How I became a closet nutter
I can’t say for sure when the journey to Friern began, but two dates that spring to mind are July 5th 1957 and Friday April 13th 1972.
My memory of that day in July starts with (not being allowed to go swimming with dad and George) two policeman coming into our flat and talking to mum. Shortly afterwards she became distressed and began to cry. I ran over to comfort her and wrapped my arms around her legs, being only five at the time. Later on I learned that the policeman had told mum that dad had drowned having one last dive at Highgate pond. He must have hit his head on the bottom.
My brother George, twelve at the time, had been with dad. When dad failed to surface George ran all the way home, about four miles. I shudder to think of the impact this must have had on him. As for me, being only five I couldn’t understand what was happening. All I can say is that to this day I have no memories of my father’s physical presence, perhaps because I chose to forget what was painful and inexplicable to a young mind.
During childhood, I suppose I could have taken a variety of different routes that would have taken me far away from Friern Barnet. But after starting work on building sites at 15, I thought ‘fuck this for a game of soldiers, I can’t handle this for another fifty years’ and began the ever quickening march to Friern, the beat of the powerless thought ‘something’s gotta happen’ keeping me company. On the Friday the 13th of April the march became a mad dash.
Every Monday Elsa would take the tram to the square and walk down the Koenigstrasse. She would stop at the flower stall at the corner next to Café Ludovic, and buy a small bouquet which she then tied on the railings near the spot opposite St. Agnes Lane. Facing it was a bench where she would sit. That had been her routine for nearly five years, but this day was different. The moment she left the stall she could see them. There. By her spot on the railings. Bright yellow flowers. Gaudy. Most unlike the subtler reds and blues of her bouquet. She hurried along and peered at them. No note. No explanation. Just a large bunch of bright yellow flowers, wrapped in expensive shiny gold paper, tied above the withered remains of her last offering.
She started to tie her own fresh bunch to the railings below those of the intruder. But a surge of indignation stopped her. This was her place. So she fixed them above the yellow ones. For a moment, she even considered removing the others.
A coincidence, she thought. Another death. An accident perhaps. But not the tragedy she had faced. Her son murdered. His character maligned. Elsa wiped her eyes. Unusual nowadays. Her tears had long run dry. Her pain was now held tight inside. She found herself wondering about this other victim. A young man perhaps. Like her son. Pavel had lived life to the full. Girls, football, politics and motorbikes. She wondered whether this young man had also had a motorbike. An accident. That had always been her worry. She had feared that one day she would get a call to say that Pavel had come off his bike.