My first concept of the word island was when I was very small, (four in fact) and we were going on a family holiday to the Isle of Wight. That was very exciting for many reasons, some of which I shall write about another time, but one in particular: there were many helicopters flying overhead – quite low, I think, and very noisy. But I am sure one of the pilots waved at me and it was then that I determined that I would fly to the moon in one by the time I was twenty eight! Well, twenty eight has come and gone a couple of times and I have neither been in a helicopter nor gone to the moon in any other vehicle. Do I still want to, I wonder?
So we crossed the great water and came back again. And the word island lost all meaning for me until I was about seven.
My parents had divorced or at least separated by then, and my mother began to live in South Kensington. My father was still in West Ken and I would course between them at more or less regular intervals. They were at the stage of not talking to one another at all, so I would be delivered by my mother to Barons Court Station, where I would cross the barrier like an exchange spy, with my father waiting at the other side, or by my father to South Kensington Arcade where I would wait for my mother outside the flower shop. This was quite strange I suppose, though at the time I felt it was quite normal. But the strangest thing of all was when I was at my father’s house. He had a lot of friends who were very curious about my mother and her life. She was never actually mentioned, however. Maybe they didn’t want to upset me. I don’t know. What I do know is that they used to ask me loads of questions. As I was very shy, it was hard enough to talk to them anyway, but they made it more difficult by asking about South Kensington. I used to feel that they thought I lived on one of the large traffic islands in the middle of the road there. They were indeed rather grand, with flower beds and benches, and I did actually spend some time there with my maternal grandmother who liked to watch the world go by from there. But I couldn’t bring myself to explain that the island was not actually my home. My mother had a rather lovely flat a few yards away. But I didn’t feel I could talk about it, so I would answer as politely as I could without actually saying anything.
The South Kensington flat was on the fourth floor and the windows were extremely high up. I would have to climb onto the table in order to sit on the very wide sill and look down. I could of course see my very own island from my turret, and I would spend half my time imagining I did actually live in the middle of the road and the other half imagining I was locked away and needed rescuing!