I’ve been looking through my father’s diary of our childhood sayings – which he kept partly for amusement, partly to record the ways we tried to force the world and language together like an ill-fitting jigsaw. Most of the entries concern my brother, three years my senior. This is their style:
‘I want my SHERRY’ (He had a sip earlier.) Wd not sound well in a Romsey street! 29/9/62
I hadn’t realised we were introduced to alcohol quite so young, though I well remember the little shot glass and the sweet taste of the Amontillado. My father’s voice (‘Wd not sound well’, egad!) seems to belong to a different age.
16/1/62 During the day he could not contain himself for energy, standing on his head, rolling about, etc. Suddenly, he said to Isobel, ‘The band has stopped now.’ He paused for a while, then continued his antics as before.
Here, my brother’s future career as a composer and musician is foreshadowed: he was clearly listening to a concert in his head. Other entries are simply cute:
2/63 Watching Charles (aged one month) being breastfed: ‘Go on, sonny, have some!’
64. His ball lands on the flower beds. ‘It’s not my fault – it’s this ball. It doesn’t seem to care!’
9/64 Witnessed Canon Norris, resplendent in his vestments after a fashionable wedding. Said, ‘Nana, I know the man inside that!’
By the time I reach speaking age, my father’s enthusiasm has clearly waned somewhat, and the entries are sparser – or perhaps I didn’t say as many things worth recording. What there is, however, sounds characteristic:
5/67 ‘It’s funny – if you die on the ground you go up. If you die in the air you come down. I suppose it’s fair.’
6/9/67 Playing draughts, Charles achieves a King. ‘I’ll be back in a minute to have it made into God.’
3/68 Charles dresses himself but his pullover is at times back to front. Will not change it. States: ‘As I dress, I stay!’ Also, at about this time: ‘As I end up, I am!’ ‘As I say, I do!’
6/68 Crying in bed: ‘Martin said I wasn’t ambidextrous!’
8/68 Charles reads his first word. ‘S-O-D’ from ‘Fucking sod’ written on wall of cubicle at swimming pool. ‘Sod! I can read!’ Very pleased with himself.
9/68 Leapfrogging over gravestones outside the Abbey. Isobel suggests he should stop. ‘Don’t worry, Mummy – they’ll all have risen by now!’ Later, wistfully: ‘I wish I could see them go!’
And, most poignantly, at age seven:
7/6/70 ‘You know, at my age you have such grand plans, but you seldom carry them out.’
Not just when you’re seven, sonny. But you might as well have some while you can.