Out 5.30 to 6.30. PT from By ( a Dutch internee who was a physical training instructor) who was constantly interrupted by PB. Change of guard – better type. We are daring to talk between cells.
And, talking of memories, I believe the first thing I vividly remember in my life is standing on a low stool at the sink in the scullery of my maternal grandparent's house, drinking chloride of lime out of a bottle. I could not have been more than 3 years old then but still old enough to get into mischief which might easily have had fatal results. I remember spitting the stuff out as soon as it touched my tongue – not really a spit at that age, of course, but a slobber, and I heard in later years that a blue anchor which was embroidered on the front of the little jacket I wore, was bleached white in consequence. Looking back, it seems as if all the mischief I got into between the ages of 3 and 6 took place in my grandparent’s house, probably because, I spent more time there than anywhere else. I was the first surviving grandchild (my parents’ first born having died in infancy) and consequently must have been made much of by my mother’s still unmarried 4 brothers and 5 sisters as well as by the grandparents. I think the very strong Clan feeling which I have and my ever earnest wish to keep all branches of my mother’s family united, no matter how far scattered over the earth they may be, must spring from the happy days when family affection was lavished upon me by all those dear people who are now so far away from me and from each other. They, no doubt, remember vividly my almost setting the house on fire. The smoking of cigarettes by my uncles aroused in me a keen desire to emulate them in the art of sending forth lovely clouds of smoke, and this desire, coupled with the fascination which the lighting of matches seems to possess for most children, led me to an act which might have had serious consequences. I must have been between 4 and 5, I think, when one day, having found a cigarette end and provided myself with a box of matches which had been carelessly left lying about, I crept into one of the bedrooms and, standing before a low dressing table, the mirror of which was draped with muslin curtains after the fashion of those days, I endeavoured to light up. In keeping my attention concentrated on the cigarette stub just below my nose, I had not noticed that one end of the mirror draping, blown by the wind from the open window, had made contact with the flame of the match. Just as I had succeeded in achieving my first puff, I raised my eyes in time to see the flames spread to the window curtains. Realising that I had done something very, very wrong, I must have decided that silence is golden. My guilty conscience prompted me, I presume, to say nothing about it, so I just left the room hurriedly and, closing the door behind me, returned to the kitchen, trying to look as innocent as possible. Fortunately, the opening of the door allowed the smell of burning to penetrate through the house, so that the outbreak was almost immediately discovered and the fire extinguished before very much damage had been done. I cannot recall having been punished for this bit of serious mischief. I should probably have been a better man today if I had been. A minor crime of mine in that house during those years was the smashing of practically every ornament on the kitchen dresser on at least two occasions. In extenuation, however, I should mention that I am sure that dresser did not stand firmly on its four feet. Anyhow, romping about the room, I brought up against the dresser with sufficient force to dislodge all vases, knick knacks etc, thereon with disastrous effect on those same. I remember that my Grannie used to say that my first week’s wages must be forfeited to replace the damage. I regret to say that I never fulfilled that expectation. My uncles, Joe and Johnnie, were then mere lads of about 16 and 17 and I owe them the memory of many happy and thrilling hours in the old house. They created for my especial benefit a secret society called ‘The Black Hand’ gang whose meetings used to be held in great secrecy and with much mysteriousness in one of the bedrooms once a week. I used to be warned in conspiratorial undertones by one of the other that a meeting was to be held at such and such a time and would creep to the bedroom door and knock for admission in the prescribed secret manner. The door being opened about an inch, the password would be demanded of me. ‘Death and Blood’, or some such horrifying expression, and then I would be admitted to the gang’s secret meeting place. The only light in the room came from one candle on the dressing table with, as background, a grim skull and crossbones symbol inked on a white cloth draping the mirror. We three would sit around the guttering candle and discuss, in whispers, our plans for the stealing of the Crown Jewels or some such deed of daring. There were all sorts of secret signs and oaths of secrecy to be sworn on every occasion and altogether the meetings of ‘The Black Hand’ gang provided me with such a thrill as I have never experienced since. On meetings nights, I wore one of my father’s cast off jackets which had a piece of white cloth, on which a life size black hand was painted, sewed on to the lining on the left side. In addition to the secret knock and password, the jacket had to be opened and the mystic sign displayed before admittance could be gained. While the gang was functioning, my sister fell ill with scarlet fever, and, according to health regulations, all our clothes were taken away to be fumigated and decontaminated. We often wondered what the authorities thought when the sign of the Black Hand was revealed!