by Anton Wills-Eve

The Early Years

how early is early?


I had some cracking times when I was very young, indeed I think I may have mentioned some in the odd blog. Probably the most exciting event was when I was two and a few months in 1944 when a buzz bomb nearly killed my sister, three years and seven months, and me as my grandmother raced for our house pushing our pram and we just beat the german monster.

Well, obviously, this story gets better every time I tell it but we did get a shock from the explosion and as my mother was very well known at that time she rang a London national  daily and recounted my story, warts and all, even if there weren’t any warts, thus gaining me my first  national byline before I was three. Even at that age I was clearly  paparrazile. I scaled many more non existant peaks in the journalistic world as I grew older and more unreliable, but why tell the truth when the  border line between ‘thou shallt not bear false witness’ gets ever closer and oh, sooooooooooooo much more tempting.

This blog title raises an interesting point. When do our early years stop? Mine went on until I was at least ten so let’s take it to then, you’ll see why in a second or two. But first a lovely recollection from when I was five. We had a gorgeous house (37 rooms and an acre of garden) in south west London between Sheen Common and Richmond Park and the Earl of Kimberly gave my sister and me a lovely thoroughbred golden retreiver Labrador puppy for Chrismas. Well there are a lot of wild deer in Richmond Park and it was a treasonable offence to defend yourself if one attacked you because they belonged to the Queen.

Actually I’ve always found her an adorable poppet of a Queen and by far the best head of state anywhere in the world in my lifetime. Being half Scots I don’t blame her for not being a Stuart. My father was sixth generation Australian, we all have our Crosses to bear! But as I say I cannot believe her majesty would have minded if I had defended my small but heroic frame from a charging stag.  With only a stout branch which I could hardly yield she would have applauded me for lashing out at the beast as it bore down on my sister and me, but sadly such heroism was never put to the test. But what was tested was our Labrador’s metal. When I was five a middle sized sort of  deer did run towards me, but the dog at once charged it and in it’s confusion it fled back into it’s pack of brothers and sisters telling them that it wasn’t a nice doggie at all and to keep away from it under pain of death.  The lovely tagline to this true story is that apparently when I was one year old I was taken to see the Walt Disney film of Bambi and had to be taken out  of the cinema crying and screaming during the forest fire scene. I later grew out of this brief interlude of warriorlesssnesship.

As I have set the time limit of this story on ten ( lets say ten years and 164 days) I will pick out some oustanding memories that have clung to me mind ever since. There was the awful Sunday morning when I was stranded by Hammersmith bridge and my mother and sister caught the bus leaving me behind. As I gradually blanched into panic driven horror of the first realisation of just how terrible my agoraphobia was going to be for the rest of my life I did also learn, in the short passage of terror the inescapable minutes trapped me in,that I either had to fight it or live in mortal mental fear for ever. I chose the former and was just about able to manage, with the help of pills, prayers and Pernod, and a saint who has carried me over more crises both mental and spiritual than you could imagine. But in truth I have been unbelieveably lucky. Especially having a wife who understands my awful illness completely Not least because she sufferes from it too, and has done all her life, thus being able to empathise with me.

I think my two main memories of early school life were loving all sports at which I was fortunate enough to excel. Can you imagine a ten year old playing cricket and doing really well for the school under elevens side thanks to nearly half a bottle of scotch he had to drink to manage to cross the cicket field! The other memory was what I called the unneccessary side. If we did anything even vaguely contrary to the school rules it was an unmerciful thrashing with a leather strop and no excuses allowed. I was regularly given this punishment for not doing things which I could not manage because of the limitations of my phobia. For instance I could not do a cross country run – well who could with that illness. And then the awful added anxiety of waiting for three days before going into the headmaster’s study to be punished for being too ill to run. At that age it was on the hand, but hurt just as much, and always on the hand with which you did not have to write. I remember getting thoroughly fed up with this senseless torture when I was nine and holding out my right hand and saying to the master,

“Look Sir you use your left hand to hit me and we’ll see who comes out of the contest best”. He did not have a clue if I was being impertinent or genuinely trying to crack a joke. He smiled and said, sorry this isn’t negotiable. Following this I pulled my left hand from behind my back and said, sorry Sir, but I fell off my bike yesterday evening and I’ve broken four fingers. You can’t hit that one.” He stared,  put the strop away and smiled, ‘okay we’ll make that your punishment for a couple of weeks’ he smiled. But I finally had him. “No Sir, That’s the last time you’ll ever hit me. I told the doctor the injury was the result of the ferocity with which we were thrashed at school. My father is taking no action, much as the doctor wanted him to, but he will if you ever touch me again. Nobody did hit me for two years, so I had managed to stop that double torture without the family knowing about my phobia. But my father’s added condition was that no boys in the school aged under twelve should rceive any form of corporal punishment, and as he was a well known journalist they did not argue with him and the rule he demanded was brought in.

But I said earlier that I would like to end these memoirs on a pleasant note, and they don’t come pleasanter than Anne. It was at my tenth bithrday party that we all played hide and seek in my garden. About ten boys and ten girls from near where we lived came to tea and games at our house. May is a lovely month for a birthday, and Anne had been at the first infants’ school with me from the age of four to nearly eight. We had not seen a lot of each other since we changed schools, but at that party Anne seemed strangely shy and even a little upset. During hide and seek I partnered her and knew a perferct spot behind the orchard where no one would find us. I smiled at her deliberately affectionately, “Now what’s got into you since I saw you last, Anne. It can’t be just missing me.” A tear ran down her cheek as she answered.

“Oh, Anton. It’s not that. At our age life has not even started, no we are moving to the South coast, near Brighton, and I’ll be a long, long way away from you.”Amid sniffles she added,”I promised myself I would not spoil your birthday, but I shall be good from now on.  I looked round, saw nobody could see us and placed my hands on Anne’s shoulders and gave her the softest kiss I think I’ve ever given anyone. Then I said, “I agree with you we are too young to be in love as grown ups are, but I promise you this, my Anne. I love you more that anyone I know and I hope I always will. So please just keep writing to me and as we get older we may get to love each other more every day.”

She said nothing. Anne just put her arms round my neck and returned my kiss with ten times the love I had given her. She hung onto me for five minutes,  wiped her eyes and completed the promise to write and never lose touch. And is that what happened?

Well this is just the early years. Anne stayed very close to me until they moved six months later and I went down to Brighton with my sister to see her the next April. But if you want to know what happened to Anne, whether I was corporally punished again, how I got round my phobia to play several games I loved. and the limitations placed on the rest of my life, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book.

Anton W-E