13 October 2020
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My earliest memory is of vomiting the breakfast contents of my stomach onto a pile of starched white sheets that my mother had just finished ironing. I succeeded in Jackson Pollocking all of them. She was not amused, but then again it was her own fault: she shouldn’t have told me that I had been adopted.
It was the late summer of 1958 in Romford, a newly expanding market town in the county of Essex, famous for the stink of its Star brewery, ‘a night down the dogs’ at the local greyhound racing stadium and as the one-time residence of the infamous Colonel Blood, the only man to have stolen the Crown Jewels, even if only temporarily. This backwater suburb was only fifteen miles north-east of London’s buzzing post-war metropolis, but a light year behind in terms of progressive thinking.
My mother was astute enough to know that, since I was about to start infant school, I should be told the truth about my origins, just in case my new pale-faced schoolmates asked me why I was brown when my parents were white. I had noticed that I was different, but I hadn’t realized that it was any kind of a problem. Well, nothing much is a problem at four years old, other than not getting what you really want for birthdays and Christmases.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you felt sick,’ screamed my mother, as she landed a huge smack on my right leg, grabbed me by the arm and sent me upstairs to my bedroom as punishment. ‘As if I haven’t got enough work to do,’ she shouted as I howled my way upstairs.