Sixty-five years ago today, the world lost a remarkable young man who could almost have been my father, but never quite made it.
Peter Donald Fox, 30-year-old journalist from Preston in Northern England, with a bright future ahead of him. When he visited a friend in Cyprus in December 1956, Peter had no idea that he would never be coming back home. He had no idea that he would never realise his dreams to be a foreign correspondent, never write the book he had started drafting. Perhaps most sadly of all, he had no idea he would never again see the girl he loved. Never marry her, never have children with her, never grow old with her. The thing is, Kismet had other surprises in store for him.
In many ways I have always thought of Peter Fox as my father. I have always loved him, admired him, even envied him – his cleverness, his striking looks, his intrepid spirit – all this based on the countless stories my mother brought me up on. Tales of Peter Fox. The name almost became biblical to me. A name to be cherished, remembered, adored. Peter Fox, my mother’s lost fiance; my almost-father.
On December 8th 1956, Peter was standing outside the Katsellis cinema in the fishing village of Kyrenia, trying to decide which film to go to. He was staying with his friend, also a journalist, who happened to live and work in Cyprus. (My future father, as a matter of fact – but that’s another story.) Peter had been on the island three weeks by then, temping for The Times of Cyprus. He’d thought himself lucky – a vacancy had arisen shortly after his arrival due to the untimely death of the previous journalist at the hands of a Greek-Cypriot terrorist. A hater of the English. Oh, the dark irony of it all. Peter had considered staying longer in Cyprus, perhaps reporting on the recent Suez Canal crisis that the entire world was ranting about. How inspired he was, how excited; how proudly he wrote home to his fiance. And there she was, the young and naive Molly Williams, pining away for him back in the Victorian backstreets of Preston.
Oh, the dark irony of it all.
While Peter was pondering which film to go to, a black car cruised along the sun-baked street, slowed down, and stopped. The shaded driver wound down the window. Narrowed his eyes. Aimed his automatic at the tall Englishman. Pulled the trigger.
Direct hit. Peter died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
These are the words my mother read the following day.
I don’t think she ever fully recovered from that telegram. I always remember her telling me, right from my childhood, “The day Peter died, something died in me as well.” But at least she had her own small claim to fame, thanks to the interest of the local newspapers in Preston and Nicosia. Small comfort in the grand scale of things, but at least some comfort. Knowing that her unendurable loss was publicly acknowledged.
Knowing that Peter, who had been a passionate journalist, was now the very subject of other journalists’ articles.
Peter died a solitary man: unmarried, childless, with nothing to leave behind other than a boxful of letters to my mother. I now have those letters. The world should have been his oyster; instead, it was his executioner. But now, via the pages of my novel, Infinite Stranger, he will be resurrected. His life will not have been in vain.
Did you have a good look at the title photo I chose for this post? The one of Peter and my mother standing side by side, both of them like two Hollywood film stars? I always loved that photo: the vintage elegance, the chiseled profiles, the entwined legs, the star-crossed togetherness of those two beautiful young people. In my childhood I once asked my mother what she was looking at through the lens of her binoculars. She said:
“The future, darling. The future Peter and I should have had.”
So here’s to their born-again future.