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Me and Adolf

by Skeeter 

Posted: 02 December 2003
Word Count: 2314

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Me and Adolf

When I was little, my Mum once said to me that I looked like Adolf Hitler. How ironic it was then, that when I had a son, he should look exactly like Winston Churchill.

Don't get me wrong, I understood her point of view. I used to slick my hair down to look like one of the Beatles, but it never worked. At a distance, I can see how it might startle someone. I think in those days, only 20 years after the war, nerves were still raw. My mum had worried her way through Glen Miller, who looked exactly like Himmler; Buddy Holly, a dead ringer (pardon the expression) for Goebbels; and the entire Teddy Boy business, which had her regularly trying to phone Mr. Eden, since she was convinced they were the advance guard of a Fourth Reich.

For me at that time, I would personally have welcomed an incursion by the Fourth Reich. To spend your entire childhood and adolescence continually defined by the Nazi Party; well, it does take its toll. You begin to believe it. You begin to have dreams. If the Fourth Reich had wandered down our street, it would have felt like coming home. I would have invited them in to tea and given them crumpets and lemonade, just the sort of thing a leader should do, I reasoned to myself. Because it was quite possible that I was Adolf Hitler. I did feel I needed to be someone. I couldn't be (could I?), just plain old Malcolm Besstridge? Oh God no! I used to scream it silently to myself at night, after I'd tucked my Richmal Crompton book under my pillow. I was convinced I couldn’t be Hitler, because I wanted to be William in the books. God, how I ached to be William. How I wanted a gang, and an old barn, and a pocket full of mischief, and a dad who smoked a pipe and ate Stilton, and a little girlfriend called Violet with golden curls. But most of all; adventures, I wanted to have adventures.

"Tom," I said one day to my best friend. We were sitting on the wall outside what we romantically called ‘The Old House’ at the top of our road. It was just a larger than average house, the only one that wasn’t Council. Calling it ‘The Old House’ gave it an air of mystery.

"What?" said Tommy. I was the only one who called him Tom. I was proud of that.

"Do you think sometimes that we're not really ourselves and that we're someone else?" I asked.

"You what?" he said, scornfully. “You’re mental”, he added, for good measure. He always had a prosaic turn of mind. I doubt he understood me. "You're daft", he concluded, and looked away.

"But sometimes," I persevered, "sometimes it feels like that, doesn't it?" I gave him an anxious glance, keen to avoid ridicule.

“Look, I’m me and you’re you”, he drove the point home by gestures, indicating both of us in turn.

“I know that, Tom,” I said, “but sometimes, don’t you feel maybe you were born someone else?”

“If I was born someone else, how come I’m called Tommy Collins?” he asked derisively.

I took a mental deep breath. “But say, for example, we were really William and Ginger, but we weren’t in that world at the moment, and all we had to do is find the key and we’d be in that world, not this one?”

But Tommy Collins just sniffed. He sniffed when he didn’t understand something, and wanted to dismiss it. He sniffed because he was afraid there was a world he would never be able to understand. But not me. I had dreams. I had dreams of understanding Shakespeare. I had dreams of actually liking classical music. Dreams of one day having a girlfriend called Rebecca, or even better, Tamsin.

I realized I was never going to be William. There was no-one to be in my gang. And my dad was never going to eat Stilton. He thought it was a kind of car. He was only interested in cars. And there were no fields around me to have adventures in. Tom was a dead loss, a non-starter. But who, or what, could a boy like me be? A boy who desperately wanted to be William, but who looked like Adolf Hitler? I found myself sucked inexorably into my Mum’s anxiety that I was somehow the re-incarnation of the leader of the Nazi party. I began to arrange my hair more and more like one of the Beatles, because apparently that made me look more like Adolf than ever. But my knowledge was lacking, woeful in fact. I didn’t even know what Fascism was, but it looked kind of romantic in the pictures you got. Usually someone carrying a torch. I liked the idea of me carrying a flaming torch. It was a bit like the Olympics. It did cross my mind that Adolf Hitler wouldn’t normally be prancing around his bedroom singing “Back in the USSR” down a broom handle. Too many unhappy memories, for a start.

When I got a bit older, Tommy Collins moved away. It didn’t bother me really. It was no loss, because on the last occasion we had played outside together, he had wrestled me to the ground and taken my best conker.

“I’m having it!” he jeered, “and you can’t do nothing!”

I remember that look on his face, all twisted with scorn and pride that he could beat me. Tommy Collins, who thought he was great because he could take something by force; whose horizons were limited to the temporary exhilaration of power that came from the defeat of someone who used to be a friend, and the possession of a shiny conker. That was my first experience of Fascism. He ran off, waving my conker and singing “la la li la la” or something. I dismissed him out of my life at that moment.

A bit after that I got to know a boy at secondary school, called Colin Thomas. I always thought that was a bit odd. He had sticky up hair and a permanently surprised expression, and one nostril bigger than the other. But interestingly, he was the dead spit of Oswald Mosley. We got along very well. One day in the playground, we fell into conversation about it.

“My mum told me I looked like Oswald Mosley,” he said.

“Who’s Oswald Mosley?”

“He’s a fascist. A fascist leader.” He stared silently for a bit and sighed.

“I used to think he was a footballer, name like that. I used to be proud to look like a footballer.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of a footballer called Oswald Mosley,” I said. “Unless of course,” I looked thoughtful, “unless he plays for Queen of the South or someone.”

“I used to think he played for Benfica, or another one of them foreign clubs.” He looked wistful. “I’d have liked to look like a footballer who played for Benfica. Then, in history lessons we did about fascists, so now I know who he was.”

He sighed again, and told me a bit about Mosley, patched together from half-listened-to history lessons. I listened hard. I was enthralled.

“Well,” I said, “if Oswald Mosley had played for Benfica, we’d have all been better off. He should have thought about going into football, I reckon.”

I told Colin about my mum and Adolf. After a while he began to look indignant.

“That’s not fair!” he said, “it’s not right for my mum to tell me I look like Oswald Mosley. It’s not even as though he was really famous like Adolf Hitler. Anyway, I don’t want to look like a fascist.” He fell silent again.

“Well, John Carter’s dad says he looks like a monkey, and that’s not right either. I’d rather look like a fascist than a monkey.”

I began to learn from Colin about fascists. For the first time I also began to realize how bad a thing it was to be anything like Adolf Hitler. I read a lot. It was about this time that I realized I could do quite well at school. I had always read a lot, now I read for a purpose. I didn’t want my life to be defined by Adolf Hitler, my resemblance to him, my mum, her opinions, or anything else. I learned about the Jarrow March, unemployment, Oswald Mosley, Hitler, National Socialism, Mussolini and so on. It crossed my mind, briefly, that if only me and Colin could have found someone who looked like Stalin, and someone else who looked like Mussolini, then we could have had a gang at last, and be like children in story books. But we were getting too old for that, and anyway, I wanted to put a distance between myself and Adolf.

You know how it is when you’re young. You want to do and be everything that your parents aren’t. You want to be the opposite. I began to want to be, not like Adolf, but someone opposite to him. Mahatma Gandhi, Paul Robeson, Stirling Moss. A hero, that people looked up to. I wanted to do something good in life. At the same time, I began to rebel. I took to wearing black all the time and scowling a lot, and calling myself Mal. I liked ‘Mal’, it sounded kind of foreign, very French. I liked the connotations with badness. On reflection, the black was a mistake, because of Mosley. It is so hard sometimes to shake off the bonds of chance and circumstance.

Eventually, however, I did it. I ended up in a satisfactorily radical polytechnic, studying sociology. I became a left wing rebel. I collected all the viewpoints that were going. I read Lenin, and Marx, and Kropotkin. I talked about the Fourth International and solidarity. I sold left wing newspapers on street corners, and espoused causes. I became determined to be a social worker. I got off with a radical young woman called Liz, much to my surprise; who henna’d her hair and smoked roll ups. Well she would. On reflection, I could have chosen better icons than a philosopher with his head in the clouds and a mass murderer. I still have a soft spot for Kropotkin though.

How the whirligig of time brings in its…….what? Not revenge, because I never did anything to annoy it in the first place. Balances. Historical antithesis. I don’t know. Whatever it was, I left poly just after Thatcher came into power. Trust me to be determined to be a social worker, just then. Wholesale destruction of the public sector, which I’d been working towards joining for three years. I struggled on, vainly trying to get work experience at a time when there was no work. Plenty of social casualties, but no social workers needed. It was during this upheaval that little Winston was born. It was a wreckage of a time. Poor Winston, born just when Thatcher was getting into her stride. Life was harder than it had a right to be.

Having him cheered us up though. Mainly because he looked exactly like Winston Churchill. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I laughed and laughed. Well, it was free entertainment. Liz didn’t know what the joke was, I never told her about my Adolf persona. She’d never have gone out with me if I had. So I just said to her:

“Don’t you think he looks just like Winston Churchill? We should call him Winston.”

“Don’t be daft. All babies look like Winston Churchill. And we’re not calling a son of mine Winston.”

I was a bit put out by that. I thought he looked like Winston Churchill. I wanted to feel that there was a thread of irony, of Machiavellian purpose, running through my genealogy. It cheered me up no end to feel that little Winston was my antidote. Of course, we called him Robert, after her dad, but to me he was always little Winston.

In the end I gave up the struggle, along with my radical leanings. Well, they don’t put food on the table or shoes on the baby’s feet. I became a Weights and Measures man. Dreams die like that, by degrees. I spent the next eighteen years learning Weights and Measures inside out. Weights became my forte, but I was hot stuff at measures too. Shakespeare? Classical music? I never had time. Looking back, I suppose I could have just abandoned my principles straight away and not struggled on as long as I did, trying to do some good in the world. I could have just lived up to my birthright, my incubus, and joined in the general bloodletting along with all the rest. Maybe I’d have made a lot of money, if I’d been as ruthless as Adolf.

But instead, I was in Weights and Measures, I had a wife, and a flat with a mortgage, and a son who looked like Winston Churchill. I was determined never to tell him that. Determined that he should never, like me, feel he had to shake off the mantle of celebrity. But I wanted him to go on to do the things I never did, that I never could. But he didn’t. When he was twenty I realised that he never would. He never made any rousing speeches, didn’t show any inclination to write history books or do something major with his life. He left school at seventeen, to earn money doing up old cars. If I tried to talk to him about fascism, socialism or the struggles of the common people against tyranny, he just sniffed, like Tommy Collins. He thought the world began and ended with football on Saturday afternoon and the saloon bar afterwards. And that made me cry.

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Comments by other Members

Tim Darwin at 13:22 on 03 December 2003  Report this post
Skeeter, this is a delightful piece, really brilliant! I loved the use of 1st person, the complete authenticity, the bitter-sweet tone, the ease of the dialogue. It's all really stunning and magnificent--many thanks for such a pleasure!



Skeeter at 15:37 on 06 December 2003  Report this post
Thank you for your kind remarks. This is a story I enjoyed writing. Every word of it is true.............

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