The Way I Was: The worms eat you, but it doesn't matter: Sarah Miles tells Nicholas Roe what changed her life as a child

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I'M SIX-ISH in the photograph, and the story I want to tell is how my life changed when I realised that we died and were put in a coffin underground. Right up until this information was handed to me, during my nightly story, I was deeply oblivious - I had heard the word 'died', but it hadn't occurred to me what it meant, except that someone had gone away.

When I was about six months old, I remember, I wanted to go 'back'. You can write me off as potty, but there were the bars of my cot, the diamonds of the latticed window of our 15th-century home, and there was the cat net on the pond in the garden, and those three different shapes stopped me from this huge, almost a magnetic, pull to go back 'home' - where I'd come from, and where I wanted to be.

This feeling was so strong that, during the war, when my brother shouted 'Doodlebugs coming over', I thought these wonderful little creatures called doodlebugs were sent to rescue me, and that the siren was their scream because they couldn't get in. Also, I saw these feathered creatures that sat on the bars of my cot. There were nasty ones and lovely ones and they used to come at night in the dark and sit in a row, shrouded.

You can call it make-believe, but who knows whether it was or not? Who knows whether or not my eyes were really open then? I could see the etheric round trees, the colours round my parents. I felt that I was part of a complete oneness. It was an unconsidered state, so that when I heard the words 'dying' or 'death', it meant they'd gone, and I thought, 'Bloody lucky.'

But then my parents had a little bit of a problem with me because I didn't eat very well, and one night my father read me this story about Augustus, who would not have any soup. Each page had an amazing illustration and a heavy moral. The first picture was of a little fat chap who got thinner and thinner, until there was only grass and a bowl of soup by a wooden cross. On the fifth day he was . . . dead. I said, 'Where's Augustus, Daddy?'

'Augustus has gone, Pusscat. He's under the cross.'

'But that's under the ground.'

'Yes, he's under the ground, Pusscat, and he's in a coffin.'

'How can Augustus breathe when he's in a coffin?'

'He doesn't breathe, Pusscat, because he's dead.'

'But how do you get out?'

'You can't get out, Pusscat, because you're dead. You stay in the coffin and it doesn't matter what happens. The worms eat you up, but it doesn't matter because. . . .'

'Worms, Daddy?'

Then Mummy came in and said, 'Oh, John, tell her you go to Jesus up in the sky.' So they kissed me goodnight and out they went.

But that night I think I had a near-death experience. I sat up in bed in the dark and couldn't breathe. I was going to go into a box under the ground and worms were going to eat me. Daddy had told me this. Daddy never lied.

That was the time when things began to close off. I started to lose that oneness with everything. All those little psychic things went away completely. What I saw was an inevitability, and ambition plugged itself in, and greed, and all those things that stem from death being the end.

I would never have changed had it not been proved to me beyond reasonable doubt that we continue on. In the past 20 years I have been much more concerned with the inward journey and I am now getting back what I lost.

I am determined by the time I am dead I will have achieved what I had at the beginning. The innocence, the ability to see . . . .

'A Right Royal Bastard', the first volume of Sarah Miles's autobiography, is published by Macmillan, pounds 16.99.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments