Which birthdays stand out in your own memories? Back in the day turning twenty-one was significant but nowadays it is being eighteen that marks a rite of passage. My earliest childhood birthdays have blurred in to a mass of vague impressions. Parties with games organised by my Mother. Most of these games involved pencil and paper. “Objects on a Tray” – we had to stare at twenty things on a tray for a minute or two then scribble down what we could remember after the tray was removed. Then there was some kind of spelling game involving words like “rhododendron” and “Constantinople”. And, of course, there was “Pass the Parcel”. The first birthday that I can recall with any clarity was when I was eleven. My Mother, sister and two brothers were travelling First Class on SS Aureole en route for the Gold Coast (now Ghana) to join my Father for a few months. We children ate our meals separately in the Children’s Dining Room and The Staff laid on a birthday party for me complete with a decorated birthday cake. That cake is the bit that sticks in my memory: it was a rich fruit cake with marzipan and Royal Icing. My favourite! But most of the other children did not like it so we took the remainder of the cake back to our cabin.
The last birthday that I actually spent at home with my Family was when I was sixteen. And that was eventful! I awoke to be greeted by my Father announcing that my Mother had gone into the maternity home. Baby number six was finally putting in an appearance. I wrote about if for the 1957 Queen Elizabeth School Magazine and was surprised and delighted to find that the magazine has been scanned into the Queen Elizabeth School Facebook Page. So here is the article:-
“Where’s Mummy?” I enquired as. I pushed my youngest brother’s hand away from the box of chocolates. When I learnt that she had at last gone to the Lady Chancellor, my heart sank. What an enjoyable birthday I would have! Then I remembered that my Father was going away also. However I had no time to depress myself further because Mike and Tom tumbled me out of bed onto the carpet and then ran down the passage with my dressing-gown and box of chocolates. I heard a scuffle, then Mike reappeared with the precious box and announced that Tom had put my dressing-gown in the bath.
I was just about to dish up the breakfast when Tom came in wearing John’s new trilby. I hastily retrieved it and returned it to its owner, I only to find that the coffee was boiling over on to the stove. After breakfast my sister Ann and I made the beds and helped our Father collect his belongings together and pack them into the LandRover. I had just started to make some ice-cream when he stated that he was going. I ran outside to wave him goodbye then I returned to the ice-cream. However, a surprise awaited me. Instead of a bowl full of ice-cream mixture I found Tom, armed with a serving spoon, and covered with great blobs of mixture all down his trousers. While I was attempting to clean Tom up, John came charging in, pleasure written all over his face. ‘It’s a boy! He exclaimed. “Oh go away!” I said impatiently. “Don’t be silly!” he retorted. “Daddy rang up Greta and she told me.” For a moment I was stunned: to think that I now had four brothers. My dreams were shattered by piercing screams from the garden, followed by warlike shouts. No-one was to be seen when I investigated but, as all was now quiet I retired into the house to read the newspaper.
When dinner was ready I could not find Mike and Tom anywhere. Ann and John had not seen them so I went to Greta’s house which is at the end of the row. There Mike was entertaining little Jane while Tom crawled under the sofa after the cat. Greta was quite calm and insisted that they’d been no trouble at all. Somehow I survived dinner although Ann knocked her water over and Mike would not eat his steak, because he asserted, I did not cook it “like Mummy did”. After dinner I left Mike and Tom in charge of John – or so it seemed – and went to visit Mummy with Greta. How I envied her peaceful existence in bed, being waited upon!
When I returned home John had recovered some of his authority and he was lying on the floor reading while Mike sat on top of him fixing pieces of Meccano together. I had hopes that my birthday might end up peacefully but these were soon dispersed when I tried to bath Mile and Tom. Mike undressed after lodging a few loud protests but Tom escaped into the garden and pretended to be a frog. It took me some time to persuade him that frogs should have baths like human beings, especially as he would insist in jumping around all the time. I finally carried him in by his shoulders while John carried his feet. At last they were both tucked up safe and sound in bed. Looking absolutely adorable and just like two little angels. I could almost see halos around their heads as I switched off the light. To think that I would have to go through the same performance with another little brother.
When I was settled in an armchair, trying to convince myself that I had enjoyed my birthday, John remarked on what an unusual birthday I had had. Grabbing the nearest cushion I heaved it at his head. Fortunately for John I can never aim straight and the cushion landed on the floor, but he did have the tact and sense not to raise the subject again.