Dad loved sharing his enthusiasms and he had high hopes that one or both of the Archaeologist and I would follow suit. We did our best but I think, taking the long view neither of us really fell in love with those little sticky-backed squares and rectangles.
That said, as small boys we loved the receiving of letters – apart from birthdays and Christmas we received barely a scribble, maybe a postcard from a relative in the summer, but that was always shared. When dad began taking collecting first day covers (FDCs to the cognoscenti) seriously, the joy for us two was we would each receive a letter, addressed just to one of us with these glorious stamps that dad loved. Dad didn’t waste money so we didn’t both get the same set but we learnt that vital lesson of anticipation, of the next one being ‘our’ turn.
And here we come to a very clear and, for me, not very meritorious bit of family history.
You see, I was the second son: in years, second by some fifteen months and, intellectually by about a decade. Thus, had dad organised for each new FDC to be addressed to us both it would have been to ‘Gordon and Geoffrey Le Pard’. No question as to the order of priority. Primogeniture doesn’t only apply to royalty.
Therefore, as we can see from these two examples from 1963, we each had our own. Brilliant. How egalitarian, how…
But wait! I wasn’t so easily deceived. By this time I had already received an unusually strong dressing down from mum for complaining about the Archaeologist, who had been in hospital to have his tonsils removed and decided he was enjoying it so much he bit through a thermometer and was kept in which they ensured he hadn’t ingested the glass – I don’t think they worried much about the mercury back then. I was taken to collect him when he was finally released and mum had bought him some comic – The Eagle or some such – but not one for me. I moaned about how unfair this was to which mum, rightly furious pointed out that he’d been in hospital, ill and possibly perforated while I’d had everyone’s attention at home. I didn’t really do empathy, aged six.
The examples above are from 1963. If we move forward a year we have these two examples.
The first is addressed to the Archaeologist and is the splendid set that commemorated 400 years of Shakespeare. I remember these as being universally approved. Back then, stamps made headlines. This is April 1964.
I was next and another rather delightful set for something desperately dull called the International Geographical Congress – they really did drag up some anniversaries back then. They didn’t celebrate that many people unless they were BIG like the Man, Will S. Generally they were for events of the worthy sort. Yawn…
Anyhoo, this is it.
Can you see the change?
Yep, in the year I have grown a middle initial. Very American you might think. Wasn’t there a president who just had an initial and no middle name? I digress.
In my case it was a complete name – Thomas – that that T represented. As you can see from the Archaeologist’s oeuvre, he had an F – for Francis, my mother’s maiden name – but I’d not had one.
As with the post tonsils glossy, I complained how unfair was my treatment – boy, was I big on egalitarianism back then. The Archaeologist had a middle name; why didn’t I? How could they, my wretched parents be so cruel and thoughtless as to deprive me of that foundation of all things civilised. How could they not see how they were limiting my life chances by the egregious omission of a middle name?
“You can give yourself one,” said Mum.
“What would you like?” Added Dad.
It wasn’t the same, it wasn’t on my birth certificate – I don’t suppose I knew this winning argument back then but had I… Ha!
So I chose Thomas. After the Tank engine of that name.
Cute you may think, but hang on. Don’t underestimate the duplicity of the scorned seven year old. When the Rev Audrey wrote the Thomas the Tank engine series, he gave various popular names to his engines. Thomas, of course, and Edward and Henry and Gordon….
Arghhh! Not another slight. This can’t be happening. And while I might later have realised that the arrogant smug sod that was Gordon wasn’t exactly the hero in this series, he was the express train, the fastest, most potent… I was only too aware of the lack, the horrendous publishing error that had Geoffrey missing from the list of train names.
So I took that slight and Thomas was added. It only ever appeared on FDCs. I think, even at seven, I realised how I was opening myself to ridicule if I pushed the point of this enormous hole in my name amongst my friends and other relatives.
My parents understood, though. They added in the T as their little secret and the Archaeologist, who was largely oblivious to my presence – another area of contention – never mentioned it.
Yes, you often fail to see how wise parents can be. Mark Twain captured it perfectly
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.