Saturday, 14 June 2014

(.... till I end my song}


                        I BECOME A BRITISH CITIZEN

            I am back at the point where I started my story.  It was my good luck that I had explained my circumstances to the Personnel Officer, and that she had not picked up on them.   It was my good luck that I had been offered a job with NATO, even though I had failed the shorthand test.  Perhaps my good degree tipped the balance, or perhaps they just needed more girls.  I had soon found out that the Personnel Officer had a drink problem, and was not really up to her job.   In fact she left NATO soon afterwards.  In any event, this meant that once I had arrived in Paris, the Organisation bore a certain responsibility for me.

         With the doughty Mme Dreyfus in charge, supported by my boss, M. Woirin, and some senior NATO officials, events were set in motion, and within a few weeks I was asked to present myself at the British Consulate in Paris, where I met a charming lady, Betty Barclay, the British Consul.  I was given my papers of naturalization to sign, in which I declared my allegiance to the United Kingdom, I became a naturalized British citizen, and received my British passport.  After many years of struggle over the problem of my nationality, now, with a little influential pressure, it was all resolved and I was able to get my French ID card and so stay on in Paris.

         My gratitude to Mme Dreyfus and to NATO was unbounded, and still is.  At last I had an official status, I was no longer an alien having to report to the police whenever I changed my address.  This word had been buried deep in my unconscious, together with other words such as ‘illegitimate,’ ‘sinistre’,  'stupid.' Worse still, the French word ‘aliéné’ meant to be mad, insane, deranged!  Thus is our sense of identity formed through outward circumstances.  This sense of identity would continue to be formed and reformed through outward events.  All these inchoate and buried ideas had contributed to my complete lack of self confidence.   Although through my reading I had built up an imaginary world, and created a barrier against the real world.

         I never discussed this with my mother, like so many other things, but I imagine she must have felt a sense of guilt about it.

         We found a place to live after some searching, as accommodation in Paris was scarce and expensive.  Our new address was on the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, just off the Champs Elysées.  The flat, so-called, was in a ‘maison de maître’ or town house belonging to the Count and Countess de Saint Poix who lived in the country.  It was a beautiful house, painted pale eau-de-nil, with shutters of the same colour, with a courtyard presided over by the concierge. He lived in a little cottage at the side of it.   Our living arrangements were slightly unusual:  they had been the servants’ quarters, and consisted of a long corridor which had a toilet at one end, then a small gas cooker halfway along;   this opened out into what was my mother’s bedroom, and off that there was a large room with a bath in it and my bed.  It was by no means ideal, but we were seduced by the glamour of the location and the external beauty of the house.  I was young and still entranced by living in Paris;  it seemed to me  Bohemian and romantic.  Added to which, we looked out onto the back of the famous five star restaurant called Lasserre!
         My mother, now seventy three, took it all in her stride.  Still very active, she enjoyed the variety of the French markets and finding her way around the shops.  With her French she was able to talk to the shop keepers and the very extrovert French. She still managed to produce delicious meals for us on two gas rings.

         We were due to move into the new headquarters at the end of the year.  The new NATO building was a large and imposing structure in the shape of an A, situated at the Porte Dauphine by the Bois de Boulogne, so it was a very pleasant, wooded area and not too far out from the centre of Paris.  The move was a huge operation, especially since a large part of the contents were classified Secret.  I had had to sign the Official Secrets Act when I first arrived.  We had to pack all the documents up before we left the old building, then the Staff were given some days off whilst everything was transported to the new building. When we came back to our new office, it all had to be unpacked again.

         The new building now housed not only what was known as the International Staff, but also all the delegations of the fifteen nations which made up NATO, and the Office of the Secretary General.  I missed the old building, with its friendliness and somewhat ramshackle appearance, which gave it a casual, almost carefree feeling. I missed the old cafetaria with its delicious French food.  M. Woirin could no longer jump in through the window, but had to come up the stairs like other ordinary mortals.  We now had a huge canteen, with different caterers, and the food took on the blandness of mass production. We had an office on the first floor, neat and functional.  I felt this was where my life in NATO began in earnest.  Up to then, it had seemed more like a holiday!

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