The Worst of Times: A few pink gins and then things would go wrong: Lee Langley talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MY MOTHER and father separated when I was three, in India, and I saw my father only twice more in my life.

My mother, unfortunately, became an alcoholic. When she was drinking, she loomed over the house with a menacing, almost threatening, expression. She seemed to fill the whole horizon, and it was a balefulpresence. When she was sober she was lovely, and I ached for that, but I so rarely had a chance of experiencing it that in the end I came to the conclusion that I actually hated her, and when I was eight, I began counting the time until I could leave her.

We had an allowance from my father, but our finances fluctuated a lot. Sometimes we would live in grand hotels, and travel and have wonderful times in beautiful surroundings, but when the money would start dwindling towards the end of the quarter, we would end up in Armenian guest-houses in Delhi and Calcutta; living on practically nothing, just clinging on to respectability. I yearned for respectability, I wanted to have a normal life.

I so wanted to go to school, but we were never in one place long enough. I remember there was a convent in Simla, and they were prepared to take me, and we even ordered the uniform, but before term started we were off again. My mother craved adventure and excitement and the new - the new might be the answer.

She must have been fascinating to men, because wherever we went, and however she behaved, and she behaved quite badly very often, she would always have a new man in tow, and he would be around until she kicked him out, or he moved on.

There was a Norwegian sea captain who appeared. He was a beautiful man, good-natured and kind, and I liked him very much indeed. At that time we had a flat in the old part of Delhi, great big rooms with carved ceilings and red tiles on the floor, and they used to dance the tango. I was sorry when it ended.

There was also a lovely Scottish tea planter. He was extraordinarily elegant, and very intelligent, and he taught me to read. He could have been a permanent thing, but something went wrong.

When she was sober, she told me she loved me; and that she had wanted me very much; the trouble was it didn't really show itself much.

The sad thing was, she did have good intentions, but there would be a few pink gins or there would be a party, or the few drinks that turned into a lot of drinks, and then things would go wrong.

What I wanted more than anything was to celebrate Christmas, somehow or other we had never really had a Christmas. One time, we were in a flat, a very nice flat in Delhi, and the money was up, and she promised we would have Christmas. I was to get a big doll - dolls were wonderful in India, with beautiful china faces and organza frocks, and we were going to have a turkey, and there was to be a cake and a tree, and in the markets they had the most wonderful baubles made of spun glass with filaments of lovely colours, and I was going to decorate the tree.

So a few days before Christmas, off she went shopping while I stayed in the flat. She should have been home in the afternoon, and she wasn't, and I waited and waited, and when it got to dusk, I began to think, 'Oh bother, I wonder if it's the old story'.

It was quite dark when a rickshaw pulled up, and she was helped out of it by the rickshaw man. She staggered in, and her face was covered with blood and her stockings were all torn and ripped, and there was blood running down her legs.

It was terribly sad, actually, because she had done all the shopping. She had bought a tree, and the baubles, and a cake, and my doll, and she had then thought, 'Oh, I've done so well, I'll have a drink . . . .' And she went to a beautiful club where the English people went, and she had her drink, and then met one or two people she knew, and had a few more drinks, and when she decided it was time to go she thumbed a taxi.

She was sitting there, a bit woozy, when she suddenly realised the taxi was not going to the flat, but in quite another direction - at which point the driver pulled up and chucked her out, and drove off with the shopping. She had one of those handbags you grip under the arm, and when he realised she had held on to it, he reversed back to get it off her, and knocked her about a bit.

So there she was, bleeding and distraught, while I was trying to wash her clean; and the awful thing was, although I was terribly sorry she was hurt and had had this dreadful disaster, I was thinking: I am going to be done out of my Christmas again.

Well, she used to give me pocket money when she had it - and she used to quite often borrow it back - but I had a few rupee notes saved up, and I decided we were going to have a Christmas, come what may.

So the next morning, I went to the bazaar and I bought a chicken, and a tatty little cake, but still it was an iced cake, and I bought a tiny phial of perfume for her, and a little tree. I couldn't afford the baubles.

We roasted this scrawny little chicken, and she was very fragile because she had been knocked about, and there wasn't any drink . . . and she was absolutely at her best. I made her tea, and we ate the chicken, and she really enjoyed the day, and I really enjoyed the day, and it was one of the few times we had a moment of complete harmony and togetherness.

I was nine when she remarried. He had to allow her love of going out for 'a few little drinkies, darling', - but they enjoyed each other's company, and when they finally went off to live in another part of the world, I decided I didn't want to have any more of her, and so we parted company.

I never saw her again, and indeed never heard from her, as she was, it seems, incapable of writing a letter.

I have two memories of her now she is dead. One is her beautiful side, when her hair was smoothed back, and she was looking very elegant, in an evening dress, about to go out. Then I would feel very proud. The other one is of her dishevelled, make-up smudged and a ladder in her stockings, and a sense of embarrassment and apprehension, wondering what was going to go wrong.

Lee Langley's novel 'Persistent Rumours' has just been published in paperback by Mandarin.

(Photograph omitted)