Greetings! Most of you already know a bit about me: I am not backward about coming forward when it comes to the old inner self!
Today, however, I am going to give you a few biographical details: Far more effective than flocks of sheep as an instant cure for insomnia, let me tell you! I challenge anyone to get past the third paragraph without passing straight from sleeplessness to chronic narcolepsy, and, managing, thus, to avoid passing ‘Wake!’ or collecting that all-important bidet of coffee (preferably strong enough to stand a miner up in!).
And, if you can navigate your way through that last tortuous sentence, you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din!
Okay, here we go: I was hatched in January, on the 9th day, in 1958 – bloody awful month to be whelped. Too close to Christmas (which means all your relatives are going through the post-festive financial slump, and the sheer effrontery of you expecting yet more bloody presents is pointed out to you in tedious detail!), weather vile, spirits low – and, to cap(ricorn) it all, born under the sign of the sodding goat!
I am the eldest of five (children, not goats) and the only one with curly hair and a generous portion of adipose tissue. The others are all on the slim side with dead straight hair.
There are telling gaps between us all in terms of age/state of the marriage/religious convictions: My parents hoicked two of us out within two years, and then entered into a protracted Cold War in the turbulent history of their wedded life, eventually deciding that a third child was preferable to a divorce some six years later.
Fast forward another half dozen years and my mother, for reasons best known to herself, embraced the Catholic faith (the rest of us were Protestants!) with the kind of fervour seen most obviously in Jesuits and Born-Agains! The Rhythm Method produced sprogs number four and five – and would, no doubt, have gone on to include six, seven, eight (and the rest), had Numero Five not been a boy!
Okay – let’s re-start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!
I was born in Aldershot because my dad, who subsequently became first a Conservative Agent and then a History teacher, both in Oxford, was in the Army back in 1958. Well, he was – and, there again, he wasn’t: By a ghastly twist of fate, he contracted diabetes in late 1957 and, while my mother was going through the pangs of labour at one end of the hospital, my dad was learning to do injections into an orange at the other. Rest assured, he did progress to injecting his own skin eventually!
The Parental Pair grabbed my first name from the Family Tree: Some fourteenth century bint, named Alienora Fiztnickle, who married a Browning, gave them the idea. As far as I am aware, I am the first Alienora since those far off, distant days – though variants of it – Eleanor, Eleanora, Alienor, Leonora, Helen – are more common.
Back to the chronology: When I dropped from the Maternal Womb Pod, I was, for the only time in my life thus far, underweight and lay upon the scales, no doubt pimpled like a plucked chicken, weighing in at a measly six pounds.
For this reason, the PP decided that Alienora was too long a name for such a wee scrap of a gel, and gave me the nickname of Bambino, which was then shortened to Bambi (my nickname until I was eighteen).
My father invalided out of the Army, we holed up with his parents for several months. By a sad irony, my dad received the letter terminating his Army association on the very same day as another one informing him (at the time a Captain) that he was predicted to go far and reach the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the very least.
So there we were with Granny and Grandpa Browning – an uneasy time, as I learned later. Grandpa had been a Brigadier (and at Dunkirk) and was possessed of a truly stentorian roar. Apparently, the sheer volume of grandfatherly noise terrified me – and my mother, in order to try and calm my frazzled nerves (and, probably, to shut me up!), took to feeding me large, often and unwisely: Creamed fish, mashed potato with dreadnoughts of butter; you get the idea!
Result? Small party very soon became a fine figure of several babies – and, no doubt, needed a reinforced pram to be wheeled about in!
At this point, with a corpulent one year old (still unable to walk, probably because of the excess tonnage and poundage!) and an unstable family background, the dear things popped out Child Number Two…
And there we will leave them!