Friday, 29 July 2011

Chapter Two

I was born sometime in the winter of 1974; the exact date has always been something of a mystery given that I was left outside a police station of a small Welsh village during the summer of 1975. Following an anonymous telephone call PC Jack Watkins opened the station door at ten o'clock on the morning of Thursday, the 10th of July and found a second-hand pram parked outside the quaint, but dilapidated cottage that was home to South Wales Police’s finest in Felin Fechan. An enthusiastic smoker, PC Watkins took a final drag on his King Size Regal and tossed it to the floor, bent down to peer inside the blue and cream coloured pram, and saw a baby wrapped in a red woollen blanket and dressed in bright blue baby grows. Placed either side of the baby were a careworn teddy bear, two full bottles of milk, three sets of baby grows, seven washable nappies and a note explaining that the baby’s name was Scott and that he liked the song Love Me Tender hummed to him at night. The note also said that Scott would be loved and missed by his parents for as long as they lived. PC Watkins coughed up a gob of phlegm, spat on the floor and pushed the pram inside the stationhouse.

I don't know if the thoughts in the note were true, but whoever my birth parents were they did me a great favour when they gave me up because within two months I had been given a home with Giorgio and Rhian Bazzini. The first thing they did when they took me home was to bathe me, dress me in new baby clothes, and give me a brand new teddy bear that I apparently took to straight away, discarding my old one without as much as a whimper. To go with the clean clothes and brand new teddy they also decided to give me a new name. For the next thirty years of my life I would be known as Eugene Bazzini.

As the surname suggests my father was of Italian stock, but of a certain kind. The Bazzinis, unlike most other Italian immigrants, had settled in Wales long before the 19th century and the end of the Second World War. According to Bazzini folklore the family was descended from a 17th century Sicilian traveller who decided that a life short of sun would suit him fine, when to return home was to risk a life short of air – he was wanted for the murder of a duke who had killed his brother by trampling him to death with a horse.

There was little intrigue on my mother's side of the family. The original branch moved from the West Country to the South Wales valleys in the early 19th century, chasing the work that was on offer in the mines during the upheavals of those times. After finding that lungs full of coal dust, and the daily threat of being maimed or killed wasn’t to their liking, the family escaped further west and ended up in Llanelli, eking out an existence as servants to various local bigwig families thanks to the charms of the women of the family. Curiously, the lure of coal money drew their descendents a hundred odd years later towards the newly opened power station at Aberthaw, by now the softness of their West Country tongues sharpened into West Walian Welsh.

My parents met, as most couples tend to do, thanks to drink. Greg, my mother's brother, was a drinker of legendary proportions; the purpose of his existence on this earth revolved around having as good a time as possible, no matter the cost, but his exuberance wasn't always shared by all and from time to time he would end up in trouble. After one particular drunken night turned sour he spent a night in a police cell and, being the only member of the family who could drive (apart from Uncle Greg), my mother set off in the family Mini to sort out her brother’s mess. The solicitor sent to perform the bread and butter role of bailing out my future uncle was my father, picking up the early morning cases as of one of the many rites of passage he was enduring as a newly qualified solicitor. Throughout his law degree, and the subsequent years of becoming a qualified solicitor, he’d had many golden rules drummed into him time and again; going to court was always the last option, never fleece your clients or your firm, avoid irritating barristers at all costs, but top of the list was to never get personally involved with a client. Against all ethical and professional guidelines he asked my mother out to dinner as soon as the bail papers had been signed. Luckily for my father the dinner went well, and within a year they were married, and within five more my father had become a partner in his law firm. His ascension was due to two unambiguous reasons. His father was the founding partner of Bazzini, Bazzini, Rutherford, Jenkins, Wells, Drake & Bazzini Solicitors, a quietly flourishing practice based in Cardiff and Newport. As you can tell by the regularity of the surname, my father's family made up almost half of the partnership, his Uncle Francesco and cousin George being the other family members. Of the four remaining partners, Rutherford and Wells were married to my father's older sisters, Chiara and Helen, and the remaining two had been close friends with the Bazzini family for many years. It was one of these partners, Richard Drake, who truly speeded up my father's promotion by having a fatal heart attack in the dead-of-night on the ninth hole of a Yorkshire golf course while having sex with his secretary.

The promotion meant that my mother, who until then had refused to give up her job in a local shoe factory, gave into my father's demands and took to being the wife of a partnered solicitor, and spent most of her days staving off boredom by cultivating an interest in gardening and opera. She wasn't head over heels in love with either, but the gardening gave her the chance to get out of the house and rid herself of her frustration at not working, while opera guaranteed her trips to London to act as yin to my father’s tone deaf yang when he was invited to Covent Garden by old law school friends trying to persuade him to join them in one venture or another. Though most of her days were spent doing next to nothing my mother felt fortunate to have met my father, many of her old friends were struggling with the lives they had fallen into; money problems, wandering husbands, the sheer disillusionment of life was the soundtrack of their Sunday morning get-togethers. What struck her most was how worn and old her friends looked, shadows of the fresh-faced girls they’d been less than a decade earlier.

My father, who had never had to worry about how his life would turn out, was happy to have found someone who made him feel happy. It didn't hurt that his wife turned more than her fare share of heads when they were at dinner parties, but best of all was that she was a friendly and welcoming person, with none of the feigned demureness that made him want to tear his hair out after spending five minutes in the company of his friends’ wives.

Despite their contentedness my parents entered their seventh year of marriage with a piece of their perfect picture missing. After years of trying for a child they were still no closer and doubts had begun to set in if they would ever have children. It seems absurd to me now, living in an age where you can design a child from the colour of their hair to their IQ, that less than a hundred years ago there were couples who couldn't conceive. The visits to countless doctors only offered cruel moments of hope, and after numerous tests, while there was no proof, it was decided that it was my mother who was infertile. For a while they grew apart, both left to wonder how it was they seemed to have everything, but at the same nothing. My mother's worn out friends took on a Lazarus like resurrection in her eyes with their children outgrowing her hope. The giggling Barbies blossomed for my father as he navigated their swollen bellies at dinner parties. Neither said it, but life had lost its sheen. They had passed through happiness.

Throughout this period the idea of adoption had been the proverbial white elephant in the room. My mother was fiercely set on giving birth to her own child, and although my father also craved his own flesh and blood he knew well enough to keep secret the conversations he’d had with his father about adopting. This furtiveness wasn’t only for the sake of my mother, but also my paternal grandmother whose feelings towards my mother had hardly been a well-kept secret when my parents had married, and which had only hardened with every year that had passed by without a grandchild from her only son. I don’t know for certain who it was that eventually brought the idea of adoption up (there’s only so much Mind Re-Capture can do when it comes to the memories of a child and I’m basing all this on what’s been told to me by others) some said it was my father, others said it was my mother herself, no-one suggested it was Nonna Bazzini. If I had to choose I would say it was my mother. When it came to the truly difficult decisions it was always my mother who took the lead in our family, my father would fall in-line with whatever she decided. Needless to say, Nonna Bazzini was appalled at the decision, her outrage increasing when Nonno used his connections to speed up the adoption process. Adoption to Nonna was a shameful thing, something to be hidden from view if at all possible; couples that adopted were strange beings, especially the women who were physically malformed creatures incapable of having their own children. Uncle Greg told me that Nonna would whisper the word adoption, in the same way as she would cancer.

So it was that I was delivered into this charged atmosphere a day before Nonna’s 50th birthday celebrations, a timing she considered to be purposefully spiteful and refused to invite my parents to the long planned party, a decision that brought Nonno to a bellowing rage, a rare occurrence that ended up with Nonna backing down on her threat, though her antipathy towards my mother remained undimmed. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that relations remained less than grand in the family for some time. I won’t lay claim to being a heaven sent child, I'm more than aware of how people would take to me being described in that way, but all the same there can be no denying that Nonna was won around not through angry words, but by not so impromptu visits planned by Nonno and my father, certain that her cool demeanour would give way when faced with my gurgling reality. To an extent they were right, all the festering doubts and tensions diminished to the point that she would mention my name in public, although it took a long time for it to be spoken as clearly as my cousins, and my mother continued to garner disapproving looks from Nonna as long as my grandmother lived.

As I said, all of this is based on what was told to me by others, my sources are long dead and while some souls may have coloured the truth a little I’ve no reason to doubt that this is a fair sketch of my earliest years among the Bazzinis. The remaining years will be all my own work - the who, the where and the why of how things have turned out for us all like they have.

What do you think would be the first that someone like me would remember? A horrific accident? A family tragedy? Something so vile that it would scar me for the rest of my days? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the first thing I remember is far removed from the wet dreams of smart arsed journalists, hack biographers and charlatan psychiatrists. The first thing I remember is laughter. Loud, raucous laughter that made me cover my ears because I was sure I would go deaf if I didn’t.

I remember laughter…

Download PDF version of Chapter Two from Google Docs

Friday, 8 July 2011

Chapter One

The sun creeps through the room and falls on my face, as it always does at this time of the day. It takes in the region of five hours for it to travel the room, give or take a minute here or there depending on the vagaries of our planet's timekeeping. In that time I find myself doing much the same as I do every day. I eat my breakfast while listening to the radio; cereal followed by toast and the single cup of tea I'm allowed to have by my well meaning, but overbearing carer, Ann. I used to watch the morning news shows, followed by the twenty-four hour channels, but I've tired of seeing the same old news time and again. I know now that people never change; we all hate and love each other in equal amounts. All that changes are the objects of our hates and our loves. But it takes time for this lesson to sink in; no matter how clever you think you are. Following my breakfast, if I'm lucky, I stay awake for an hour or two and read a few pages of a book or flick through the screens of a newspaper. I’ll fall asleep for a while, then I have my lunch, usually one of those frozen meals that take less than a minute to cook and which always tastes too salty for my liking. I'll have a glass of water after my meal, and without fail I'll sleep until three o'clock, the time at which the sun will have reached me.

It's not an action packed five hours, and most of the time I'm sleeping, but when you get to my age your body tends to revolve in three-hour cycles and all you can do is try to enjoy things while you’re awake (or at least you pretend to for the sake of people, in my case Ann). When I was younger I never really appreciated how much old people must have hated being old. I always looked on them as being supplicants to their age, as if they had always been old, had been born that way. The reality of this age is a different story altogether and explains my inclination to ask God to send a runaway truck through my living room, or for a stray asteroid to come calling in the middle of the night.

But now the sun has reached me I know Ann will only be here for a few more hours before she heads home to her family. It's when she's gone, and so has the sun, that sleep, the irritating bastard, escapes me. Ann will have left a ham roll in the fridge for me and I'll pick it up on my way back from the toilet, remembering to clean my hands in that light cleansing box that is de rigueur for us all nowadays. I remember when soap and water did the trick, but now it's all photons and particles, though as I told Ann one day after the paper I used to wipe myself gave way, "It'll take more than a forty-watt bulb to get yesterday's food out of my nails." I laughed and expected her to join in, but she didn't, and I remembered that she wouldn't have known what a forty-watt bulb was, she being the age that she is.

Once the sun has set, and Ann has swiped her card in the entry port, locking me in for the night, I'm left with only the television for company. Sometimes I'll find a good 3D film to watch, or if I'm lucky one of the Touch and Feel porno channels will be unlocked, and I can enjoy the sensation of an eighteen-year-old calling me "Big Boy" and smothering me with her self-inflating breasts. But usually I turn the television off, fill my whisky glass to the brim and begin drinking until I fall asleep or pass out. Either way Ann will wake me in the morning and mop up the sticky puddle of whisky on the floor. In the beginning, when she first became my carer, she would suggest, in the friendly way carers think work with people like me, that I should try and get to bed in the evening, or at least make for the sofa if I felt sleep coming on, but after a while she stopped and now she only asks me to put my glass away before I lose consciousness. I try to do this whenever I can. It makes for a better way to start the day not having Ann kneel like some worshipper praising the floor about my feet. I admit, though, I only manage to put the glass on the wooden table beside my chair once in a very long while.

It was through my drinking that Ann came to know all about me, and my past. She would ask every so often why it was I drank so much, and for months I palmed her off with flimsy excuses, the kind that tells the asker not to probe too much. But no matter what I told her, or how crudely I spoke, she never flinched in asking me the same question until it became a daily ritual that I rebuffed with increasingly benign replies. Because I'm bored. I'm expecting someone. I had a party. I have to give her credit because sometimes my answers weren't particularly pleasant, and were designed to inflict as much hurt to her as I could achieve, given that as a man of ninety-eight years my days of physical violence are long gone. Not that physical violence was ever my forte.

Eventually the day arrived when I couldn’t find the energy to drawl another lie. I was coming around from a nap at more or less this very same time of day that I’m talking to you now, and I was greeted to the sight of Ann, sitting on the two-seat sofa opposite my chair, looking at me with her saucer shaped eyes, which were a touch more pensive and sensitive than usual. Apparently I’d been talking in my sleep, and what I’d said had made for shocking listening. Or at least it had for Ann. I guess, until that day, she’d had me sketched in as being a cantankerous old man at the end of his days intent on being grouchy, as that was all that was left for him to be, having run through the gamut of son, boy, teenager, lover, husband, father and grandfather. While that description is partly true, my life has run to adjectives beyond the ken of most people, and so it was that I looked hard into her eyes and asked her if she wanted to know the truth, because once I started she might not like what I had to tell her, that the man she thought I was would cease to be. She didn’t say a word. She simply nodded her head in a fashion I’d seen many times before, a reluctant acquiescence to a single choice I’d offered some poor soul who’d happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kindness, to both herself and myself, would have seen me crack a joke, tell another lie and make up a story to get us both of the hook, but I’d come to see Ann as deserving of the most precious thing I had left in my possession. Trust. And so it was I began to tell her the truth about myself. I spoke to her of Michael, Lina, Daniel and Claire. I told her about SethCo and Brager. I told her everything. And now I’ll tell you everything, and I’ll see if you are as trustworthy as Ann, or if you are simply another Michael.

Download PDF version of Chapter One from Google Docs