I knew enough somehow to keep HER presence a secret, even at 4 or 5 or 6, deep down I knew that this was more than an invisible friend, a talking animal, a teddy bear brought to life at midnight.
I look at photos from that time, a solemn child, dark bobbed hair, sensible Marks & Spencer’s clothes, nothing extra-ordinary, nothing of note, a 60s suburban child, no fuel for the later press vultures, no Myra Hyndley, no Mary Bell, nothing in my face suggested the future horror. There were no images of desperation, of poverty. Here I am, in brownie uniform, ballet tutu, tidy school pinafore, never quite looking at the camera; my eyes are always to the right, searching for someone else.
My mother almost never appears in photos, sometimes I catch a glimpse of her, find a tiny part of her that has crept into a shot, a blurred hand, an angle of her face, and a sense of her movement behind the image.
My father is the photographer, he is the one who sets up these pictures, always formal, always to document and record an event.
My first day at school, Brownie church parade, a school prize giving, the opening of Christmas gifts. There are no candid shots, no casual records of a sunny afternoon, no sense of a family life and therefore these are a true record, for there is no family life – just 3 people orbiting around the central absence – the elephant in the room of my childhood.
When I write or think about my childhood, I can almost forget to include my father, he, baffled by and excluded from my mothers’ all encompassing grief, removed himself from us emotionally long before he actually distanced himself by geography.
Whenever we met, he often seemed surprised by me, by my very presence in the house. He would pat my head, ask awkwardly about school and make his escape as soon as he could.
Our only connection was the black and white westerns which filled that tea time telly slot every Saturday. My father loved John Wayne and I learnt to sit quietly next to him while he peered [ too vain to even consider glasses] at the screen where his heroes saved the day and filled the landscape they belonged to.