Mobi Babble – 10th December 2017
It’s sod’s law that I decided to relocate back to Blighty in a year when we are experiencing sub-zero temperatures and snow in early December, still 2 full weeks before Christmas.
These pics are the best you’re gonna get as I have no intention of venturing from my front door until the temperature rises and the snow melts.
Yesterday, Saturday, I did drive into Oakham and do a bit of shopping, even though the temperatures were sub-zero. There were several reasons for this – firstly I wanted to stock up on staples before the forecasted snow arrived, secondly because I wanted to try out my newly acquired Balaclava-type headgear, and thirdly because I really needed to get a bit of fresh- freezing – air. I had been cooped up at home for days.
I was out for a couple of hours all told and the headgear worked well, although I still felt some freezing blasts around my eyes – the only part of my anatomy not well protected.
I parked up in Tesco’s car park, took the 7-minute walk to the Wilkinson’s store, made a few purchases, walked back again, and then into Tesco’s for a bit more shopping. Outside, there were plenty of hardy souls braving the cold – all dressed in a variety of winter outfits, but none of them quite as well covered as yours truly.
My compatriots’ headgear – if any – was confined to the occasional woolly hat – but nothing even close to the full-face gear that I was sporting. And you should have seen my wonderful ski gloves – I even drove the car with them on…
I stared at my fellow walkers, expecting to catch a few amused or disgusted looks at this strange ancient apparition in their midst. I felt sure there would be at least a few looks of derision – but not a single one.
Then, of course, I belatedly realized. Brits don’t ‘do’ looks of any kind. They keep themselves to themselves and whatever other people do, or however they dress up is their business. If someone looks or does something crazy, they look the other way.
If a man walked down the high street stark naked, I doubt whether anyone would so much as give him a glance. He could quite easily do this without fear of arrest, as during the past 7 months of living in Oakham, I have yet to catch any glimpses of a solitary policeman – they are all far away in lawless Leicester.
So I successfully navigated my hour or so out in the elements without suffering any frostbite or being arrested on suspicion of being a budding terrorist.
But go out in the snow?…. No… I don’t think so. I do hope it clears away by Thursday as I have to go back to Leicester Hospital for my Endoscopy… oh sorry, no more about this as I promised a medical-free blog, as it is all just too depressing.
And Hey! The Christmas season is fast approaching….
Here’s a turn up for the books…
I have a whole new family.
Many of us have seen the popular BBC programme, “Who do you think you are?” which involved celebrities / well known public figures digging up records of their family ancestors to find out where they have come from.
There is also another programme on UK ITV entitled, “Long Lost Family” which helps people to trace long-lost relatives who they haven’t seen for many years, or in many cases, have never seen before at all.
Both are excellent and entertaining programmes, and “long Lost Families” in particular is often a real tearjerker, but they are usually happy tears, not sad.
What has all this got to do with Mobi?
Well, ever since I was in my early twenties, I have been very curious to know more about my father’s side of the family, as I had never met nor had I heard him speak of a single one of his relatives. For all I knew he could have been an orphan since birth.
My curiosity was particularly awakened in my early twenties because it was at this time that I accidentally came across some documents hidden away in my father’s bedroom that told me his background was very far removed from the background he had claimed.
As far as his offspring, (me and my older brother and sister), were concerned, my father was born in Canada and at some point had emigrated to England. He had met and married my mother in the 1930s, spoke with a North American accent, and had served in the Royal Canadian Airforce during the war. Being Canadian helped to explain why we had never met any of his relatives and we had no reason whatsoever to doubt this.
That was until… I met and fell in love with a New York girl … and after she returned to the USA, I decided that the only way I could be near to her was to emigrate to Canada.
Canada, because I could claim Canadian citizenship by virtue of my Father’s nationality, and not American which even in those far off days would still prove quite difficult for a young man struggling to find his way in life.
I could woo her from across the border in Montreal, and once I had won her over with my English charms, I could marry her and obtain a US Green Card. That was my plan, but to put it into effect I had to obtain an immigrant visa into Canada, which should have been totally routine, as my father was a Canadian citizen.
So I asked him if I could borrow his birth certificate to submit to the Canadian embassy in London.
“No, sorry son, I’ve lost it.”
“Well in that case, can I borrow your passport – that should do the trick.”
“My passport’s expired.”
“It doesn’t matter; I can still use it as proof.”
He erupted – as he was apt to do. “NO! You can’t borrow my fucking passport! It’s lost as well.”
First, he said it had expired – now it was lost.
“But…but you can apply for a new one?”
“No! The answer is NO!”
“But Dad, it doesn’t make sense – I need proof of your birth for my visa to Canada.”
“I have my reasons. You can’t have it and that’s an end to it!
After an hour or so he calmed down.
“Let me see your Canadian visa forms,” he demanded.
I handed over my application forms, and he looked through them.
“Leave them with me, and give me your passport. I’ll go to the Canadian Consular office and see what I can do.
Knowing how successful my father was in usually getting his own way in most things, I thought there was an excellent chance that he could obtain the necessary visa, and I was happy to leave it with him. Maybe there was something on his passport he didn’t want me to see.
A few days later he told me he had been to the embassy and was unable to make the consular officer see sense. He told me the best way was for me to travel to Canada as a tourist and apply for an immigrant visa after I arrived.
Although I knew something was wrong and there was some mysterious reason why he didn’t want me to use his passport, I still believed he was a Canadian citizen. I was frustrated and felt very aggrieved. My father was a nasty piece of work, but this was too much – even for him.
A couple of weeks later, when my parents went away for the weekend, I went into his inner sanctum – his bedroom – and rifled through the drawers where I knew he kept all his personal documents. I was determined to get hold of his passport and get the personal information I needed to put on my application form.
You can imagine my shock when, instead of a passport – I discovered an alien registration book. The name wasn’t my father’s – it was a completely different name – but the photo was clearly of my father. The book stated that he was born in 1900 in Zhitomir, Russia, which is now part of Ukraine, and he first came to England in 1902.
I was in total shock. He had lived in England for most of his life, had married an English woman, had three English children, yet according to the documents I was holding, he was an alien and had to report to the police every three months.
Even worse, there were some other documents that showed that in the mid-1950s he was taken to court by the police who wanted him deported from England as an alien – despite having a wife and three kids and having served in the war on the British side.
This was all heady stuff, and I longed to know more. This was in the days before the internet and I had no real way of knowing what Zhitomir, his birthplace, was like and what its relevance was in my father’s real story.
Yet in one of the first coincidences of this long story, it just so happened that at the time I was reading Leon Uris’s huge novel entitled “Exodus”, the story of Zionism – how the Jews throughout Eastern Europe emigrated to the area in the Middle East which became modern-day Israel. The novel was later made into a blockbuster movie. Although the book contained many inaccuracies and was blatantly pro-Israel, it was a best-seller for years. For a generation of Americans and Europeans, ‘Exodus’ was the definitive book on the creation of Israel.
Chapter Two, of Book Two of this massive novel, was entitled; “Zhitomir, Russia, 1884” The narrative described how the Jews were persecuted and effectively lived in a ghetto known as ‘The Jewish Pale of Settlement’ – the only place in Russia where Jews could reside. It was in Zhitomir that pogroms were perpetrated against the Jews which slowly led to the rise of Zionism and their mass emigration to Israel.
So the mist cleared a little. I knew that my father had some connections and friends in the east end of London – an area in those days which was occupied by hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe. Some had come as a result of the rise of Hitler and the subsequent holocaust, and others had arrived much earlier, fleeing from earlier pogroms against the Jews in eastern Europe.
It didn’t take much to deduce that my father must have been brought to England by his Jewish parents, fleeing the late 19th Century Russian pogroms in Russia, but beyond that, his story was a total blank. Even more puzzling was why, nearly 7 decades later, (it was then circa 1968) my father was still an alien in England?
And where were his parents? Did he have any brothers? or sisters? or any other living family?
I duly told my brother what I had discovered and he was as surprised as me and could throw no light on this mystery.
Intrigued as I was, my mind and heart were concentrated on other matters. Now I knew for sure that my father’s nationality could not help me, I resolved to follow the Canadian consulate’s advice and apply for immigration status after I arrived in Canada. It was a cruel blow to my plans, and one that subsequently caused me no end of trouble and heartbreak – but that’s another story.
Even at the age of 22, my father remained an intimidating presence – yes I admit I was still scared of him. I did not dare challenge him about his past life. It would have provoked a major temper tantrum and anyway, I knew he would not tell me anything.
There were more important fish to fry – my beloved little girl waiting for me in New York (at least I thought she was waiting for me) – and I followed my heart and put my father’s origins to the back of my mind. Something to look into on another day.
In fact, apart from learning a little bit more from my mother after he died in 1982, it wasn’t until nearly 50 years later – in fact a few weeks ago – that the whole story started to unravel. At the grand old age of 71, I have discovered that I have a whole new blood-family, the members of which are spread across North America, Canada, South Africa, and there are even a few still here in Blighty.
Precisely who they are, and how I made the breakthrough, will be the subject of my next blog…