Today I have been sober for one week.
MARDIE (Part 6)
I flew back to London with what turned out to be false optimism. I was so desperate for any sign that my relationship with Mardie was back on course that I misread her behaviour towards me in the last couple of days I was with her in New York, and I took it as a sign that the affair was far from over.
I returned to work, dreamily remembering the good parts of my trip and conveniently blacking out most of the time when I was feeling pretty miserable.
As before, I wrote almost daily letters to Mardie, and received the occasional one paragraph reply, but after a month or so, the letters stopped completely and I became increasingly concerned as to what was going on with Mardie in The Big Apple.
Transatlantic telephone conversations in those days were still rather primitive as compared to today’s instant world- wide mobile access, and I used my company’s facilities to book an evening call to Mardie’s apartment number, hoping to catch her before she went to work.
By the time the call came through, Mardie had gone but I managed to get hold of her flat mate who told me that she was fine. At least I now knew that nothing untoward had happened to her.
I kept trying to make contact and on about the fourth occasion I called, I finally managed to get hold of an offhand Mardie who sounded a bit irritated that I had disturbed her when she was getting ready to go to work.
However she did say that she missed me and this gave me enough encouragement to get my mind working overtime.
Mardie clearly had no intention of coming back to England, so if I didn’t want to lose her, I would have to go to her. The more I thought, the more this seemed like the solution to my problems.
However, after a bit of research, I realised that there was one insurmountable problem. If I did decide to go to New York, there was no chance that I could obtain a ‘green card’ and stay there unless I married an American citizen. I realised that this would be a bridge too far for the “on again off again” Mardie.
I came up with a possible solution. New York City was only a bus ride away from the Canadian border, and as my father was a Canadian citizen, it should prove a relatively easy matter to get a residence visa in Montreal, just over the border.
It was not an ideal situation, but I would be infinitely closer to my beloved, and if I worked in Montreal I would be able to make frequent trips to New York to see Mardie, and maybe she could return the compliment and visit me in Montreal.
In this manner I would be able to continue my relationship and hopefully bring it back to the happy state it used to be when Mardie was in London, and who knows – maybe even happier.
I broached the subject with Mardie, the next time I was able to make contact on the phone and while she wasn’t wildly enthusiastic, she seemed to be telling me that it was a good idea.
Whether or not I misconstrued what she was saying I will never know. After all, many of our disagreements in the past had been caused by language confusion,(“two nations divided by a common language”).
Nevertheless I took Mardie’s perceived ‘positive’ encouragement as a signal that I should put my plan into action, and duly informed my employers that I would be leaving in due course as I was planning to emigrate to Canada.
Now to my bloody father. Since I had been old enough to remember he had told his family that he was Canadian. He certainly had a North American accent, and we had some black and white photographs of him in the Canadian Rockies, when for some reason he had been posted there by the RAF during the 2nd World War.
Indeed, at the end of the war, my father, mother, brother and sister had their passages booked to emigrate to Canada, and it was only cancelled at the very last moment as my mother was heavily pregnant with the urchin thatb was later to become the Mobi that you all love to hate and she was forbidden to make the long voyage across the Atlantic.
I had even seen an old Canadian passport at home with my father’s name in it.
So I had no reason to assume that he was anything other than what he purported to be and I duly went to the Canadian Consulate to commence the process of obtaining immigrant status.
The forms were all pretty straight forward and the officer assured me that in view of my father’s Canadian citizenship, my approval would be automatic, and I even qualified to apply for Canadian citizenship for myself.
As I was planning to leave within the next month or so, I decided to give up my room in Bayswater and move back home for my remaining time in the UK, and when I arrived home that night, I approached my father to permission to borrow his birth certificate or some other document that verified his Canadian citizenship.
I hadn’t realised what a hornet’s nest I had awoken by this apparently simple and reasonable request.
My father immediately became aggressive and tried to convince me that I could get immigrant status without any proof of citizenship from him. When I insisted that he give them to me, he lost his temper and screamed at me that he didn’t have any documents – he had lost them many years ago.
I stood my ground and told him that he could get replacements. All he had to do was to take his expired passport to the Consulate and they would be able to check the records back in Canada and issue new documents.
He insisted that it would be impossible, but wouldn’t explain why, and refused to discuss the matter any further and stormed out of the room.
Later he calmed down and told me that he would go and see the Consular officer himself and see what he could do. He asked me to give him all my documents, and two days later he travelled up to London to see the officer.
I felt very reassured, as my father invariably got his way, sometimes against seemingly impossible odds. As well as being a very intimidating man, from both his size and appearance, he was also a very intelligent person and he knew how to persuade, cajole and even threaten when the occasion demanded it.
I also surmised that he did indeed have proof of his citizenship, but for some reason did not wish me to see it. He was an extremely secretive man.
I was wrong. When I saw him that evening after work he was almost contrite. He told me that he had spoken to the officer for hours, and had even insisted on seeing his boss but to no avail.
They absolutely refused to issue me with an immigrant visa if he couldn’t provide evidence of his citizenship. He told me that the officer’s advice was for me to go to Canada as a tourist, (which didn’t require a visa), and then once there, apply to be a ‘landed immigrant’.
I tried to ask him why he couldn’t get them to do a search for his details, but he refused to discuss the matter further and said it would be impossible.
That was that, but I was upset and disappointed. I couldn’t understand his refusal to try and obtain copy documents.
I resolved to see if I could do it by myself; all I needed was his passport and I would make a note of his date and place of birth and then take these details to the Consulate and ask them to do the necessary searches.
My opportunity came a couple of weeks later when my parents went for a long weekend to stay with my aunt and uncle in Margate. I knew that he kept his private papers in a drawer in his bedroom, so with some trepidation, I entered the ‘forbidden territory’ and started rifling through his papers to search for the expired passport.
This was the first time I had ever dared to venture into his bedroom and do such a thing. Even as an adult I still feared him and his dark personality seemed to permeate the room, even when he was miles away.
I didn’t find the passport, but what I did find shocked me out of my skin, and to this day I have still not managed to put together all the pieces of my father’s real past.
What I found was an ‘alien’ book. The book was in a completely different name to my father’s and stated that he was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine, (then party of the Soviet Union), in 1901. The book bore recently dated ‘stamps’ from a local police station. I leafed through the book and read that the holder was required to report to the local police station every three months.
I rummaged further and found county court documents, dating back to the mid 1950’s that related to a court case when my father, under his original name, but also containing his ‘new’ name as an ‘AKA’, was summonsed to appear in court to answer a proposed order seeking to deport him from the United kingdom.
I was astonished. To my own knowledge my father had been living in England since the 1930’s when he met my mother.
I know that he had qualified as a chiropodist at the Chelsea school of chiropody, he had served in the Royal Air force for the entire war, had an honourable discharge, was married to a British woman and had three British children, all born inn England.
What possible reason could there be for wanting to deport him? Amongst the documents were his honourable discharge papers from the Air force, together with a letter of commendation from his commanding officer, both of which were no doubt presented in court in an effort to persuade the justices to turn down the deportation request. this they obviously did as he was still there, albeit having to report as an alien every three months.
My discovery asked as many questions as it had answered. I now knew why he refused to let me do a search for his Canadian citizenship, for the simple reason that he wasn’t Canadian.
He was Ukranian, although in those days we regarded anyone from the Soviet Empire as “Russian”. Back then, the ‘cold war’ was still at its height, and it hadn’t been that long since the Cuban missile crisis that had brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war.
One thing was for sure; I would have to do as the consular official had suggested, and go to Canada as a tourist and try to sort out my immigrant status, once I was in the country.
Somewhat ruefully, I finalised my plans to fly back ‘over the pond’ for good, which included spending a further two to three weeks with Mardie in New York before jumping on a bus and seeking out job opportunities in Montreal.
I had saved up a little nest egg, (part of the reason that I moved back home), sorrowfully sold my lovely, immaculate white, 1962 Cortina and was all set for the big move.
Although I hadn’t been with my employer that long, I seemed to have endeared myself to them and was pleasantly surprised by the huge turnout of staff who arrived at a company sponsored farewell drink, to wish me off. I had no idea that I was that popular and even some of the head honchos from California were there to make presentations and tell me how much they would miss my contribution.
I was truly taken aback. Maybe if I had known that my presence had been so appreciated at high levels, I might have reconsidered my decision to emigrate. After all, in spite of my lovelorn state, I was a young ambitious accountant, ready and raring to embark on a successful career, should the right opportunity present itself.
However the die was cast, and once more I made my way to Heathrow airport in the early spring of 1969, the year that Nixon was inaugurated for his first term, (I was actually in new York on inauguration day and watched it on television), the Vietnam war was still in full swing, the Beatles performed their last live concert and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
It was to be the start of a new life, but yet again, I was in a terrible quandary not knowing what kind of welcome I would receive from Mardie.
As an aside, (I am sure some of you are wondering), I have made very little progress through the years in trying to find out the background to my father’s deportation case. I copied all the documents I found in his bedroom drawer and gave them to my brother and he made enquiries with the county court to obtain details of the case, but was informed that too much time had passed and the details were no longer available.
The information I have to this day is still extremely sparse.
Zhitomir in the Ukraine, used to contain a large Jewish enclave and in the early 1900’s anti-Semitism was rife and in 1905 terrible pogroms were perpetrated against the Jewish population there.
This resulted in an exodus; both to Palestine, (later to become the State of Israel), and even to the UK where they all settled in the east end of London. We learned from the documents I copied that my father had first arrived in England as a baby of five years old, which makes it even more puzzling why he had never become a British citizen.
Incidentally, if you look at the Novel “Exodus”, by Leon Uris, which is probably the definitive literary work on the creation of modern Israel, one of the titles of an early chapter is “Zhitomir, 1905” and traces the exodus of Jews from that part of eastern Europe to the Middle East.
We knew that my father lived in the east end as a child and young man, and from time to time, especially when I was a kid, we would meet friends of his, (some were allegedly my aunts and uncles – maybe they really were), from the east end who were clearly of the Jewish persuasion. We even went to the occasional wedding and funeral in places such as Forest gate, on the edge of the east end. Such occasions became rarer and rarer as I grew up, possibly due to my father’s alienation from his ‘roots’ (don’t forget he invariably fell out with just about everyone), or maybe he just moved on, and maybe they all died or moved away.
When I looked at my father, it was now clear that he was a Jew. Although not overtly Semitic in appearance, there was enough there, especially as he grew older, to identify his ethnic origins.
Although I do have a large-ish nose, (so loved by the Thai ladies), I have never considered that I have Jewish features, for after all am only half Jewish, but there was an incident when I was a trainee accountant that remains stuck in mind to this day.
I was sent to audit the books of an orthodox Jewish furrier in the city and proprietor was a German Jew who had managed to flee Germany during the war. As soon as he set eyes on me he was convinced that I was a Jew, and no amount of denials on my part could persuade him otherwise.
Maybe he had seen young men just like me who were Jews and he couldn’t believe that I didn’t have Jewish antecedents. At the time I was mystified as to why he was so vehemently insistent that I was of Jewish origin, but later I understood only too well.
Then there was the occasion when I was in my early teens and I wanted to go with the scouts for a summer camp in Germany. My father adamantly refused, telling me I go could to any country in the world – but not Germany.
Now I know why. It was hardly surprising that he would object to me going to a country whose people, less than twenty years previously, in 1942, had systematically murdered tens of thousands of men women and children in his birth place; effectively wiping out the entire Jewish population in Zhitomir.
Strange to relate that in the early seventies my father managed to obtain what was then known as a British Visitor’s Pass which entitled the holder to travel throughout western Europe.
All that was required was proof of address, such as a utility bill or bank statement, and armed with this and two photographs, the document could be obtained in five minutes from the local post office.
In those days the world was as close to peace and posterity as it was ever likely to be, and is a far call from today’s terrorist ridden planet where biometric passports and body scans are the order of the day.
Naturally, my ever-scheming and rebellious father had no problems obtaining such a document and so very late in life he started travelling, once again on false documents.
He would make frequent trips to Holland and especially to Germany, and would delight in relating to me his adventures on the Rhine during one of my brief trips back home.
It was clear that he knew Germany and Holland pretty well, and even spoke some dutch and German as he tried to explain to me some of the differences between the two languages. More unexplained mysteries.
The inveterate law breaker also got himself put on the electoral role and he regularly voted at local council elections. Even though he proudly never paid a penny in income tax, he had no choice but to pay local council taxes, so in his warped way of looking at things, this entitled him to vote, despite the fact that he wasn’t British.
Many years later I learned that sometime in the early seventies the ‘powers that be’ decreed that it was no longer necessary for my father to report to the police station every three months, but he remained an ‘alien’ till the end of his days.
When he died in 1982 I went back to England for the funeral and naturally the subject of my father’s past became the chief subject of discussion.
To my surprise, my mother admitted that she knew something of my father’s past and that he came from the Ukraine, changed his name, and so on. She also confirmed that all the people from the east end we had met when we kids were friends and distant relatives of his.
She also knew about the attempts to deport him from England in the mid fifties.
She told us that one day there was a knock at the front door and standing outside were two plain clothed policemen with a warrant for his arrest.
He was soon released on bail, and obtained the assistance of the Royal Air Force Association to obtain legal help to fight the deportation, which subsequently succeeded.
She also told us that he had hired a private detective for a while to get evidence for his defence – but God knows what that was all about.
But she could throw no light on the reasons for the draconian court action, or fill in any more of the gaps of his past life.
He had confided in her, but only to a very small extent, and had sworn her to secrecy.
We know he was born in Zhitomir; we know he brought up in the East End; we know he used to be a merchant seaman and spent a lot of time in the USA and Canada; we know that he used to sell cheap cigarettes illegally at markets and was always one step ahead of the law – but surely this didn’t justify attempts to deport him.
We also knew he never paid a penny of tax in his life. He was called in by the tax men more than once, but always stuck to his story that he won his money ‘on the dogs’ and they always gave up.
Last, but not least we know that he had a brother who emigrated to Australia under his original name. I believe my niece tried to track her great uncle down, but to this day has had no success.
Anyway, by now he would be long gone, or he is the oldest living being in Oz.
I hated and detested my father for many years. He made my family’s lives and my life such a misery. I was in fear and dread of him throughout my childhood and such was the force of his dominating personality that he made me feel worthless and inadequate as a human being and it has taken me much of my life to assert myself and try to be my ‘own man’.
To this day, although quite rarely, I still have nightmares that he is alive and making my life a misery.
Of his three children, I think my brother learned to cope with him the best – well he’s the only one of the three that is still in England!
My sister fled to South Africa when she was in her twenties, married there and has never returned, except for holidays.
These days I don’t hate him. I have come to realise that he was probably a tortured person who did not know how to control his emotions and temper.
Yes he was a domineering bastard, but I like to believe that he thought he was doing the best by us and didn’t realise how miserable he was making us in the process.
I must bear in mind that he grew up in a totally different world where the man of the house was ‘King’ and must be obeyed at all times. He was a product of his harsh environment and the times he lived in.
I hope he is at peace now.