Issues

Augustine

– by Augustine P. Obeyeskera –

I am a Catholic, but the thing is, the last two years I go to five different churches. St John’s has a lady vicar. The Baptist church across the road gives a lunch on Fridays, then I go to the Salvation Army in Hove — they’ve got another lunch on Wednesdays.
My mother was Church of England, but she decided to become a Catholic and that’s when all the trouble started. Because her father, Sir Solomon, was Church of England and he didn’t like it. No, and his son became a Buddhist, but he, this son, he got a bullet in his head. As a mark of respect they give a low bow to a monk or someone more important than you. Now, when he gave a bow to the monk, the monk pulled a revolver out of his yellow robe and shot him. Politics. This was November 1959. There are pictures on the internet. What do they say? That the Prime Minister was shot by a monk who was not right in the head.

My memory can go back a very long time. I can remember my mother used to go to her father’s birthday parties. That was about … 1946 it must have been. She used to say, “When you see my father, you give a low bow”. He was a large black gentleman sitting like a rod in his chair. And all the people would come with their grand saris and their posh cars.
This was in Colombo. Sir Solomon was knighted — by Queen Victoria I think. I think so. I looked him up in the dictionary. It didn’t give the date he’d been knighted, it just said that he had been knighted. Sir Solomon, yes; a very great and powerful man he was. He used to come to England for important functions. You know, with everyone in uniform and plumed hats and this and that. Oh, he had about a hundred servants when I was little.

I came here in 1950 with my mother because she couldn’t get on with her father or her brother. I must have been about twelve years old, I suppose. When she went to Thomas Cook & Sons — the travel agency — they said she had to have identity cards and ration books and she went and filled in all the forms: who she was, who I was and why she’s come to England. After that she decided she’s not going to fill in any more forms. Once is enough. And she lived from 1952 until 1977 in total secrecy. We lived in a caravan. I wasn’t allowed to go to school or see other children.
As I was growing up I asked my mother, just out of interest, “Why am I not going to school?”
“Oh, no, no, you’re not going. I’ll give you a bit of education and you’re going to look after me in my old age.” So that’s what I did.

My mother was a very particular lady. I mean, not fussy, but she had strange habits. She kept to herself as much as possible. That’s why the government or the council didn’t find out about us until she died. And do you know, on Monday 10th of January 1977 she decided to go up there. And guess what happened? The murder squad came in! The police thought I had killed her.

I was about forty when she died. And the police got the shock of their life. They asked me, “When you’re not cooking and washing for your mother what are you doing?” I said, “I play with my train sets.” You know those old train sets? Hornby Tinplate? I’ve got about twelve of those engines. Still have them.
There were six police vans pulled up beside the caravan. And what did I do? I had a little peep inside each one. It was most interesting, all the police equipment involved. I was very inquisitive. Now, anyone else would have kept away from them. I did just the opposite: I stuck to them like gum. Until Mr Taylor came and took me away to ask a lot of questions. Mr Taylor was the welfare officer for that district.

When the police questioned me I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was not frightened. I told Mr Taylor that the chief of the murder squad looked like a crook. He said he had to ask me some questions. Put it this way: when they checked the records there was no mention of me or my mother. Everyone’s on computers and on files. Now everything I’ve been doing since 1952 is on the computer. They can check on me now. It’s all on the records.
Anyway, they didn’t know what to do with me. Mr Taylor put me in an old people’s home in Heathfield. Because they didn’t know what to do. I stayed there for a week, then they moved me on to some lady’s large estate.


There was a mansion and a lot of grounds and she had a caravan so I was put there for about six weeks. Once they put a calf by my caravan and it would look at me with its beady eyes. Then from the caravan I was moved to Hove. After a couple of months they found me a housing association flat.
Because I had not worked, so how should they go about it? I was sent for nine weeks to Portsmouth for job training. I got on very well with all the supervisors. But I didn’t like the other men I was working with — lazy lot! Oh, but it was most interesting. There were two young men whose hands were crippled. One of them had been in a motorcycle accident and could use only his right hand.
After that I got a job in a tailor’s shop. They were Jewish. Very interesting, the Jewish. I used to bring pork sandwiches and then I found out they don’t eat pork so I brought in chicken and turkey. It was a very trustworthy job. I had the job of taking the money to the bank, from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. I think the welfare office must have told them that they could trust me. I mean, I’ve never been to school so I can’t forge a cheque or anything.

They used to send me to London to buy cloth. They sent me into Soho—you know, where the ladies of the night are. I had to go right through Soho and the birds kept eyeing me. With hardly anything on! And I passed a lot of clubs with the doors open. Oh crumbs! They had nothing on from the waist up, serving drinks to people. I could see in through the open doorways.

Doctor Wilkinson, of the children’s department — who asked me about seven hundred questions — said I shouldn’t stick in my flat all the time, I should go out more, so I said, alright, I’ll join a few clubs. Because sometimes I would stay in my flat for three days, looking at my trains. So then I used to go to a club where they show films about trains, buses, transport, that sort of thing.
I used to sit right in the corner and just listen, but I learnt a lot of things. Once someone gave us a slideshow of London. And they showed us a house and said inside that house there is an atomic kettle. Something to do with the atom bomb. Now, the stupid fool of a government put it there in wartime and now they cannot remove it or the whole of London will go bang! So it’s under heavy guard. Wait ’til the terrorists find out — then there’ll be fun and games!

It’s very interesting, all those hush-hush things. Take Brighton station: there’s a rifle range under Brighton station where the railway men use guns. There are a vast number of spooky, eerie tunnels. Oh, all sorts of things under Brighton station. There’s even a little room where somebody murdered somebody. Long ago someone was murdered and put into a trunk. A man was in the room and he noticed the smell. It was in the Evening Argus.
Mr Taylor died of cancer a few years ago. I send photos to Mrs Taylor so she knows what I’m up to. Mrs Taylor knows my whole history so if someone tries to argue with me she tells them to go to hell. Do you know what I did? Mr Taylor’s gone, so I took Mrs Taylor and her daughter to a Pullman lunch on the Bluebell Railway. Mrs Taylor had never been inside a Pullman car. It’s like Buckingham Palace. Luxury train, all silver service, of course.