The Bluebottle Boys: Edgbaston: Bertie & My Birthday

The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 2, Part 2 — Edgbaston, Winter 1961: Bertie & My Birthday

Edgbaston[Note: The featured pic is of Bertrand Russell and his wife Edith (center) leading the demonstration mentioned in this post (photograph by Tony French, used by permission)]

On 18 February, Bertrand Russell led a march of 20,000 protesters seeking to “ban the bomb,” with a sit-down of 5,000 in front of the defense ministry, and ended up getting jailed seven days for his trouble. Dad and Dr. Gupta took Stan and me aside for a discussion of the demonstration and the “why and wherefore” of civil disobedience. It would be the first of many such discussions Dad and I would have in the future about what Dad considered “important issues of the day.” But on this first occasion, I’d barely been able to make a pretense of paying attention. I’d received ominous news in the post: a birthday card from the ABC Minors Club.

They’d been quite correct: my birthday would indeed be on Sunday, 26 February.

But Stan and I had scrupulously avoided telling ABC cinema management what the dates of our birthdays were. They’d missed Stan’s in January. How had they found mine out?

Now this wasn’t all bad. It did mean I’d have free admission on the Saturday nearest my birthday (the 25th, in this case). It also meant, though, that the club would call me to the proscenium – the edge of a stage that, in the perception of a nine-year-old, was akin to some of London’s west end theatres. As I’d try hard not to trip over my own feet, my heart doing tympanic solos atop my head, I’d trudge past infinite rows of seats, make a Calvary-like climb up to that dreadful proscenium and face my doom: A cavernous auditorium that, in a child’s eyes, seemed half the size of Westminster Abbey.

And what would await me there?

A sacrificial altar? Or, perhaps something more prosaic, such as the gallows, the guillotine, the rack or the iron maiden.

Nonsense – such would be piffle – mere child’s play. No, I’d be required to stand on that proscenium as, with no benefit of a blindfold, I’d face the supreme, ultimate tribulation, the worst horror in all kid-dom: Death – by Embarrassment. More than a thousand members of the ABC Minors Club would sing “Happy Birthday” to me as I stood there like a sap, praying all the while for a trap door to open and swallow me, no matter how far I’d fall or what would await me at the bottom.

However, there was no trap door on the Day of Judgment. I received my free admission and faced my doom, standing onstage. Desperately trying to manage offhand smiles of appreciation that Stan later insisted looked as if I were doing impersonations of Alfred E. Neuman.

I did get through it though, traveling at least a light year as I returned to my seat from the proscenium. “Happy Birthday, mate,” Stan whispered, trying his best to look innocent and failing miserably. I knew who’d grassed to management about my birthday and silently swore to “get even.”

But, aside from the Minors Club, my birthday received negligible fuss.

Mum and Dad were back doing the same relief work they’d done around Christmas and were arranging the home purchase for the Guptas in the little time that remained. With help from Cressida (although Sunday was normally her day off) and from Stan, Grammer did manage a respectable go at throwing me a low-keyed, rather rushed, family birthday lunch on my real birthday. But, “family” mainly ended up being Cressida, Stan and Grammer. Mum and Dad took part perfunctorily before hurriedly, although “ruefully,” skipping off in other directions.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

“The Bluebottle Boys,” Volume One, will be released shortly; Stay tuned for details. “Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall” is available from Amazon now. Check out my website at http://g-h-mccallum.com

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.