Simon Mark Smith's Autobiography
1964 Pre birth
When Angela realised she was pregnant she made her way to Victoria Coach Station where my father's tours would begin and end and waited for him. She eventually found him surrounded by a throng of well wishing women, pulled him aside and told him what had happened so he took her back to his place.
“The most important decisions in life are made between two people in bed”. As the singer songwriter, Billy Bragg so knowingly crooned. That night Boris asked Angela to live with him. She refused his kind offer, unless it included marriage, which he refused, and so the next day they went their separate ways.
As Angela began “to show”, her mother had her stay in a “mother and baby” clinic. In 1964 unmarried mothers were severely stigmatised so for all concerned having them disappear for a while was seen as the best course of action.
I was born in Epsom District hospital at 3pm on March 18 th 1965, a sunny Thursday. The theatre fell silent and immediately Angela knew something was amiss. Her first words to me were “poor thing”. While said with compassion, I'm glad I couldn't understand her otherwise my self esteem would have taken an initial and severe.
My mother was a beautiful woman, and not just to me, her biased son. She was affectionate and loved me. “She'd get on her knees and hug me, she loved me, oh yeah, she loved me” but not like a rock. I felt her love all around and deep inside me but she wasn't there enough.
From the day the midwives showed me to my mother, I was put in a nursery where my mother would come once a day to feed, clean and hug me. The sensation of knowing what it's like to be loved but to yearn for it because it isn't there enough has haunted and undermined me far more catastrophically than having short arms and deformed legs. Having a disability meant that it was far easier to have me institutionalised. My mother's mother, Ethel, did not want to look after me. She found my disability hard to bare and my illegitimacy almost as bad. My mother had to work so it was felt best to have me put in “care”.
Most days my mother would come to me, feed me and love me and I'd respond accordingly but the long gaps between meetings meant that as the loving commenced so too would the fear of it ending. Instead of a regular pattern of feeding and loving followed by short moments alone followed by the feeling of being heard if I was to cry I was left alone for hours. Firstly there was the fear of being abandoned and then the anger that my calls for help were being ignored, this eventually became so set in me that even today I can feel them come up from the depths. They feel like an overwhelming fear and collapse of any internal strength.
My mother was not abusive she was a victim of circumstances. In 1965 the state did not recognise how important it was to keep children close to a parent and even though there were people who did my mother, as in love with me as she was, was not one of them and had little idea of what damage was being done.
I spent the first two and a half years of my life living between the nursery, Roehampton Hospital and My Grandmother's house – I was allowed to stay there occasionally, and to me that was home -. My mother would come to see me at the nursery about four evenings during the week and both weekend days. When I recently asked her about this she got a bit defensive and couldn't understand how I didn't appreciate how much effort she'd put in to seeing me. My point was simply that irregularity and “long” gaps tend to cause problems for young children and for me it manifested itself as insecurities around the issue of abandonment.
* * *
I have a friend staying with me at the moment and she told me that recently she'd told her boyfriend that she would never leave him, that that she'd be there for him till either of them dies.
* * *
A friend of my mother told her that because my father was “foreign” – He held a British passport but was technically South African, and originally a Latvian -, that it'd probably be best to get him to pay her a lump sum rather than have him agree to regular payments then disappear across the ocean. So my mother started legal proceedings against him.
My father hated the thought of being forced in to anything so he decided to fight her. He was also angered because the summons to the court was delivered to his office and he was summarily sacked for playing around on the job. How little they knew? So feeling coerced and humiliated my father went to court with the defence that he was not able to have children due to an accident as a child that damaged his testes. He omitted the fact that he had already sired a daughter.
The court ordered blood tests. Neither of my parents spoke to one another as they sat in the waiting room of the clinic. My mother said she would have talked to him but her mother was with her so she felt inhibited.
Then when it came to the courts ruling an offer was made by my father made of a one off payment of £400, a vast amount back then. My mother accepted it. The money was put in to a savings account where it gradually lost its worth and was one day spent on something insignificant.
My father got to hold me for a few minutes in court, then Angela and Boris, my mother and father went their separate ways.
* * *
When Boris would see children with short arms later in life he'd call the name “Simon” to see if they'd look around and when he painted pictures he'd put in a little figure somewhere in the picture as a memorial to me. But for Boris that was the limit of his involvement as a father. He did try to find me on several occasions but they were half hearted attempts. For Boris it was more convenient to not be involved.
* * *
I had been born with the small bone (The Fibula) in my lower leg missing. This resulted in my feet turning in. At 6 months old I was taken to Roehampton Hospital in the South West reaches of outer London where surgery was performed to fuse my ankles.
When I was brought in from surgery my mother sat next to me and cried.
* * *
Roehampton Hospital had been one of the centres in the world after both world wars where soldiers could be put back together again, well at least physically. For me throughout my childhood it became a second home. Half hospital, half factory it was built around an old mansion and its gardens.
Situated in the far corner of the hospital was the ward I stayed on. At first it was known as C.P.U. but later was changed to the Leon Gillis Unit, (L.G.U.). Over the years it had additions built on but its original layout was a square room with a column in the middle of it, which was where we played and ate, another square room next to the first where we slept and a corridor where the kitchen, bathroom, staffroom, and several other individual rooms were.
The room we slept in had about 9 beds sticking out from the walls and next to each of them was a small bedside cupboard. On top of each bed would be a fleece which was dyed a strong hue of either gold or purple. Above us on the very high ceiling were blue round lights that stayed on through the night and illuminated the internal world of anyone who slept there as a child for all their remaining days.
At about 4 years old, a girl I'd taken a fancy to, got in to bed with me, snuggled under my Golden Fleece and started telling me the blister on my foot was going to get bigger and bigger until it was as big as the room, at which point it would explode. I screamed out in fear, which resulted in the girl being told off by the night nurse. Even at 4 I was going for difficult women!