I was surfing the web last week in the hope of finding some information about my biological father who has been on my mind since I started this Blog. To my surprise I was able to trace him to the Town Hall archives in Antwerp and learned that he had died in 1965 aged sixty eight. He never knew of my existence, so I felt it rather put a sad end to the story, but of course it doesn’t, for reminders of his presence in the back of my mind will keep cropping up.
My mother gave me his name when I returned from Pau to Pangbourne in March 1950 on the condition that I kept it to myself. His Christian name was Paul. She had no photographs of him but told me he looked a little like Valèry Giscard d’Estaing (who later became President of France) which fitted in nicely with the image I had of him as a diplomat.
At the time I asked her how Eddy got to know I wasn’t his son - and that story is worth recounting in more or less her own words.
'You will remember,' she started, 'That it was the Nanny that I had hired to help me look after you, who told me that she thought you looked like the gentleman next door. Shaken by this accusing comment, I immediately went to check dates in my diary and realized that when Eddy had proposed having another child I was one day away from my periods. It was likely, therefore, that I had not taken from him, but from Paul in the two weeks that followed.
I took you out of your pram to examine you carefully and it became quite evident that you weren’t Eddy’s son. You looked like Paul, you smiled like Paul and I could not believe that Eddy wouldn’t realize it sooner or later.
I totally lost control. It was a moment of senseless panic. I could not face the possible consequences of what I had done.
Wanting to escape, to run away, then realizing this was impossible, I was overwhelmed by the insane idea to end everything, to not exist another day, longing for oblivion. But I couldn’t leave you. What would Eddy do with you if I was dead and learned that you were not his son?
I had to take you with me, but to do so I had to end your life first.
I intended to lie in a hot bath and cut my wrists after drowning you. I filled up the bath, pushed you under the water, counted five, but you thrashed out, terror in your little eyes, a look of astonishment that I should do such a thing. I tried again, counting up to ten, then Nanny, aware that something was wrong, hammered on the bathroom door. I unlocked it. I was holding you, wet, naked, spluttering, howling.
She wrestled me from you. She dried you and fed you and put you in your cot. She waited till Eddy came home from work, told him what I had tried to do then packed her things and left . 'I don’t want to have anything more to do with this family,' she told him.
I didn’t move, I didn’t speak but remained in the bathroom curled up on myself on the floor. Eddy called the doctor who diagnosed severe post natal depression and prescribed a sedative. The next day Eddy took me to see a Harley Street specialist
I told this man everything - that when Eddy had gone to France, coincidentally at the same time that Paul’s wife was in Belgium, we had enjoyed a clandestine dinner together and one thing had led to another. I assured Paul that we did not have to take precautions as I believed I was already pregnant from Eddy.
When I finished, the specialist very calmly said 'Your husband is a very intelligent, sensitive man. My advice to you is to tell him the truth. Tell him André is not his son, tell him he is Paul’s and ask him to forgive you. He will do so because he is a good person and will understand.'
To this day I cannot believe that that is what he advised and that I did as he suggested.
When we got home I confessed.
Eddy crossed the bedroom, smacked me hard across the face with the back of his hand, picked up a vase given us by Paul and smashed it against the wall. It was terrifying. I cowered against the dresser. He didn’t look at me again but left the room. I heard the front door slam, the car start up outside, the tyres screaching as he turned out of the driveway into the road, paralysing sounds of frenzied rage. Then silence, that awful English suburban silence with nothing happening anywhere, everyone behaving like the good people they were.
Eddy did not come back at his usual time that evening. At ten he rang from a hotel somewhere to tell me he would be away for a few days. I did not question why but just asked him how he was. He just said 'What do you expect?' then 'Does Paul know the boy is his?' I told him no.
The boy, not André. Was that the shape of his attitudes to come ?
I would have liked Paul's help. He must have felt some affection for me and his advice would have been comforting, but he was the last person I could contact. He had begged me never to tell anyone of our relationship.
When Eddy came back after two days he told me he would adopt you as his son and we would never speak of the matter again.
'The rest you know....he has never been able to forgive or forget.'
Apparently, Paul looked so much like Giscard d’Estaing that in the late 1970s, whenever the president appeared on television, Eddy changed the channel or switched off.
Valèry Giscard d’Estaing and me as a baby.