I entered the world, appropriately enough for someone of Scottish parentage, on St Andrew’s Day, 51 years ago today. The house in which I was born is no longer standing, having been demolished by the developer to whom we sold it after my parents’ deaths (naively believing his stated intention to restore it as a family home). However (thanks to Brother 2, who salvaged what bits he could of our lovely home before it succumbed to the wrecking ball), one piece of the room in which I was born survives. This cast iron mantelpiece and fire surround, still covered in the white gloss paint that was so inexplicably popular back in the 1960s, now occupies pride of place in my own living room.
Back in those days of the youthful, wonderful NHS, it was normal for a mother to have her first child in hospital; if all went well, any subsequent children were born at home, with a midwife in attendance. Being the 3rd child I was born in the lovely back room overlooking the garden on the first floor of our house, which at that time was my parents’ bedroom (I have written previously of the “upstairs/downstairs” relationship we had with our home over the years). Unusually for that time, my Dad was also in attendance, but the midwife thought he was getting in the way of things, and found him a job to do: she told him that the squeaky door hinge was disturbing my Mum. So, according to family legend, my Dad was oiling the bedroom door while I was being born!
Going through the archives after Mum died, I found this diary:
..so of course I turned to 30th November, where I read:
“Babe due – and baby duly arrived – a dear wee girl – at 5.20 am. 7 lb 4 ozs. Such a joy to have a girl to join our lovely sons. So happy for each other. Long and difficult labour – dear Jim such a support and comfort. Must have been exhausting for him. Pretty face & colouring. Fair lashes & eyebrows, lots of hair. [Brothers] welcomed baby with broad smiles. Poor J. quite exhausted by it all.”
It is deeply moving for me to read this tender account of my own birth, even without the familiar door-oiling part (and despite the evidence of Mum’s martyrdom tendency – a “long and difficult labour ” is exhausting for him?!) The next page carries confirmation of another family legend. Throughout our childhood we lived next door to a similar family, with 2 boys and a girl the same ages as us. Briony’s birth is also recorded here, in Mum’s diary entry for 7th April:“Briony M. born. Hope we shall be as fortunate when our third baby arrives later this year. A daughter”. The two of us, inseparable then (and still friends today), were always told that we first met each other when I was just a few days old. Here, in Mum’s diary entry for 6th December 1961, is the proof:
“Visit from Maureen with Briony. [Brother 2] looked at B. & announced ‘We’ve got one of those! Here it is, there’s its ears, & there’s its eyes..’ etc. etc. Am sure she smiled – not a windy smile – today”.
51 years later, I am slightly less windy, but still smiling!
With thanks to Milton Grubert for the mantelpiece photograph.