O how I miss the sound of the cicadas on a balmy summer night. How I miss sitting on the veranda in the evenings looking at the Sierra de Gador with geckos running all over the house walls and me watching the shadows lengthen and move across the mountain opposite as the sun gradually drops. And, of course, how I miss doing that with the comforting assistance of a glass of chilled rough Spanish wine.... or two. I miss all that and much much more as I sit here and watch the incessant rain and wind outside - doesn't it ever stop in this country - and have an inner debate on how to start this. I guess there is only one place really:
To begin at the beginning - my apologies to Dylan Thomas. I was born on September 4th 1948, well that is what it says on my birth certificate. It also states on the certificate that my father was John Donald Smith married to Margaret Smith, formally Elam. In addition to that it states that my father's occupation was a watch maker.
The truth is I was the sixth bastard child of Gaston Robert Blouet and Margaret Elam. As regards my father's occupation, I don't believe he ever made a living from making watches. What he actually did remains somewhat of a mystery, however, it is known that he worked as an accountant for some part of his life and he was involved in various money making schemes.
Yes, there were six of us bastard Blouets back in 1948 but in 1949 Gaston Robert married Margaret using their proper names. So now we have a very strange situation in that Mr and Mrs Blouet were the blood parents of six children all with the surname Smith. I wonder, does that mean that we are Blouets or Smiths and are we still bastards. Who knows? Frankly my dear I don't give a damn. Regardless, I grew up in total ignorance of all this as did all my siblings and it wasn't until my father died in 1963 that information started to surface. My eldest brother, John Smith (now Blouet-Smith), took an interest in genealogy and started digging into the family history.
It transpires that Gaston Robert was born in 1879 and was a young man towards the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Now that is a stretch back in history! When I knew him, very fleetingly, he was a short rotund Victorian gentleman in both appearance and reality. He always wore a charcoal grey three piece suit as well as smoking a pipe. He could be very fierce towards waiters in restaurants but I don't remember him ever being anything other than jovial towards us, his children.
He was 69 years old when I was born so I only ever knew him as an elderly person. We never played football together or played hide and seek as most fathers and sons would. I never remembered anything other than my parents being separated whereby we, my siblings and mother, lived in Ashburton in South Devon whilst my father lived up in town, as it was referred to, meaning London. He had a property in High Holborn, 27 Newton Street, where he lived supported by his man servant Ralph.
He was not wealthy but my impression was that he made money and lost it on a fairly regular basis. However, he never failed to support his family in Devon and I have nothing but fond memories of him. Even to the extent that in later years when I did something wrong in my mother's eyes, she would always chastise me with the comment; "you're just like your father!" This did nothing other than make me quite proud, much to her annoyance.
I cannot say, however, that he was an influence on my life as he died when I was still relatively young and because my parents were separated he was never around much. I guess the main male influences in my early years were my brothers and later when I was in the military, Captain Jeremy Mermagen, who was the eldest son of Air Commodore "Tubby" Mermagen of Battle of Britain fame. He commanded Douglas Bader during that time. Nothing like dropping a few names here and there. Anyway, he was a major influence on me when I was a young soldier and I still meet up with him from time to time and we chew the fat about old times, playing rugby together with all the Fijians in the Regiment and how he got me out of many a drunken scrape. I will always have a high regard for that man - a real Hombre but that is a story for later.
Up to the age of eight I was a happy enough child, doing all the normal stuff that boys do. There were also many family outings when we would all trek or ride the charabanc to a particular spot on Dartmoor and have fun days by the river Dart, a place called Spitchwick very near to Widecombe. My life has been made up of many peaks and troughs and I regard those early years as my first peak.
Very soon though I was to experience my first trough.