Drove west early with Elaine, Gaia and Hania, for Pat and Tim’s sixtieth wedding anniversary. Started out fine, then clouds heaped up as we passed Oxford, though by the time the party (with over 70 people and a marquee on the back lawn) got into full swing, the sun was out and about fairly regularly. A wonderful gathering of family and friends from all eras and generations, including a couple of total surprises: Ian Keay and Nigel Palmer, both with long grey or white pigtails.
Part-way through, Caroline had asked me to do some sort of speech in celebration. While I started out by trying to get all the younger family members involved, on the basis that the first-born male was an inappropriate toast-master these days, I found myself in the role.
So I set to – and spotlighted five key years: 1920, 1922, 1948, 1959 and 1960.
1920, which was a Leap year, was the year that Tim was born. To give people a sense of what else was going on that year, I noted that 1920 was the year that Prohibition began in the USA, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (‘Mounties’) began operation in Canada, and that a certain Adolf Hitler presented his National Socialist program in Munich. I also commented that it is a miracle in multiple dimensions that Tim is still with us, having been shot down in the Battle Britain, having crashed a Mustang in India and a Shackleton in Ireland, and a Rover 3-litre at 70 mph, after which he was sent to hospital by Pat when she noticed he had a 9-inch crack in his skull. I also recalled how often Hill House shuddered when he collided with beams in the attics, far too tall for those parts of the house.
The second year was 1922, when Pat was born. That was when the first radio appeared in the White House and the BBC began radio broadcasts in England. Benito Mussolini became the youngest Premier in Italian history. And Howard Carter & Lord Carnarvon broke through into Tutankhamun’s tomb – the first people to do so in 3,000 years. Quite a Harrison Ford moment, though I noted that it wasn’t Tim’s slouch hat – but his RAF uniform – that worked the trick with my mother-to-be.
1948, another Leap year, was the next year selected, the year that Pat and Tim were married. That was also when the state of Israel – and the Hell’s Angels – were formed. Prince Charles was born in 1948, and Pat and Tim had just received an impressive card (with golden tassles) from the Queen, who had married the previous year. I pulled Pat’s youngest brother, Paul, in at this point in the proceedings, as apparently he is now the only other person still living who attended the wedding. We also spotlighted the painting Caroline did in celebration of Pat and Tim’s 50th anniversary, in 1998.
1959 came next, the year that we bought and moved into Hill House. And it was particularly nice to see so many people from the village taking part in the party. That was also the year that Cyprus (from which we had just returned) won its independence, that Castro took over Cuba and the Dalai Lama left Tibet. And what an extraordinary home it has been, with various wings of the family present today (including the Adamsons, Griffins and Mills, in addition to the myriad branches of the Elkingtons). And then there were all the parallel families we grew up with, among them the Langers, the Sweetings, the Lanes & the Lanes, the Hanks, the Keays, the Palmers, the Davenports and Feichtingers. More recent additions included the Hedderwicks and the De Borgrave Nibletts.
Finally I focused on 1960, another Leap year, and the year the last of we four siblings, Tessa, was born. That was the year JFK won the US presidency, that Nikita Kruschev banged a UN table with his shoe—and the USSR downed the U2 piloted by Gary Powers. Also the year when the newly-named Beatles began a residency at the Indra Club, Hamburg. I then pulled in Tessa, but in the excitement forgot to ask Caroline (who had organised the party, but refused to speak) the threatened question: Who had given the best excuse for not being there? Answer, cousin Toby, currently sailing somewhere between the Faroes and Iceland.
Then I called in Gray and referenced a number of things Gaia and Hania had said the previous evening in London about their memories of Hill House, which has been their home-from-home. Gaia remembered, at age 8, being reprimanded for standing in the End Room and asking the Hill House ghost, Belinda, to cut the power, please, because she didn’t want to take the train home. Which Belinda duly did, to Tim’s deep distress as the barn freezers shut down. They remembered swimming in the nearby Windrush with Caroline and the rest of the family. They remembered the giant Bramley tree, long since felled because of old age and disease, the ‘rubbing post’ that I did some time in the 1960s with Tim, and which has occupied pride of place in the kitchen, with the varying heights of successive generations marked on it. They recalled midnight picnics on hay-bales with hurricane lamps up in Bobble Barn field. And they celebrated Christmases when Tim’s old white RAF socks were used as their wildly capacious present stockings. Gaia got a pair of fairy wings aged five – and noted that she was still wearing wings to St Paul’s Girl’s School at eighteen.
My final memory before proposing the toast to Pat, Tim and Hill House was lying out on the same lawn on a camp-bed in the mid-1960s, after seeing the film I Love You Alice B. Toklas in Chletenham, and waking up around 02.00 with the scent of honeysuckle in my nostrils – to find the entire night sky aflame with the biggest Perseid shower for over 100 years. Literally mind-numbingly beautiful. But, I then went on to say to my beloved parent that they were the stars today – and we all drained out glasses, again.
Door into past and future Caroline has been the centre pivot Bling 1 Bling 2 Gray and Robin tune up Pat and Paul Olive and Pat Sky, looking past my old bedroom window Pat, Tim and Caroline’s family tree painting for their 50th Tessa’s button Dr John (Chambers) Christina and Caroline Paul recalls the wedding in 1948 Pop Lydia, Gray, Boo Those magnificent men in their flying cup-cakes Gil and Tessa Caroline, Nigel (Palmer), Nicky (Hanks), Jane (Davenport), Gray, Cally (Feichtinger), Ian Tessa, Christina, Caroline, Jane, Cally, Nicky, Ian, Alda (Angst/Keay) Jane, Christina, Caroline