The Way We Were...

My daughters, brows puckered in concentration, lean heavily over me as I pen the invitations. Little Nan breathes wetly in my left ear, Hilary and Anne spell out the letters as I write them: “C-h-r-i-s-t-e-n-i-n-g – what’s a Christening, Mummy?”


“I know!” Anne thumps with her first on the table and my startled pen shakes a large ink blot onto the clean white card. “I remember when Little Nan was christeninged!”


“Christened!” – my correction is lost amid the clamour.


“I remember her being christeninged too,” Hilary claims stoutly.


“I ‘member, I ‘member!” shouts Little Nan. Her sisters turn on her with scorn: “You can’t, you fibber. You were only a baby. I bet you can’t remember a single thing about it. I bet....”


“Does it really matter?” I sigh, scrabbling about in my writing case for the scrap of blotting paper I keep for this sort of inky emergency.


“What’s going to happen to Steven at the Christening?” Hilary sounds worried. I abandon the hopeless task of mopping up the ink-spattered card and embark on the almost as difficult one of explaining infant baptism to my daughters, without using any of the convenient but – to them – incomprehensible terms which spring most readily to mind.


I am concerned that they should be made aware of the meaning behind what they might otherwise think of as a simply social occasions. Of course at first sight, it may well appear to be just another family party. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in plenty are due to descend upon us in Steven’s honour; our preparations are lengthy and chaotic and not helped at all by the fact that the fates are consorting against us at every turn.


It starts on Saturday afternoon when we call to collect the crockery we have arranged to hire, only to discover that the shop closed at 1 p.m. for the day. Somewhere, tantalisingly behind that locked door, is a crate containing two dozen cups, saucers and plates “elegantly decorated in blue and gold.”


The baker’s, at least, is open and we thankfully take possession of the christening cake; it is not until we get home that we lift the lid to examine the contents. The cake looks appetising. Steven’s name has been spelt correctly. But there on top is a hideous sleeping cherub, two plastic, golden wings sprouting coyly from his back.


“Isn’t it horrible!” I shudder.


“Isn’t it beautiful!” the girls chorus in delight. They have absolutely no taste. It is too late to do anything  about either minor calamity; I set out our motley assortment of crockery, the sorry relics of tea sets I have demolished over the years, and place the cake, with cherub, in its position of honour.


“It’ll be alright tomorrow,” the girls reassure me.


“I hope so...” I am doubtful; my sleep is plagued by a vision of my Steven, turning into a blue-garbed cherub and growing plastic wings.


There is still plenty to do the next day; the girls wrap up the cutlery in paper napkins, while their father lends a hand to more important business.


“You’ve added more sherry to this trifle,” I accuse him, tasting a sly spoonful. “Well, it’s supposed to be a sherry trifle, isn’t it?” – defensively. It is now, I inform him, positively lethal; he, weeping copiously over the spring onions, is unrepentant. “If the spring onions don’t get ‘em, then the sherry trifle will,” he pronounces, smugly.


“Can we have a taste? Can we lick the spoon?” The lethal trifle is hastily removed out of reach.


Adults only,” I warn them. “You children are having a picnic tea in the garden, remember?” As if at a signal, there is a crack of thunder and the heavens, mocking, open. There will be no picnic tea in the garden today for the dozen or so children we are expecting.


The christening gown, carefully unfolded from its tissue wrappings, comes in for some criticism from my daughters. “Steven can’t wear a dress. Steven’s  a boy!” Young Steven appears to share their views; he chews at the lace trimming on the hem of the gown and dribbles happily down the smocked yoke. “He’s drooling again!” announces my small niece, who has more dealings with dogs than with babies.


The rain pours steadily down. As we scamper from the cars to the church. Picture hats droop drearily from the wet; cameras are hastily packed away in waterproof cases – there will be no record of this family event, alas.


The service is simple, but beautiful. Steven behaves impeccably. Afterwards Hilary collects the prayer books at the door, while the Vicar rescues the collection plate from Little Nan.


Anne inspects her brother’s face intently. “I’m looking,” she whispers in mingled reverence and disappointment, “for the sign of the Cross.” I have more explaining to do.


My youngest daughter takes her role as hostess very seriously. After helping her young friend James and herself to a serving of Lethal Trifle while my back is turned, she then leads him on a tour of the room, draining all the dregs in the sherry glasses.


The gentleman, I understand from his mother, suffered no ill effects from his alcoholic excesses – apparently he can hold his liquor. The lady, I am ashamed to say, had a terrible hangover the next morning.


It was, in more ways than one, quite a christening!


Slough Evening Mail - Summer 1973

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Latest comments

23.04 | 19:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 12:17

I have broad shoulders x