his brown eyes glancing across at my black cloak and red velvet dress. How odd, did he really care about me? Nothing dire had happened by the time he’d virtually torn my clothes from me, I knew his nature by now, a 21 year old handsome, moronic, smartly dressed thug with something decent hidden deep inside which he refused to allow to escape. Like a mindless blow up doll he pulled and pushed me around on the bed, as if he were unable to contain himself once the testosterone began to flow. Pushing his penis into my mouth, uncaring who I was, least of all how I was feeling. Not on the pill then anal sex would do, for what man ever stopped and said ‘is the woman wanting this, what is she thinking, will she like me all the more for doing this’? No, for men like Christie I was only there for his use. But, it was my fault, no one had forced me to stay in his squalid playground and allow him to play piggy back. We were under the bedclothes when another man suddenly walked in on us. It turned out that it wasn’t Christie’s bedsit after all, it belonged to his best friend Don, a Liverpudlian several years older than himself. Yet, another problem in this doomed relationship… Christie was a liar. And then the passionate Christie that I’d known all evening suddenly transformed and started playing the sadistic fool big time, passion turning to utter contempt as if I meant nothing to him, impressing his friend was his only raison d’etre. Why was he trying to convince this plain looking Don that I was worthless, just an object of use, nothing more, now pulling back the bed clothes and beating me on the head with his penis and I feared the worst as he invited Don to share me. Pausing between the abuse to say “she looks good doesn’t she?” to which Don, although embarrassed nodded. In the end I had to plead with Don to get Christie away so I could dress and go. “Leave her alone Christie” Don instructed somewhat belatedly. Neither Don nor Christie allowed me any privacy to dress, Christie now resorting to anti-Semitic remarks causing me to cry. Tears streaming down my face I pleaded, “just leave me alone”. Once dressed, I headed through the passage towards the front door with Christie’s cruel words resounding in my head, unable to comprehend the sudden metamorphosis when Don had entered the room, as if trying to reassure him that he really didn’t like me, was still a dedicated misogynist, or maybe his behaviour was similar to that of a lifelong homosexual trying to convince their gay lover that they hadn’t changed camps after all… but the trouble was, Christie wasn’t gay. Just as I opened the front door he suddenly ran after me, “Poppy, I’m sorry, really sorry… I’ve drunk too much…I didn’t mean it”. Christie knew from the start that there were other boyfriends such as Martin the middle class sailor, the same age as myself, who wrote several times weekly, saw me every time he was on leave, and wanted me to go and stay with his brother who lived near Portsmouth where his ship was docked, so that I could be with him for the whole of that following summer. But, I didn’t fancy a life long commitment, just a way to salvage my sanity from parental brain damage. Christie also knew that his behaviour was atrocious, and no normal girl would have put up with him. But, I was lonely being the only member of my nuclear family who seemed to be home, for Christie had known just as I had, that I would have moved in with anyone in order to get away from my parents mental abuse. Yet, although he seemed to have some vague sexual desire for me, he really didn’t seem to like me, refused to hold my hand, wouldn’t even look me in the eye, not like other lovers who would gaze passionately and tell me how beautiful I was. There was no preamble to seduction, no romance, apart from an hour in a pub where he sat emotionless, followed by a sexual attack at the end of the evening. But, he never got drunk again, as if he’d shocked even himself on that night at Don’s bedsit. Always immaculately dressed, if he’d been born a decade or two earlier he would have undoubtedly been a Teddy boy. How confident he looked when he walked, head held high, shoulders back, but he never laughed, not really. Hard, emotionally damaged, Christie was untouchable, but, I knew that deep inside he was a frightened little boy who was hurting. Every date during the short time I knew him, he’d turn up always on time, suit and aftershave, and buy me Martini’s. As I wasn’t paying I’d never considered the outlay for him to take me out, constantly harassing him for coins to put into the juke box. ‘Bye Bye Miss American Pie… good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye’(Maclean) “Slow down” he’d say, worrying that my fast drinking would cost him a fortune. Of course I should have explained that I didn’t really want an alcoholic drink, but men would never agree to just buy me a coke. And so I’d swigged down the alcohol in virtually one go, never being a once every four minute sipper as ‘Vincent’ played in the background. But, emotion appeared to be a quality that had eluded Christie from birth. Every date would be an emotional disaster for me, nothing ever going smoothly, never able to relax in his arms and enjoy the moment, my mind going over his unacceptable behaviour, exonerating him, for him only to then do something even worse. Yet, although he’d behaved like a nasty little child in front of Don, it was those rare times when we were in a pub that he showed a softness, a depth, a sensitivity that warmed me to him. But, all the time he was nevertheless totally detached, and I could never understand why he’d wanted to date me at all. Yes, it was obvious that if he’d liked me he would have behaved differently, the question I should have been asking myself was, why did I put up with it, why was I agreeing to date him, least of all spend my days trying to absolve the behaviour he himself was quite aware of as being unacceptable. Too soft, too understanding, not wanting to believe the worst, yet, even then I knew that Christie wouldn’t have put up with it had the situation been reversed. Yes, just his bit on the side until something better came along. One night he’d called over to the house when my parents were out, my mother had just returned from her boyfriend Frank’s house as Christie was heading down the stairs to leave. She waited at the foot of the staircase as he descended, they’d never met before. So did she say, “hello young man, and who are you then, what work do you do, where do you live and are you suitable for my Jewish princess?” All she said, pointing to the canvas above her head was, “do you like the painting I did it myself?” Of course Christie never invited me to his home, for his family were sacrosanct, I could never have expected to even meet his mother, least of all creep up to his bedroom, but of course, that was the name of the game in the Ilford playground. Christie, like most of my boyfriends was Catholic, from Irish stock and hated the English, he was also anti-Semitic, muttering under his breath something nasty about fat, greasy Jews, so it puzzled me as to why he would take me out, spending his hard earned money on a Jew. Did Christie even vaguely like me, I had no idea, except in between his boorish mutterings he might grunt that I looked nice, as one would to an old maiden aunt. But I never regarded him during that month or so as a boyfriend, sometimes I even felt that he actually hated me. Only dating me on Tuesday, I didn’t have the years behind me to think that maybe he was dating someone else at the same time, although he claimed his week was spent drinking with Don. So moody, morose, never laughed or gazed into my eyes, behaving as if he’d gone on a blind date only to discover he was lumbered with the most ugly, flabby, girl in Essex, and just had to make the best of it. Overweight, it had started with the pill, but now that I’d stopped taking it the weight had remained, I’d put on three stone in all. Was that the problem, he wanted a skinny girl with cropped hair, mohair skirt, brain dead. Or was it just me in general. Why was he seeing me if he couldn’t bear me, the only man who couldn’t look into my eyes. We weren’t even having sex proper and he made it clear that he didn’t intend committing himself for long enough to make it worth my while going on the pill, as he’d mentioned that he went away for the summer. Perhaps I was just a sex toy until something better came along, for his sexual advances were more akin to a manic rapist, was I for him just last resort, Ilford’s Bessie Bighead who’d hatched from Milkwood? With each kiss followed a kick, no peace, no emotion, no relationship. Martin, my good looking sailor was nothing like Christie, middle class family, writing weekly, taking me out and seemingly committed in every way, obviously regarding me in a totally different light than Christie, and sadly had no idea that I was seeing other men. Martin didn’t seem to see the same girl whom Christie saw. Taking me out when he was on leave to the pictures and then onto the Wimpy bar, kissing me softly, adorningly, he was only 17 like myself, yet so much more mature than his brut smelling older counterpart. His letters elucidating how much he missed me, hoping that I’d stay with his brother by the sea for the whole of the summer in order to be near him. I didn’t feel like a dumplinged duck with Martin, nor with any of his numerous predecessors. So different from the brutish man who only wanted to see me on Tuesdays in order to beat me with his penis. So, why was my time spent analysing Christie, the Irish descendent who obviously didn’t like Jews, apart from the one he was kissing and spending his money on, hated the English even more, although he was born and living in England…which left me wondering if there were anyone whom Christie did like. And more importantly, why, when he was the only man I had ever known to be so rude and boorish was I still seeing him. Christie had led me to believe that he might be interested in getting a flat with me, anyone would do, although we both knew it wasn’t from love, just my need to get away from the mad house at home, they were driving me insane. I only wanted to be an actress that was all. Seventeen, not interested in marriage or babies, all I needed was some stability in order to continue at college. Desperate to leave home, asking him if he’d wanted to share a flat he’d replied, “only if Don can come too”, so I’d reluctantly agreed. “You’ll have to shag Don as well” he’d instructed callously, already having taken command of my sinking ship, would I have no rights in this flat, merely an object of use? The question being, was he sadistic, or merely testing my fidelity, I had no idea, this wasn’t a relationship, merely two people dating due to lack of better offers, or so it had seemed. My father was rarely home, and I’d been going out with Christie for a couple of dates, although never thought I meant much to him, least of all could claim to be his girlfriend, when once again after going to the pub we’d gone up to my bedroom. This was to be the last time I saw him for a week or two, as he said that he was helping his sister move to Yeovil that coming weekend. I’d never given him my phone number before, but this time I gave in, so that he could phone me on his return. My mother had spent her evening at Frank’s but always returned by about 10.30. My father was in bed and could hear my mother call “Poppy, it’s gone 12!” meaning that my visitor should leave. Christie was putting his clothes on, and she called a few minutes later “Poppy, I think it’s time for your friend to leave”. Then suddenly there was a violent banging on my bedroom door, it was my father, he was shouting “open up this door now!” He then threw Christie out, and proceeded to batter me about the room. My relationship with Ed O’Casey began that following April, two months after Christie. I was standing in Ilford’s Cranbrook pub with my friend Jean. It was packed, yet there was no one I fancied, that was until I spotted the tall, best looking bloke in the whole pub standing with a group of friends. He was extremely good looking, 6’3, big brown eyes, brown hair, full lips, high cheek bones, wearing smart trousers and a brown leather jacket. He seemed a bit strange, having to be egged on by his mates, but all he kept doing was motioning towards the door. Eventually, his friend shouted, Eddie wants to know what you want to drink!” Apparently he was shy and had been trying to get me to leave the bar in order to talk in private, as usual, I’d got it all wrong. He was very cockney, more than any of my previous boyfriends, but, he was so good looking that I didn’t care. As with most of my boyfriends, I told them up front that I intended dating other men, but Eddie would insist on seeing me every night as if madly in love. I wasn’t in love, I liked him, fancied him but thought that in some way I was using him until I’d finished doing my O levels, for that bit of security without too much stress, or so I’d thought. Although I’d tried to have nights out without him, he seemed obsessed, immediately wanting to control my life, and would phone even if I’d told him not to. “That’s your song” he said as we sat in the pub, although we hardly ever went out. The song was Clair by Gilbert O’Sullivan, he’d smile at me as the lyrics played from the jukebox. ‘Clair the moment I met you I swear , I felt as if something somewhere had happened to me, which I couldn’t see. And then the moment I met you again I knew in my heart that we were friends’. He said that I was like a little girl, said he loved me, would marry me whenever I was ready. But, I didn’t want to get married, I only wanted to be an actress. Although he never invited me to his house, I insisted on calling for him on one occasion to his family home situated on the borders of Manor Park and East Ham where Pete , my previous boyfriend had lived. I’d noticed Christie on the same bus, we said a few words, and then I headed off to Eddie’s home in Sibley Grove. But when I arrived at his front door he was ready to leave immediately, and hurried me back towards the high street, passing Christie who was waiting for a bus to Woolwich in order to enjoy an Irish boy bonding session. My mother, as usual made all my boyfriends too welcome, without ever discovering whether or not they were in any way suitable. Of course, Eddie was far from suitable, and when I’d tried to finish with him having had a small taste of his mental and physical cruelty, I got nowhere, my wishes always came last. My parents had their own lives, my mother always out with her boyfriend, my father supposedly at work, so Eddie moved into what was left of the family home. “Can I marry your daughter?” Eddie had asked my father. But, my father didn’t know how to respond, embarrassed by the respect and formality that Eddie had shown. “Well, it’s up to Poppy, if she wants to marry you then it’s okay by me”. Apparently his mother owed him quite a bit of money, he’d wanted to use that to pay for my ring, so we’d gone to East Ham and I’d waited for him in the High Street. Whilst I was standing there who should walk past but Mick, my boyfriend from two years earlier. I’d never seen him since we’d split, he’d stopped to chat for a while, I’d said that I was getting engaged that day, knowing how I’d refused to get engaged to him when he’d asked. Then Eddie turned up, he said his mother had refused to give him the money, so he took me to meet his uncle Dick to see if he could get the money back from his mother. How kind both he and his wife were, welcoming us into their home, waiting on us with tea and cakes, so polite so friendly. Why hadn’t Eddie been able to take me home to meet his mother, I just didn’t understand her anger. “When are you going to ask him?” I kept whispering to Eddie, for, although it was pleasant being there soon the shops would close and we needed to get the ring. It was as we were walking back towards the town with his uncle Dick who was either heading for the boozer or the bookies when Eddie told me to walk behind for a moment as he ran ahead to speak with his uncle. The next thing I knew was that Eddie had the money. “My uncle will get it back from my mum” he’d elucidated, leading me into the jewellers where we’d bought the pretty little diamond ring. ‘Clair the moment I met you I swear, I felt as if something, somewhere, had happened to me which I couldn’t see. And then the moment I met you again, I knew in my heart that we were friends, it had to be so, it couldn’t be no. But try as hard as I might do, I don’t know why you get to me in a way I can’t describe’. I’d gone to college every morning leaving Eddie to go to his job where he worked as an electrician. “Don’t read this” I’d instructed, my diary lying around in my bedroom, trusting him to be honourable. Most of it just said ‘must diet, eaten too much’. He was so loving, kind, constantly doting on me, and I felt guilty that I didn’t love him, that I wasn’t ready to settle, only needing him as some sort of adoring sibling, someone to pull me through this barbed wire, so that I didn’t bleed too much. He’d not long been living there when he went missing for an evening. I’d phoned around all the hospitals worried sick. My mother was out as usual, and my absentee father hadn’t been seen for days. When Eddie eventually turned up late that evening he started to sob. “I went to see my dad… hadn’t seen him since I was about four”. It turned out that the experience wasn’t as hopeful as it might have been, although it still didn’t explain why he couldn’t tell me that he wouldn’t be home. He’d found his father and uncle in a Whitechapel pub, needed to see him before starting his new life with me. His father was an Irish lush who worked on the railway, plying his long lost son with alcohol and nothing more. “I’ve wondered all my life what he was like… I never want to see him again!” he shouted, then fell into my arms weeping. Only one other time was Eddie back late, the evening he’d been due to meet me on the platform of Stratford Station after college to go to the contraceptive clinic with me. I’d waited and waited, eventually forced to return to the empty family home without him. Frantically, I’d telephoned all the hospitals as the evening wore on, longing to jump onto a bus to East Ham to see if he were there. It had been odd how he’d not let me know anyone from his past, sometimes, I’d wondered if he were ashamed of me. He turned up at nearly midnight, at the same time as my mother who’d just returned from Frank’s home, and discovering that I’d been alone all evening lost her temper with Eddie. It was rare for her to side with me, but she was guilty for the fact that I’d been alone in the house going out of my mind with worry whilst she was snuggled up in her boyfriend’s arms. In temper Eddie dragged me off to stay at his friend’s place in East Ham. Yet, something was so odd between them, something I just couldn’t put my finger on, Eddie insisting that I went to bed alone whilst he sat downstairs with his spotty fat ‘friend’ Terry Toriall, who had gone AWOL from the army. I’d spent the night crying alone, wondering why he’d dragged me all the way there merely to ignore me. The following morning he’d beaten me, this time spitting in my face, and when I’d begged for mercy, for his love, his only reply had been, “suck my dick then,” (I’d nearly kissed his face, for there was a strong resemblance . . . but, I’d wanted to live). Somehow, I’d managed to drag my suitcase from the house towards a bus stop at Manor Park heading back to Ilford, my feet arguing with my shoes, pouring with blood, until I was forced to discard them and walk barefoot. That evening I’d received a phone call from Eddie, he’d threatened suicide, claiming to love me so much he couldn’t live without me. “Mum . . . can I talk to you . . .” I’d asked my mother who was making herself a cup of tea in the kitchen after returning from work. “I’m not interested in problems, phone your father at work give him some of the worry, it’s about time he . . .” Her voice entered my head like woodworm until my emotions fell like sawdust beneath her feet. So I went alone to meet Eddie opposite Ilford police station, with no intention of taking him home. He was drunk when I arrived, constantly threatening suicide, even attempting to throw himself into a nearby stream. Eddie was so tall, well over six feet, it was difficult to restrain him, and without knowing why, I found myself leading him back home. I should have learnt from this experience, that leeches and parasites have no shame, no self respect….until the blood runs dry. Suddenly, a Jaguar had pulled up beside us and the man inside asked if I needed any help. I declined, but the man insisted, almost carrying Eddie’s long, 6’3” slim body into his car, constantly offering to take him to his own home. The offer was tempting for me, yet it would surely be immoral to allow him in that unconscious state to be left at the mercy of a stranger. Major mistake number one in the Ed O’Casey affair, that men and compassion were a contradiction in terms as was men and selflessness, and that if only I could follow their lead, that night could have been the end of all my troubles. Instead, they were merely the beginning. David Hume the Scots philosopher had argued that the law of causality was not analytic, and therefore we can’t be certain of its truth. But, he was wrong. If I’d been more analytic, I would have seen that I was indirectly the cause of the effect, and in fact in Ed O’Casey there was no truth. When we arrived at my home, the man helped me up the stairs and laid Eddie down onto the camp bed in the spare bedroom. “I wouldn’t mind a coffee,” he said. So I’d left the unconscious Eddie in the hands of the stranger who was in the process of helping him off with his clothes, and went downstairs to make coffee whilst trying to pacify my mother that all was vaguely well. Wondering why the stranger was taking so long, I cautiously ascended the stairs. Through the crack in the door I could see them both, my eyes widened, shocked, as slowly, the stranger adeptly removed Eddie’s shirt, his shoes and socks already lying on the floor beside the camp bed. Then, very slowly, in the silence of the room, the man undid Eddie’s fly button, slyly unzipping his jeans, pulling them down to his thighs along with his underpants. I saw the man look at Eddie, exposed for all to see, a prolonged, revealing look. Should I rush in, defend his honour? Then suddenly, my eyes fell on Eddie, supposedly unconscious from booze, and I wondered why he appeared to have such a distinctive smile on his face. Silently, I crept down the stairs, then made a significant noise on my way back up. “Do you take sugar?” “Um . . . don’t worry, I’ve got to get going”. The stranger left hurriedly and I never saw him again. I’d phoned my friend Abby Twoir prior to Eddie’s phone call, asking her to come and sleep over, as I thought I’d never see him again and couldn’t face a night alone. “He’s in there…..he came back”. Abby and I shared the double bed in what was now my father’s room, but as usual, no one knew when he’d return. Eddie slept soundly in the spare bedroom on the camp bed that night, the following morning my mother went to her job at Selfridges, without offering any advice or protection for me. Eddie slept, whilst I was left sobbing having discovered a pawn ticket in his pocket, he’d pawned my engagement ring. Now that he had no money left he’d returned to me. But, it was strange that the moment Abby had returned home Eddie came back to life with a vengeance, and it was then when the trouble started. Obviously I’d expected a penitent lover, even though I’d decided the relationship was over. “Run me a bath!” He’d started to threaten me, name calling, abusing. Since he’d first moved into our home in Brisbane Road he’d already started hitting me, only occasionally at first, then it had got worse of late, but of course his excuse was always that I’d made him do it. His face smirking, enjoying his sadism, as if a demon had hatched and taken over the body of my boyfriend. I’d threatened him with the police, but he just smirked and refused to leave the house. I knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to leave him there alone, if I called the police my parents would only have faulted me, I couldn’t win. “I’m having a bath first you fucking bitch!… Now get me a towel!” “Please just leave” I begged as he climbed out of the bath, tears streaming down my face, that someone I’d been so close to could behave like this. His only response was to spit in my face as if he truly hated me. “Hey Eddie, did you hear the one about what is the soft, fleshy tissue that surrounds a penis called?….. don’t you know the answer…it’s called a man”. A natural sadist, the young man whom I’d known for the past few months who’d loved me, cried if he thought I’d wanted to finish with him had died. Naive was my middle name, but the man who one moment could call me a ‘fat smelly Jew,’ physically assault me, and then tell me that I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, jealous of all other men, wanting to marry me, overwrought by my past alliances, sending me cards declaring wondrous love, could now once again verbally abused me whilst demanding breakfast and a bath. I ordered him to leave the house, but he just sneered and refused. I couldn’t call the police, my parents would go mad, it would be all my fault for having known him in the first place. And so his psychopathic savagery continued into the afternoon. Never had he said a word negatively about my race before, as I never had about his, yet suddenly everything had changed, and my Eddie had died forever… and I was a Jew, I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. And I ask blessed Mary, ever Jewess to pray for me. As the day drew on and my mother would soon be due home his attitude suddenly changed, now imploring me not to leave him, expounding the fact that I’d made him hit me, which now caused me some confusion to say the least. My mother, not wanting any problems, particularly as the contract for the house had been signed by the purchaser, even though she already had suspicions he’d been stealing from her, decided it was easier to ignore what her daughter was telling her. “Look, I think you both need a break. I haven’t given you an engagement present yet, here’s £60 to have a trip to Blackpool”, as if that would solve everything. Of course the whole experience was a nightmare, and in between the rows and his sadism which was worsening by the day he continued to profess his love for me, even said that he would marry me whenever I felt ready, that he’d even have a tattoo of my name if he’d had the money. I was so sick of him I insisted that he took the money and had it done, to teach him not to make false promises, so he had my name tattooed on his arm. The pleasure beach, the golden mile full of fairground amusements and numerous cowboy hats… but he wouldn’t go on the rides nor wear a hat. The Blackpool experience had merely been the black icing on the crumbling gateau, but I appeared to have no option but to allow him to stay in the Brisbane Road home, my mother had apparently decided for me, that I would be remaining with Eddie whether I’d wanted to or not, already handing over responsibility for her child to anyone who would take up the offer. Whenever I’d complained of him, she’d usually side against me, almost forcing me to stay with him. I wasn’t toddler free to test the water, no ointment for my young, naïve toe if it accidentally caught a verruca as it dipped in, no chance of a fresh, new pool. For me the parental rule was, toe in, all in, until I drowned. The experience was so dire that I never recovered, even though he’d got himself a tattoo with my name. Nothing was simple, every word, every action now filled with deceit and cruelty, so that I never knew any peace, and had totally forgotten how to laugh. It was around that time my father walked into my bedroom when Eddie was there and smiling for the first time in years said, “clear up your room Poppy, I’m putting the house up for sale”. Soon after I was handed a cheque for £500, settlement for being still under 18 and his legal responsibility. He’d worked out every least penny he’d need by law to provide for his one and only child, and then he could wash his hands of me. And there I was, looking out onto the big wide world, without chain mail, not even one link into the family network. I had never left home, my home had left me. And then the anonymous phone calls began, heavy breathing, and a car occasionally stalking me home. I already had an idea who it was, the married bouncer from the Room at the Top who had taken me to Epping Forest the previous year for some hanky panky and taking soft porn photographs of me, and had tried to get me to go with him to partner swapping parties, whilst I’d been dating the saxophonist Doug when I was still only 16. My mother’s immediate reaction to the phone calls was “oh I don’t think it was the bouncer Poppy, I bet it was that landlord who I went to see with Eddie about getting you both a flat last week, I thought he fancied me”. Her ego was super inflated, and yet, it was eventually proved that the phone calls and my stalker were one and the same, the bouncer from the Room at the Top. ‘Lets Play Masochist’ was the new playground’s lido where I now found myself drowning in. That summer we’d moved into a bed sit in Manor Park overlooking the East Ham railway line, and just around the corner from Eddie’s mother whom I’d not yet been allowed to meet. My own mother who now lived in a bedsit in Ilford, once or twice turned up uninvited with her boyfriend Frank, expecting to be greeted by a stable, domesticated daughter. I constantly failed . . . but I was only seventeen. One particular failure happened around November time. Eddie and I stayed in most evenings, never went pubbing or clubbing as Mia did with her boyfriend, or even out with his friends. Then one night I’d noticed that he’d changed his shirt and was smothering himself with aftershave. The next thing I knew was that we’d had a row and he’d left. Ironically it was that very night when my mother had turned up with Frank, yet, she showed no concern for me when upon discovering that Eddie had disappeared. Nor that I was standing outside the flat without shoes nor coat in the snow, as I had no key to get back inside having spent that evening catching trains to Whitechapel searching for him to no avail. I’d even found his alcoholic father and uncle, they’d took me to the pub, two Irishmen whose brains were pickled. Sadly, my mother’s only concern upon finding me outside in the snow was how embarrassed she was due to Frank being there, I’d felt like a failed forty year old. But, as I was to discover, my mother was only concerned with image, but not her own. And of course, I had never been invited to Frank’s home, least of all would have dared to turn up at his door, or even my own mother’s without an invitation. And now the music had changed. I didn’t see him again until about three in the morning. Refusing to answer the door he’d started climbing onto the back roof shouting abuse and throwing stones at the window, until I had to let him in or else he’d have broken the glass. But instead of my being able to dictate to him, he showed no penitence, merely the same sadism he’d shown before at his friend Terry’s house and the morning after he’d come home from there. Proceeding to hit me, swearing and name calling, I’d stood there begging him to come to bed. The following day I noticed that he had a love bite on his neck, but he was a professional liar, and what choice did I have, how could I move out, where would I go, and, worse than that, the man whom I’d merely wanted as a temporary stepping stone, I’d actually fallen in love with. It was some weeks later when Eddie’s behaviour was getting worse, more beatings, lies, abuse and frequent disappearance, so I’d phoned his friend Colin. How I’d begged Colin to be honest, if not for my sake, for the sake of any children who may some day come along if it wasn’t sorted out now. Colin said that Eddie had been to a party on the night when it had snowed and he’d spent the evening with a girl, which was where the love bite had come from. Why hadn’t Eddie invited me to the party, I’d been stuck in every evening, was he ashamed of me? “Colin, did Eddie say he was only with me because I’m keeping him?” “Yeah, something like that” Colin replied sadly, advising me to get rid of Eddie whom he revealed had once wanted to beat up gays and steal their money. But, when I’d confronted Eddie he’d gone to find Colin and given him a beating, then told me that it was all lies. Yes, even lies would have been more acceptable than the mental torture I was going through, trying to believe a liar rather than my own common sense. Yet, in hindsight his behaviour was good most of the time, it was just those rare occasions when the man I knew suddenly became a monster. Nevertheless, most days spent with Eddie were normal, he arrived home about the same time as me, waited for me to go with him to the shop on the corner to buy him his cigarettes and favourite Jamaican ginger cake. We’d snuggle up in bed and watch t.v as if the closest couple in the universe. "You're the most beautiful girl in the world…..anytime you’re ready I'd marry you… I love you Popsy more than anything in the whole world". But the depression was setting in thick and fast, all those negative memories, if only I could cease to think. Yet, he really did seemed to love me, we got on well, happy just being together, or so it seemed, even though we never made love these days, due to the fact I wasn’t on the pill. Acting was my first love, and I'd wanted the strength to make it my only one. Yes, Eddie loved me, he'd cook, wash the dishes, behave as if I was everything to him… but there were those awful memories, I just couldn't forget. My father called a couple of times, waiting until Ed left the flat to empty the bin before he’d start on me. Shouting, angry, but about what I never really knew, all I knew was that he had to wait until I was alone before he’d home in on me, such paternal love that he never gave me his own address or even a contact number. I found college too hard, the kids too bitchy, the course too academically demanding and I was exhausted. On the first day back we were asked what exams we had passed having received our results during that summer. Kate, the girl beside me had avoided me since our very first day the course had begun. She’d been privately educated and it was obvious she thought that my cockney accent represented a lower I.Q, so when I’d declared that I’d passed my English language exam which I knew she’d failed, she turned and said “I didn’t think you had it in you, how could someone like you pass that!” Why I’d just sat there and taken it I had no idea, what had I done for her to think I couldn’t pass exams which they failed. Even my performing abilities had been applauded by our tutor as being one of the only members of the class with any acting talent. When our class had gone on an outing to Toynbee Hall, Donald Walker had been so warm towards me, so much so that those like Paul were visibly shocked by my impressive connections. The unpretentious student had been on that very stage since she was just seven years old, and not one of those ego maniacs had known. The students had even met Eddie, he was so good looking that all the girls fancied him, and most of them didn’t even have a boyfriend, so why were they always criticising me when I tried so hard to be liked. Jesus said, ‘If the world hates you, you must realise that it hated me before it hated you’. But, the scripture didn’t really help, even though Jesus like myself was born of the royal line of King David, the only royal house instated by God in the history of all mankind. Jesus had a feeling of self worth, I didn’t. And, more importantly Jesus not only knew the nature of the beast, he also knew what the future held in store. A new girl had joined our full time speech and drama course, I recognised her at once, her name was Tabitha , but she called herself Pixie. I’d met her some years before when I’d belonged to the Redbridge Youth Theatre Workshop, and we’d toured with the musical ‘The Matchgirls’. She was a strange creature, catlike, surreal. Long brown hair, and beautiful big blue eyes, and a small, slim body. Perhaps some would have called her anorexic as she rarely ate. At 15 she had portrayed herself as older than her years, unbalanced, talking of drugs and life as if she came from another planet. Often aggressive, controversial, like a promiscuous princess, she’d sit swinging in her basket chair which hung down on a chain from her bedroom ceiling. Yet, like most of the friendships I had, Pixie had to control, to be queen of her hallucinogenic playground, if she wasn’t she would have dumped me. Having not seen her for a couple of years, I was disgruntled when she suddenly appeared for the audition onto the course, I was weak, she would take over, control me again, and I couldn’t bear it, what with being a docile duck, unable to balance my end of the seesaw in the playground of eccentricity. So I’d kept my distance from her as much as possible. In her bare feet and long clothes she loved the element of shock, and didn’t give a hoot that most students on the drama course didn’t like her. During an improvisation class she was asked by the tutor if she found my performance believable, she affirmed that she did. But, when asked why, her reply was, “Poppy wouldn’t lie”. No, everyone knew that Poppy was honourable, decent, yet still didn’t have anyone close, just one person at least who wouldn’t end up taking advantage. Naively I believed that those like our tutors and others in such positions of superiority would immediately know my worth, my soul, my decency as if they had x ray vision. What I failed to understand, as I would throughout my life was that those in higher positions not only didn’t know one’s innards, they really didn’t care. The director of a production didn’t give a hoot if the starlet had once been a criminal, a liar or a selfish bitch. If she’d secured the audition through totally dishonourable means it was of no concern to him. Morality and justice never came into the rules on throwing the dice towards success. Why did I ever presume that the director, the policeman or politician were society’s ethical elite, the evolved ones? One night during that summer Eddie and I had arranged to go to the cinema with Pixie and her boyfriend supposedly an active member of the IRA, or so he’d claimed when Eddie and I sat with them in the Gants Hill Odeon. Pixie invited us back to her place after, but, on the way back Eddie started a row which grew into a beating for me, so I ended up going alone to her flat in Seven Kings where she took care of me. I decided after several hours that I should go, due to the fact that my mother was expecting us both for lunch the following day and I couldn’t cause her any worry. So I decided to hitch a lift back to Manor Park. Why I didn’t dump him rather than spend my days in analysis, trying to absolve his lies and cruelty, why I couldn’t make the unilateral decision to end it all I had no idea. As if I needed permission before I took action, not wanting to hurt, to make a mistake, I just had to stay and suffer. Of course, Pixie went and spoilt my new opinion of her at the start of the following term at college by asking in front of everyone “is Eddie still beating you up?” Every day after college, I’d return home to Eddie, whose lies and beatings grew worse. I’d even phoned Christie, desperate for help out of this nightmare, but his mother said he was away working at Butlins, and so the next time Eddie was telling me how worthless I was, I’d retorted, “well Christie’s at Butlins” which led to yet another beating. We never went out, not even to a pub, only 17 and stuck indoors every evening. I couldn’t understand why he never had any money and always seemed to wait until I got home to buy food and his cigarettes. Trying to discuss our problems was a non starter, one night he’d even started banging his head hard against the wall as if he couldn’t take anymore, so hard that I’d thought his scull would crack open. Why was his behaviour so bizarre? I couldn’t talk to my mother, she wasn’t interested, and so in desperation after another of Eddie’s kicks in the spine, this time in front of Mia who had to pull him off me, I telephoned my cousin Elsa. I’d always idolized Elsa, the daughter of my mother’s eldest sister Faye. She’d gone to work on a kibbutz just after the 6 day war in Israel when I’d been having my legs broken and re-set at the age of 14. Then she’d been a tour guide, going to all the cities of the world until she was offered the job as a continuity girl at the television studios in Borehamwood. Now she was working for Jane Picklewood at Stratford’s Theatre Bus stop. She’d confided to me that she was having an affair with a married actor there, but I didn’t care, in my eyes Elsa could do no wrong, even on those occasions when she’d devastate me by her bitchiness. The rain poured on that dark winter night as I’d gone by bus to Theatre Bus stop in East London, my heart bursting, frightened of Eddie, yet still thinking that even if I didn’t love him, I would be unable to survive without him. How I’d longed to phone Christie, ask him for help, but that would betray my relationship with Eddie, and Christie would probably just reply ‘bollocks!’. Jane Picklewood had spoken to me kindly whilst I sat waiting for the show to end and for Elsa to drive me home to her family in Boreham Wood, to the sanctuary of aunt Faye and uncle Solly. That was all I needed, sanctuary, rest, but most of all I’d needed their unconditional love. Uncle Solly Tree, although physically resembling Popeye’s enemy Bruno, both large and loud, was kind to all his sister-in-laws and their children, and would cuddle me every time we met when I was younger. But, with his own family he was the master, the cigar smoking king. Perhaps my father and he were the same, unloved by their own mother’s, they constantly needed love from others, love from their own wives and children weren’t enough and therefore valueless. Recalling the times my father and he were together my name would change to ‘Aggie’, for that’s the only name they ever called me. Aunt Faye had dragged me off to see a social worker, expounding that I’d been a spoilt child and anything negative she could think of, whilst I sat there wondering how my own family who had never been there for me during the past few years felt empowered to speak of me with such little respect within my hearing, when my own mother adored Elsa and had often treated her better than she had me. Yet, they had offered me a home, my parents never had and never would. But, of course there had been the cat, neither parent had taken responsibility for it anymore than they had for their daughter, I appeared once again to be the only adult in this playground of broken homes, so I’d taken custody of the cat. Yet, it was odd how the cat didn’t like Eddie, and if I didn’t know better one might have suspected that he’d abused the animal at some stage, but I knew, my Eddie wouldn’t do anything to hurt the cat… would he? Yet, what was I supposed to do with it, as uncle Solly had made it abundantly clear behind the thick smoke from his fat cigar, that cats were not welcome in his own home. Probably not intentionally, all I received during that short weekend was verbal abuse, that they’d offer me a home, (although I hadn’t said that I’d wanted one), but I’d have to get a job, and they wouldn’t put up with what my parents had put up with. I stood there whilst dark bearded, bald uncle Solly, yelled at me, and never breathed a word in defence, not a word about his own daughter having an adulterous affair, not a word about the fact that he’d got my poor aunt pregnant before they were married and caused far greater pain to her parents than I ever had to mine. Uncle Solly’s mother on learning that her son had made my aunt pregnant beat my grandfather about the head with a rolling pin. He died in his early fifties from a brain tumour when I was four. Yet, no one ever mentioned that, they were all my superiors, and I alone had failed. So, that night I just picked up my bags and headed back to the flat with Eddie. Although their aggression hadn’t been deserved, what had my parents suffered due to me, not very much. I hadn’t deserved to be ‘black sheep’ and pay the price for their own crimes. Yet, sadly what I failed to realise, despite aunt Faye’s lack of overt warmth was, that uncle Solly only shouted because he’d cared more about me than my own parents. Of course life with Eddie didn’t improve, most of my time was spent analysing the lies he’d told me, guilty for making him beat me, abuse me, always believing without question the condemnation of others. There was nowhere to run, no one to listen, and so I’d just closed my eyes, numbed my brain and decided there was only one route, stop thinking and get the wedding over with. We sort of eloped to Lockerbie, Scotland that December, but we needn’t have bothered. My father, upon discovering where we’d gone, travelled all the way to Scotland for the Registry Office do presuming that’s what I’d wanted. I’d only married him because Mia had jeered that Eddie had confided to her boyfriend Rusty, that he’d never marry me. She was trying to make herself feel better, because Rusty was still married to another woman, and had no intention at the time of even getting engaged to Mia . To prove her wrong, and unable to cope with his lies and recent disappearance acts, this was to be my first attempt at suicide, but not of the physical kind using tablets. Just close my eyes and get it over with, signing the wedding certificate as one might sign one’s own death warrant. My mother who had travelled to Scotland with my father, although sleeping in different rooms in the Lockerbie hotel, scowled at me throughout the ceremony. My father firmly believed that he was doing right, as if his presence mattered to me, because of his parents absence at his own wedding ceremony, unable to forget his own tragic wedding day. His care only extended as far as whether or not he could relate to a situation, he was unconcerned as to my needs or how I really felt, least of all as to whether Eddie was suitable in any way or shape, but, he’d done his duty. And now the song had changed, the song was mine this time ‘I can’t live if living is without you…….' Upon our return to London after our wedding, I’d discovered that we’d been evicted from our flat, due to Eddie not paying the rent, but he’d lied so determinedly that I convinced myself of his most bizarre fantasies . . . I had to survive. My father had signed a cheque to the landlord in order to recover our belongings, and I secured a room at Mia ’s boyfriend Rusty’s home for an exorbitant rent due to Mia. My father had then driven off leaving us to it, he’d done his job. Never once did he show concern that his only daughter had just married a liar, least of all the fact that we were homeless. Yet, I’d never once thought that he ought to have done more, least of all invite us to stay at his home, after all, he only lived in a bedsit, or so I thought. Mia now spent her evenings simpering around Eddie, thrusting her boobs into his face and frequently asking him to light her cigarette in order that she could blink her false eyelashes seductively, without the slightest regard for me. Of course she offered no wedding gift, but ensured that I paid for everything over the odds and constantly put me down, but I took it as always. It was Christmas Eve, a week after our wedding when I’d insisted on meeting Eddie’s mother whom he’d not spoken to throughout our relationship. Initially, she’d refused to have “a bloody Jew” in her house, which baffled me as she was a devout Irish Catholic with an effigy of a Jew hanging from virtually every wall in her rented, stench ridden home, professing to exalt St. Peter, St. Paul and Mary ‘The holy mother of God’ . . . who were all personal relations of mine. Yes, like so many Catholics she never realised that Mary was born, lived and died a religious Jewess, and possibly looked the double of me. ‘O salutaris hostia, quae caeli pandis ostium; bella premunt hostilia, da robur, fer auxilium’ Nevertheless, my mother-in-law, a big woman, who was apparently allergic to false teeth, appeared to have suddenly befriended me in her own strange way, invited us to Christmas dinner, so I cancelled my own mother who said that I could go on Boxing day instead. We attended the Christmas meal as the carol ‘O come O come Emmanuel redeem thy captive Israel’ played in the background, but the woman just didn’t listen. My mother and father had given him Christmas gifts, but every time she gave him something he’d behave strangely. For instance, a few shirts he’d been given it pointed collars rather than a round ones, yet how rude he was about them, throwing a childish tantrum, insulting my parents to me declared that he’d never wear the shirts. His own mother had given him nothing, yet I still didn’t see, the only blind player in this strange game. Eddie suddenly mentioned that there was a New Year’s Eve party, but it cost a pound each to get in, of course I paid. I was looking forward to meeting his friends, to be introduced as his young bride. But, when we arrived I discovered that it wasn’t a party, just a married couple who looked as if they’d just come out off the streets, with some babies lying about the floor, charging guests to come in to a pit. Eddie had left the room, and when he hadn’t returned I’d gone to find him. To my horror he was with a blonde ex girlfriend of his brother Shaun, Norah, Catholic daughter of a local Irish family, plain enough to be called ‘ugly,’ with goofy teeth and a broken nose and arm in a sling. She’d confessed that when I’d first met her several days previously and Eddy had accompanied her back to her house due to the fact she suffered acute acrophobia, she’d had to hold onto his arm. Perhaps there had been also something else that she’d hung onto, but being naïve, and seeing the genome ignition button to self destruct rising through my DNA I could only look in my own brain selective ego less mirror as usual. Attempting to speak to him with Pat in tow, he told me to go away he was talking, suddenly followed by a ‘fuck off’. What had happened, we’d only just been married, why did he go through with the wedding if he hated me? These people did he like them, all so rough, socially below first rung of the ladder, yet, didn’t we live together for the past 8 months, didn’t we see with the same eyes? I recalled the first time I’d seen Norah , I’d knocked on her door about to ask if she were Shaun’s ex girlfriend, but when she’d answered I’d immediately said, “sorry, I’ve got the wrong house”, even though at that time I’d never seen Shaun, I couldn’t believe that any brother of Eddie would fancy her. Yet, now standing before me was the man whom I’d just married but who now seemed to detest me in favour of this ugly, common crone. Was this where he belonged after all, were these his ‘own kind’, suddenly able to relax in the bowels of Manor Park. I’d been blind all my life, but this was the ultimate blindness, that even at that moment I never saw the obvious, that one should never judge an animal away from its lair. And maybe he hadn’t ever been as ashamed of me as he was of himself, but once he’d smelt the stale scent of like breed, the mongrel had no choice but join the pack, for, it was where he’d always belonged. Plato of course knew that we were all blind. ‘Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling…they’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered… light is provided by a fire…on higher ground there is a path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets… the prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of those artefacts’. Yes everyone was blind to pure truth, but only a docile duckling overloaded with an outsize orange of over cooked conscience chose to be selectively blind. That night Pat took me back to his own home in tears, Shaun was there and both showed me extreme kindness as if they now were really my brother in laws. Shaun said that Eddie was out for the kill, he was raging mad finding that I’d disappeared. Mrs. O’Casey insisted I must go back to Eddie. So, against my better judgement, Shaun and Pat agreed to take me to Rusty’s house promising that they wouldn’t let Eddie hurt me. When we arrived, Rusty was in bed. But sitting with Eddie was Mia, boobs thrust into his face, all made up in her negligee, false eyelashes fluttering into his tea, as they both smoked whilst slagging me off. “Where have you been?” Mia demanded, like some sort of tyrant, “Eddie’s been frantic about you”. On and on she ranted, and I knew that I should have just slapped her, for she’d never have dared to sit there dressed like that and speak to me in those tones had I been Lulu… or even the ugly Norah . Was that the clue, it wasn’t to do with looks, it was just that they didn’t smell the animal, the same mongrel breed. Eddie’s mother suddenly insisted that Eddie and I moved out of Rusty’s house, (who pee’d in a tin bucket beside his bed). Mrs. O’Casey’s house in Sibley Grove was damp, the toilet constantly flooded with urine from the lodgers she let rooms to, (Eddie had insisted they were his “uncles”). Both my brothers-in-law were younger than twenty year old Eddie, (Pat was sixteen and Shaun eighteen), and although Shaun kept his distance, Pat had a massive crush on me, trying to kiss me and upset whenever his brother did something to hurt me. His mother muttering that we weren’t married because it had been in a Registry Office constantly trying to badger me to become a Catholic. It didn’t seem to matter whether God had required this of me, least of all the fact that those at the Last Supper and those who formed the early church and its martyrs were all Jews, so theoretically it was the Catholics who needed to become messianic Jews or at least graft in to the Jewish tree not vice versa. Catholicism was only a religion, but the way Martha O’Casey behaved it seemed more like a race, and to be a Jew in her household was the lowest of the low. For every time she looked at me she didn’t see a resemblance to the blessed virgin, merely a genetic relation of Judas. Eddie had never taken me out since we’d moved in together, so one night we’d arranged to meet his friends in the Three Rabbits in Manor Park. I was so distressed by the time we got there I could barely stand, he was surly, morose as he walked to the bar. I gave him the money to pay for the drinks, but was so distressed by his attitude towards me that I left and waited outside. “You fucking slag, you’ve just shown me up in there, you fucking…” and down his fist came, followed by the drink which was thrown into my face, then he proceeded to batter me about the head. I headed for home, he followed, then when I entered a side road he kicked me hard in my left leg where I’d had the operation causing me to fall onto the pavement begging him for mercy. However bad he had been on those few occasions prior to our wedding, he was never like this. He then kicked me in my side, and went to punch me in the head, but luckily my hand blocked his assault, and I was left with a swollen hand which by the following day was black. With sadistic joy, he’d stood above me waving our marriage certificate in front of my shocked eyes and tore it up and walked off. Relieved that I wasn’t about to die, but devastated as I limped towards the shop doorway where he’d thrown the bits of paper, stooping down trying to retrieve every fragment as the tears streamed down my young face. Eddie had convinced me that he’d always worked until he met me, that I’d cost him his job, ruined his career. He’d even insisted that I should ask his mother for confirmation of this fact. It was then when Martha O’Casey slyly revealed to me that her eldest son Eddie had never worked. Where had he spent his days when he’d left our Springfield Road flat to buy his Jamaican ginger cake and cigarettes, where had he got his money other than when he used mine? Why had he never forgiven me for asking him to stay home one day after we’d rowed, and then accused me of losing him the electrician’s job he’d claimed to have held for four years since leaving school. In retrospect, I realize that she’d had no pity for me, her revelations were merely in order to reclaim her son. Eddie, certain that she would back up his story confidently played his hand, but this time it backfired, and instead of her giving him the confirmation expected, opening her toothless mouth she’d screeched out in her Irish tones, “he’s a bloody lazy liar! He’s never worked!” Eddie swore at us both and stormed out of the house and didn’t return. ‘Clair the moment I met you I swear, I felt as if something, somewhere, had happened to me which I couldn’t see’. Unable to return to either of my parents, both in bed sits, and not even knowing where my father lived, I was drowning in this mud bath of nightmares. Eddie wasn’t there, and my mother expected us for lunch the following day, what would I do? As always I did my utmost to protect my mother from all my own nightmares and so I’d persuaded Pat to accompany me to her bed sit in Ilford to take his place, and once again I had to lie to a mother whom I’d never lied to before I met Eddie, and once again it was to protect her. This was my only relationship with my mother since the Brisbane Road home had been sold, once a week roasted guilt and two veg, followed by conscience crumble and duty bound custard. I had never lied to my mother before, never, but now, in order to cope with the situation and to protect her from any grief I found myself making up some ridiculous excuse for his absence, as she handed round the olives to accompany the chicken. But, she didn’t seem to notice, in a world of her own, playing the pseudo middle class, kind mother, supposedly devoted, yet happily separated from her only child. My mother, as always was very generous with her overt show of care, waiting on us like a devoted mother with the lunch, and chatting to Pat, who was so much more refined and socially skilled than his eldest brother. Feigning all was well, we left my mother without any worries, and returned to the house where the toothless Irish woman reigned. The house smelt so bad, damp, mildewed, the toilet flooded with urine, so different from my mother’s clean flat. Norah , now suddenly I’d arrived, spent more time in the house in Sibley Grove than I did. I should have thought it odd, considering Shaun had broken her arm not long before my arrival onto the O’Casey scene and she hadn’t even been speaking to him, her father threatening to kill him, and now suddenly they were all the best of friends. It was whilst Eddie was missing when the two brothers and Norah revealed to me the true nature of my new husband. He was not only a liar, but a violent thief. They claimed that he’d once split open Shaun’s face in a fight, beaten up their mother and robbed her electric meter. Both brothers held down white collar jobs, it was only Eddie who’d never worked. Never worked, but he had left our Ilford home every morning, he’d also left our Springfield Road flat each day. Where did he get his money? Then suddenly I knew, it was from me, for I paid the grocery bills…. And he was supposed to have paid the rent. Of course I had been warned by his best friend Colin that Eddie had lied to me, and told him he was only with me for the freebees. Colin’s reward was to get his head kicked in by Eddie. Shaun and Pat had also disclosed how they recalled their mother tying them to a bed and beating them all with a stick, and also forcing Eddie to drown new born kittens. Pat had said that every time one of the heads popped up he’d pleaded with his mother to have some mercy. But, she’d had none, and so he ended up putting the creatures out of their misery by smashing out their brains with a brick. What damage had been done to him in his childhood? Even at the tender age of four, his mother had told me that dressed in his pageboy finery, his father had thrown a hot cup of tea all over him. Was it his fault he had turned into a monster, did he have monster genetics or was his life a continuous series of breakdowns? In characteristic fashion I’d feared that his brothers would think me not pretty enough for their elder brother, wondering if that was the reason Eddie had never taken me home in the past or let me meet his friends. But the youngest, Pat, had revealed, “you’re so beautiful Poppy, we never thought Eddie could ever get someone like you!” The world was there to judge me, not I the world, I was to be the giver, always trying to prove my worth in order to claim a right to my share of the oxygen. Yet, who were my judges? I was imperfect, eyes too big like my bum, like my mind, unacceptable for the playground. Selective memory, forgetting all the men who had wanted me, loved me before Eddie ever came along. Poor, lovely Patrick, begging me to tell him what his father was like, a man he’d never met, knowing that I’d met him once in a Whitechapel pub, but, what could I really say? Although I hadn’t been impressed when Pat had snogged Norah and then both expected me also to follow suit, but I’d declined. Family loyalty did not appear to be the O’Casey family’s major forte. Martha O’Casey seemed intent on my separating permanently from her son, as if it would be for my sake, insisting I should get myself a job and rent a bedsit somewhere in the area. Was this what it had come to, only 17 and my life was over, no more college, no career on the stage, alone in a bedsit working at a menial job, no one to care for me, when I was in no fit state to even care for myself. Eddie had been gone for several days, (although he’d have found it difficult to forget me considering he now had my name tattooed on both his arms), so there seemed nothing else to do but overdose. Uncertain whether I really wanted to die, yet, knowing that I couldn’t live with so much pain in my throbbing head, I’d made my own way to casualty. They’d pumped me out, the nurses had stroked my long, black hair, telling me how beautiful I was, and how I’d so much to live for. Eventually, Ed suddenly phoned the casualty department after the police had turned up at Sibley Grove looking for him where he’d apparently returned, but refused to come in the ambulance with me to another general hospital where they were transferring me. They kept me in that night, although I didn’t sleep, as an old lady was having a suspected heart attack. I’d called the nurse, but she was unable to get help, there was no one to cover for her, and not allowed to leave the ward unattended she was leaving the woman to die, her only life saving activity being to rub the woman’s back. Eventually, I persuaded her to get help and I’d take over the rubbing. The old lady seemed slightly better by now, and eventually help arrived. The following day the old lady said “Poppy, you saved my life…. I can’t understand how your parents can treat you like this… I only wish I had another bedroom in my flat, I’d take you home with me”. Yes, it seemed that strangers everywhere would care about my welfare, everyone other than my parents. Later that same day, the 7th January 1973, the day prior to my eighteenth birthday, Ed visited me in the hospital, begging me to return to his mother’s home for my birthday, telling me that all the family were looking forward to seeing me again. After he’d left, the other patients said that they didn’t like him. “He didn’t even kiss you”. “He’s shy”. Eddie returned that afternoon to take me home to his mother’s, although I didn’t want to go. The hospital social worker saw us prior to my departure, but he showed little understanding, arrogant, insensitive. “I don’t believe you, all you’ve done is fault your husband” he’d said in front of Eddie. “He seems like a very caring young man to me”, the social worker like so many others, blind to the abused young girl standing before him who was silently pleading for her life. Upon my return to his mother’s home, we’d been given her bedroom and double bed. I’d questioned Eddie, quoting all the horrendous tales his family had told me, but he denied them all and left me alone to go into the kitchen and didn’t return. As usual I waited and waited, but when it was obvious that he wasn’t coming back, I made my way into the kitchen. He was sitting there smugly, with Norah brazenly on his lap rolling a cigarette for him, something he’d never let me do, none of it made any sense. She jeered at me, as Eddie had told her some negativities I’d said about her to him. Norah was gross, with her protruding teeth and twisted nose, yet Shaun was good looking, a talented singer, he could have got any girl, what did they see in her, why was my own husband playing this sick game? Shaun just stood there as if not bothered by his girlfriend sitting on my husband’s lap, I felt like Alice, fallen down a sewer and finding myself drowning in shit. Eddie smirked, why was he playing this sadistic game, why did he marry me. This was a different man to the one I’d known, for although I’d occasionally known a cruel side of Eddie, I’d never known him like this, and to want to humiliate me, his wife in front of a girl who enjoying this bizarre game. A girl so ugly that none of my ex boyfriends would have touched her, common, rough, had I really lost the plot, was this the end of my journey, had I discovered annihilation of the mind at last? Obviously, it was apparent even then, that I was no threat. If that had been Mia she would never have dared. It had nothing to do with looks, only aggression. Animals, I was surrounded by so many animals, stuck in between an evolutionary state, able to smell the blood, hungry for their prey, and now they were in for the kill. I wasn’t a natural animal, I didn’t know how to plot out my space. Neither had any shame for the game they played, watching a distraught, naïve girl break before them, just one smack was all they needed, and deserved for the game to have stopped and I’d have won their respect. And, when I’d asked them to repeat their accusations against Eddie, they all denied them, friends sitting together in the kitchen, jeering and abusing me, watching me collapse in tears on the floor. It was when his mother came in, seeing the girl on my husband’s lap she threw her out of the house. Now I was the enemy, the liar, only the youngest brother Pat had befriended me, unable to understand the cruelty shown by the rest of his family, he too had been reduced to tears. Following me out of the house, as if his mind had also blown, my journey towards suicide and Nirvana was mercifully close in this land so strange to me. Planet earth and it’s inhabitants, un-evolved beings, and in all the playground’s most diverse jigsaws, there would still always be that one piece that doesn’t fit in and has to be discarded. We’d cried together sitting on the pavement outside East Ham station on that freezing January evening when I’d returned from the hospital, trying to get the courage to throw myself on the train line, as, to my young mind, I couldn’t think of any alternative option. What a way to spend my 18th birthday. Such a bizarre situation for newlyweds that I doubt if our marriage was ever consummated. All those men I’d slept with before him, yet I’d lived with him for 6 months and rarely, if ever had intercourse. It was the following morning when my mother-in-law had beaten me about my head apparently due to my sobbing during the night, a result of her son’s mental and physical cruelty. She of everyone knew what her son was really like, the sadistic nature, the liar and thief, yet, how could I have expected pity from the person who’d been his teacher? Once again I found myself returning to the casualty unit of East Ham hospital and asked for a bed, anywhere to sleep, for the only alternative for me was to die. The nurses were kind, but there were no beds for the homeless, my only option was to wait for three hours and see a Dr. Goodmayski, the consultant psychiatrist, (a good, caring professional, rare in his line of work as I was later to discover). That day I begged the dear man just to find me a bed for the night, anywhere, as the only alternative was suicide . . . I had nowhere else to go. As the ambulance drove through the Essex roads towards the psychiatric hospital, one of the ambulance men said, “there’s nothing wrong with you, surely you have a family, a beautiful young girl like you, where’s your mum?” “My mum lives in Ilford” my hands trembled, fearful now of where they were taking me, of the patients I’d soon meet, madmen, psychopaths. “Come on luv, we’ll drop you off at your mum’s”. “No, I can’t go there”. All I wanted was a bed and some kindness, and to some day recover from the shock of being beaten by both Eddie and his mother. One day to be able to continue with my acting ambitions and get back up on that stage and show the world my raison d’etre. “Oh, you don’t want to go to Stonedhaven… they live in a fantasy world there… .but, I suppose you must also live in a fantasy world”. About to step through the door of judgement, it wasn’t too late, I could turn around. Yet, where would I go, back to an alternative hell, of beatings and lies from a mad Irish woman and her sadistic son. The terror I felt on entering that ward on that first night, what would I find, were they all stark raving mad? If only I’d known then the price I would be forced to pay for this one bad move, an error in my choice of sanctuary for which I would one day pay with my life. If I could have removed Eddie from my memory then perhaps that would have been what I’d have chosen, a blade to cut away my chains, links of mental pain from my jailor. But, he was my husband, the person I’d lived with and shared with… he was all I had. I had to be the guilty party, for if it turned out that he was a liar and a cheat, then I had no one. It would mean that I’d been living a fantasy, and that wouldn’t merely leave me humiliated and worthless, totally unlovable, it would indicate that I could never distinguish between illusion and reality, lies or truth, and then where would I be? As all true philosophers knew whenever they lit their wax candles, illusion and reality were problematic issues, and one which a naïve 18 year old couldn’t even attempt to solve. For whenever I looked at Leeper’s lady, did I see a crone or a beauty, did Rubin’s vase merely show me two black faces, were the lines of Muller-Lyer longer or shorter, and was the Kanizsa triangle formless? Perhaps I was also formless, invisible, better off dead. Existence or non existence, not much to choose between it, except the possibility of peace. And, I wouldn’t be alone, for some of the greats had been suicides, those such as Arthur Koestler, Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemmingway, even Pontius Pilate, and of course there was Cleopatra. Eddie had destroyed my already crumbling world, yet, as the last disintegrating boulder left standing amidst the structure of the Iyzs family quake, each time he’d thrown the sharp fragments from his steel plated boulder at me, I had no choice but convince myself that it was my fault for getting in the way. He was now the only close family I had, and as the song of the time said, ‘I can’t live if living is without you’. I had never realised, not properly that it didn’t matter how readily the player, from the park where the lower rungs were easier to climb up the ladder of the slide, was willing to befriend the players in the other park where there were no rungs except for the one at the very top and bottom, yet, the player would graciously swing along with them on splintering wooden swings in the plebs playground, it didn’t mean that the plebs would welcome her in. For the pack could smell the blood, they knew those who belonged to the pack, Eddie was at home with them, crawling into their mud-bath of lies, caressing the cruelty and low life criminality, he’d ran back to them like a duck to water, for that was where he belonged. Always thinking negatively of myself, blind to the truth, that Eddie’s failure to introduce me to his friends all the time I’d known him, or introduce me to his own family wasn’t that he was ashamed of me. Not only had he been ashamed of them, he’d been even more ashamed of what they might tell me about him. But, like all suicides serving their apprenticeship I couldn’t see beyond my own prison walls. A young flower, bright with youth and looking forward to full bloom, the parasite slowly plucking away each petal, starving it of oxygen until the flower withered, until, with dying breathe the root beseeched it’s executioner for that last drop of water. The parasite now imbedded into the plant, so that the flower could no longer survive without it’s source of destruction. ‘Lets play lunatics’ was the next game I played in my new playground at Stonedhaven Psychiatric Hospital for the mentally normal who could no longer cope in the world of the insane. Stonedhaven was a large Victorian structure, a dismal, grey building sheltered within vast woodland. There were small lodges in the grounds, they were extra wards, sheltered between large oaks which separated them from the mortuary in the centre of the complex, its chimney blazing constantly. Like a scene from a horror movie, the January winds whipped through the branches of the trees, owls hooted into the Essex night and the full moon shone down on the ambulance as it entered the narrow, winding lane beyond the main door of the hospital, that had not so long before been a barbaric lunatic asylum and towards one of the isolated lodges situated in the vast grounds behind the main building. That first night I was given a bed in Lilac Lodge, kept awake all night by a screaming voice. Crying, howling as I lay there, terrified I would murdered by these crazies. Through the window I could see the black, winter sky, as the fateful, full, magical moon manipulated the brain waters of the mad. Like a CSF symphony, so much screaming, as the branches of the oak trees lashed against the window panes like claws. How had this happened to me, why had it all come to this? People were only taken to madhouses against their will, or if they’d been having treatment, but how was I there, having had to beg for a bed in such a house of horror. All night long the moaning and screams continued, yet no nurses came to check. I hadn’t told my mother where I was, I mustn’t worry her, and I’d no idea where my father lived, I wouldn’t have told him anyhow, they’d both only blame me for causing them problems. I’d spoken to Eddie before the ambulance had arrived, apparently he’d phoned asking if I’d overdosed again, but when I’d begged him to come with me in the ambulance he’d refused. “We all fought yer’d frown yourself on the railway line, there was a ‘old up… I’m in a state meself… na, I ain’t coming wiv yer in the ambulance… I’ll phone yer tomorra.” He was my husband, how could he be so heartless I wondered, as I lay there in the ward still trembling in shock. No one to run to for safety, for support, no one to tell what had happened, so much easier to blame myself for everything, and then it would all be my fault, and the sun would rise again tomorrow and the world and its inhabitants would still be perfectly balanced on the scales of just humanity. Then suddenly, footsteps! I could hear them in the darkness, the wooden floor creaking. Nearer, nearer the shuffle of feet, heading directly towards my bed. It was so dark I couldn’t see, couldn’t even murmur for help. The only light coming from the moon, randomly flashing through the room as the footsteps suddenly stopped beside my head. Unable to move, trying not to breathe, my heart pounded as if it would explode. The figure touched my bedclothes, I could feel someone’s breath over my face…and then I saw it! Silhouetted by the moonlight, a lunatic face loomed down on me screeching, “pure of mind and body! I am the way the truth and the light!” Above me white protuberant eyeballs centred with black orbs stared from a Negroid face splashed with large white patches. “Tried to make herself white with bleach” a young male patient called Tony expounded at breakfast the following morning, having introduced himself. I introduced myself as Poppy O’Casey, which legally I now was, although it sounded strange. Of course I was surprised to find the young man quite normal, not a raving loony, and was ashamed about the time when many of the girls from the 5th form in Dane Secondary had volunteered to visit Stonedhaven. I’d declined, not wishing to enter a mad house to meet nutters, and now, divine justice had been served, I was now one of the nutters. “Don’t worry, we’re not all mad here, some of us just need a break cos things got too hectic out there… and others have mental illnesses… and of course some have just had a bad trip, you know, acid” Tony chatted, his pupils staring a little too intently, betraying the medication that he was taking. “See him there” he pointed to a small, attractive teenager who was drinking a cup of tea at the near table, “he’s the cousin of Davy Zee, you know he played the piano on t.v.” I looked towards the direction of the boy, who noticing our gaze gave a wave and smiled. Yes, these inpatients definitely looked and acted far more normal than the O’Casey family back in Sibley Grove. I’d told Tony, who’d said that he also came from the East Ham/Manor Park area, Eddie’s name and where he lived. “Oh I know Ed O’Casey, yes, I know him from my local, used to go to the same school. Don’t worry, when he visits I’ll tell him that this isn’t just for loonies and you’re not mad”. Failed wife, failed daughter, my only concern that morning, not to protect myself, but my mother from knowing where I was. I phoned Selfridges where she worked in Ilford and left a message that I wouldn’t be able to go to her bed sit for lunch as arranged because I was in a hospital just for a rest, but she shouldn’t worry as I wasn’t ill. I hadn’t given the name of the hospital, not wishing to see her, but of course she’d found me, for I’d never thought of lying, after all she was my mother confessor and I wouldn’t have known how to lie. Later that day I was transferred to a another ward, as Lilac Lodge had a different consultant to Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski, and I’d only been put there due to a spare bed that previous night. Now I was being taken to Moraceae ward in the main building, my only concern, would Eddie know where to find me… that was if Eddie intended to visit me at all. “Well Poppy, we can give you a bed here until you find somewhere to live, think of it as a temporary sanctuary” the psychiatrist smiled, flanked by two Asian male registrars, and a female doctor wearing a sari. “Dr. Goodmayski, did you hear the one about the reason why I think I should bury Ed? No, well cos’ deep down he’s a good person” but, I just couldn’t bring myself to laugh. Still in shock from recent traumas, and from being there I was more than surprised to discover that this asylum, although having some lock up wards, ours was totally open, free to enter and go at any time. The other patients were of varying ages, most middle aged, only a few seemed to have lost it completely, walking up and down as if heading for somewhere but getting nowhere, of course the only nuisance schizophrenics were all male. Ironically, I now found myself in the same ward as Kevin, a very good looking young man who, as coincidence would have it, had been Eddie’s best friend at school. Eddie, who’d refused to come in the ambulance with me on my admission, thinking as I had, that only total freaks must reside there, once having spied Kevin on his first visit, Stonedhaven suddenly became home from home. “I should be ‘ere not you!” he’d complained, and it was the only honest thing he’d ever said. My mind unable to forget how he’d sat in his mother’s house with Heidi on his lap letting her roll up his cigarette when he’d never allowed me to do it. Listening to me plead that I wasn’t lying, for how could I have been, how could I have known all those details about his past unless they’d told me. But, he’d merely abused me, sniggered at by Heidi, Shaun had done nothing whilst I’d collapsed onto the floor. He alone had done this to the 17 year old girl he’d just married. My mother, who also arrived at the same time, looking so smart as she always did, in her black hat, coat and matching boots, the perfect, pseudo middle class loving parent, had little interest in questioning Eddie in private, only questioning him via myself. “Well, is he working?” she demanded from me, as Eddie sat beside her at the same table. It didn’t take long for him to walk out, then me to demand she left, then feeling guilty and sending another patient, Rees Slash to go after her to tell her I was sorry. Of course, Eddie made it clear that he wouldn’t visit if she were there. When would I be given my rights to a break down, the one to be protected from life’s knife edge, it was always me sacrificing, looking after the emotional needs and human rights of others, even from a nut house. “Please, I want to be alone with Eddie sometimes… I don’t want you to come every night” I begged, desperate not to hurt her, but trying to keep my marriage, as bizarre a marriage as it was. “I’m your mother, if I want to come and visit you every evening I will!” was her only response to her suicidal teenage daughter. “Depressed!” she had always scorned the word if I’d mentioned it, even when we’d lived in Brisbane Road. “I don’t understand people who say they’re depressed. I wake up every morning and think what a wonderful day ahead… all a lot of rot this depression… especially at your age, what on earth do you have to be depressed about?” Constantly she’d expound how lucky I was to have her as my mother, emphasising the fact that the other mothers didn’t visit their offspring, boasting how the staff could obviously tell that she was a different type to them with typical self appreciation as was her wont. Of course she never forgot to remind me what a trial it was for her to come and visit, she’d a bad ankle, that journey after work, and having to walk through those awful wooded grounds, her boyfriend Frank only occasionally dropping her off, and how embarrassed she was my being there. Never once did she mention the fact her boyfriend never once visited let alone sent a box of chocolates. But, whatever happened, I had no intention of leaving my new found sanctuary, for, I knew that if I left, I’d have to face the truth about Eddie, make decisions, survive alone, be beaten to death by him or his mother, or else die by my own hand. It was all too painful, and for now at least, I had been given a holiday, a temporary reprieve. ‘Freedom is a word I rarely use, without thinking, without thinking, of the time, of the time, when I’ve been loved’ (Donovan). On the whole, the staff at Stonedhaven, apart from Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski, spoke down to us as if we were lesser beings due to our ‘illness ‘, as if we were being punished, guilty prisoners in an unlocked jail. If one were sick, then one was inferior to the staff, if one wasn’t sick then one was wasting a bed, and still inferior to the staff. What I failed to realise then, that it wasn’t that their behaviour was due to it being a psychiatric hospital, it was bullying all too common amongst NHS nurses, as it was in most public services. The servant salaried to protect the public, forgot the loyal service to the public and merely protected his own club with an abnormal loyalty as if he were blood tied, be it medicine, law enforcement or governmental departments. These were societies parasites, clinging on to those whom they needed to be lesser than themselves in order to gain a career and strengthen their own credibility of self worth. Without their uniforms, titles or public whom to serve, then who would they be? Every morning two huge black nurses would come and insist I rose from my bed, with such coldness I wondered how they’d ever got through the interview for the job. Every morning I’d cry, plead with them to let me stay in the bed, my depression’s only healer was sleep. Daylight was like a knife stabbing my eyes, laughter a tear at my heart. All I wanted was to be left in darkness, time to analyse, to go over and over Eddie’s words, to make them into some sort of truth. Of course, if there had been just one sensible adult there none of this needed to have happened. I would not have been wasting months lying in bed crying. An adult, if they had bothered to listen would have known immediately that Eddie was a liar, that it was a self flagellating task my trying to turn his lies into truth at the expense of my own sanity. Yet, for me it was easier to believe I was mad, hallucinating, anything than one day having to face the truth that the man I’d known for a year, my tall, good looking husband was a cold blooded liar, who would be prepared to torture me, physically and emotionally until I died. And so, my only prayer each night was that the sun wouldn’t rise. Some day medics would realise that Freud was the real nutter, having an obsession with sleeping with his own mother and hating his father like Oedipus. One day they would discover that psychiatric patients with a recognised illness had physical health problems, be it an imbalance of chemicals, brain injury or disease, and that mind itself just didn’t exist. For, no one knew where exactly mind resided. For if it had no physical substance then how could drugs which had physical substance effect the non physical mind? They could of course argue that mind was made up of some sort of invisible chemistry which would then beg the philosophical question as to where non substance ended and substance began. Yes, some time in the next century they would discover that psychiatry had been wrong about everything, and psychology was the most fraudulent invention of the 20th century. Jealous of the lifestyle in Stonedhaven, and the male attention I was getting, Eddie confessed that the only man he trusted was Kevin. It was a sad choice really, considering that Kevin was constantly asking me to have sex . . . it was fantasy in Stonedhaven, nothing was real. Kevin, a confirmed racist, yet adored black music, his hero being Stevie Wonder, the song, ‘Evil,’ which, for me, summed up life in its miserable entirety . . . ‘Evil, why do you destroy so many hearts, leaving sweet love all alone, an outcast of the world’. And, for most of the patients, young and old, we were playing the game of youth, resurrecting a time we’d never had, a time to laugh, to be as carefree as the wind, a freedom to play in a safe playground during a belated childhood. Mia never visited me throughout my four month stay in the minus five star constipation camp for the mentally normal. Instead, she’d happily helped herself to all my clothes which I’d left at Rusty’s house, where they’d both continued to use my rented t.v., unable to send a measly get well card, but then, that was Mia. My mother who, after my numerous pleas eventually agreed to go round and pick up my things from Manor Park where they lived, and also arranged for the t.v. to be returned to the rental firm as they were sending me numerous bills. My rainbow coloured raincoat was missing, obviously purloined by Mia permanently, nevertheless all Mia had to say to my mother when she’d arrived was, “Poppy owes us £20 for cat food”. Most of the patients on Moraceae ward were middle aged, but there were a few youngsters. Two of the women appeared totally normal, just suffering injuries from years in abusive marriages. Marie, a black woman had a schizophrenic attack after her baby son was born. The baby, Robbie, also lived in Moraceae ward, and as the weeks went by, Marie got better, and looked after the baby better than anyone. I was the only one whom she trusted with the child, even more than she trusted the nurses. Although, when we first met and the sister of the ward, Lois Barley, a hard, cold woman had encouraged me to look at Robbie, but I’d refused, due to devastation I’d felt about Eddie, there’d be no babies for us. Ironic really, because I hadn’t even wanted him as a permanent fixture when we’d first met, I’d only wanted a career. But, due to my situation at my old home in Brisbane Road, and him bleeding my ego slowly from me with his lies, I found, like many others before me, suddenly emotionally glued to this parasite in order to get my daily infusion of peace. A man, who if truth be known, I hadn’t even wanted, was suddenly my jailer, a dealer who’d made me an addict, now dangled the syringe above my reach, until life had no meaning without him. But, like many women, I spent most of my days analysing his lies, over and over again until I could make them into some sort of acceptable truth. Where were the adults, where was the one person to say, “hey girl, this isn’t quite right, this guy’s a con”, or to interrogate him outside Moraceae ward as to his lies, abuse, least of all ambitions. But, no one had the guts to question him, not even my parents. I enjoyed walking with Marie and her baby, until a resident 20 year old schizoid started to throw stones, and for the baby’s safety I took a different route. He hated me, but the boy was mad, shouldn’t have really been in our ward, was so jealous of the male attention I received he even went to attack me when my mother visited. She’d had to try to stop him with her umbrella as the nurses pounced. Although I’d have liked to have the same treatment as the sectioned patients, such as weekly psychotherapy or some sort of counselling, or at least to see my consultant once a week instead of once a fortnight at the general Moraceae ward meeting where they’d tried to determine why the schizoid little creep was attacking me (to the point where poor Fred, a 60 year old, who’d been a patient for quite a while parked his chair outside the bathroom every time I needed to bathe for my safety). Everyone appeared to know my life was in danger, well, everyone except the staff, who’d been in denial of these incidents from the start. But, at such a young age, how was I to know that once I’d taken a bed there my word now would be worth far less than if I’d gone elsewhere. If those hostels hadn’t been full on that first day I’d gone to see Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski, would that have meant my word would have had the same clout as the word of a nurse? Yet, they showed Marie even less care, the night staff fully aware that a crippled old lady at the end of the female dormitory was an ardent racist, constantly threatening Marie and going to attack the pram. So bad to the point that Marie, unable to sleep, asked me to protect her by placing hazardous objects about her bed and the pram in case the old lunatic tried to hurt baby Robbie during the night. Yet, anything one told the staff was either disbelieved or ridiculed, we were of course lesser beings, my major failing was, I kept forgetting this. Usually, I missed breakfast due to lying in bed depressed, and then, when I did emerge into the dining area, Shaw, a dark, slightly overweight but attractive twenty year old who was also Jewish, would play his guitar and sing me into the morning, ‘little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter, little darling . . .’ like an angel from heaven. Although Shaw was only there trying to escape a prison sentence for a drugs charge. Of course he was a little ‘psycho’ from a bad trip, and whilst there had made a young 17 year old black schizophrenic pregnant, then offered to marry her… that was until she’d had a miscarriage, but he had a reasonably good heart. He’d been dominant, bossy, insisting on getting his own way, which was of course a male problem in general, nevertheless he’d arranged for us all to entertain the elderly patients in one of the lock up wards, where he sang his Beatle’s songs, his favourite at that time being ‘Prudence’, and insisted that I played the only tune I knew on the piano ‘Fur Elise’. But the formal recreational activities for us lesser beings was either working in a factory workshop for a pittance, or else occupational therapy where we could paint psychedelic pictures to humour the O.T. teacher who was a reasonably good guy for an inherent suicide. Of course there were always the perks of having visitors, particularly Shaw’s, who supplied the younger patients with marijuana and acid. Although I’d very rarely inhaled the earthy weed, I didn’t trip, drugs didn’t appeal, despite the fact that boyfriends had constantly tried to insist I take them. As the delinquents from Moraceae ward and their visitors sat in a secluded outhouse in a field over at the far end of the hospital grounds one dark winter’s night, many of my companions tripping nicely, until the police arrived. Immediately Shaw fled off into the black obscurity, but he was caught lying face down in a nearby field. It was obvious when the police brought him back into the barn that they were more nervous of us, than we were of them. Eddie would have gone mad if he’d been there as he was opposed to drugs; in his ethical labyrinth, drugs were in a different stratosphere to larceny, wife beating or drunkenness. “Right!” a burly officer said, trying to take command of a situation better suited to a t.v comedy show, making the film, ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ a mere nursery tale. “Right, now I want those of you who are patients in one line, the visitors stand in a file here!” The police officers didn’t know how to contain the situation, they couldn’t be too harsh, for nutters had rights, even in those days. As they ran about flustered, trying to secure some sort of order, it was interesting to observe how ignorant they really were of the society they had been given to protect. These were, as the policemen believed, society’s lunatics, and the police just had no idea how to maintain authority. As the other policemen took nervous glances at one another believing that their mute mumblings couldn’t be seen by us, they too did their best to instruct us to form the two queues. Of course the obvious happened, everyone started jumping from the line of queuing patients across to the other file for visitors and vice versa, then back again, some saying that they couldn’t remember whether they were patient or visitor. Those the police thought to be patients, such as the biker who had no teeth, looked an archetypal psychopath, was actually a courier working for the N.H.S, a visitor. I appeared to be the only one frightened, not because I had any drugs nor was I using the plea ‘I’m nuts’ to get off a prison sentence like Shaw. My only concern was, if this got back to the consultant psychiatrist would he evict me from this safe cocoon. Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski, even though we’d rarely met, was the nearest to a daddy I had. “Right!” the officer in authority barked, I am going to get the name of the wards you’re in!” Like a fool I would have given my name and the ward, but hearing that everyone else had given false names and wards, even the visitors who were feigning to be patients, I thought it best to follow their lead. After giving fictional names and wrong wards, we were allowed to depart, much to the relief of the poor policemen who would have undoubtedly found it easier arresting Ronnie Biggs. “Poppy, I’ve had correspondence from your aunt… Faye” the ward sister Lois Barley informed me after having summonsed me to her office. “She’s worried about you, and contacted social services to find out where you are”. My heart sank, I didn’t want anyone to know where I was least of all see them. “You’ll have to phone her or write to let her know where you are!” In hindsight I didn’t have to do anything of the sort, but for an 18 year old I didn’t know my rights. Of course she should never have insisted that I had to contact them least of all see them, I wasn’t in prison, although it seemed that way. My mother had gone through a phase of claiming that it was all her fault as to why I was in hospital in the first place, promising that her previous treatment of me would never be repeated. Admitting that she’d been wrong for abusing me to her sisters over the years, claiming it was her fault they didn’t like me, and furious with them for not offering us a home, since splitting with my father she’d have nothing to do with them. Ironic really, because it was mainly due to her constant phone calls to them in our hearing as to why the situation at home became so much worse, that and of course her affairs with Barney, Lionel and Frank not forgetting the Mile End road worker whom we referred to as ‘crazy paving’ et al. Of course another man would have thrashed her, but my father was too scared even though his mouth was so big… he only ever hit me. How she’d remind me of that one occasion when aunt Cissie supposedly had said that she could have the couch when my father sold the house, but constantly rubbed it in, how none of my family had ever offered me a bed. This was why, so she said, that she’d have nothing more to do with them. Yet, why couldn’t she have found her own flat, even go to the council and asked for a two bedroom home. If she’d not been so stupid we’d still have been living in Brisbane Road, for my father was law bound to maintain me until I was 18. But, thinking my mother was penitent, I phoned her at work, for she didn’t have a phone in her bed sit. “Aunt Faye’s wanting to know where I am, will you just tell her I’m okay…but I don’t want them to come here” “They’re your aunts, you phone them!” Eventually, hearing me beg she relented, but not as much as I’d hoped. My intention had been once again to put others first, to stop my aunt from worrying, and to keep me from the stress of having to see her. My mother on the other hand informed me that instead of protecting my interests, she had apparently told them, “Poppy wants you to know where she is” the exact opposite of what I’d actually asked her to do. It was one Sunday afternoon in February, Valentine’s day, when I was waiting for Eddie to arrive when to my horror my family arrived en masse. My father, whom they didn’t speak to due to loyalty to my mother (who no longer spoke to them), arrived just prior to them, gave a nod and walked off down the ward leaving me to face them all alone. I would never be one of those lucky souls who had others always protecting them. My friend Jean had also arrived. ”Eddie will be here soon”. “But what about poor mummy, you’re very selfish being here Poppy” aunt Cissie continued her rhetoric whilst aunt Faye went into the sister’s office for a private word, informing her, like she had the social worker in Boreham Wood, that I’d always been spoilt. Of course, no one ever reminded Nigel about him having punched his mother in the chest, nor Charlotte for sleeping with a married man. No one ever referred to how my aunt destroyed her family by getting pregnant whilst unmarried, least of all my own mother’s constant adultery. What was my crime, I was never quite sure. Jean sat beside me obviously horrified at the behaviour of my visitors, who were unable to show unequivocally the love I so needed. Repetitive questions and criticisms from my aunts, whilst uncle Solly sat uncomfortably, guilty for his shouting at me on that day I left his home in Boreham Wood only a few months earlier. How nice it would have been if just one of my family had said, ‘come and stay with us next weekend’, or ‘we’ll come and see you again’. They were all so angry at my being there, yet where else did I have to go? Glancing away from the corridor I looked towards my father who was still pacing up and down the other end of the ward, too scared to come near them. “I can’t believe how your family treat you! What horrible people….poor you, I feel really sorry for you Poppy, God, what a horrible family” Jean declared, when we managed to temporarily escape from the ward with cousin Nigel. Yes, my aunts hadn’t been exactly sensitive or loving, merely critical and authoritarian, but, perhaps it was their way of coping. It was just so sad for me, an absolute wreak after their visit, feeling even more inadequate than prior to their arrival. All I’d needed was a little kindness and perhaps one of them to say “we love you Poppy”. “So where is Dave?” Jean asked, as we headed down the stairs into the long, Victorian corridor with Nigel nervously in tow. How lucky he was, just doing his A levels, six months younger than I, yet how different our lives were, he had a future, I only had the past. How often had I been rebuked at the age of 16 when we’d still lived in Brisbane Road, that I was lucky to be kept on at college, yet now, by the age of 18 I’d survived the problems of a 30 year old, without the help of any adult, whilst my cousins were still cocooned in the comforts of juvenility. It had only been a few weeks earlier when I’d accidentally bumped into Dave in a tea room on the ground floor where he sat smoking with a carer beside him. He looked gaunt, bald. I barely recognised him. When we’d last met, Dave had been a successful D.J., a friend of one of my ex boyfriend’s, the drug dealer Doug, the 28 year old whom I’d been seeing at the age of sixteen. I’d only gone out with him because he owned a Triumph Herald, it looked super cool to be seen driving along with the roof down. It had been Doug who’d got Dave into acid, he’d supplied the tab which had given Dave such a bad trip, the results, he was now a registered schizophrenic, and had recently tried to kill his young nephew. Dave was sectioned. We walked out of the main hospital, across the grass beneath the bare winter trees and headed towards one of the nearby lodges. Why couldn’t I have been Nigel, I thought as I tried to reassure Jean that Dave was getting better. Why couldn’t I have been going home to a family and support, and have expectations for some happiness, a future? I felt like an axis, with the weight of the world balancing upon my fragile, unformed shoulders. “Sorry, David isn’t allowed visitors, except family” the nurse came to the locked security door. “I used to be his girlfriend, and I thought he might like to see me… just to say hello”. The nurse relented, allowing Jean entry, whilst Nigel and I tried to make pleasantries to each other, but what could a girl, who’d already slept with half of Essex, say of any significance to her cocooned cousin? Yet Nigel and I had always got on, close really, except for the fact that we led totally different lives. That afternoon Jean went home crying, and poor Nigel looked as if he might be doing the same. My main concern had been where was Eddie, he was never late, not on a Sunday. It was just after everyone had left when Eddie strolled in. “Where were you?”. “You’ll never guess what happened….” . Of course I should have known then, for it hadn’t been the first time I’d known a liar, for Pete my boyfriend at 15, who’d constantly begged me to get engaged when I didn’t want to, had turned up late that night claiming to have just come from casualty having been knocked over, when really he’d been two timing me. That should have been the only lesson I’d ever needed in the rules of this game of love, that men and truth were a contradiction in terms, as they were also a contradiction to the philosophy of selfless compassion, hanging on limpet-like regardless, until they have found an alternative piece of seaweed to pop. “I went to see a flat!” I was confused, why didn’t he phone to let me know, why didn’t he take me with him? Why had I handed him the reigns, why did I need an invite, permission and cross out the Y’s with my X and take control of my own life? “I tried to phone and leave a message but I couldn’t get through… no, I couldn’t take you, I wanted it to be a surprise… sorry, I can’t stay long, got work, yes, the site in Whitechapel Hospital…look here’s your Valentine’s card”. He handed me a large card in an envelope. Even this was a problem to me, as due to my vulnerability I’d asked for the card earlier than the day, just to ensure that I got one. The card was very large, padded, with a picture of two lovers on the front. “See, that’s me and you… read the inside”. Tentatively I opened it. The printed words were wonderful, it said to my darling wife, and how much he loved me in the most beautiful poetic form. Then his own handwriting underneath, ‘I didn’t write it but I meant it, love from the old man’. How I’d wished he were a poet, ever since we’d met I tried my hardest to persuade him to dabble in romantic writing, for love letters had always been the first step in the art of professional seduction. But, the best I got was a poem written by someone else, signed by ‘the old man’, and still not certain if he’d failed to give it to me earlier because his mother had refused to lend him the money, whether he’d used his own money or whether he’d paid for it at all. How often I’d begged him, “if you’re wanting out of this relationship, please do it whilst I’m here, please”. For I knew that if he did it after I’d left this sanctuary, it would mean the end, there was no one outside to offer me support or a kind word, and my mission of self annihilation would have then been accomplished. But, there were occasions like these when I was uncertain if I wanted to run out of gas quite just yet. “I love yer dun I, yer silly ole goat, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world, you’re my wife… I’ll never forget how beautiful yer looked on our wedding day, look” he showed me his new tattoo in the shape of a dagger which he’d had done in Woolwich the first week we’d returned from Lockerbie. There was my name, his name and a space for a baby. “I wouldn’t have had this done if I didn’t love yer”. It was the following morning when I’d phoned the building site in Whitechapel where he’d claimed to be working, when a voice on the other end of the phone told me they had never heard of him. “He’s been hitting me again” I tried to explain to the Indian female registrar Dr. Chinchilla, whom I’d bumped into on the stairs leading up to our first floor ward. “Well, I’ve never seen him hit you, he seems a very pleasant young man to me”. Because I was living there I was not to be trusted, these were the same people trying to impress on society that there really was no stigma if one were a nutter. The world would have called her the sane one of the two of us, yet, when I’d once tried to take her photograph she’d gone absolutely mental, running off in her long sari screaming her head off, apparently it had something to do with her soul being caught up on camera. Yet, if I’d behaved like that would Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski have reported the action as ‘cultural’ or written me up as a ‘neurotic schizoid’? “Please sister Type, can I have a word….” “You’ll have to wait Poppy….your aunt Faye told me that you like your own way and have been spoilt, well, we don’t all jump here when you call… now come back later!” In shock, there was too much to take in, everything would be lies, nothing was true, how I wanted to be mad, then it would be all my fault, he’d be innocent, I could trust the world again if I were the only one insane. No one to turn to, I didn’t even have a psychologist, there was no one to listen to the ramblings of a rejected teenager in shock. Once I phoned the Samaritans but all I got was someone saying that they didn’t believe me. Slowly, I found myself walking out of the main gates and down Wheat Lane. The sun was shining, it was quite warm for early spring. I still wore my long velvet coat, it was what I’d married in, made me look slim, he’d said I was the most beautiful girl in the world. I felt my finger for my rings, the wedding ring I’d paid for myself was still there, yet I wondered what had happened to my engagement ring as I headed into the chemist. Sun shining, park so fresh, new world beckoned to a child on planet sorrow, no key and no lock. Entombed in the shelter, swallowing my means of escape, can of Coke to wash away the evidence. Get off this hell-bound train, looking for the light at the end of the dark, groggy tunnel. No one in sight, they couldn’t accuse me of attention seeking, their familiar words of scorn to anyone who dared survive. In the distance I could hear the sirens, felt the movement of the wheels along the bumpy road, felt the tube down my throat and the vomit, only 17 and I’d already failed. Of course when Eddie visited me that night and I questioned him, all I got for my troubles were excuses. He’d barely spoken to me, telling me that I needed bed rest whilst he rushed off to sit with Kevin in the dining room. I’d walked out with him after visiting time, although barely able to balance, the after effects of 100 Paracetamol still floating in my blood stream. Yet, Eddie’s response was becoming familiar, a thump about the head and him walking out of the hospital grounds. I’d run after him, all the way down Wheat Lane towards the main road, but he just swore, spat and thrashed out. Eventually I found him trying to hide from me at the top of some iron steps. Yet, even then he somehow managed to con his way out of his crimes, and then go on to convince me that I’d jumped to the wrong conclusion when I’d phoned his works, that the other men on the Whitechapel site may not have known his name due to his insurance cards having not yet arrived. He’d started ranting that his mother had found my diaries, and told him what they said. My eyes opened wide, for how often had I written when I’d first met him that I wasn’t that bothered about him, all his faults and that I was merely using him, and noting down all the men I’d slept with. Of course, I’d failed to realise that it wasn’t his mother but himself who’d read them, how long ago it had taken place I will never know, perhaps from the very first week when he’d moved into the family home in Brisbane Road. Maybe it was partially due to what he’d read that may have triggered his cruelty, for I, as always, could only see from one angle, and that was, Poppy was always the innocent victim. How often I’d written that I was only using him, didn’t really want him, and all the other men I’d been with. “Please don’t go to work tomorrow, stay with me, I need you!” “I ain’t losing this job an all, I lost me last one ‘cos of you” was his only reply, then smiled, “bloody Norah, Do ya fink I’d rather be there with them than wiv you, yer silly ole goat”. “Please come back with me to the hospital, please”. “Na, got to get home for work… I’ll visit ya tomorra” he said heading away towards the bright lights of the distant nightclub. The following day I found myself in Whitechapel outside the very hospital where I’d been born. The building site was there alright, so were the men, but Eddie was nowhere to be seen, and no one there had ever seen or heard of him. Where could I go, who could I tell, no one would be interested least of all my own mother. So, I caught a train to East Ham station and found myself back at his front door at Sibley Grove. Nervously I knocked, I just wanted to speak to his mother, just for reassurance. “Hello Mrs. O’Casey… I don’t suppose you know where Eddie’s working?” I stammered, fearful of another of her beatings about my head. “Working, he’s not bloody working!” she shouted in her rough Irish voice, her toothless gums exposed, as were my own emotions. “Come on… see where he is!” Lying beside her double bed on a camp bed was the body of my husband. “Fuck off you stupid cow!” was his loving welcome. What should I do, where could I go, who should I tell? In a world filled with people, I had no one, so of course I overdosed again. It had been twice in two days, and once again the world spun around in my head, the planet wasn’t balanced any longer, what had happened? It’s strange how some women drive themselves to the brink of insanity in the attempt to absolve their partners. I’d tried to convince myself that I alone was mad, everything was my fault. Why had I done it, I hadn’t even wanted him, not long term, I’d just wanted to be strong, stable, secure enough to go out into the world and be the actress I’d always longed to be. I’d just needed a home, and someone in it who loved and supported me, just a substitute parent that was all. I inhered a weakness in my make up, searching out the ultimate truth in every soul . Protecting others from pain, yet, ironically, I had no idea how to assemble my own suit of armour. Since childhood I’d taken the sword thrusts from others in order to save them from being scarred. But how much blood would I have to shed before my own life was sacrificed? Once bitten the saying goes, but is that always the case What about those who can’t change, who never harden from experience but continue to be attracted to the same playground? Or those who secretly believe that to adapt to the ways of imperfection in order to win the world’s game is a weakness, a violation of the perfect. I didn’t see or hear from Eddie for a few days, and so I’d stayed in my sanctuary, often sitting alone in the tiny, indoor shrubbery, the size of a miniature greenhouse where no one could see me. If only I could have a break down, lose my mind, it wouldn’t be so painful, just to forget and wake up in a new head. Again I wandered towards the door where sister Lois sat writing her reports, for, in Stonedhaven, as elsewhere on the National Health, emotion equated with madness. “Sister…..” . “You’ll have to come back later Poppy, you can see I’m busy!” The NHS still holding onto its Victorian workhouse attitudes of its residents being the lesser, the worthless, the guilty. I’d heard a rumour that the staff were considering taking my clothes, I would be trapped, imprisoned in that Victorian asylum, freedom was the only tonic I had, and so I was off! The men who picked me up hitching were kind, trying to think of somewhere I could sleep. “Look I can drop you off at Wivenhoe if you like” a young man with long hair kindly offered having heard of my plight as we drove through Essex. “There’s a university there, I’m sure one of the students would put you up for the night”. It sounded hopeful, but I was in too much of a state to know the best course of action. After he’d dropped me off at Colchester, I continued hitching until I found myself in Suffolk. I’d frequently phoned the hospital to tell them not to worry, falsely believing that my parents had honoured my instructions not to visit that day, again my first priority was to protect them. Then I telephoned the police requesting they contact my husband, I needed to speak to him. I’d heard of people having breakdowns, yet, even now I couldn’t quite manage it. I wasn’t mad, just trying to drive myself that way still trying to absolve my husband, his lies and deceit cascading up and down in the sea of truth, leaving me to drown. The policeman I’d spoken to was lovely and promised to get Eddie to a phone, asking me to promise him that I’d ring back an hour later. It was when I reached Ipswich in Suffolk when I phoned again, shocked when a different policeman answered. “I don’t believe you’ve gone anywhere….I think you’re still in Stonedhaven” he sneered, illustrating the obvious mentality of his type. Yet, wouldn’t I have also been the same had I not needed the bed, as everyone constantly told me, I didn’t belong there… but the question was, did anybody? I’d ended up in Great Yarmouth, the police were in a dilemma as I wasn’t sectioned, my mind shocked, unable to sort out Eddie’s lies from the truth… if there was indeed any truth. “Yes, we’ve got Eddie with us love, now you just stay where you are and we’ll bring him to you” the kind voice at the other end of the phone tried to reassure me. “But… but how can he get from East Ham to here, I’m in a phone box….I…” “Now don’t you worry my dear, he’ll be with you in just a minute, now you just stay in that phone box and don’t go away, okay?” Of course when the police car arrived there was no Eddie, just a considerate ploy to save my life. They took me to the local police station where a police woman sat with me, as my hands came out in a nervous rash. She’d remained with me after her shift had ended, the only police woman available to look after me, which she did with cups of tea and offering me which I couldn’t eat. “Your father has been contacted, he’s on his way to fetch you”. “Oh no!” I cried in terror, “he’ll hit me…please don’t let him hit me” I pleaded, knowing how he’d always been too ready with his hands when I’d done nothing wrong, but now to have caused him this journey, well, better I had killed myself. “He won’t hit you, don’t worry Poppy, I won’t let him hit you”. He didn’t hit me, but shocked me with the revelation “you know I love you”. No I didn’t, if only he’d told me before I thought to myself, as we sat in the train heading back to Essex. Yet, he obviously didn’t love me enough to go and smack Eddie in the mouth. ‘Your baby ‘as gorn dan the plug ‘ole, your baby ‘as gorn dan the plug’ The following morning I’d received a letter from Eddie admitting that he was a ‘lying bastard,’ and that I was too good for him. Yet, why couldn’t I have liberated myself earlier, why was I so blind? Why didn’t I have the self esteem to know that my perspective of the situation could be the correct one no matter what others said? As one of the world’s natural philosopher’s I should have been able to make judgements between lies and falsehood, and feel less pity for those who purposely caused pain, only able to share deception. But, sadly for me I was blind, the spectacles for species survival which I needed, the acumen into the inner conscience and psyche of fellow anthropoids in order for self protection, had not been programmed into my DNA. Upon receipt of Eddie’s letter my mother had cried, but I’d laughed, I was exonerated, I was free! “Ed O’Casey probably only married you because he knew you were coming into money” my mother callously elucidated, during one of her daily visits after Eddie and I had split. It was only a small amount from my share of the sale of the house in Brisbane Road, which I’d begged her not to mention to him, but the pleasure of boasting of how she’d provided for me had quashed any sense of loyalty. Now she felt no pity in rubbing salt into the wound, conveniently forgetting how she’d pandered to Ed, excusing him, convincing me I had to stay with him when I’d tried to finish the relationship before we’d even moved in together. And where was this money, for I’d never seen it, no solicitor had ever written to me about my third share of the house. She’d told him all my business him virtually in the first week of meeting, yet her life was ‘private’ and I never betrayed her. Where had I learnt my loyalty from, why wasn’t I ever as shrewd as she, not everything was genetic, or so it would seem. My mother, not wanting ‘any problems,’ with a “tell your father . . . why should it be on me?” being her only response every time I would need her help. Then, characteristically absolved herself as she always had, by buying me presents, paying out . . . forever paying her way out of maternal love and responsibility. Of course, she told as many people as possible how wonderful she was for visiting, and every gift she ever bought, daily perfumes and talcs and writing pads. Constantly reminding me how greatly she suffered the long walk through the “awful” wooded grounds of the hospital, alone, with her “bad foot,” which she’d sprained some time before 8 months previously, it had been her excuse for not attending the parents evening at college. Odd how she could sleep with Frank, she’d betrayed my father with him, even taken him to the family home, yet didn’t appear to know him well enough to ask him for a lift. Her only concern appeared to be the wedding gift she should buy for his 23 year old daughter Susan, who was, obviously so different, so perfect compared to myself. It was nice however, when sister Type informed me that the long haired young man who had driven me to Colchester on my escape bid, was on the phone worried if I was okay. I went to the phone and reassured him that I was safe, thanking him for his concern, his kind were sadly all too rare. Eddie had phoned that following week, instructing me to phone him back. Obediently I’d gone to the public phone in the corridor on the ground floor. But, this time I’d had friends with me, telling me what to say, and for the first time ever I’d answered him back without apology nor fear. And when his abuse got too much to bear I’d then hung up, much to the delight of all the other nutters who’d cheered and clapped me. “I’ve just had Eddie on the line, he says he’s got a flat…but if you take my advice you won’t phone” Sister Type came and told me in the dining room during lunch, soon after I’d returned to the ward. It seemed like hours as I sat alone at one of the dining tables, my heart pounding, did I make the call or did I lose him forever, tick tock, tick tock… “Eddie just phoned again….he was very abusive and said that if you didn’t phone now it would be your last chance…I told him that he needed to grow up” tick tock, tick tock the mouse run up the clock, the clock struck one! But all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Poppy together again. It was that following day when Martha O’Casey, Eddie’s mother had phoned. Sister Type true to form didn’t ask the suicidal teenager if she wanted to take the call, she insisted. Martha O’Casey was suddenly the angel of light, ‘mum’. How she’d begged me to visit her, telling me how she missed me and longed to see me again. Yet, during that unwelcome call she’d attempted to reassure me that Eddie wouldn’t be in the house if I went, constantly reinforcing her belief that if others hadn’t interfered Eddie and I would still be together. This was the same women who had refused to recognise our marriage, who had been only too pleased to tell me how awful her son was and for me to go and get a bedsit and forget him. This was the same woman who had so recently beaten me about the head. But, in hindsight, at least she had given us a bed, more than either of my own pseudo middle class parents had done. Obviously Eddie had put her up to the call, only wanted me now he’d lost me. They had a strange bond, Eddie and his mother. Both seemed to hate each other, yet wouldn’t be separated no matter what the cost. Perhaps the torture she’d inflicted upon him bonded them forever, the beatings, the drowning of new born kittens. In return he’d beaten her, so I’d been told, robbed her and caused untold grief and … yet, he still couldn’t leave her. The only contact I had with Eddie’s mother after the call was on receipt of the one letter she’d ever written to me during my long stay in hospital, she’d written to ask for the return of her old battered suitcase as she was going on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, she signed it ‘love mum’. Of course I was yet to receive a get well card, least of all a visit, but what could I expect from a woman who’d tied her own children to the bed to beat them with sticks. But, did my own mother make it easy for me, no. The return of the suitcase was yet another nightmare for me. Did my mother expect me to return it myself, why couldn’t Frank have offered to return it if she was so fearful, for she spent the past few years caring more about him than she did me. All those months of torture from Eddie, and never once had either parent cared enough to go and see him, rebuke him, least of all give him a good hiding. Eddie’s uncle Dick had visited on several occasions. The first time he came he brought Pat, Eddie’s youngest brother, uncle Dick emphasising how ashamed he was of his nephew, telling me how Eddie had borrowed the money for my engagement ring from him and never paid him back, the money he’d claimed his mother owed him was a lie, which was why Eddie had waited until he was able to get his uncle alone to ask for it. Then poor, kind Dick elucidated how Eddie had broken into his home and stolen some of his property along with his cheque book. “Marry someone of your own kind, you are too decent for Eddie”. My mother explained after they’d left that he’d meant that I should marry a Jew, but I knew from experience, that all men were the same. They were the obvious missing link of creation, the un-evolved step between the Sasquatch and Eve which was why they had superfluous hair and nipples. It was some time after uncle Dick had gone when I suddenly realised that one night when Eddie had gone missing he’d claimed that he’d been waiting for a man he’d once worked for to cash a cheque. It hadn’t made much sense at the time as I was certain that one moment he’d said the man, an ice cream vendor had once employed him and owed him the cheque. Although it begged the question as to why an electrician would have worked selling ice cream? Then he’d said that the cheque was his wages which he couldn’t cash as he had no bank account and this man would cash it for him. Eddie had shown me the cheque, signed by a Mr. Richard O’Neil.. The cheque had subsequently bounced, I recalled the incident well, my uncle Moishe aunt Cissie’s husband who lived in Ilford had loaned my mother our deposit on the flat which Eddie had re-paid with a dud cheque… the signature had been signed ‘Richard O’Neil’. There had been no ice cream salesman, no money owed. There was only one Richard O’Neil whom Eddie knew, and that was uncle Dick. Eddie had broken into his own uncle’s home that night and stolen his money and his cheque book. Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski hadn’t wanted to admit me on that very first night, and still only referred to my stay as ‘sanctuary’, I wasn’t on any medication except for sleeping pills which had been optional, nor receiving any therapy. However, as most of my new friends were on Largactil at the very least, (Shaw usually selling his own tablets and those he’d bought for a dog end from the elderly residents in the lock up wards, ‘down the Dilly’), I was envious, wanting to be a fully incorporated member of this trendy, druggy club. In the next group session, which only seemed to be for the benefit of the staff in order to give some credibility to their latest text book theories, I sat beside Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski and started to purposely fidget and tremble. Not only did I feel deprived for not having any medication which my fellow inmates were administered, but, perhaps more importantly, I needed him to know that I was desperately in need of my bed. ‘Doctor Goodmayski” I smiled when it came to my turn to speak in this ‘let’s play who’s the nuttiest’ game. “Did you hear the one about the patient who said ‘doctor I’m suffering from hallucinations?…. No? Well the doctor replied, ‘rubbish, you’re imagining things’”. But no one laughed at that afternoon’s psycho soiree, not even the patients. Them and us, that’s how it was with the nurses, them being those supposedly there to serve us, but were really the jailors. Us, well, we were the failed prisoners, except they’d have been delighted if I’d make my escape, apparently as soon as possible. How often the bitchy nurses, both male and female kept jeering how I was wasting a bed and shouldn’t be there, yet, in retrospect why didn’t they tell that the consultant rather than bully me? I was suicidal, even I knew that, although of course no one believed me. Attention seeking wasn’t in my vocabulary, my only need was to get help to stay alive, not to die, not enough of an exhibitionist, feelings hidden beneath the fat. The fact that I’d survived was down to luck more than choice. Too young to know of other options open to me, no one to teach, or show me a better path, and no armour to protect me from the raging lions who occasionally penetrated this safe cage. After every suicide attempt the staff would reprimand me for not going to them and talking first. Yet, in this circus of insanity there was not one person to whom I could talk, no one ever had the time in this ring, where so many were trained to talk, least of all find any staff who’d believe me. If only I’d known then that to overdose, or seek sanctuary even for a maltreated adolescent, would bring such lifelong abuse from those of society’s servants salaried to protect me. My life now at constant risk due to survival, better I’d finished the job then, for survival would mean a slower, more painful ongoing death. Worse than a murderer, rapist or thief, to have sought refuge at 17 in the wrong hotel, the greatest crime of all, resulting in less rights, respect or quality of life than the rest of humanity. Yet, even at such a young age I knew that it was such a thin line to choose between life and death. And death, for a mind-raped society orphan was the sweetest, most seductive music I’d ever heard. Suicide was like any other addiction, once you’d crossed the line, there was no going back, and at the first crisis the only option was the bottle of tablets. Of course luckily for me, I’d only started a minor addiction, others were far worse. Those constantly returning to Stonedhaven year after year with more slashes, stomach pumps, some in comas, affected only due to a car crash or drug abuse, or maybe a violent, abusive partner. If I’d been on heroine, cigarettes or alcohol at least I’d be given therapy, empathy, but all that ever happened when I wanted to end it all was abuse, from staff and aunts, all I wanted was a little bit of love. Even pre Christ, philosophers such as Pythagoras and Socrates had condemned suicide, as did the contemporary 20th century western world. As for Socrates, well, he didn’t exactly die of old age himself, whether a lock of hem, or a hem of lock it all amounted to the same death at one’s own hand… or cup as the case may be. Yes, suicide was an addiction, and, like the shop lifter after the first theft, the virgin, after the initial deflowering there was no going back to a clean slate. Once having crossed the line, transgressed the boundary, then the self is flawed, blemished, and there’s no way back. Yet, as all addicts know, even though the addiction is never totally eliminated, it can be conquered by those strong enough to win the game. Philosophers like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, and poets such as Sylvia Plath, even Virgil had written about suicide. In the 1960’s, statistics showed that the highest rate of male and female suicide occurred in West Berlin and the lowest was Mexico. Yet, in all the global research undertaken, there was always one major similarity, there was a substantially higher suicide rate amongst men. Yet, it would still continue to be the normal, well balanced women who were told they were ‘neurotic’ ‘hysterical’ and ‘over reacting’ by the very same men who were proven all too often to be mad. I didn’t have a mental illness, but I was a teenager in shock, one tip of the scales in the wrong direction and I’d be with the others in the mortuary. Only luck and a stomach pump had kept me alive so far. Nevertheless, on the day when a bitchy middle aged white nurse said “you’re wasting a bed, Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski’s probably going to make you leave this week!” it was then when I knew that I had to find a way of retaining my home. Marjorie was a lovely, normal and profoundly decent lady in her fifties, and, after a couple of months, became one of my best friends. Sadly, she was sectioned or else it would have meant prison. Our angel of mercy, Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski, had gone with her to court to ensure that she wasn’t jailed for setting fire to her daughter’s boyfriend’s clothes. Her daughter had left Marjorie to bring up her young granddaughter alone until the child was two. Apparently, the daughter suddenly turned up with a man whom for whatever reason Marjorie didn’t like. They took the child away, the grandchild whom she adored, so the broken hearted Marjorie had reacted. Of course it wouldn’t have happened if she’d been a man, she’d have been respected by the parents of the child (if indeed the young man were the father). If there had been any nonsense she would have been able to thump him and would no doubt be living a liberated existence, most probably still with her granddaughter. But then, if she had been a man, she’d have been too self centred to have bothered with the child in the first place. So many of the women in Moraceae ward were 100% normal, merely the victims of unbalanced bullying males, who were still at large, still free to live selfish lives without conscience, and most of all without the blemish of having ever been to Shrinksville. Marjorie was one of the best, and that’s what happens to the good, they are made outcasts in a world where the Sasquatch rules. Rees was a 17 year old, puny, unwashed, spotty hells angel with whom I’d had a snogging session in the empty, ground floor hall used for the cinema, after a beating from Eddie. And on another occasion accompanied him to the film showing that same week for the patients. As we snogged upstairs, the old men and woman sat downstairs smoking, dribbling and muttering to themselves. I thought the film showing, ‘Masque of the Red Death’ was not really appropriate for sectioned nutters from a lock up ward. Rees, who constantly scarred his arms with razor blades in order to claim a semi permanent bed in the Essex replication of Bates Motel, devised a plan that if I slashed my own arms they’d let me stay, they’d believe me to be mad. Of course I protested, I couldn’t just slash my arms, I didn’t feel that desperate least of all wanting life long reminders of a moment of insanity, so Rees offered to do it himself. “I’ll do it for you then, it won’t hurt, sharp new blade, you won’t feel a thing, and the scars won’t last… but they’ll think you’re mad and let you stay… I do it all the time”. Bizarre as this was, I was desperate, it was my only hope of survival. For, once a step has been taken over the centre line, it’s hard to return to the previous court and stay within limits, I’d already broken the boundaries, and now there was nothing to stop me repeating the act. Like an alcoholic with his gin, or the American soldier in Vietnam, after the first rape, the first murder the others are ten a penny. Yet, I wasn’t unique, for many had done the same, many great people had died, taking their own life, those great names such as Arthur Koestler and Ernest Hemingway. Obviously the history of the church hadn’t done much for the street credibility of suicides, considering that in the 4th century St. Augustine had decreed it a sin and forbade the victim burial in consecrated ground, and of course in England it had been a crime for anyone who dared survive. “It won’t hurt… I promise, but it will keep you your bed, I do it myself all the time” Rees tried to convince me, although I wasn’t impressed by his own badly scarred arms filled with thick stripes from his addiction to self mutilation. “I don’t want to be scarred!” “You won’t be, I’ll only do it really, really lightly Poppy, promise, but they’ll think you’re nuts for doing it and if it bleeds it will look worse than it is, the marks will by gone by next week”. I turned my head away, as Rees took a new razor blade and drew patterns of blood on my arms as we sat on the cold floor outside the toilet cubicles. No, I wasn’t mad, neither mentally ill, I didn’t even really want to die, just to wake up and find my attachment to this creature called Ed O’Casey and all those painful memories were a mere dream. Not worthy of tablets or psychotherapy, just a plump 18 year old in shock, an emotional wreak from the years of parental arguments. The bullying and violent war games from my father and the love/neglect/emotional destruction games played by my mother, whenever either threw the dice and turned the card, it always came up the same, ‘Poppy’s forfeit’. Eddie’s lies and beatings were merely the mouldy icing on an already stale, maggot ridden cake. “Jean, did you hear the one about the nutter who told her shrink ‘doctor, some days I feel like a wigwam and on other days I feel like a tee-pee’. The shrink replied, madam, ‘you’re two tents’”. “Poppy! You know full well we do not use words like nutter or shrinks, and all this melodrama slashing your arms, just attention seeking that’s all. And you won’t kill yourself by doing this, all you’ll get from it is very sore arms tomorrow when the bandaging comes off! Now go to bed, its about time you acted your age, wasting a bed like this when there are genuine people out there with psychiatric needs!” The night nurse Jean reprimanded, marching me into my dormitory. “Yeah, most of them are called ‘nurses’”. Stupid woman, of course I didn’t want to kill myself, any moron could have seen that, it hadn’t even been my handiwork and it didn’t need Miss Marple to work out who’d done it. If the nurses had spent less time been so vicious by telling a girl barely 18 years of age and homeless that there was nothing wrong with her and she was wasting a bed and about to be thrown out onto the streets and more time nursing, then they’d have known who’d razored the artwork onto my arms. Chris Hubbock, the newscaster on a Florida t.v channel, now she could be considered guilty of attention seeking, as in 1970, during a prime time broadcast she shot herself in the head whilst on air, but as for myself, no. It was odd how whenever John and Jean the middle aged nurses were on night shift together Jean would force me to go to bed early. Yet, whenever she wasn’t around, John, the heavily built charge nurse would be kind. “Lady of the harbour” he’d smiled, as my Leonard Cohen record played in the background. “The sisters of mercy are prostitutes you know”. “Prostitutes? I’d thought he was singing about nuns”. “You’re looking very beautiful tonight Poppy”. I smiled to myself, as I’d gone up to nearly twelve stone, mostly hidden under my hippy dress, other than my breasts which seemed to be imposing themselves on the rest of the world. The other patients hated Leonard Cohen, hiding the L.P. as even those chronically depressed found Cohen so much more depressing. I’d bought the record a few years earlier on the direction of Doug, but, I’d grown to love it, I was Suzanne. It wasn’t long before John invited me out, meeting me secretly outside an Essex underground station and taking me for a meal at an Indian restaurant one night, and to a nightclub on another occasion. He’d looked out of place in his forties, what was I doing with him, how had this situation ever come about? I’d met a girl from school there, how different her life was to mine, just starting out on the funfair of life, living at home, dating normally, whilst I was the flotsam and jetsam, shipwrecked, frightened of this world where I’d lost sync, fallen off the wheel and missed my step to catch up on the next rung. I had no family, no one to protect nor provide, and I, barely 18 felt totally inadequate to be a unilateral family without the confidence, wisdom, nor survival skills of an adult. John had to go quite early after each date, probably home to wife and children, who were no doubt older than myself. He’d put me into a taxi and sent me back to Stonedhaven. “Drop you off at the nurses ‘ome shall I?” the taxi driver had offered. “No, it’s okay, take me to the main entrance please”. “Think you’re wonderful for working ‘ere, don’t know ‘ow yer do it, must be frightening to work with these patients… yer very brave gel going in alone at this time of night”. Yes, I was very brave, for I not only had to go in alone, I had to eat, drink and sleep beside them. But, it wasn’t the patients whom one needed to fear. Marjorie and Marie were up waiting, having instructions that if I didn’t return it meant John had murdered me. Neither of the women were happy about the date, Marjorie knew what he was, a married man of his age taken such liberties with a young, emotionally damaged young girl, and Marie knew his intentions were not only immoral but in breach of his NHS contract. It was the following night when John had insisted I met him outside the mortuary. I was terrified and hadn’t wanted to go out into the dark wooded grounds, least of all stand alone outside a mortuary. But, like most men, he’d insisted and got his own way. He was in charge of one of the lock up lodges in the grounds, having left the men alone whilst he’d come to meet me, he’d insisted I accompany him back there, sneaking me up the stairs to his office. In the midst of trying to have sex with me under the desk, I was reprieved when he had to go down to give the sectioned men their medication. Then, when he discovered that a senior night inspector was on their way over, he hurried me back out into the cold black night to walk myself back across the bleak open ground, beyond the mortuary and back to the safety of my own ward. The name ‘Karen Sergeant’ had been mentioned each time I met up with Wally, the young man who came from one of the other wards. He came across as a nice person, but a little strange due to his condition. He said this woman Karen had been his girlfriend, and whilst in Stonedhaven had committed suicide, he claimed that she’d been a ward sister in a general hospital, but I couldn’t see how a sister would end up there, and top herself into the bargain. It was only when another patient Angie was re-admitted when she too mentioned Karen. Angie was also once a hospital sister, now conspicuously pregnant, claiming one of the male nurses from one of the male lock ups’ had fathered her unborn child, but the staff didn’t believe her, and Lois Barley didn’t like her. “You are not to believe a word she says Poppy…if you associate yourself with her or continue to listen to her lies, then you might find your own stay here cut very short” . “Sister Barley, did you hear the one about the shrink….he said to a patient ‘thanks Mr. Fool for saving the life of Mr. Nutter when he tried to top himself by drowning in the bath….but I’m sorry to tell you that despite your heroism Mr. Nutter later went on and hung himself with a rope’. Mr. Fool replied, ‘Oh don’t worry Dr. Mindbender, he didn’t commit suicide, I just hung him up to dry!’” Not wanting to lose my bed, I was forced to subdue my friendship with Angie, and eventually tried my best to ignore the plight of this pregnant young woman. Yet, if only I’d remembered how two ward sisters in just one hospital were both suicidal and schizoid may have prepared me better for things to come so many years later. But, what were nurses in any event, were they any more moral, balanced or sane than the patient? Years later when one of my favourite comediennes Jo Brand came onto the scene, I’d often wondered how she would have been assessed if she’d sought an appointment with a shrink with her bizarre appearance and pornographic language…. yet, what I discovered which was more than a little perplexing was, that prior to her celebrity success she’d never been a psychiatric patient, but a psychiatric nurse! My left leg was hurting, it had never healed, always swollen and painful since the surgery four years earlier, so my mother took me back to King George’s Hospital. But, that wasn’t the only problem that I had to face during that day’s hospital appointment, as I was horrified to discover Paddy (of the Paddy and Constance duo) also waiting to see the same specialist. My mother suddenly spoke oddly, talking to him as a 14 year old might about his love life “oh, I know what you’re like with women”. Smirking, he’d replied all too saucily, “yeah, I use them then dump them”. Why was he so rude, why was my normally reserved, quiet, respectable mother playing this bizarre game, after all he had been my boyfriend. She had never concerned herself with the fact that he’d stood me up on two occasions when I was 15 and left me dressed and waiting for nothing, whilst he was no doubt snogging the Bacon with green teeth. Yet, when Paddy had been dating me her only comment was to ridicule him to me that she thought he had a big head, and very little interest in if he were at all suitable for her young daughter. My father was now considering getting me a flat with him, when he decided to start a blazing row with my mother during visiting hours. Or rather, she’d provoked him, once again waiting for me to be present in order to commence her verbal attacks on whether or not he cared about his ‘only daughter.’ She’d had plenty of opportunity to contact him out of patient playtime hours, without me having to suffer, but then, I was their playground piggy. Of course she always planned it that way, wanting me to be there, an ally. My father, fool that he was, had taken the bait, screaming at her in front of all the other patients and their visitors, humiliating me, unconcerned about his suicidal daughter, his only concern being my mother. After that incident I’d asked him not to visit again, and even then I was overwhelmed with guilt, their pain was my pain, and my pain was also, only mine. Too much compassion in a world where even one’s own parents had none….. except for themselves. I did have days out from the asylum despite my family, a friend of Shaw’s, Martin, whose mother had often invited me to tea in her home at Clayhall, had taken me out to a club one night on his motorbike, where I’d sat on the back having swallowed the ten blues he’d given me, speeding in both senses of the word. I’d got nothing from it, felt no different, my memories of Eddie still as clear as if I’d never taken them, the pain continuing to tear into my young mind. The only therapy I’d needed was a family, a home, a little warmth and the parental milk of human kindness. When we arrived back at Stonedhaven late that night, Eddie whom I’d neither seen nor heard from since my last suicide bid, was hiding behind the dense trees and raced alongside the bike to meet us at the entrance. Martin my hero drove off, leaving Eddie to rant, rave and attack. Yet, I could never understand why Martin, a young man from middle class suburbia would want to spend all his leisure time hanging about a nuthouse. Stonedhaven didn’t seem so much a place one wanted to leave, the only fear was, that they might not let you back in. Even Martin’s friend Figgy was dating a young girl who was visiting her sister in another ward, the boring hospital socials appeared to be the highlight of the visitors week, they just couldn’t keep away. Martin even started working as a gardener in the grounds… that was until sister Type called me into her office, and told me that Martin would lose his job if he continued to see me socially. So, he lost his job. But, Martin wasn’t my type, and although he’d been kind during a time of nightmares, I often felt that there was something slightly unbalanced, and maybe it should have been me visiting him in there. For, what normal young men would want to hang about a nuthouse for recreation? Shaw and Kevin, if they weren’t down Piccadilly buying and selling drugs, would go home for weekends, as did Gloria, Diane and apparently nearly everyone else who were not what was termed ‘sectioned’ …. except me. I was the only un-sectioned teenager with no home to go to. My father had previously offered to take me to Israel and place me in a kibbutz, but hadn’t once considered inviting me away for a weekend, and likewise my mother. I’d presumed that both lived in bedsits and thus, had no spare bed, but then there was always the couch… my grandparents whom I’d not seen or heard from in over ten years, or even a weekend away at the seaside at a bed and breakfast. But, even a madhouse was preferable to living with them. Of course there were negative elements in residing in the Essex institution. For instance, some of the staff were addicted to sadism, which is why they were attracted to the job in the first place. One nurse in particular, a red haired Welshman called Dai Jones fancied me, and when I’d still been seeing Eddie, he had constantly made him leave early at visiting time. One evening just as I was leaving the ward to go on a date with a good looking young barman from a nearby pub, I discovered that nurse Jones was on nights. “I’m locking the door tonight, so you can’t go out, or else you won’t get back in!” Dai Jones taunted, sticking his ugly fat little face into my own. “No you’re not!” Sid, Gloria’s boyfriend warned, having overheard, and intending to take Gloria to the pub until late. “This ward is never locked, Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski won’t allow it to be locked!” “Where have you been?” he demanded menacingly when I returned with the others at ten. Gloria and Diane went out every night with their boyfriends to the pub and no one ever said a word to them. And that’s when he started his verbal abuse and threats, but he didn’t realise that most of what he’d said was overheard by Sid, who’d butted in, “don’t speak to Poppy like that, she’s done nothing wrong, I’m reporting you!” “Well… she’s not sick, she’s just wasting a bed, she better be careful tonight, ‘cos I’m on, and I’ll sort her out. She needs a fist in her face!” “Don’t you threaten her, or I’ll be sorting you out!” Sid replied, “Poppy hasn’t done anything wrong, you leave her alone I’m warning you… I’m reporting you tomorrow!” It was after Sid had kissed Gloria goodnight, and left the ward to go home when I grew fearful. “Yes, you’ve got good reason to be scared you bitch” the Welsh voice suddenly screeched into my ear, “you’d better not fall asleep tonight, because I’m going to get an injection for you, I’ll come into the dorm and stick it in you when you’re asleep…and it will blow your mind up altogether!” Why was he so angry, I hadn’t said a word to him, what if he got this injection, he was the nurse, who’d believe me? The other patients were preparing for bed as Dai Jones pushed the medication trolley around. It was when he neared the table where I was sitting by my typewriter I heard him whisper, “don’t forget, I’ll be in to inject you… and I’m locking the doors” . Before I could think clearly, I found myself grabbing my black velvet coat, “Marj, tell Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski I’ll come back when he’s here, it’s not safe for me to stay tonight!” I’d called, heading out of the dormitory. When the coast was clear I raced down the corridor and through the door, and flew down the stairs, banging manically on all the doors which bore management titles. But, of course no one was around, they’d all gone home. Unable to risk my life and wait until morning to tell Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski, I ran out of the main doors, into the cold, night air. Above me I could hear the wind whipping through the branches of the giant oaks, fearful of the demons both living and dead who may be prowling around out there beneath the moonlight. Sudden shrieks! Was it a man, or an night owl, how could I be sure? Was Eddie there, hiding, watching me? He was a night owl, talons sharp, deadly, preying on the weak. Feet bleeding, heart racing, stumbling through the uneven pathways, beyond the lodges and the large, Victorian asylum, never stopping until I’d got out through the main gates. How I raced down Wheat Lane, fearful that the Welsh madman would come looking for me, if he’d murdered me no one would ever know it was him. It was whilst I hobbled along the main road at around midnight when two boys offered me a lift in their mini… that was until they noticed my slippers. Seemingly uncertain what to do, the two young men who said they hailed from East Ham drove slowly alongside me, refusing to just leave me there, yet uncertain if I was a maniac… until I mentioned my ex boyfriend from when I was 15 who’d also lived in East Ham, Pete. Luckily for me the driver turned out to be a friend of Pete’s, he’d been the original boy who was supposed to double date with Abby, Pete and myself but had copped out at the last minute due to not liking the sound of her voice over the phone. Obviously he still regretted his actions that day, for now he’d seen her in person he realised she was nothing like she sounded. He informed me that apparently she’d gone back with her Pete, the one my mother said looked like Paddy. And so he’d stayed with me in his car all night in Epping Forest until dawn broke. Arriving at my mother’s bed sit the following morning thinking she’d be pleased to see me safe, and outraged at what the nurse had done, having frequently repeated that her door would now be always open to me, shocked me yet again. “Not more problems… now I’ll have to take more time off work, I’ll have to phone in… and what if the hospital won’t take you back, I’d better phone them from a call box and tell them you’re coming back!” Once again I’d caused her problems, I’d failed even as a pseudo nutter. Other girls of my age were still living at home, dressing up to go dancing, only beginning their lives, their daddy’s driving them there and picking them up, mummy’s vetting their boyfriends and cooking their meals. Yet, I wasn’t an orphan, I had a mother who would tell me daily that I was the only person in the world whom she cared about, handing me bottles of perfume and sweets, and that now, she’d always be there for me… but, apparently not that spring morning. Yet, it wasn’t a prison, and I wasn’t a sectioned psychopath, why didn’t she just get a flat with two bedrooms? She had once suggested it, but I obviously had no desire to live with her, well, not long term. Nevertheless, a bed sit wasn’t exactly home for her, and at least a two bedroom council house would have meant I could have stayed at least temporarily, and if she would refrain from using me as her constant agony aunt it could have resulted in something more permanent. By that lunchtime I found myself back in Stonedhaven, begging for my bed, expounding to Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski what had taken place. Of course there were witnesses, such as Sid, but there were no witnesses to the Welshman’s threat of injections. Nevertheless, I was able to retain the bed, and Dai Jones was transferred to a male lock up ward, but in a moral world he would have been sacked. Of course he’d had an obsession with me from day one, but I’d been too naïve to notice. Considering the feelings of the patients wasn’t a priority in Stonedhaven, even one of the pretty young nurses Kimberley, who had been the only one who believed Angie, as she knew the male nurse involved, would constantly flirt with Eddie during those initial months when he’d visited. Having ignored me most of the day, she would suddenly notice Eddie and saunter over, hanging around in her short skirt, smiling, flirting, professional NHS therapy for a suicidal patient. But, now there was no Eddie, no sadistic Irish mother in law, but I still had nowhere else to live, so my task during the next Moraceae ward meeting was to convince Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski that I was a genuine nutter, it was the only hand left for me to play, and I was the only patient not on drugs, when it was so trendy. Exhausted from the shaking of which 90% was fraudulent, and against his better judgement he eventually signed me up for Librium, but deep down I knew that I was genuinely fragmenting….and if I didn’t want them, I could always sell them down the ‘dilly’. Working in a holiday camp appeared to be my only option, having decided that living with either parent would cause me permanent brain damage, and both had made it clear than neither really wanted me. The idea had been initiated by the nurse Kimberley. Pontin’s had been the suggestion of Dave, the D.J ex boyfriend of Jean, who was still sectioned. Heysham near Morecambe in Lancashire had been the camp he’d worked at, so that was where I’d applied. My mother, to ease her conscience, decided to take me on a shopping spree to buy me a new wardrobe to take with me to Pontins. She’d always thought that gifts could heal all memories well, they seemed to absolve her own conscience if nothing else. Her conversation, mainly about what she would buy for Frank’s daughter, Susan’s wedding. Frank who’d never once visited me, least of all sent me a gift was the one to be protected at all costs, and my only use was as pet dog cum agony aunt. It was in Marks and Spencer on Ilford’s High Street that same afternoon when she’d bumped into aunt Cissie, the sister whom she’d refused to speak to since she’d separated from my father, one of the four sisters whom she’d vowed never to forgive for not offering me a home. Whilst they were talking I’d seen Christie standing with some friends near the shop entrance. I’d sauntered over, immediately he left his friends seeming pleased to see me. “I’m off tomorrow to work in Butlins, tonight’s my last night, do you wanna come to my party, all my mates are giving me a send off?” I hadn’t been out alone at night, least of all Ilford where Eddie might be lurking. So vulnerable, one puff the wrong way and I would go up in smoke. I’d tried to ask if I’d be with him, or was I just one of a crowd, he’d assured me it was to be with him. Somehow, I’d thought that my mother would have been pleased to see me chatting to an old friend, especially as he looked so smart and so good looking, (perhaps life now offering me a better deal than death). Also, due to the fact that she’d spent the past four months blaming herself for her sisters’ ‘attitude’ towards me, recalling how she always praised cousin Charlotte and ridiculed me over the phone, I found it difficult to understand why she immediately disclosed that when aunt Cissie had asked to whom I was speaking, she’d delighted in telling me that she’d replied ‘oh some yobbo or other.’ That night Christie met me at The Cranbrook, the same pub where I’d first met Eddie. I hadn’t told Christie that I was married, and I knew that this was suicidal to agree to meet him in the Cranbook. If Ed turned up there and saw me, well, it would mean the end of my quest via a different route. As usual, I’d got there early, wearing my new long dress and black velvet coat, but, unusual for Christie, he was very late, to the point I’d almost left. I knew I was ill, too vulnerable to have agreed to the date, unable to cope if he stood me up. He’d promised faithfully that he wouldn’t let me down, but he didn’t know what might happen to me if he did. When I’d seen him earlier that day he’d seemed eager for me to be there, “you will come won’t you, my mates will all be there, you will come?” as if I actually meant something to him, so what had happened. How much more could I take, I had parents who should have been sterilised at birth, just separated from the psycho and his mother having departed from the Bates Motel in order to reside amongst a bunch of nutters in the local loony bin. And then I saw him coming in the distance, dressed smartly, still unable to look me in the eyes like a shy little boy. He was 23 now, image so important, and although he drank to excess, he didn’t smoke. “Sorry I’m late, thought you wouldn’t wait”. “Where are your friends?” “They couldn’t come…let me down….Martini is it?” Was it really only a little over a year ago when we’d dated, and yet so much had changed since then, as if I were now meeting up with an old, dear friend whom I’d known from years before from Planet Hope. He didn’t take me into the main bar, said he was hiding from someone in there, but I was happy to remain in the saloon, as I too had someone to hide from. Of course I took it negatively against myself, thinking he didn’t think me attractive enough. “Sorry my dress is a bit too much, but I didn’t have anything else to wear” I said, hoping he’d not notice how huge I was. “No it’s nice… yes, you look really nice” he’d responded, although still no emotion, no eye contact, leaving me to wonder if Bessie Bighead had just been reborn. But, then that was me all over, always jumping to the wrong conclusion so long as it was against myself. Every time the door opened my heart would jump. What if Eddie walked in, we’d die. And, being too honest, it wasn’t long before I told him the whole story, of Eddie and Stonedhaven. “If he comes in here, I can’t protect you, it’s nothing to do with me, you’re his wife” he’d expounded, such a hero. But these were the rules in the little boys playground. “I said to Don that you’d get married soon” he’d laughed, with that strange, deep artificial laugh of his. Ironically, I’d never wanted to marry anyone, not like Mia whose only dream since her first nappy change had been marriage and babies. But, without a family home, I just needed someone, anyone would have done at that time, as Christie obviously knew. “I did phone you once where you used to live but the new owners said you’d moved”. Then fearful of Eddie walking in, we both decided that we’d best head off to another pub. “Why won’t you hold my hand?” “Why do girls always want their hands held? I don’t hold hands of grown ups, only children”. Well, at least it didn’t appear to be personal. “You’ve lost weight” Christie grunted when we sat in another, more drab pub on Ilford’s High Street. That was a laugh, I hadn’t lost any weight, in fact I’d put on masses, particularly my face, legs and breasts since I’d dated him that previous year and was over 12 stone, yet I’d tried so hard to diet, so hungry, so heavy. But my face was still fairly slim, high cheekbones, breasts and hips too large for fashion but not for fornication, no blubber, no obesity, just plump in a curvaceous way as the dress, long and flowing beneath the velvet coat hid the un-trendy inches, the same coat I’d worn to my Lockerbie wedding as I tried to keep apace, him walking slightly apart, both fearful that Eddie would appear and commit a double murder. Yet, tonight Christie had listened with sympathy, not the brash, insensitive brute I had known before, he didn’t get up and leave saying that he refused to be linked to a married woman or a woman whose only address was the local lunatic asylum. After we’d left the pub I found myself being led along the Plessey Bridge, the same narrow iron bridge where he’d led me once before. This time the small side door was open, insisting against my wishes that we must descend down the steep steps and into one of the empty train carriages. The same as he’d done when I’d first known him, he started pulling off my clothes like an animal. He frightened me, as if the smell of sex made him lose control, and the young, understanding Christie, whom only moments before had listened with sympathy to my story, was now trying to ravage me without restraint. “I’m not on the pill…I can’t get pregnant, please Christie, I’m in enough of a mess as it is being in the loony bin” I pleaded, unable to stop him due to his strength. Christie suddenly relaxed, seeming to realise that it wasn’t his best move, and suddenly the more normal Christie took control, although still insisting his sexual needs were met. Of course I’d complied to his desires, like the unpaid prostitute wanting to please, and obviously would never dream of behaving towards a man in the same way. And so, after a few more selfish frolics, he led me back up onto the iron bridge towards the High Street. “I’m off to work in Butlins tomorrow, Minehead… why don’t you come?” he’d shocked me by the invitation. He’d dumped me the previous year, or it had seemed like it, and it had never felt like we’d really dated in the first place, yet now he was inviting me to Butlins. “I’ve already been accepted for Pontins, anyway, we’d feel uncomfortable about seeing other people if we were both on the same camp, you know”. “I’d offer to see you home, you know, back to hospital but I’d better not ‘cos of the security guards and dogs”. But could I blame him, I too would never have gone near there if I hadn’t been homeless and in shock, least of all realise that there were no guards, dogs, locks or even gates on that Essex madhouse. “I’d have taken you for a meal if I didn’t have to get up early to catch the train for Taunton tomorrow” he laughed almost cruelly as we stood by the bus stop outside an Indian restaurant jeering, “well, I suppose that’s what you’d like”. Was he being purposely vicious to me, or were his jibes more to do with himself. And, as I would come to learn, most Irishmen didn’t begin to evolve from adolescence least of all settle down until their mid thirties. “I’ll write!” he’d promised as I’d climbed onto the bus, I’d smiled, it had been good to see him again, almost as if the Eddie and nuthouse experience had never even happened, and I was still the 17 year old living at home with a mummy and an occasional daddy. Each evening when my mother appeared so smart in her black coat and red like aristocracy in a Victorian asylum I’d ask her if there was a letter, as Christie had taken her address to forward his letters. For the first few days there was nothing… then, about a week after I’d seen him I received a postcard of Minehead. ‘Dear Poppy, Things here are ok. Hope you are alright. I will write properly later on. Love Christie’. Pontins holiday camp at Heysham near Morecambe was to be my new home when my time in Stonedhaven had run out and I’d overstayed my welcome. Fred had arranged a farewell party for me, prepared a wonderful speech, and the other patients had given me gifts and wept at my departure. But, the only advice given to me from the staff was to forget that I’d ever been there, I wasn’t even given an outpatient appointment nor a contact number, and I’d never even had the privilege of weekly chats with a psychologist, so normal did Dr. Bernardo Goodmayski believe me to be. “Forget you’ve ever been here Poppy” Dr. Goodmayski smiled. “I’ve written you a prescription for Librium and the pill” Dr. Chinchilla handed the prescription to me, but I didn’t want to go, not really. “Did you hear the one about the convicted, retarded psychopath in the nut house?” I smiled to my two judges, trying to put on a brave face, “he saved a fellow patient called Benny from drowning himself, and the doctor said to him, ‘due to your brave actions I believe you are ready to leave here…but I’m sad to tell you Benny went and killed himself anyway” The psychopath replied “no doctor, Benny didn’t kill himself, I just hung him up to dry!”

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