Last month, I posted a blog about my chum Sue Blackwell (not her real name) and a psychotic incident she experienced in Edinburgh, where she lives. Yesterday, she sent me an e-mail. She thought it was not suitable for my blog. I think it is. This blog is not always about comedy. It is about people, people, people and perhaps about snapshots of quirky (not always funny) things that otherwise would not get written down and remembered. This (with Sue’s permission) is what she told me:
I don’t know the whole story of the man or even part of it.
Through the eyes of an adult, I realise that he had a story, which may, if I had known more, have explained a lot. He touched my life as a child in a way that left a lasting impression. I have rarely spoken about him – and thought about him even less. I always felt that having him in our lives conjured up an impression of my mother which wasn’t accurate and made her out to be something she was not.
There was, I suppose, a certain amount of shame attached – and all the uncomfortable feelings that go with it.
It was, after all, the 1950s.
I am not sure what age I was when he came into our lives – maybe seven or eight years old. We met him at a Lyons Corner House. He and my mother got talking and my next memory is that he had moved in with us.
He was Jewish, from Cork or maybe Dublin, I don’t remember.
He had been a vet. His four brothers in Ireland were all doctors. He received a regular allowance of money from his elder brother. I was aware of this but didn’t give it much thought at the time.
He and I disliked each other from the word go.
My dislike probably stemmed from my not wanting to share my mother with anyone as, up till then, I had had her to myself.
My father, an officer in the British Navy, had come home one Friday night for the weekend and, by the Sunday, had died from pneumonia. I was two months short of my fifth birthday.
We lived in a Georgian crescent in Edinburgh. Next door was a princess from Siam (that sounds so much better than Thailand) and a film star lived up the road.
The man who came into our lives had been a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp, so his story went. He certainly looked as though he had been tortured. When we went to the beach at the seaside town of North Berwick, near Edinburgh, I noticed that he had lots of scars the size of modern fifty pence pieces all over his body.
A branding iron had been used on him.
He also mentioned bamboo being pushed down behind his nails, another way of causing extreme pain.
He was a drug addict. He drank a preparation called paregoric on a daily basis. I have only recently looked it up. Wikipedia says that paregoric was a medicine consisting of opium flavoured with camphor, aniseed, and benzoic acid, formerly used to treat diarrhoea and coughing in children.
I think the stated dose was a couple of teaspoons. He used to drink it by the bottle. This would leave him nodding drooling and sleeping on a chair at the kitchen table: a sight that became familiar to me on a daily basis.
We disliked each other intensely. He started saying that he wished I would be run over by a bus. This became his mantra, offered to me on a daily basis. I just looked at him. There seemed to be no reply.
There were occasions when he would get hold of some other drugs and became almost friendly as he showed me the procedure of applying the tourniquet, dissolving the white powder on a spoon over a flame and injecting himself. My mother was never around at these times. I did not know or understand what he was doing, neither did I tell anybody.
He knew a lot of people. It was his way. He would sometimes take me down to the Rabbi’s house next door to the local synagogue, where I would play with the children there.
One day, I had been out along the seafront in Leith with my dog Poppy and possibly with David, a boy that I had previously lived next door to. As far as I was concerned nothing untoward had occurred.
The next day I was at David’s house with my mother, when it was mentioned that Poppy had been found severely beaten and had had to be put to sleep that day. He – the man who lived with my mother and me – said that a deckchair attendant had witnessed me hanging Poppy by her lead over the seafront railings. When questioned about the events of that day, my mind went completely blank. I was in shock.
It was many months later that he admitted to my mother that he had beaten the dog and made up the rest because he was jealous of me.
In spite of this admission, the trauma and the guilt stayed with me well into my thirties and beyond – something else to be stuffed in the box of things not talked about.
I remember times when he would rave incoherently while sleeping, I had no understanding at the time as to why.
One year, on the day before Christmas Eve, my mother was taken into hospital with peritonitis. I spent the night with neighbours. I returned home the next day, as they were about to go away for Christmas.
He met me. He was very incoherent. He dragged me by my neck into the kitchen and told me roughly to get the dishes in the sink washed up.
I ran past him and back next door, where my friend’s father told me that I wouldn’t be going back in there, but would go away with them for Christmas instead.
Sometime after that, the man wasn’t there any more.
My mother remained in touch with him, by letter. The mere sight of that spidery black handwriting could set off so many feelings that I didn’t really understand.
Eventually, news came that he had been sentenced to eight years in prison for breaking into a chemist’s shop. It was “for his own good,” said the judge.
I was just glad that I wouldn’t have to see him again.
But I did see him one more time. When I was in my teens.
He decided to take me to the police station, to the office of someone he knew, to receive a lecture on the dangers of taking drugs.
I have never been tempted to take non-prescription drugs.