Monday, 22 November 2010




My life may be different from many of you, with experiences that will shock and entertain you, but basically we all have stories to tell in some form or another and the lessons we learn from our experiences affect us all in different ways. Hearing my story may make you think of your own lives and why you have become what you are today.

I was born in
New York City on the 12th April 1950. The hospital where I spent my very first night on earth was on 5th Avenue (Park East Hospital) and was eventually turned into a “Ladies’ Hotel”, only to be torn down years later for new luxury apartments. David Cassidy (of the Partridge Family TV programme and later a pop star) was born on the same night as me in the next room. His mother and mine became friends for a few months but later lost touch (as one does). One of my brothers was also born there.

I started my life with a silver spoon in my mouth. When I was conceived, my parents lived on
Riverside Drive, which in those days was a prestigious place to live, but not the crème de la crème abode for the New York Elite.  My father at that time was working for NBC. He was English but went to America in 1923 when he was only 19 and worked his way up from a copywriter working on the Listerine account to Vice President of Promotion for NBC until the early 50’s.  During World War II, he was an Intelligence Officer with the US Army. He had recently become an American citizen to enable him to do so.

His father (my grandfather) had been a political cartoonist for major London Newspapers but his claim to fame was that he drew the original clipper ship on the “Ship” matchbox which is still sold today.  My father told me he remembered watching him draw it at his desk when he was 4 years old.
My mother was the daughter of a well known Bishop. Well known, because he was a staunch believer that America should fight against Nazi Germany long before they actually did. His views were widely quoted in the International press and because of that, local Nazi sympathisers had threatened to kidnap his youngest son, my uncle, (who was 4 years old at the time), in protest of my grandfather’s views. Living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the time, there was a large German population throughout the area, most of which supported their home country still. So my uncle was sent to his grandmother in Tennessee to be cared for until he was out of danger. That was to be 10 long years. My great grandmother was a highly educated woman who firmly believed that a first class education was probably the most important thing anyone could achieve.  Hence my uncle ended up as a leading scholar, having graduated from King’s College Cambridge, author of 10 books and professor at Florida University.

My mother, on the other hand, also had a very interesting childhood but quite different from her youngest brother. She stayed with her parents who because of their position in society were constantly entertaining Heads of State, historians and countless other important people. They lived in a Bishop’s Palace as it was called in those days. They had a minstrel gallery, a banqueting hall, and their own chapel (where my parents were actually married). My mother had a wild streak when she was young and often roller skated throughout the house which was vast. She actually broke both of her wrists simultaneously when she roller-skated down the main street and crashed into a shop window. I think I have inherited her bravado (some may call it stupidity). In spite of this, my mother became a very poised, sophisticated and very cultured lady and remained like that until the day she died. I have always felt I was the total opposite to her in almost every way, and it was a constant thorn in my side as I felt like a bull in a china shop next to her.

I had two older brothers, and they were plagued by severe asthma in the appalling
New York weather. The doctors told my parents, that if they didn’t leave the cold climate of the East Coast, that they might die. So my father, who was a devoted family man, decided to quit his job and move us all out to the Arizona desert where reportedly, the weather was medicinal for asthma sufferers. There, my oldest brother contracted a lung condition called Valley Fever which kept him in bed for a year, and my second brother developed a severe allergy to dust, requiring weekly injections. So much for Arizona being the answer to their health problems! I was the only healthy child in the family.

So now settled in the middle of the hot arid desert, we lived in a basic house, very cheap, and near to an Indian Reservation. This was the old Tucson before it had been developed and turned into a mini Beverley Hill. There were only 12 other houses near to us. Our back yard was nothing but desert with tarantulas, rattles snakes, scorpions and guila monsters (large prehistoric looking lizards). Beyond the desert were the Catalina Mountains, which were quite high and gave us a refuge from the heat of the desert. We often went to a place called "Mount Lemmon" which was beautiful and cool; a total contrast to the inferno down below in the desert where our house was. It was unbearably hot and the house was infested with tarantulas and deadly sand coloured scorpions on a daily basis. There were so many creepy-crawlies that we had to shake our shoes out before we put them on each morning.

The only thing I really remember about the desert was when I got lost in it aged 3. I wandered off, as was my usual habit, and it was about 110 degrees F. outside. I was wearing nothing but underpants and I expect I was following a tarantula or some other horrid creature for ages before I realised I was totally lost amongst cactuses, brush weed, lizards, scorpions and rattlesnakes. I have been told by my mother that I was found by the police several hours later, walking deliriously around from sunstroke with an empty whisky bottle in one hand and my underpants literally dragging behind me having been ripped on a cactus. What a sight! I was lucky to have survived quite honestly.

To earn some money to survive during our stay in the desert, my father first got a job in Howard Hughes' airplane factory. What he did there, I don't know exactly but nevertheless, it sounded quite cool. After that, he got a job at the local Tucson NBC station KVOC. He hosted a television programme called "Press Conference" where he interviewed famous people. In fact, he was likened to Alistair Cook from "Letters from
America". Amongst the people he interviewed in 1953 (of which I have some of the tapes) were Senator Richard Nixon, Indira Ghandi, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Very interesting listening, I can assure you.

When I was 5, my father was asked personally by Art Nielson, the founder of A.C. Nielson in
Chicago to go and work for him. For those of you who do not know what they do, they are a huge company that measures whether or not a programme on TV will be good enough to make the grade and continue to be shown. Nielson ratings are the most important thing that Producers and Directors in America hope to impress; even to this day. If they don't make the grade, their programmes are axed.

Anyway, we packed our car and trailer and moved to
Evanston, Illinois near Chicago, the birthplace of prohibition and the home of North-western University.
In Evanston, we lived in an enormous house across the street from Northwestern University; a big contrast to our hut in the desert! It was short-lived, however, because my father was asked to help his old school friend, Sidney Bernstein, founder of Granada Television to help set up a company called T.A.M (Television Audience Measurement) to do the same job in the UK as Nielsen ratings did in the U.S.  My father was a walking encyclopaedia about Radio and TV and he was the best person to advise the British about how to organise television audience measurement. This lead to him being the brains behind the first ever channel that had advertisements. (I will never forgive him for that!) It was now 1955.

I must mention an incident that happened on this first trip to the other side of the
Atlantic, to England. We sailed over to Liverpool on a small Dutch ship called the “Zuider Kreis”. It was meant to carry 500 passengers at most, and because the owners were obviously in need of finance to keep the ship in service, they packed it with approximately 800 people. They did not have enough life boats to accommodate the extra 300 passengers and to make matters worse; it had no stabilisers that were necessary for severe weather conditions. I must mention that the actor, Richard Dreyfuss, said in an interview that he travelled on this ship when he was about 10 years old which was literally the 2nd to last journey across the Atlantic prior to my time on it. My trip was to be its last.

We were pretty much halfway across the
Atlantic, when we were struck by a major hurricane which caused over 50 foot waves, torrential rain and the most violent wind you could imagine. With no stabilisers, we were hit by a massive wave (possibly equivalent to a tidal wave near land) which knocked our pathetic boat onto its side completely. At the time, I was in the children’s nursery having pea and ham soup, and we were thrown onto the walls where we slid around in the thick putrid green slime for what seemed like ages (in fact it was only for about half an hour). Before the boat could right herself, we were hit by a second massive wave. This caused chaos, as you can imagine, but I did not realise that a few people on the upper decks had been seriously scalded by hot tea, and fell down stairs, breaking necks and legs. I had no idea where my parents were at the time. Being only 5 years old, I could not contemplate the severity of the situation. As I said, it seemed like an eternity that the boat was completely on its side on the stormy deathly sea. The life boats on one side were completely under water, and we would surely have turned completely over like the Poseidon Adventure if we had stayed at that angle for much longer. We were lucky to be hit by this second wave which I think would have spelt the end of the Zuider Kreis had it not come. It wasn’t until I was quite a few years older that my mother told me how utterly life-threatening the whole episode was.

I went to the
American School in London in
Grosvenor Square
with my brothers for the six months that we were there. All I remember about this particular visit to England was that the chipolata sausages were fantastic. They were really sticky and had a great taste like nothing I had ever tasted. I have only once found those sausages since then, and have forgotten where I got them, which I am devastated about!

TAM was set up, we went back to America to our previous house opposite Northwestern University. We sailed back to America on the “Nieuw Amsterdam” but this time, it was a safe and uneventful journey. I spent the next 3 years back in Evanston, Illinois.

Each summer we went to my Grandmother’s house in
Sewanee, Tennessee. Quite honestly, I believe that my memories in Sewanee are the best I have of America. This town, high up in the mountains, is where the University of the South is located. It is populated by very aristocratic and educated people from old Southern families and most of the houses were huge with enormous verandas and balconies draped in flowers. As a total contrast, on the outskirts of the town, lived the white trash and poor blacks who were hired to care for these fantastic homes.

The best thing about summers in the
Deep South was the sound of crickets and the long hot evenings with crates of green Coca-Cola bottles on the back porch. We would often play Badminton on my Grandmothers back lawn until the local cinema opened at about . We would then wander slowly down and stop at the “drug store” to have an ice-cream before going into the tiny theatre. It only seated about 20 people but had great films and a cosy feel about it. I think, in actual fact that the main reason I loved the cinema so much, was because I was allowed to stay up later than usual.

My Grandmother had a black cook called “Mattie”, who was the spitting image of the black Mama who cared for Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Mattie wore a starched white apron, a bandanna on her head and was as fat as Orson Wells. I really loved her and her cooking was fantastic. To this day, I have a passion for hominy grits. My grandmother gave her an old washing machine one summer and I went to visit Mattie at her home in “Happy Hollow” to pay my respects. There, on the porch of her tiny wooden house, was Mattie, sitting on a rocking chair surrounded by about 15 of her children, grand children and great grandchildren, with the washing machine next to her, covered and filled with plants. They did not have hot water or electricity but were so proud of the washing machine; they just had to advertise to the neighbours their pride and joy. I will never forget the impression it had on me even though I was only seven year old.

When I was 8, my father was sent to
England once again, and my parents thought that this was going to be a permanent affair. This time we went on the “Queen Elizabeth” (the original liner which is now at the bottom of Hong Kong Harbour) which was like a 5 star hotel.  The Vienna Boys Choir was also on the ship returning from a major tour of America. As I was a show-off and tomboy, I climbed up the mast of the ship to draw attention to myself in front of the Choir. (I haven’t changed much!) My mother had taken me to two of their concerts in Chicago, so I knew they were very famous and incredibly talented. Not only was I in awe of them, but they were really cute boys who were only a few years older than I was.

Having arrived in
London for the second time, we lived in four different houses within 3 years; one in Hampstead, one in Kensington and two in Knightsbridge. Each time we moved, I had to go to another school; The American School in London in Regents Park and Princess Gate (the US Air Force School). Then to my disgust, when I was 9 years old, I was sent to a private tutor in Bayswater where I had to be a weekly boarder for the next year.

Apart from being desperately homesick, I actually made some very good friends at this tiny school which only had about 12 pupils. It was in a very large flat which belonged to our tutor and she was married with a little baby nicknamed “Snoogy”, who was a delightful distraction from having to live in a school. Only 6 of the children were weekly boarders; the rest were day pupils.

Amongst my friends were two Canadian sisters called Vicky and Cathy Swanson, who I simply adored. Their parents had just bought Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire from Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; hence the two girls had to be weekly boarders like myself.

During the holidays, I was invited to spend a week at their home, which was to prove extremely unforgettable.

This ancient Medieval Abbey was probably the most beautiful and unique home I had ever stayed in. It was vast beyond belief, with endless rooms, servants’ quarters, and a 12th Century tower. There were even secret underground tunnels leading from the Abbey to various places 2 miles away.

On the first night that I was there, I was put in one of the bedrooms that had an enormous fireplace which went up to the tower. In the middle of the night, I woke up to see a strange figure standing between the mantelpiece and the end of my bed. It was translucent but had a definite shape and I could plainly see that it was a person wearing a full length habit with a pointed hood. The man was holding something like a book in one hand, and beckoned to me with his other hand as if he wanted me to follow him. I let out the most blood-curdling scream imaginable as I was so terrified. Within a few minutes, everyone came running to my room and turned the light on, but as expected, nothing was there to be seen. I had to go and sleep on a put-up cot in my friends’ room for the rest of my stay as I was too afraid to sleep alone. I was told at the end of the week that this apparition had been seen by several other people and the story goes that the skeleton of a monk had been found bricked up in the tower when restoration work was being done. He had obviously been murdered as his skull had been crushed by a heavy object. Whether one believes in ghosts or not, there is no other explanation as he had been seen by so many people. Not only that, but I read recently that a gardener who lived on the estate saw several monks in the middle of the night, who were walking single file down into a hole in the ground. In the daylight, there was no sign of a hole. It turned out, after excavation, that there was a tunnel beneath the ground which could not been seen above. Here is a clip from the internet about that actual event.

The secret tunnel from Notley Abbey

There is a legend of an underground tunnel that runs from Notley Abbey, near Long Crendon, to The Prebendal, at Thame. Stories of secret tunnels are numerous but there is some evidence for the existence of this one. Two journalists visiting Long Crendon in 1892 make a passing reference to the tunnel in their report to The Redditch Indicator. They write: "We talked long upon the mysteries of Notley and the wonderful underground passage, two miles in length, along the banks of the river to the Prebendal in Thame, but time and railway trains will not wait and we strode across the country just in time to catch the train and bade goodbye (but not we trust for ever) to the Old Needle Land (Long Crendon was a village that was once famed for its manufacture of needles)."
Mrs. Audrey Danny, who currently lives at Notley Abbey, also knew of the legend. She said: "When we first moved into this house nearly 30 years ago we were visited by an old lady of 86 who had worked here as a young girl at the end of the last century. She said she remembered a short passage being filled in where the present tarmac drive passes the front door; she had no idea how long it was - may be it was a cellar from the monastic period."
Frank Mitchell (writing in 1974) retells rumours which were circulating when he was a boy. The rumour surrounded a Mr. Lawrence, the gardener at the Prebendal, who lived on the estate with his wife and five children. It was said that one night at around
he was woken by the sound of a dog barking at the big house. He went to investigate and on reaching the courtyard saw what was described as a ghostly light coming from the derelict chapel, and a line of monks filing in to a hole in the ground. Mr. Lawrence followed the last one in and found himself in an underground passage, but his way was barred by a fall of earth. The next morning he could find nothing unusual, but the mystery was never explained. The rumour of the time was that Mr. Lawrence had found the entrance of the tunnel which legend said linked the Prebendal to Notley Abbey. However he was keeping the location of the hole in the ground to himself in the hope of possibly finding some buried treasure.

This was the first experience I was to have about the existence of ghosts.

By the time I was almost eleven, my father was called back to
America, for what we thought would be the final move. We sailed back on the ‘United States’, the world’s fastest ocean liner.

We moved to the countryside outside a small town in Illinois called Libertyville. It was ideal for an 11 year old like me because my parents bought me a horse and I was as happy as a sand king for 3 years. When you are that age, all you are interested in is country life, friends, and plenty of space to frolic. I went to the local junior high school and was at last fitting in with my peers. I would fast become a country hick!

My horse, named Ebony, was the only thing that made me feel really blessed. He was very beautiful; black with a white star on his forehead and as fast as a racehorse. Our home was a ranch-style house and had a 2-car garage with a loft and a stable with a tack room at the back. There was also a large coral for a horse to run around in. So it was the perfect place for my horse to live in luxury.

Every year in
Libertyville, there is a local event called “The Frontier Days Parade”, in which there are floats, bands, clowns and cowboys. All the schools in the area are represented as well, and this particular year, my horse and his best friend “Patch”, were my school’s mascots. Patch was the spitting image of an extremely fat Thelwell pony, as wide as he was tall. I dressed Ebony up with a Mexican blanket and borrowed a western saddle which made him looked simply fantastic and Patch was dressed in the same Mexican theme. Together, they look like Laurel and Hardy!

The parade started out perfectly and there were hundreds of people lining the main street with children waving banners, blowing whistles, wearing cowboy outfits and shooting off cap guns. Ebony and Patch followed my school band and were well behaved until suddenly, Ebony spotted a bit of candy wrapper which had blown by the wind in front of his path. He has always been terrified of shiny paper for some reason and this was no exception. One would have thought that the noise of the cap guns, and all the other colourful things going on around him would have driven him wild, but no. It was the candy wrapper! He suddenly reared up and started to bolt straight through my school band. The band was scattered and divided like Moses parting the sea. As I said, Ebony was as fast as a racehorse, and when he was spooked, there was no stopping him. He ran the whole 2 miles home with me still on him, fearing for my life. When we approached his stable door, he was still going too fast to stop and I had to duck just in time to prevent myself from being decapitated by the top of the door. Unfortunately, my legs hit both sides of the door and I scraped all the skin off them. When I got off, my legs and Ebony’s were shaking like leaves. His nostrils were flared, the whites of his eyes showing and he was frothing at the mouth. I don’t know who was more scared!

The amazing thing is that there is a photo of us following the band in the school yearbook which was taken only minutes before the disaster.

Less than a month later, I had another life threatening adventure but this time is was due to an act of nature. I was at school and suddenly, there was an announcement over the intercom saying that a huge tornado was on its way towards the town and that the whole school was to be evacuated. Believe it or not, all of the children had to make their own way home. I lived much further away than the majority of children so I had at least 2 miles to walk. My teacher told me that if I heard the sound of 10 locomotive trains that I should jump into a ditch and hang onto the grass or a root of a tree. Well, low and behold, when I was out of the town and about half way home, the skies darkened like midnight (even though it was only midday), all the birds stopped singing and minutes later, that dreaded sound was heard. Only it was far louder than I imagined it would be. I literally ran to the nearest hole, ditch, whatever, and hung on for dear life. The howling wind was suddenly everywhere, having been able to hear a pin drop only seconds before. It became so violent that trees were being ripped from their anchorage on the ground. Bits of rubbish were flying about, and quite honestly, I was afraid to raise my head after that so I stayed put with my face in the earth with my fingers stapled to the dirt. As quickly as it came, the tornado was gone and all became silent again. My mother told me a few days later, that the entire roof of the town’s supermarket had been found 5 miles away and was completely mangled. Not only had many homes, shops and other buildings been totally demolished, but many people and farm animals had been killed. You don’t know how lucky I felt.
One unforgettable event took place in 1963 when I was in my Social Studies Class at school; a moment that I and millions of others will never forget.  It was in the afternoon and suddening, there was an announcement over the school intercom that President Kennedy had been shot. Initially, there was a hushed silence and then all hell broke loose. We were all told to go home immediately to await further news. Soon after it was announced that the President was dead. Life was not the same for a very long time in America from that day on. There are always things in everyone’s life where we remember exactly what we were doing when something catastrophic happens. This was my first but not last of those times.

Life went on peacefully after that for a few months and then, I was forced to go with my parents to
England for a few months on a prolonged business trip. This time, we sailed on The ‘France’ from New York to Southampton.

Once we arrived, I had to go to my private tutor in
London for a few months, but this time, not as a boarder. One of my brothers was still in boarding school and the other was at University, so they managed to escape this trip.

Our return trip was on the “Queen Mary”. That would make six ocean liners that I had been on in seven years.

Just as I was feeling “at home” back in
America, with my close friends who I thought I would grow old with, unbeknownst to me, my parents were planning to go back to England permanently for my father to retire in about a years' time. Because of this, they felt I needed to go to a "posh" private school in Chicago which was based on the English School system, as apparently American schools were approximately one year behind English schools.

It was 45 miles from our home each way and my father, who was working in
Chicago at the time, had to drive me to and from this school five times a week. The saving grace of having to travel so far each day was the fact that I was with my father. I adored him and he was my best friend; it was “our” time without any interruptions. I could tell him everything that was going on in my life, good and bad. He would listen intently and give me all the advice I needed which made me feel so secure. I remember listening to the car radio on our drive home each day and waiting to hear what pop song would be number one. He hated pop music but knew I loved it, so it was a ritual that he would turn to the pop channel at to hear the top five songs. There was one particular winter’s day on our drive home when a blizzard was blowing and the windshield wipers were at full speed trying to clear the huge snowflakes off the window. The number one hit was “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles and I remember to this day that the wipers were going back and forth in exact time to the beat of that song. Every time I hear that song, I see the wipers and the snow storm. I was probably one of the first American Beatle maniacs because my father had brought home their first album (Meet the Beatles) when he had been on a business trip to England long before any of my friends had even heard of them. I had become smitten with them immediately and insisted that all of my friends hear the album. The rest is history.

With regards to my school, all the kids were rich beyond belief there and I felt like a poor country bumpkin. We never had fancy cars, or a swimming pool, like most of the kids, even the ones who lived near me in the country. My parents used their money for non prestigious items and put it in the stock market, savings and education. They were not ostentatious at all and, in fact, were probably the most cultured and educated people in
Libertyville. But at my age, all I felt was that we were less well off than anyone else. To me, anyone who had all the trimmings of the rich, and had been to Disneyland for their holidays, was obviously very well off and totally enviable.

Anyway, I must just mention one more thing about my life in
Libertyville before I get onto my new life back in England. My very first boyfriend, Ben Peterkort, who lived right next door to us in Libertyville, contracted spine cancer about 3 months before we immigrated. I did not know he had cancer and just thought he had been moaning about back pain to get sympathy and cuddles from me. But a few weeks before we left, lock, stock and barrel, he went into hospital for an operation. My mother took me to see him in hospital a few days before we left for England to say goodbye to him. She had found out that he had terminal cancer from his mother and only had a few months to live; however, I was totally oblivious to this fact at the time. Both mothers felt it was best not to tell me or Ben until after my departure. Ben had not been told he was dying and they feared I would be too emotional in his presence that would make him suspicious. After I said goodbye to him, my mother told me, as we were leaving the hospital walking down the steps, that he only had about 6 months to live. I was devastated! He was my best friend, my first French kiss, and the only boy I had ever loved at the age of 14. He sent me many letters to England for the next few months (some were 17 pages long), telling me of his love for me and what he was going to do when he left the hospital. Then suddenly the letters stopped coming. It wasn't until I was at my convent boarding school in the depths of Sussex that I got a letter from his mother saying he had died. It was only 6 months after I had said goodbye to him. I still dream about him to this day. He was only 15 years old.

This time, we travelled over to
England on “the Empress of England” which was to be my last ever voyage on an ocean liner. We sailed up the St Lawrence River from Montreal to Liverpool, and watched whales and dolphins following alongside the ship near Newfoundland. It was a really beautiful sight.

As soon as we found and bought a house in
London, I was packed off to a Convent Boarding school in Sussex. I felt so homesick, desperate and confused that I consoled myself by becoming incredibly naughty to draw attention to myself and become known. Boarding school was bad enough, but being an American in an all English school, was too much to bear. So I became the class clown and daredevil. I spent my entire first 2 years washing dishes as a punishment for the various pranks I got up to.

My best friend was Louise, the second daughter of Lord Astor of Hever. She and I once borrowed bicycles from 2 day girls and peddled off to
Hever Castle which was only a few miles away, for a cream tea provided for by her old Nanny. We did this without permission and were grounded for our crime. But it was worth it. Louise became a nurse in later life and would often baby-sit for Finian, my future son, when he was first born as he was very delicate and sickly. I could not trust anyone other than a nurse to care for him.

 But I am skipping many years and need to get back to 1967.

When I was in the 6th form, I got German measles and was put into sick room. An old girl came back to the school for a visit and happened to come to see me in the infirmary. She offered me a cigarette which I promptly took, having never smoked before but I wanted to feel cool in front of her. After a few puffs, the Matron came into the room and I swiftly put the lit cigarette under my bed linen. Needless to say, smoke started to billow out and my sheet caught on fire. There was no way I could get out of this mess. Once I was better, I was rusticated for 3 weeks as an example of what could happen if anyone dared break the rules. My parents were not at all pleased!

When I left boarding school at the age of 18, I had my whole life ahead of me. Whether I took the right road or not, events certainly made my life interesting. I did a cultural course for "young ladies" as my parents wanted me to gain a bit of finesse as they felt I needed to saw off the edges of my hick life in a small town in the Midwest of America. There I met various girls who would change my life forever. One of them was the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. She was hysterically funny and we got on like a house on fire. She was just about to start her "Debutante season" to meet eligible young men, worthy of her parents’ admiration. She invited me to a tea party which was the first of the events introducing young women to society. I went as her "American cousin" in order to validate my presence. From that tea party, I was invited to endless other parties which actually not only gave me a year of unadulterated fun but changed my life. I flew to house parties and dances in
Scotland and castles all around England. I danced with Prince Charles and the Queen in an eight some reel at one private party but completely botched it up because I had never done it before and made a complete fool of myself. At the same party, I sat next to Princess Anne, who was being snogged by an underage Etonian in the disco tent.

I met my future husband, Patrick in a roundabout way through all of this.

Not long after dating him, I moved in with my future husband in a flat in Knightsbridge for 6 months before we married. We shared this flat with Colin Blunstone of the Zombies and Duncan Browne who was a budding pop star.

I got married, and a year later gave birth to Finian when I was 22, followed by my daughter, Alexandra, when I was 27. My husband managed Duncan Browne, a pop singer (who is not very well known today but who has a cult following). Patrick also had his own music publishing company in the 70's.  Although I am ashamed to mention this, I must be honest and tell you that I fell in love with
Duncan from the day I met him when I was 19. However, I didn't have enough ego to feel I was worthy of him and so for the next 24 years, I suffered because I never stopped loving him. There will be more about Duncan later on in this story.

During my marriage, I met loads of pop singers and celebrities including Elton John, Brian Ferry, Morecombe and Wise, Cilla Black, Suzie Quatro, Elvis Costello, Sid Vicious, to name but a few. It was a fun time but rather superficial.

I got divorced in 1980 and since then my “ex” became the 6th baronet of Ampton when his brother died and Finian is now the heir to the 7th Baronetcy of Ampton. This is irrelevant to my life as it stands but I just thought I would mention it in case you are interested. I felt my life was at an end. But it was only the beginning.

The first person I had an affair with after the divorce was James Hunt, the World Champion Racing Driver. I know he is well known for his insatiable appetite for women, but at the time I needed some sort of ego boost after years of feeling empty and unattractive. He is now dead which I am so sad about, but at the time he was very much alive. It lasted about 4 months and to save embarrassment, I won’t go into some of the ridiculous situations we got into. But they were likened to a French farce! He was a kind and giggly little boy in an Adonis – like body who was a joy to be with at that time. Life was beginning to take a major turn for me.

I was living in the most fabulous 5-storey house in Kensington which is a Grade 1 listed house for historical reasons. I hired a nanny for the kids and had to work for the first time in my life as the breadwinner. This was not easy, I can assure you. I had to bluff my way into endless jobs in order to maintain the kids, food, and bills. This was the first time in my life that everything was up to me as well as the future of my children, who I loved more than anything else before. I say that, but if the truth be known, I made a lot of mistakes in the coming years.

When I was 32 years old, I was shocked to learn that I had Cervical Cancer which had spread to a dangerous level. Being an optimist, I carried on with my life as if nothing was wrong but to put my mind at rest, I immediately had a hysterectomy to solve the problem once and for all.

Once over the trauma, I went on holiday by myself to the South of France. My best friend was French and she invited me to her parents’ villa in La Garde Finetre, near St. Tropez. It was the best 2 weeks of my life up to that point. But little did I know it started something I would never wish upon anyone. A tax inspector from
Paris, who was also a cocaine dealer, came down to stay with us at my friends’ villa (her parents were away at the time) and he brought with him on his motorbike, 52 grammes of cocaine.

He was a glamorous type of chap, good looking and trendy. On the first night after dinner, he spread out cocaine on a mirror the size of a Picasso painting and for the first time in my life, I sniffed up about the equivalent of 1/4 gramme of cocaine into my nose just to save face and looking like a nerd. I felt absolutely fantastic for the first time in my life; Confident, a winner, cool, and full of energy. We then went to a nightclub in St. Tropez where we were joined by Bridget Bardot and Tony Fransiscus. They had been my idols since I was 14 years old and I could not believe that they were actually talking to us.
I felt like a million dollars. I had the darkest all-over tan, was thin, young and free without a problem in the world. I felt like I was part of the “jet set”, although, in fact, I wasn’t really. I was just a barnacle on the side of a ship. Then, after two idyllic weeks of partying, sunbathing, and snorting, I went home.

There is always a downside to feeling “Great” under the influence of cocaine. When you get back to real life, responsibilities, poverty and the end of a perfect holiday, one has to struggle on with natural adrenaline, which was hard to come by under my circumstances. I had totally forgotten about cocaine on my return.

Several months went by with the usual hard slog of trying to make ends meet. Then I rented out my basement flat to a charming young chap called Josh, who I thought was as pure as the driven snow. Months later I found out that he was a heroin addict and also sold cocaine to feed his habit. On first meeting him, I had no knowledge of his drug problem whatsoever; I did not drink alcohol and apart from my short stint on cocaine in the south of
France, was quite honestly very innocent in comparison with the rest of the people of my age living in London.

My children loved Josh and visa versa; he glowed in the presence of my kids. They would draw pictures, talk about airplanes, make up funny stories and basically have a great time. He was such a lovely, kind guy and obviously adored children, especially mine.

I was still struggling with the lack of money to make ends meet as a single parent and had tried several jobs to pay for the upkeep of my family, but things were not working out. A bailiff would come to my door on a regular basis to demand items of value to pay off bills. But nothing was really worth anything. He was an ex policeman and because he felt sorry for me, became a friend rather than an enemy. He would come over regularly to take possession of anything that would help pay for the debts but ended up just having a cup of tea and a chat.

One day, the subject of cocaine came up whilst I was having a cup of coffee with Josh in my kitchen. At that time, I still didn’t know about his serious drug problem. I told him about the great time I’d had in the South of France and that for the first and supposedly last time, had tried cocaine. He said that he knew a few people who were public school educated and very discreet, who could provide me with cocaine to sell to a few elite celebrities. He said they would help me to pay the bills which were obviously becoming a very serious problem. I would never have to leave my house to sell the retched stuff on the streets like a common drug dealer. At the time, I was so desperate for money to live on, and had no luck with trying to bluff my way into legitimate jobs, that I simply could not think of another way to survive. My husband was not giving me any money for the children, and quite honestly felt I had no other choice. Subsequently, after I was introduced to these dodgy people, I wish I had never agreed. It was to be the biggest mistake of my life.

Between the first time that Josh set me up with these cocaine dealers and what happened to me later, was like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film.

Picture this. A well brought up tea-totalling, naïve woman with two young children in a private
Central London school, living in a prestigious house in Kensington. That was me on the outside, but not behind closed doors.  Life has a way of surprising the best of us, as I soon found out.

Josh introduced me first to a budding actor, Mark, who had been to Eaton. He was totally endearing with a great sense of humour, and incredibly well spoken. I thought he was really something. The second person who I met for this purpose was a tough East ender called Johnny. He was very suspicious of me because he sensed that I was not only a beginner in this low life, but also really naïve, which was true. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was near to the top of the cocaine ladder and was possibly one of the one most wanted by the drug squad. Within a week, Josh had to convince Johnny that I was no threat to his business, as Johnny felt I was a potential threat to his anonymity (which is so true), but Josh’s loyalty to me would prove very dangerous to Josh in the future. Josh was determined beyond his own safety to protect me and my children. He regretted introducing me to Johnny, and decided it was best not to let me have any dealings with him in the future. Thank God for me!

To cut a very long story short, I was set up to sell the retched drug, through Mark, to only six people who had enough money to buy my house ten times over. They shall remain nameless but are well known to almost everyone in
Britain. They would come to my house, have tea and cakes with me and the kids, come over for dinner, and purchase their pleasure upon leaving. I didn’t even have to go out of my front door to make enough money to live on. From a healthy 8 stone woman of 32, I quickly became a 5 stone weakling with dark circles under my eyes. How could I have been so stupid? That is what cocaine does to people who don’t use cocaine wisely.

One day, I went to my doctor and told him what I had been up to because I was having terrifying side effects and feared for my life. He said that if I did not stop by the end of the week that I would be dead. So, taking a deep breath, I rang up my brother and told him what was going on. He came down from
Manchester the next day to see me. As I was telling him in my kitchen, that the doctor said XYZ could happen to me if I didn’t stop, I suddenly lost my sight and hearing. I felt the equivalent of a 10,000 volt electric shock going from the middle of my brain, down my neck and through my arms. I managed to stagger over to the sofa in the adjoining playroom to lie down.

From that point onward, I suffered repeated muscle spasms, and went in and out of consciousness for approximately 12 hours. During that time, I left my body and floated up to the ceiling over and over again. I felt that if I went higher than the ceiling, I would never get back into my body. So I strained and strained by doing a mental breast stroke through the air from the ceiling to get back into my lifeless body lying on the sofa. I wasn’t ready to die and had my children, who I loved more than my own life to think about. That is what gave me the will to live.

During this whole episode, my brother rang up “Release”, a drug related chat line to get advice. He also rang up my best friend (the same one I had spent my holiday with in the South of France), to come over, interrupting the dinner party she was at in Battersea. She didn’t even have time to eat her dessert and came over within 15 minutes. She and my brother stayed with me for 12 hours until the ordeal was over. They had to slap me on the face each time I became unconscious, shout at me, talk to me, hug me and basically make me aware that someone was with me the whole time until the overdose had subsided. If it hadn’t been for them, I would surely have died. I slept for 3 days and my brother took the kids to school, fed them and cared for them. He told them I had very bad flu. I love him so much, you cannot imagine.

One night a few months later, I got a phone call from Huntingdon police station, saying they had someone in their custody who was suffering from a heroin overdose. All they could find on him was a piece of paper with my telephone number, so they were calling me to find out who he could possibly be. From their description, it was Josh. This was the first time I realized he was a heroin addict. I told them to bring him to my home where I promised to look after him and that I would call my doctor. They brought him home and for the next 8 hours, I nursed him through the most horrifying experience I had ever seen in my life. The doctor told me he could not come over for moral reasons but that I should just stay with him and make sure he did not choke on his own vomit etc... I had to cool him down with wet flannels, stop him from running away, cuddle him when he was screaming out in pain, and talk calmly all night long. The next morning when Josh was finally asleep, I rang his sister who was a nurse. She arranged to have her brother-in-law and a friend come around to pick Josh up to take him home to her so that she could continue looking after him.

They arrived at the house; one at the front door, the other at the back door. I told Josh that they were here to take him home to his sister, and he totally freaked out and tried to run. He couldn’t bear the humility of his family knowing about his predicament. However, the two chaps were big and strong so Josh hadn’t a chance to dodge them. They managed to get him in the car and whisk him away to the safety of his loving sister. Somehow, this reminded me of the love my brother had given me only a short time ago. God bless siblings.

A month later, I had a call from his sister saying he was completely recovered. In honour of my saving his life, his entire family including those who came over from
Ireland, were giving me a party to celebrate their appreciation to me. Josh had been working out in a gym, eating well, staying off drugs and trying to make himself a reformed human being. He had been so insistent that I would be proud of him that his family said he was really nervous to see me. I arrived at their house to be greeted by about 50 smiling Irish people, with hugs and kisses for me as if they had known me their whole life. This was so touching but it makes it seem even more poignant when you hear what is to come. Josh came out last of all and just held onto me as if he was afraid to let go. He looked absolutely fantastic and glowed from ear to ear. I was so proud of him.

Two weeks later, Josh went to stay in a temporary flat in Paddington where he was arranging to set up a legitimate business with his brother in

Within a week, Josh was found dead, having been injected with a fatal dose of cyanide and heroin. He had been murdered as there was sign of a major struggle. The only thing missing was his address book.

The police came to my house asking if I knew of anyone who would want Josh dead. I explained that the only person who I personally felt could have been responsible was a man called Johnny who lived in the
East End. I didn’t go into any details of how I knew him but explained that Josh had often mentioned him and how he was terrified of this chap. As far as I know, nothing has become of the visit from the police because I could not honestly give them any addresses or a telephone number for Johnny. I have never heard anything since then.

About this time, I met an amazing character called Stuart Cornock. He was an ex guardsman who had been court-marshalled from the cavalry for housing a horse in his 17th floor apartment in the Knightsbridge barracks. He was only trying to save this horse from going to the glue factory where he was destined to go because of a leg injury. Anyway, Stuart was like a character out of a 19th century novel. He had been born as the illegitimate son of a Duke in
Scotland. His mother was the housekeeper and because this Duke had scruples, he sent Stuart to the finest schools in England. Stuart was a talented horseman and apart from being in the Cavalry, he was also a stuntman for such films as Excalibur and any other film that required dangerous horse stunts. He acquired a 15th Century leather jacket, from the film Excalibur, which he wore all the time. It had puffy shoulders with burlap slits and was waist length. He wore his jeans and cavalry boots with it. Also, he had long wavy hair with an ear-ring in one lobe. His voice was so deep and booming with an incredibly posh accent that one could not help but jump to his commands. Quite honestly, I had never met someone quite like him.

Stuart would stay at my house in Kensington on a number of occasions because he actually lived in
Dorset, caring for the thoroughbred horses belonging to a very rich woman who bred them.

One night, as I was asleep in my comfy bed, I was woken up to hear Stuart talking to someone in my adjoining bathroom. Apparently, he was talking to a ghost, dressed in a dark green velvet frock coat, who had lived in my house at the turn of the century. This ghost had been a doctor and he was telling Stuart that my children were in danger because the rafters in the roof loft over the kids bedroom were rotten and in danger of collapsing. So he was warning Stuart that he should draw this to my attention. I could not really believe that this was true as I was very sceptical about such things as ghosts, in spite of the fact that I had seen one when I was 8 years old.

However, the next morning, Stuart told me that he had been exorcised by an eminent priest several years before because he had been possessed by the spirit of a girlfriend who had died. She had been very bitter about the fact that Stuart was two-timing her with the ex wife of Corin Redgrave and apparently her spirit was making his and everyone else’s life a misery. Stuart would be sitting in a room with them and tables would lift up in the air, cutlery drawer’s would open and all the contents shoot around the room, garden doors would open unexpectedly, and Stuart would be thrown against walls, unable to move. It got so bad that they had to contact The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith, the most renowned priest in the world for such jobs to perform an exorcism on Stuart to rid him of this problem. Apparently, the exorcism was quite difficult because when they brought Stuart to the church, he was spouting Latin incantations and struggling to avoid reaching the altar. After great perseverance from the priest and all those around, they managed to exorcise Stuart.

Because of this new-found knowledge, I located the Reverend’s phone number through direct inquiries. I called him because I was afraid that my kids’ lives were at risk. The phone was answered by his wife who told me that he was recovering from having had a stroke and was rather weak at the age of 75. However, when I told her it was about Stuart Cornock, she went away for a minute and brought the Reverend back to the phone to speak to me. I told him about my reason for ringing and he said that I should listen to what Stuart was saying to me and to get my roof fixed immediately. He confided in me by saying that he had never met anyone like Stuart who had more perception to the mysteries of the “other side” than anyone he had ever met before.

Well, needless to say, it took me a while to take this in. Less than 2 weeks later, the ceiling of my children’s room caved in before I had seen to the loft, but luckily, they were not in the room at the time. This made me think long and hard about the occult and of Stuart!

A few weeks later, Stuart was yet again, visiting us. He invited the children and me to visit the Horse guards Barracks in
Whitehall to see his old friend and cavalry comrade “Waspy” who was in charge there at the time.

We trundled up to
Whitehall and went into the stables where the Queen’s horse and the famous “drum horse” for formal events were kept. Stuart put each of my kids onto the Queen’s horse just for some fun. Then he put me on it. All that the Queen’s horse had on it was a saddle draped with sheepskin with a dagger under it, with had no bridle or halter. They were getting ready for a practice for the “Trouping of the Colour”.

Stuart suddenly left me sitting on the Queen’ s horse in the open-door stall and took my children to see the weapon room which housed swords and cannons and paraphernalia from earlier wars. For some reason, the horse decided to go walk-about and left the safety of the stall. He walked out into the main courtyard where Japanese, Danish and other tourists were poised with cameras. Bearing in mind I had no means to guide or control him, things go a little out of hand. He tried to make a break for the main gates out into
Whitehall, leading down to the Houses of Parliament with me still sitting on it, looking like a complete idiot! The cavalry who were putting on their boots at the time, were alerted and rushed out to make a human fence in front of the main gates; some with only one boot on. Sensing hysteria from me, the horse lost his cool and reared, nostrils flaring, scared beyond belief. Horses sense panic in their mounts.

Stuart in the meantime had heard the kafuffle and ran out brandishing a sword from the Battle of Waterloo which he had been showing the children. Dressed in his usual medieval jacket, riding boots, and earrings, he managed to grab my horse and calm it down as he had a way with horses. The tourists had taken so many photos at this point that I would love it if they could send me some of them as a memory of this day. Needless to say, Stuart’s friend “Waspy” was not at all pleased and could have lost his job for allowing us to even be there. But luckily there were no repercussions.

One summer soon after that, Alexandra, my daughter, (who was seven at the time) and I were invited to go to stay with my French friend in the South of France (where you will recall, my problems had originally started). This time, it was to be a healthy family holiday and her two sons were there as well. They had a private tutor to help them with their studies as they would be there for about 3 months. It would be helpful for them to have Alexandra study with them as they had all grown up together and got on so well. So we trundled off for a lovely month’s holiday.

Whilst there, we met Laura Ashley and her husband, Bernard, who lived nearby and were old friends with my friends’ parents. We went over for tea a few times and had dinner with them in the local town. Laura’s house was like something out of a
Devonshire holiday catalogue with a rose garden, vegetable patch, and purple wisteria hanging down the walls of the house. It was hard to believe that it was surrounded by parched stony mountains in the middle of the French countryside.

Well, things did not go very well soon after that. Alexandra had somehow caught Glandular fever (Mononucleosis) from someone at her school before leaving for
France. After a couple of weeks, she was so ill that we had to call for the doctor who immediately said she was so ill that she had acquired serious complications affecting her liver. He felt it was best for her to go to hospital in Paris where they could deal with it properly. So Laura and her husband kindly offered to fly us both up to Paris in their private airplane as that was the quickest and most comfortable way to get there.

We were picked up by a chauffeur and taken to the local private aerodrome to meet them at their plane. Bernard, who was a qualified pilot and would be flying us to
Paris, was checking the route at the small office there and his co pilot, Malcolm, was revving up the plane’s engine in the tiny cockpit. Laura had kindly made up a bed for Alexandra in the plane (which of course was totally decorated in Laura Ashley wallpaper and furnishings) and I settled her down in comfort.

I was so nervous about flying in such a small plane, knowing I would not be able to smoke during the flight, and being very nervous about the state of Alexandra, that I unwittingly lit a cigarette whilst standing on the top of the
steps to the plane. I was standing there puffing away like a chimney with my elbows resting on the roof of the plane when I suddenly heard Bernard shouting at me from the control tower far away. He was waving frantically and I just looked at him and started to wave back still puffing on my cigarette. I was THAT nervous! Of course, he was waving because I was risking everyone’s lives with my stupidity. The plane had a petrol engine and obviously was at great risk of exploding with a lit cigarette so near. Anyway, when he got to the plane, didn’t he give me an earful! I felt like a complete idiot and could not apologize enough. Anyway, we all calmed down and set off for

When we arrived, Alexandra and I were picked up by another chauffeur and taken straight to my old school friends’ flat where we were to stay a few days until Alexandra had been seen at the hospital and become well enough to fly back to

Weeks later, when the whole drama was over and Alexandra was on the mend, I wrote to the Ashley’s to thank them profusely for the fact that I’d nearly killed everyone and for going to so much trouble to fly us up to Paris. They had totally forgiven me, thank God, and I heard through the grapevine, that they often told the story at dinner parties but with a great deal of humour, not anger.

It was only a few months later that Laura Ashley sadly died.

Life after that carried on despite my nine lives being exhausted.

By 1987, when I was nearly 37, the children and I were forced to leave our lovely Kensington home where we had lived for 9 years. My ex husband had asked me to sign an agreement for him to have a £10,000 overdraft the year before, using the house as collateral. As the children and I were the only occupants, but the legal stuff was in my x husband’s name, it was necessary to have my written blessing. Little did I realize that this loan was open-ended. He built up debts which far exceeded the initial £10,000, and therefore his bank called in the loan and the house had to be sold to pay for it.

A developer who saw a great deal, offered to buy the house in order to make a major profit by spending £100,000 on it for renovations and selling it for £3 million. I had no say in the matter, and my ex husband agreed to the offer as he had to pay his bank of as soon as possible. Bear in mind that we did not own the house. We were sitting tenants and paid rent. The Prudential who were our landlords, offered to sell us the freehold at a reduced price and so we made a “back to back deal” with the future owners. On the same day that we sold the house to the developers, we bought the house. The profit we made was approximately £100,000; (£50,000 to my “ex” and £50,000 to me and the children).

The children, my dog and cat had to leave the house within 10 days. We packed up, put everything into storage, and had nowhere to live as there wasn’t enough time to find anything. Not only that, but there was no £50,000 house in
London waiting for me to move into and I was unemployed so could not get a mortgage. I had no help from my “ex” and in desperation; we had to move in with my mother. Alexandra was 9 years old and Finian was 12.

This was not a good time for my mother as my father had been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s and had only just moved to a nursing home about 3 weeks prior to our onslaught. My poor mother!

We literally crammed into my mothers’ house with little room to move, and I had to get a job in order to obtain some kind of mortgage so that I could afford to buy a house for us to live in.

I found a menial job for the purpose of getting a mortgage which was only for that purpose. Once I got the mortgage, I lost the job, but at least I was in a position to actually get the mortgage.

I found an ex council house on an estate in Putney. It had 3 bedrooms, a front and back garden and was surrounded by large trees. Perfect for a dog, a cat, and 2 growing children. I feel very blessed that this house came to us, because if the truth be known, I think my mother was being driven crazy by the chaos my family bestowed upon her. We weren’t exactly relaxing to have around!

After being at my mothers’ for 7 months, we finally moved out and into our new home. It was great at first, but Finian was feeling very unsettled from the vast change in our lifestyle since Kensington. He was at an impressionable age and was feeling the pressure of kids in the new neighbourhood who resented his public school accent. Not only that, but the school fees where the kids had been going to for the last 5 years were not being paid for by their father. I had paid several terms when necessary when I had been working, but now; even I could not pay the fees. Hence, even though Finian was just starting to take his pre GCSE’s, the school contacted me to say that neither child could continue to attend the school. I was devastated as were the children.

Alexandra was less affected by this catastrophe as she was only 9, but Finian was at a critical stage in his school career. So my mother came to the rescue and paid for him to at least stay long enough to take his exams.

I had to send Alexandra to the local State school in the middle of a term which was, at first glance, quite sufficient. But after only a few months, it proved to be unbearable for her. She has always been a loving, affectionate child with no affectations whatsoever, but because she had a public school accent, she was teased no end by her piers. There was a rather vindictive kid, who obviously had a chip on her shoulder, who threatened to beat her to a pulp on a daily basis for being a “snob”. Alexandra was so traumatized that she refused to go back. She had never had dealings with violent children who threatened physical torture. I went to the school to try and sort the whole thing out, but the headmaster was so unhelpful and ineffectual and unsympathetic that I decided then and there to take her out of the school immediately. It was not fair on Alexandra to suffer because I could not give her a stable life that she was used to. So I borrowed money from my bank in an overdraft form, to put her into the local private school which was the cheapest one I could find. I actually got a bursary which saved our lives and I cannot be more grateful to them. Thank goodness there are decent people in this world. They completely understood my predicament. When children go to state schools from an early age, they are fine and become successful if they persevere with their studies, but if you are yanked out of a certain environment and put into an alien one, life can be very traumatic. I have nothing against State Schools whatsoever, but it depends on the individual’s circumstances and in Alexandra’s case, this was evident.

Finian at 13, took his exams, and then was asked to leave the school he had been to since he was 10 years old. Soon after he left, he threatened to kill himself so I took him to my doctor. The doctor gave me some sleeping pills to give to him and accused me of being a neurotic American mother. Within a few days, Finian found the bottle of pills and took the entire lot (22 pills in all)! I had to walk him around for about 9 hours to keep him from falling asleep and really feared for his life. My doctor could not have been more wrong about his perception of the severity of the situation.

Anyway, my mother, once again, paid for Finian to go to a “Crammer” school in
South Kensington, to complete his education. This made life a lot easier for everyone.

I decided that it was time for me to take a slower attitude to life and stop acting like a crazed adolescent who acted on impulse and I wanted to lead a healthy, homey sort of life as depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings. The epitome of an ideal family in 50’s
America, but in England!

I met up with my old friend, David. He had four children who I had known since each of their births and I adored them all. By this time, David had divorced and he was very keen to have a wholesome family holiday with his kids who were suffering from the recent divorce. We decided to drive to the South of France to camp in two tents.

We headed off in two cars with our tents and cooking utensils clanging away on the roof racks. Between us, we had 6 children, from
to 14 years old. I felt absolutely glorious as I had always wanted a large family and this certainly was! David and I at this point were just platonic friends and got on like a house on fire, with the same dreams and feelings of family life as it should be.

His children were absolutely fantastic characters. He had 3 sons aged 12, 10, and 9. His youngest, a daughter, was the sweetest little character and at the age of 4, was hysterically funny and self-sufficient. Having 3 older brothers, made her very self-confident and she was the most eccentric and original little girl I had ever met. The oldest son, James, was the leader of the pack and kept his younger siblings on the straight and narrow. He was the one I knew the best as I had known him since he was 2 days old. He and Finian had grown up together and were like brothers, so in a way, he was like a son to me. I loved him dearly; he was kind, good-looking, and very thoughtful to others. He and I were very close and it wasn’t until a few years later that I realized just how much he meant to me and visa-versa, but it was to prove too late as you will hear later in the story.

The holiday was a major success, and it led to many other camping trips, not only in
England but in the South of France the following year. David and I, as expected, became an item after the second year.

His children and mine became even closer and it was as if I had finally got the large family I had always wished for. The same went for David. We were very happy indeed until things started going wrong for David.

He basically, lost everything he owned to his divorce and was suddenly unemployed with very little prospects. He had been trained to take over his fathers’ jewellery shop chain, but it was not to be, as he had been cut out of the will, due to a rather vindictive, conniving mistress of his fathers’ who, on his deathbed, got his father to sign everything over to her. The company was later taken over by someone else and David didn’t have a chance to prove himself. So he attempted other jobs which were not well paid but easy to get in the circumstance. The carpet had been pulled out from under his feet, and he lacked self-confidence as well. As he had no degrees and only knew about jewellery, he felt at a loss and hadn’t a clue about what else he could do. Many people are quite versatile but unfortunately, because of his particular past, he was not. So he did the best he could by getting driving jobs, delivering parcels, doing various courses, and looking for a totally different career. Because of his age, and the competition with other young people, he could not get an equally prestigious job that he had been used to. That is the story for so many people in this country who have been made redundant at his age and who are not qualified as Lawyers, Doctors or Dentists. Nevertheless, we stayed together through the following years despite our lack of money.

The year after we went camping in the
South France, my father died. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past 10 years and in a way it was a blessing when he died. But he was still my father whom I adored. In the two years leading up to his death, he was like a child, unable to feed himself, unable to communicate, unable to recognize his family except for split seconds, and he was basically not the man I had looked to for advice and comfort my whole life. Here was this man who had been so intelligent, loving, responsible, and talented. At the time of his death, he was a little child once again. I fed him his last meal the day before he died, and for a short moment, when I was spoon feeding him strawberry ice cream, he looked at me intensively and stroked my hand saying, I love you baby. It broke my heart. The next day, my mother and I had a call from the home to say he was dying. We rushed over by taxi and made it just in time to be with him at his deathbed. He was in a coma so didn’t know we were there, but for us it was comforting to be with him when he died. In a way my mother and I were relieved that he was suffering no longer, but at the same time, it was the end of an era. He had been the solid earth beneath our lives and now he was gone. Life has to go on and we were luckily both philosophical about his death but still felt the emptiness in our hearts.

When Finian was 17 years old, he became epileptic in a major way. He started to have “Grande Mal seizures” which are the most violent of all fits. Once he had been tested for the cause, the doctors told us that it was most likely caused by the serious health problems he had when he was a baby. He had a heart operation when he was 14 months old, and had to be resuscitated twice during the operation. Also, when he was 11 months old, he contracted a serious case of Measles and had to be put into an isolation hospital because they could not get his temperature down below 106 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 or 5 days. He had to be wrapped in ice, have hourly muscular injections, and be blown to bits by a fan. For both of these horrific incidents, he had several febrile convulsions which are normal under the circumstances, but something lay dormant in his brain which didn’t come to the fore until puberty; my poor son. It wasn’t his fault.

This catastrophic malady was to be an immense thorn in Finian’s side until this day. I felt helpless and terrified like never before and the whole issue of Epilepsy has made me a nervous wreck. But even worse, it has affected Finian’s entire life and future.

This is how I see it. You have a baby and he develops into a living, breathing person with a personality, intellect and emotions. Your child is an extension of your own soul and life blood at the beginning, but as they grow, they are no longer “yours”. They grow up, and they are still your baby, no matter what age they are. Even though they are adults, when something life threatening happens, you still think of them as your “baby”. When someone has an epileptic fit, they are helpless and rely on other people to help them avoid accidents during the seizure, and to console them when they come around from unconsciousness. It is very frightening to them and they are indisposed for at least 24 hours. But you, as a parent, look down and see your child who is suffering. They are no longer an adult in this state and you revert to motherhood in order to comfort them. No one can imagine the pain and suffering that a mother feels when her grown child is completely vulnerable and helpless having had an epileptic fit unless you have experienced it first-hand.

Well, he had many fits over the next few years, too many to mention, but it made his and my life a misery. Every time I heard a bang, I jumped out of my skin. Every time he went out, I was on tender hooks, fearing I would get a call from the police or a hospital saying he had had a fit somewhere and had been hit by a car in the middle of the street. It made me quite neurotic and I lived the next few years as a nervous wreck. I cannot imagine what Finian felt because it was his life that was ruined, but as a mother it was also disastrous.

1993 was probably one of the worst years I had ever had to deal with emotionally, apart from when my father died. Duncan Browne, as I mentioned earlier on, who had been the love of my life, died of Colon Cancer. He was 46 years old and in the prime of his musical career. I had been totally and completely in love with him since the day I met him at the tender age of 19, however as I mentioned before, I felt I was not pretty enough or interesting enough to win his heart over. Two years after I got divorced from my husband, I had a “one night stand” with Duncan after a dinner party I gave at my house. It was 1982, eleven years before his death. As far as I was concerned, it was the best sex I had ever had in my entire life, but I expect I was just yet another conquest that Duncan had. He was such a womanizer that he had probably been to bed with more models, pop singers or actresses than I had hot dinners. This didn’t matter to me at the time because my dreams had come true and at least I had experienced in real life, my 13 years of fantasies. I know he really liked me as an old friend, and I know he had a great time that night, but I also know he was not in love with me like I was with him. After that, I only saw him once more and eleven years later, I heard he had died. From that day on, I drank like a fish, ate to comfort myself and over the next 8 years, put on 5 stone in weight. There was no reason for me to look good or care for myself as far as I was concerned. My desire to get him to fall in love with me was finally over and there was no point in looking good any more just in case I were to run into him on the street and start a full blown love affair. He was gone. So I had to get on with my life regardless but with a hole in my heart as big as the Grand Canyon.

In 1994, I got a fabulous job as a PA secretary at the Coca-Cola Headquarters in London. I thought my life was finally taking a turn for the better. It lasted 4 years and proved to me that I was really worth something in the working world.
However, at that time, I had acquired the taste for Bacardi and Coke. For the first time, I started to drink alcohol with a vengeance. I wish to God that I hadn’t even started down that road!

Remember I had never been into alcohol until the age of 43. Why I started to drink at this age, I haven’t a clue, other than the fact that I had no other means of pure escapism from reality which I found more and more painful to endure. Drugs were out of the question as far as I was concerned, and yet I still felt a void in my heart. I felt that I could not be happy unless I received some sort of outside stimulant and instant gratification at the click of a finger. My life had been so eventful before and now I felt that nothing exciting was ever going to happen again. I realized at this stage that I was a junky for excitement, drama and fantasy. There had been a flood of dramas up until this point; and then there was a lull.  Hence I became a Rum and coke alcoholic.

A couple of years passed and life was non-eventful apart from the seizures that Finian was having. By that time, I was afraid to do anything out of the ordinary in case I had to be on-call in case Finian needed an alert mother to help him with his fits. Quite honestly, I was so neurotic by that stage about Finian’s condition that I started to get panic attacks on a regular basis. I tried to go to the cinema to see “Mrs. Doubt fire” but had to leave after a minute or two because of an anxiety attack. (That was the last time I went to the cinema for the next 10 years!)

By 1999, my finances were again diabolical. So I had to sell my house and get another one on the same Estate for a lot less money to pay off my debts.

The day we moved proved to be a complete nightmare. Finian had an epileptic fit that very morning, and the removal men had to pack up his room while he was lying in his bed, thrashing about. We had to be out of our house by
and Finian was not in any condition to be moved. The poor removal men had to pack his room up with him still lying in his bed. So when he regained consciousness, he had to go and stay with his girlfriend for a few days to recover. As you can imagine, that day was incredibly stressful for all concerned.

Two weeks later, with packing cases still piled high in my new home, I had a call from David, my boyfriend, to say that his eldest son, James was dead! David was devastated, obviously, but could not tell me anything about what had happened until he came to my house. It was Easter Monday. Apparently, James had been with David and the rest of his family on Easter Sunday. He had cooked a really amazing Sunday lunch for his girlfriend, brothers, sister and father and they all went out afterwards to finish off the idyllic day. By the evening, everyone was comfortably happy, having downed a few beers. David was at that time, living in a bed and breakfast near their house in Knightsbridge, within walking distance of Harrods. He had no money or job because things had gone wrong for him throughout the previous year and he was at rock bottom. But that particular day had been very uplifting as he had spent a fantastic day with all of his children. David said goodbye to James and his girlfriend at
and they went their separate ways. The next morning, David had a call from his second son, Charles, who relayed the most horrific news any parent could ever wish to hear.

James had gone back to his girlfriend’s flat in
Pall Mall to stay the night. They apparently had a minor row and James decided to go home. The front door was locked from the inside and his girlfriend had the key so he decided to climb out of the kitchen window and climb down the drainpipe. He had done this many times before as he was quite the climber urban mountaineer! However, on that dreaded night, there was a drizzling of rain and so the drainpipes were rather slippery. Not only that, but he had had a few too many beers. He slipped and fell 5 stories onto the ground below, unfortunately landing on his head, and died instantly. He was 24 years old.

It was in all the papers over the next few weeks. The reason he was in all the papers was the fact that his Grandmother was the Duchess of St. Albans and his girlfriend’s father was the former Editor of “The Times”. To me it was sad that his death was only worthy for publication because of those reasons.

David and the rest of his family were obviously in complete shock, quite apart from me and my two children. On my 49th birthday, I went to see James’ body at the morgue a week after his death. On that day, driven by shock and grief, I had laced myself with a whole bottle of rum and 2 grammes of cocaine so my emotions were somewhat numbed. Despite of the state I was in, I had to keep my cool for his family’s sake and from then on decided to support them emotionally to the best of my ability. David moved in with me the morning James died. His remaining children have become very close to me, in particular, Charles, the second son. A few weeks later, David’s best friend, Charlie, who was unable to attend James’s funeral paid for the both of us to visit him in
California for 2 weeks in order to try and get over the immense sadness. It helped a little bit but was short-lived. David has never gotten over James’s death until this day.

In September 2001, the
Twin Towers fell. I had been watching TV that morning with my rum and coke in one hand and a straw for my nose in the other hand. By that time, I had succumbed to my addictions big time and things were getting out of control. Because I was born in New York, and still after 37 years felt like an American, I decided then and there that I should go over to see the carnage for myself. Not only that, but my oldest brother lived there and knew people who worked in the Trade Centre so I wanted to feel part of it. Being high on cocaine and alcohol, I borrowed some money and flew over 3 days after the attack. My friends thought I was crazy, as at that time no one wanted to fly. But once I get an idea in my mind, there is nothing that can stop me. Obviously, I had to stop my cocaine use for the trip which was pretty easy as I had enough natural adrenaline in me to stoke a locomotive. I wrote a piece about my first day at the devastated site of the World Trade Centre to give you an idea of what it was like. It was published on the internet.

Submitted by: Vicky de Lacy
London, England

It is mid September and I have just returned from
New York to London, having spent a week or so with my brother in Brooklyn. I’d had a strong compulsion to go and see for myself the utter destruction at Ground Zero - not for any sick, voyeuristic reasons, but because I wanted to experience and grieve with fellow Americans and feel part of it. Over here in England (where I have lived for the past 30 years) I had watched the atrocities live on TV, and having been born in New York, I felt a strong compulsion to get there as quickly as possible. So I booked the first flight I could get, much to the amazement of friends and family who thought I was “taking a chance” by flying so soon after the hijacks.

Anyway, my adventures in
Manhattan were, to say the least, worth it to me if not to anyone else. My brother and sister-in-law and all of their friends who live in New York could not bring themselves to go down to Lower Manhattan which I fully understand. It is their territory and they know it so well, so the thought of seeing it as it is today is quite honestly too painful. I, on the other hand, am not very familiar with downtown Manhattan and so there was less nostalgia involved. It does not mean I was not affected, quite the contrary. It made an enormous impact on me and strengthened my feelings about the city I was born in. It also made me even more aware of the delicate line we all face between life and death. If a strong city like New York can be reduced to rubble, it makes it even more likely that other cities could experience the same fate. London is possibly the next sitting target for terrorism in whatever form it may come.

For many years, I had suffered from panic attacks. My journey down to Ground Zero completely by myself was a major accomplishment for me - considering that not long ago I couldn't even sit through Mrs. Doubt fire in the cinema for more than 2 minutes, or wait in a supermarket queue.

Here is the description of my journey down to Ground Zero
(or "The Pit" as New Yorkers now call it).

The day was hot and sticky - around 88 degrees, with a pure blue sky. I wandered down to
Canal Street
which was the furthest point which the general public was allowed to venture in Lower Manhattan. It is about 8 blocks from Ground Zero - far enough away for safety. For some reason, I have always had the knack of persuading people to let me do what I want and this was no exception. I befriended a "Cop" who escorted me through the metal barricade and endless groups of soldiers and police, saying I was "OK for entry". Why he let me through and no one else, I will never know, but I am grateful to him nonetheless.

When I approached the first sight of the disaster site, my heart skipped a beat and for a second or two had warning signs of one of my panic attacks. But the horrific sight was so much more important than thoughts of my stupid panic attacks that I carried on regardless. With each step I took, the more visible was the carnage. Acrid smoke was still thick in the air even after 8 days, and occasionally when the wind shifted I got a whiff of decomposing flesh.

I had borrowed a camera and found that it was broken so I went into a Photo shop to buy a disposable camera. The shop was directly across the street from the disaster site and the display window was broken and covered in dust. That did not stop them from opening their shop to the public (most of whom were press, public officials and local residents) I later found out that the owner of the shop had been killed by flying debris and his employees were trying to raise money for his family by selling what they could from the shop.

Block after block I saw damaged buildings, covered in thick dust and broken windows. Once upon a time, these buildings were shiny and majestic, reaching for the sky. Now they looked like abandoned warehouses in a diabolical slum area. One building which must have been about 70 stories high had an enormous chunk taken out of its side, like a giant had taken a bite out of it. Another building had about 10 of its top stories hanging down like Spanish moss on a willow tree. Shops still had their merchandise laid out neatly ready to be bought by the public, only everything was covered in about 5 inches of white dust and would never be sold to a soul. It was eerie beyond belief. These shops were like ghost houses.

The actual epicentre of where the World Trade Centre had been was so much larger than the TV and photographs could show. It was never-ending, block after block after block after block. The rubble was almost as high as an average sized building, and smoke was still escaping out of scattered pockets. Fire engines, cranes, police cars, Red Cross vans, heavy duty transport lorries, ambulances and army vehicles filled the streets. It truly had the look of a war zone. Tired and dusty rescuers consisting of firemen (first and foremost), police, and medics came and went constantly from the recovery site. Many were being interviewed by the press as they left the area to go home, having worked for up to 20 hours at a stretch. But in spite of their exhaustion and sadness, they had incredible spirits. In fact, I was surprised at the almost happy-go-lucky comradery of all these brave heroes. It is true that at times like this (and during the Blitz in
London for example), that people get certain strength from sticking together in the most horrific circumstances. It is almost as if each individual heart and soul of these people melts into one enormous heart and soul and they become as one. I definitely felt it myself.

Within half a block of where the Trade Centre once stood is the oldest church in
New York. There is a peaceful graveyard surrounding it with beautiful trees and singing birds. It is only one storey high with a steeple and it used to look totally out of place with its backdrop of modern skyscrapers. There is a space behind it where the Towers used to be which stares out at you like a sore thumb. Now the church somehow is not out of place. In fact, it looks like it was meant to be there all along - to remind us that there are more important things on earth for us to think about apart from war and destruction.

I think everyone in the civilized world has shed a tear over the atrocities of September 11 and whether they have had personal experiences or not, their hearts have gone out to everyone who has.

© 2002

Two years passed and life went on. Finian was working as an estate agent, and my daughter, Alexandra, was in PR. David got a job delivering cars for Saab which was pretty much all he could cope with at that point. It was low paid but basic and paid for my mortgage, at least. However, we no longer lived as an item, as things on the physical side broke down. He was still my best friend and I loved him dearly, but only platonically. So we agreed to have separate bedrooms. I shared a bedroom with Alexandra, David had the spare room, and Finian lived on a sofa bed in the living room. It was a tight squeeze but seemed to work.

One night at about
, there was a phone call from the police. Finian had been in a near fatal car accident. He had taken my car out the previous evening to go to a job interview for a commercial estate agent in the City. Apparently it had gone very well indeed, and to celebrate, Finian met up with some friends for a few drinks. Several hours later, we got the phone call. Alexandra was the one to answer the phone and because she has always been the only one in the family to be calm in the face of disaster, she passed on the message to me. Luckily she did not impart the news that Finian may not survive the night. Early the next morning, we both went to the hospital only to find that Finian was in a critical state. His right arm had been crushed; he had a chunk out of his hip, his right ear was literally hanging off and he had head injuries. The car had apparently turned over several times and landed upside down. The paramedics and fire department spent about 45 minutes cutting him out of the wreckage. If he hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt, he would surely have died instantly.

For the next couple of months, he underwent several operations to put him back together. His ear was sewn back on without much trouble but the worst and most complicated operation was on his right arm which was so badly broken in so many places, that they had to put metal rods and screws into the bones to hold them together. If he were to go through an airport security scanner, all the bells would go off with the amount of metal he had in him! Not only were the bones smashed to smithereens, but all the nerves just below the shoulder were severed and they had to try and join each and every one; very difficult to do as you can imagine! The doctors were doubtful that he could ever write, play tennis, swim, or even throw a cricket ball again. What worried us most, however, was the fact that his head injuries had made his epilepsy much more frequent than ever before.

Once he came home, all of the problems were not over by any means. He was in such pain and on so much medication, that he was physically sick most days. It took about 3 months for him to be relatively comfortable. I had a job nearby working in the local hospital as a secretary and on a few occasions, I had to rush back home because he had called saying he thought he was going to have a seizure, which he always did. One time, I got home to find him turning blue because he had fallen off the bed during the seizure and wedged his neck in an open bedside table drawer which was pressing on his jugular vein. If I hadn’t gone home immediately and pulled him out of this vice he would have died. This made me totally paranoid as you can imagine. So every time I heard a bang or a strange sound in the house, my stomach would hit the ground and I would rush up the stairs, three at a time. Also, we were still not sure if he could ever use his right arm again which was vital for his future, quite apart from his epilepsy.

As the months went by, with the help of physiotherapy and altered medications for his seizures, he gradually got better. It was a miracle that his arm was improving as much as it did. As far as the epilepsy was concerned, we got that down to a dull roar. He went a whole year without a single fit. But of course, they eventually started happening again later on.

So two and a half years later, he was pretty much mended physically; mentally, was another question. He had lost his confidence and feared he might have a fit at work so he basically ground to a halt as far as looking for work. I, in the meantime, had started drinking even more heavily and although I never appeared fall down drunk, I was in fact pickled every single day. It had become a habit and a crutch.

To veer away from me for the moment, I must just digress for one moment.

Finian has always been lucky with his girlfriends and they have all been really stunning looking and very intelligent. Along came Chloe, who was a New Yorker who had been to Vassar, one of the best Ivy League Universities in
America. They met at a party one night and from that moment onward, she and Finian became an item. Within a few weeks, she moved into our house.

I adored Chloe and Visa Versa. She was so kind, intelligent and affectionate that no one on this earth could not help but love her. She was dedicated to Finian who was obviously a liability to anyone, but nonetheless, she adored him. Her mother and step father lived in Notting Hill Gate having moved to
England 2 years before and Chloe was trying to set up a new life in London after living in New York her whole life. She was a textile designer by trade but was finding it extremely difficult to get a job in London doing what she knew best. So basically I was now supporting David, Finian, Chloe and myself on next to nothing.

A year passed and my finances were absolutely dire. The only choice I had was to either sell my house or rent it out to get an income. Luckily I had a very rich Godmother who had helped me in the past, financially. She had a second charge on my house and therefore would not allow me to sell the property as it was my only asset. So we agreed that she would give me my inheritance before her death to enable me to “do up” the house and get it rented.

This was to prove a difficult task as Finian, David and Chloe had nowhere to live if I were to rent the house out. My daughter, Alex, had moved out to live with her boyfriend in

Finian and Chloe had no job, not because they hadn’t been trying, but because they literally could not find anyone to employ them even after endless interviews. Unemployment was at an all time high and even people with degrees coming out of their ears had to work in fast food chains and sweep the streets! I don't belittle working in places like that when you need to eat as I actually graced McDonalds with my presence when my son was 3 and my husband was studying for a law degree. It kept us fed daily on the finest hamburgers for 3 months!

David and I did move into my mother’s house, when the decorators came to gut my place and get it into shape.  Finian and Chloe were still without a place to live and I was glad in a way that they had to remain in my house to deal with the decorators for the next few months.  After the work had been done, my daughter moved back to
England from Barcelona with her Spanish boyfriend. They saw the house and decided they would rent it for a year at the full price. The only stipulation was that I should pay £125 per week for Finian and Chloe to share the house with them. I agreed that I would knock off £500 per month until Finian and Chloe were gone. At least I could get some money coming in to pay for my basics and solve the problem of making my entire family homeless. After a month, Finian and Chloe decided to brave it and move to New York where Chloe could get her old job back and Finian could a) get away from me and his old life and b) try and work out a way of getting a job as a Real Estate Agent in New York. They went to live with my brother and his wife for the following 3 months, rent free, which enabled them to hopefully get on their feet. My family and I were like a band of travelling gypsies at this point!

After I moved to my mother’s house, I decided to make an attempt to get myself together physically and emotionally. I went to my doctor and explained that I was an alcoholic, an X cocaine addict (I had given that up by now and have never touched it again), chronically depressed, and clinically obese. The doctor did tests and discovered that I had extremely high blood pressure; my cholesterol was off the scales, I had an irregular heartbeat caused by my cocaine abuse, and my liver was showing signs of severe strain. So I went onto about 6 different pills to rectify the problems and set up counselling for alcohol and depression.

Pausing a moment to get a grip on what had gone wrong with my life, I am, and always will be, perplexed as to what can happen to people that determines what happens to them despite their upbringing.

I started life, as I first said, with a silver spoon in my mouth. My life was interesting and varied. I had good parents who loved me and brothers who helped me out at times when I couldn’t go to anyone else. There is no explanation other than the fact that I am an adrenaline junky and was born with the addiction gene.  Stress, fun, exhilaration, poverty, excitement, drama; it is all the same. When you feel that you have none of the above, (speaking purely from my point of view), life feels empty and you long for something to be different. That gaping, empty hole inside oneself is floundering for something to grab onto, to either get out of it or fill it. Self-pity is rampant and the ego is totally obsessed with ME,
ME, ME. Alcohol and drugs were a means to anesthetise these feelings.  But they were no longer working. They only made things worse.

I have never been one to ignore what is important in life. It is just that I was distracted for a few decades and could not see the wood for the trees.  Our lives have highs and lows, depending on our choices and of course life’s plan itself. I had chosen to go for the highs, however and whenever possible since I was unable to cope with the lows.  At this point I was only interested in staying alive which was proving more and more of a challenge.
In spite of my desire to stop drinking and the increasing amount of alcohol going into my system, I was on a downhill spiral. I had no control whatsoever and will-power was non-existent. Day after day, I spent more and more time up in my attic room with my little cat, Sasha; drinking, watching TV, listening to sad sentimental ballads (usually by Barbra Streisand) and surfing the net. I was in a complete fantasy world of my own and I likened myself to a tortured damsel locked in a tower with no escape. I was the frustrated closet heroine in a blockbusting novel who had been deprived of her true destiny! My ego was out of control!

Meanwhile, my poor mother was getting more and more stressed out by my condition, and I was making her life pure hell. She was 82 years old and had hoped that by David and me moving in, it would be a fun, carefree time for her to enjoy her remaining years. Not the case!  I had promised her that we would take leisurely trips to the country in my car for picnics and "Magical Mystery Tours"; heading out without knowing where we would end up. I was always too drunk to go anywhere.

Over the next few months, I attempted unsuccessfully, various recovery programmes, counselling, psychiatrists, group therapies, several detoxes and other weird unconventional methods to give up the drink. Nothing seemed to be working.  My health was deteriorating rapidly, as was my mother's. Her only comfort was David, who was her confidante, and together they clung to each other while they watched me killing myself.

The emergency visits to A & E were becoming more frequent and I was beginning to lose my mind. Sudden outbursts of anger and hysteria followed by endless bouts of silence and isolation became a daily occurrence. On one occasion, when I was in a full blown argument with my poor mother, I went out into the garden screaming at the top of my voice that I wish she had died instead of my father. She was mortified and feared every neighbour would hear it, which of course they did. This outburst very nearly killed her then and there but I was totally oblivious to her feelings at the time. It is something that haunts me to this day.

My eldest brother, Wyatt, came over from New York for a visit and was shocked to see the state I was in. He and I had similar problems with excessive drinking and smoking, although he was a functioning alcoholic and never drank during the day. One evening, during dinner, he started to cough violently and we went outside to get some air and have a chat once he had gained back his breath. He told me that he had been having these coughing fits for some time and would get it checked out on his return to New York. A few months later we were told he had the late stage of esophycus cancer and would have to start treatment immediately.

By this time, my mother had had enough. Her health was beginning to fail and her nerves were in shreds. She decided to sell her house and move to a smaller flat. David and I had to move back to my home and my daughter had to move into another flat with her boyfriend.

A few weeks after we moved back home, my son came over for a visit. On arriving, he found me lying on the floor of the living room, screaming and thrashing my arms and legs about like a beached octopus. I was so drunk and delirious that I had no idea where I was and kept repeating that I just wanted to die. Once again, the ambulance was called and I was carted away to Charing Cross Hospital.  I do remember crawling around on the floor and under chairs in the "quiet room/padded cell" of the A & E screaming and wailing. They put me at high risk of suicide that night.

Recovering temporarily from that event, I was eventually put on the waiting list for a day rehab in Central London which I would start the following month. This was to be the beginning of the end of my old life.

The next month was hell as I knew the game was up. Not only that, but my brother Wyatt, was losing his battle with cancer. It was only a matter of time before he would die. Knowing this, gave me the kick up the backside to get my act together. I felt that if I was still drinking when his time came that I would surely drink myself to death and I couldn't do that to my mother and children. Losing one member of the family at this point was excrutiatingly painful, but to lose two would be catastrophic.  So once again, I ventured out to what was hopefully the ultimate cure!

Starting my day rehab was a nightmare at first. The start date was put off 3 times due to the fact that the detox medication I had been given at the hospital was considered a "drug" by the rehab and our system had to be clear of all substances before entry. This made me so angry that I drank profusely out of shere frustration. Eventually I began the 3 month programme.

Even though I had attempted unsuccessfully several other drug programmes, this one was to finally work. I think that the reason for that was that I had reached my rock bottom and there was nowhere else to go. Not only that, but knowing my brother was going to die having no control over his destiny at that point, I realised I did have a choice.

I was 55 years old.

The following 3 months were the most difficult I had ever experienced up to that point in my entire life. Tough is an understatement!  Initially, each hour, each day, each week without a drink was a living nightmare. They basically tore me to bits and then rebuilt my whole being, from the inside out. I began to discover who I really was underneath the mask and that was to prove quite a challenge to the councellors and fellow inmates! At one point, I had a major melt down and stormed out of the building and down the street, screaming at the top of my voice that I would never ever come back to that hell hole again. Half the rehab, patients and councellors alike, ran after me and dragged me back into the building; That included the postman who had been delivering a letter! I can't thank them all enough.

The details and events of those 3 months are not for this story but if anyone needs some advice or help, I am privately available to lend an ear.

Moving on. 

I "graduated" from my primary care rehab, 3 months sober. The following week I was to start my secondary day rehab in Westminister for another 3 months.
Arriving at the front doorstep on my first morning there, I had a phonecall from my brother, Chris, saying that my beloved eldest brother, Wyatt had just died. The timing was surreal, as had I not been where I was with trained councellors on the other side of the door, I would surely have picked up a drink!

I was in total shock and hysteria, walking into my very first group therapy session. I hadn't even met anyone yet and no one had a clue who I was, or why I was in such a terrible state. It was a meditation group which had already started and I was sobbing like a baby, causing quite a scene. It was quickly explained that only minutes before, I had been told my brother died so everyone was immensely kind and forgiving. I was just held by the loving arms of my new councellor whose name I hadn't yet been told.

Considering that only 3 months before, I could not go more than an hour or two without a drink, I had come a long way. Alcohol had been my only means of comfort for years and any excuse to gulp it down, good or bad, had become the norm. It is a total miracle that something within my soul was now protecting me from giving in to those habitual actions, no matter what was going on. It is still a mystery to me.

Two months later, my little cat Sasha, who had been my soulmate in my mother's attic, had to be put down. Again, I didn't pick up a drink, although it was very tempting. I have always been an animal lover to the point that they are my "children". I love them with all my heart and soul and to lose them is excrutiatingly painful.

By May of 2006, my luck would start to change for the better, although only temporarily. My daughter, Alex, had been living with her boyfriend and housemate, Julian Bennett, for some time. Unfortunately, she had decided to split up from her boyfriend and move back home, bringing Julian, his little dog Lulu and her large black Labrador, Billy, with her. My house was in turmoil once again but it was fun and uplifting chaos.

I was attending AA meetings regularly and had an amazing sponsor who was taking me through the 12 step programme, so as far as my alcoholism was concerned, it was being kept at bay.

In October of that year, David and I got a phonecall at 2:00 in the morning saying that Charles, David's second son, had been found dead in a hotel room in Laos. Once again, life had thrown out a sharp blow to remind us all that we had no control over what will happen to any of us. Again, I didn't pick up a drink.

Little did I know at that point, that there would soon be more deaths, more highs, more lows, and more unexpected adventures. Life was soon going to throw some major surprises my way.

So, where was I?  Oh yes.........

It was 2:00 in the morning and David and I got a phonecall from his daughter saying that Charles (David's second oldest son) had been found dead in a hotel room in LAOS near the Cambodian border. Apparently, it was drink/drug related and he had been dead for a couple of days before he was found. Charles had been travelling alone for several weeks which he had done many times before, being quite an adventurer. He was writing a book about his thoughts and travels which was potentially a real winner. His writing ability was quite outstanding and the world has been deprived of this amazingly gifted young mans work.

As you may remember, his older brother James had died 6 years previously and this meant that David had now lost 2 children out of 4. This was quite unfathomable to me and I couldn't begin to understand how David could maintain any form of sanity at this time. Even though Charles and James were not my biological children, I had known them since birth and they had all grown up with my own kids. David and I had lived together for about 20 years by this time and what affected David affected me. I felt his pain as if it were my own. All I could do was to be there for him, to listen and to take myself totally out of the equation. I was fast learning that when someone you love dies, the focus should be on them and others, not you.

By this time, I was nearly 2 years sober and although the compulsion to drink had left me, I was still finding it quite difficult to cope with life in general. It felt as if I was being tested to see if I could deal with my newly found sobriety by throwing major emotional upsets my way. One hears all the time that personal growth is nearly always achieved through pain and in hindsight, this has proved so true.

On a lighter note, life was not all doom and gloom by any means! I had a healthy balance in my life by now and initially that was all due to my friend and housemate,Julian Bennett. He could not have come into my life at a better moment, when my daughter brought him home with her in June of 2006. When Charles died in 2007, Julian had been living with me for about a year and a half and he made me laugh on a daily basis. Not only that, but he cleaned, cooked, decorated, and took me out with him pretty much everywhere he went. We were fast becoming inseperable.  David, Julian and I all lived together as a rather disfunctional family. David was the father, I was the mother, and Julian was our rather colourful, gay son. 

For those of you who know nothing about Julian, I will fill you in to give you an idea of who and what he is. On a professional basis, he is a TV presenter who had found notoriety on a programme called "Queer Eye for a Straight Guy UK" several years before. He was the fashion expert on the show with his little dog LULU. On the surface, he was the camp funny one who enjoyed dressing up in stupid clothes and screeching at the top of his voice like a castrated chicken. Underneath, he was a kind, multi-talented macho kind of guy who could mend plugs, change tires, and chop down trees (all of which I have seen him do)!  His desire to please others, his ability to make people laugh and his generosity of spirit are hard to come by these days, particularly in his field of work. He was the medicine I needed at this point in my life.

Anyway, not long after Charles died, my mother became terminally ill with Pulminary Fibrosis and yet again, I was to be tested.  I decided that I would look after her in conjuction with other carers on shift work over the coming year. I had made her life a living hell in the past so I thought the least I could do was to give her some love back. She had been my rock for 58 years in spite of the fact that I had always thought it was my father who had been my only rock. I had always been a Daddy's Girl and had never really understood how my mother ticked and it is sad to say that I only just got to know her true self in her final year on earth.

So for the initial 4 months, I went over to her flat on a daily basis to keep her company, do her shopping, and chat about daily life and old times. She had to use oxygen 24 hours a day to breath but her mind was as sharp as it had always been.  In the mean time, I was attending about 5 AA meetings a week, and whenever possible, painting the town red with Julian. I really needed that! As I said before, balance is the key to a happy life!

As time went on, my mother deteriorated. She became blind from a small stroke and could no longer watch TV or read a book. She would sit in her comfy chair in her living room from morning till night, waiting for me and the carers to pop their head in and her life couldn't have been more depressing. So it was decided that I would move in from Monday to Friday, with professional carers to cover the weekends.

Meanwhile, back at home, Julian ran my house like a well oiled clock. He baked cookies for my mum to try and fatten her up, and I went home each evening to have my gourmet supper cooked by him. Then I would go back to my mother's for the night.

It is so difficult to watch your mother fade away in front of your eyes, especially when she has never been sick in her life. I only remember her having a cold once since I was a child. Now she was totally helpless even though her mind was the same as always. She never complained and she was never self pitious. In fact, she was more concerned that I was holding up emotionally and that I was getting enough sleep. She didn't want me to live on my nerves and was petrified that I would start drinking again. I promised her that I wouldn't and I have kept that promise to this day.

There were happy times to be had as well whilst I was caring for my mother. Every night, I would take her false teeth out and clean them but instead of making it embarrassing for her, I would make it a hysterically funny ritual. I would sing silly songs whilst doing it, and on occasion take photos of her and me pulling faces and sculpting ridiculous hairstyles. These times I will remember with a smile on my face and I am so happy to have those memories.

In the last few weeks of her life, things were not so frivolous of course. She became incontinent and I had to change her clothes and bedsheets regularly. For a woman of such poise and elegance, it was humiliating for her. As her daughter, I just loved her all the more. But at the same time, it was probably the strangest and saddest thing I have ever had to do. She confided in me that she had lost her faith and was quite honestly terrified of dying - not death itself, but the bit leading up to it. I felt completely helpless as all I wanted to do was to take that fear away from her but I couldn't.

In the end, she died at home with all of us around her. She had gone into a coma in the morning and at 5:58 sitting around her bed watching "Eggheads" (her favourite programme), I looked down and saw that she had stopped breathing. She had taken her last breath only seconds after the programme had finished. Hopefully she had heard the answer to the final question. It would have annoyed her no end if she hadn't.

Once again, I didn't pick up a drink but I felt my life couldn't be worse.


  1. Vicky thank-you so much for sharing your story with us all a wonderfully written and totally inspiring read.Wish you the very best of luck with this book as I have been totally in awe of your determination and your strength and courage to be a better person.

  2. Thanks for the compliment but my curiousity is killing me and wants to know who "anonymous" is!
    p.s. I will be writing more soon so watch this space. If you give me another compliment you HAVE to tell me who you are though!

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