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Friday, 2 February 2007

And I was born.


I have two favourite stories about Mick Jagger. Once, when interviewed at the height of Flower power and the so called ‘Summer of Love’ he was asked why the music was so important. ‘The money, man’ he said. The most recent story concerns a real or reputed meanness, but which I wholly identify with. Despite his vast wealth and libertine reputation, he apparently throws a wobbly whenever anyone leaves a light switched on after leaving a room. This is a man from the immediate post-war generation, when things were scarce and life was hoarded. This might interest my children, but nobody else.

I was born in the early hours of Christmas Eve 1947 in the front bedroom of 14 Ribblesdale Avenue, a respectable red-bricked terraced house midway between Walton Vale and Aintree Racecourse. Each house was fronted by ornamental iron railings - until World War II when they were all collected as scrap to make spitfires.

My dad, Cyril was pacing the floor downstairs with my Granddad Owen Parry. They were disturbed by my step-nan who came hurtling into the room and held by dad by both arms. “He’s deformed,” she said. “Brace yourself, Cyril he’s deformed.”
And so I was. My head was swollen in the shape of a medium sized pumpkin.
Dr. Rosenthal came down the stairs a moment or two later having pushed and moulded my head back into shape - reasonably so by most standards - though I swear I still cannot find a hat that really suits me.

And that is how it was. Legend has it that my mum went into labour prematurely having been excited by the crying of excited neighbours in the street below. ‘The Turkey’s are in. Turkeys - they’re here!” Very big news in a country still governed by ration books. A less charitable legend has it that it was I that heard the cry, and pushed myself out determined to have first bite. There have always been calumnies about my appetite, disseminated now by my children.

I prefer to see my appetite as one governed by as much curiosity as greed. My earliest memory bears this out. Potty training then involved being left unsupervised for long periods on a stainless steel bowl. The temptation proved irresistible. What was this stuff? It smelled of liver and stale chocolate, but it was mine. I remember poking my fingers in, bringing a smidgeon of its contents to my mouth. The smell was off-putting, the texture crumbly and moist. To this day I can not tolerate pate.
The stainless steel bowl had another use however. It was very shiny, rubbed to a smooth gleam every day by my mum, and I became immensely attached to it. Literally. So much so that it threatened to retard my ‘toddling stage’ indefinitely. Who could be bothered with a slow and ungainly totter when, propelled by energetic hands, you could skim across a linoleum floor like a crab on wheels.

And then the adventure ended. I learnt to use a toilet - and how to totter like the rest of mankind. But this is about memories, as brief and fragmentary as coloured beads. Rosary beads. My first rosary beads were a pale, translucent blue. And I can remember a pair of black-trousered legs. Just the calf - from ankle to knee. They flashed by and then stopped and a face stared down at me and black curls bounced and red lips smiled. It’s the earliest memory I have of my mother.

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