We are all children of our time – I was born in 1942, in the middle of the Second World War. I imagine that I should say ‘I’, when I was born a twin. Perhaps this is because I don’t know which of us was born first. Perhaps it’s because he died aged five years on 8th August 1947, so for virtually all my life I’ve been without him. And yet I haven’t really. Once a twin, always a twin.
Until I was interviewed by Joan Woodward, I had not knowingly met another lone twin. It seems extraordinary now, but my family never spoke about his life and he faded into the background of my life. We were very poor, my parents semi-literate, and I was the strong, clever child. I remember reading Peter Pan before I started school and yet it was a home without books, paper, pencils. I sit now in my own home surrounded by an abundance of these. My brother and I started school in Battersea (it’s still there – I went to the centenary a few years ago and remembered crying in assembly, when we sang ‘Morning has Broken’). Did the teachers know why, I wonder? Later, I was bullied by some boys. Would my brother have defended me? Who knows. He was physically the weaker twin. We both had scarlet fever. He had ear problems. My sisters (seven and ten years older) say he was a nuisance to take out – wimpy – I was the goody goody. But he was the only son. My father was in the army in France when we were born. He must have been in Germany too. I still have a watch given to him for cigarettes. It hung on a nail in the kitchen. I dropped it once and was sent to bed without tea. My oldest sister worked in a sweet factory and brought me some coconut icing. Both sisters married in their teens. By the time I won a scholarship to grammar school, I was the only child at home.
I have no recollections of my brother’s illness. I only know what I have been told. Other people’s memories. Sister Jean: “We went to the seaside for the day. He ran into the water and a wave came over his head. He was really quiet in the coach coming back. We said we should take him there more often”. Sylvia: “ He kept falling asleep during the days. Mum took him to the doctor who didn’t think there was anything wrong’. Then he started having fits. He was taken to Tite Street Hospital in London and then transferred to Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon. No visits. No telephone at home. No time to say goodbye. I think my grandmother looked after me during the funeral – ‘He’s gone to heaven’. Later the word meningitis was used.
In 1997 I went to Atkinson Morley for the first time to interview a patient. I am a social worker. How peaceful it was; not at all what I had expected. I thought about asking whether their records went back to 1947, but I didn’t. I didn’t actually know the date in August though I do now. In January I walked into St. Catherine’s House, opened the register, filled in a form and a death certificate came in the post. ‘Tubercular meningitis’. TB. Scourge of the 1940’s. Auntie Connie always coughing. ‘She kissed him on the lips’, says my other aunt. Too late to ask my parents what they thought. Is that why I pay such attention to details! Who knows.
Nicky, Nicholas, Nick.
I spent fourteen years and nine months sharing my life with Nicky. And then on August bank holiday 1979 in Ireland a group of people decided to attack and kill my family. They thought it would improve things somehow. That group of people was the IRA. They planted a bomb on our small fishing boat, and set it off by remote control. Nicky died instantly. My grandfather, grandmother and Paul, our young Irish friend who was spending his school holidays looking after our boat, also died. By some miracle my mother, father and I survived, thanks to the holidaymakers who pulled us into their little boats, thanks to the brilliant Irish doctors and nurses, and their skills in the operating theatres.
We were lucky. We had all our limbs, no brain damage and a large close family and wonderful friends. And after a time, the scars were few. The visible ones, that is.
Talking was the greatest cure, and I was good at that. I wasn’t good at crying though. I did cry, of course, sometimes alone and sometimes with my family. But we were all so completely crushed by the bomb, we needed not just to survive, but to signal to others that we were surviving. And when we were all so devastated, it was hard to say, ‘I’m hurting, I need more time, more energy, more support, more listening”. The one thing I wanted most was to give support and strength to my beloved family at the worst time in our lives – and the first way I felt I could do that was to show them that I was all right. I was coping, not to worry about me. I knew that they were very worried I might not be able to carry on as a lone twin, so I automatically gave them the ‘all-clear’ signal as soon as I was out of hospital.
I fooled them, but worse, I fooled myself. My emotional and mental scars were terrible, and they took years to come out because I clamped down on them and kept them from view. The years rolled by and eventually I admitted to myself that all wasn’t right. Hearing in my head the sound of the bomb day after day was not normal or healthy – so I went to a counsellor and started doing what I should have done fifteen years earlier – setting aside the time and the energy to talk and think and admit to myself and others what was going on inside me. The only problem was that I was now thirty, and those scars were so deep and toughened that re-working the splinters slowly and painfully out of the old wounds was much harder than if I had done it before.
What I needed then, when I was fourteen, was for someone to keep me talking and thinking about what was going on in my head and my heart. I remember my parents from time to time suggesting I visit a child psychologist, and I pooh-poohed the idea. ‘I was fine’, or at least I wanted to be, for them.
I met other lone twins, but one day I met David, with whom I got on so well that we became and remain each other’s closest friend. We talk and understand each other, and we understand each other without always having to talk. We soon discovered that the loss of our twins was only going to be a small part of what we shared, but it was an acorn from which grew an oak. We were both younger than our twins, we were both identical, we were both so close to our twins that imagining life without them had been impossible. But after they were killed (his in a medical accident) we not only survived, we grew and flourished. We suffered enormous pain, but we gained enormous strength and capacity for life.
And now I’m ready for a new stage in my life – I’ve learnt enough and grown strong enough to grasp life once again and all that it offers with the excitement and energy that Nick and I did as children – and to look forward to a wife and children of my own one day, maybe even twins.