Sunday, January 13, 2008

" Climb Every Mountain!"

When the news came, there was joy in our kitchen.
When the new came, our Kelvinator fridge hummed with delight and the crisp pile of my father's freshly starched shirts gleamed with pleasure. My brother and I sat at the table eating cornflakes dotted with prunes... and suddenly, we believed life really COULD be a fairytale. Today's news finally proved it.
The Background: There was our mother, rosy faced by her whistling kettle, crimson lipped, navy and white peeptoe-shoed, her chestnut hair ( we called it the colour of gravy) fluttering around her pretty rosiness. I remember it well. It was early June and I wore a pink dress with brown smocking and I sat at the kitchen table by a window with yellow curtains and the morning was warm already.
And there, of course, was my father....brisk and smiling, smelling of soap and Players cigarettes, flannelled and tweedy jacketed. There he was, Daddy brandishing the Daily Express in nicotined stained fingers, his hair wavy, Brilliantined...
"The office" Daddy declared " The office can wait."
So old SPL ( his boss from Hell) could shout in vain. Daddy would not be there, even though SPL had tantrums, whatever they were. Tantrums made SPL lie on his office floor swigging gin and tantrums made SPL touch his secretary ( Ruth) on her bare arms ( wow!) as she took away his teacup. Ruth came for tea because my mother said she was overwrought ( about the arm touching) and Daddy said she needed the calmness of Mummy so Ruth sobbed over fairy cakes and was sick over lemon cake and had to be taken home in a taxi. Mummy said SPL should be classified ( or perhaps it was certified) and Daddy said he should be " strung up by his giblets" which painted dreadful pictures to me and my brother and believe me, I never ate lemon cake ever again and any time I've met a "Ruth", I've expected red eyes and tearfulness and a woman who needs the calmness of someone's mummy. ....
But back to our kitchen:
"Today" Daddy said"is a Moment Of History. This News should be Relished." And his voice shook with emotion. It really did and I hear it still. He cleared his throat.
"Today" said Daddy " Hillary has conquered Everest." He paused, eyes particularly blue: " But two things are special today. Hillary has conquered Everest AND Queen Elizabeth is crowned."
" What's 'conquered"?" said my brother ( we knew about "crowned" BUT "conquered"..??): " is "conquered" to do with conkers? And who is Hilary, Dad? Is it that spotty lady down Red Lion Lane who lives with fat Edgar?" (We passed Fat Edgar on our way to school. He always wanted to play "Tag" but our mother said he couldnt play "Tag"; Edgar was 57 and we should merely smile and walk on because people of 57 played games like Bridge or golf, not "Tag" in Red Lion Lane ..)
" Hillary is Edmund" said Daddy reverently " And he's reached the top of the highest mountain in the world with Sherpa Tensing. And today a new Queen is crowned..."

Sir Edmund Hillary died this week. He was a hero of my childhood and the memory of his triumph ( told at breakfast one morning in early summer) gave me a precious glimpse into my own past. Hillary conquered the highest mountain on Earth and reading reports of his life since, I see he achieved more remarkable things. He deserves to be long remembered.

7 Comments:

Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

As a kiwi - thanks for the little tribute and I am glad it brought back happy memories. I was born that year and that month (June) so to me that far outshadowed any other event in history!!!! :) (I'm just glad Mum and Dad never called me Elizabeth or Hilary!!)

11:28 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

Wonderful, vintage Jan!

Though it was a bit before I was born, I think I somehow grew up with some of the images and an impression of Hillary as an archetype! And we read a long narative poem about it at school.

And I love the digression about Ruth, you seemed to ahve a few of these highly strung women around in your childhood, are you sure all he did was touch her bare arms? Not much more than a glimpse of stocking really was it?

1:49 pm  
Blogger Philippa said...

Yes, a truly great man. It wasn't until I read his obit in The Guardian that I realised he had brought so many good things to Nepal, though his life was tinged with great sadness following the death in a plane crash - near Katmandhu - of his wife and daughter. Simon, albeit over 60 younger than Hillary, was particularly moved, he visited 'Base Camp' whilst on his gap year.
There's still somthing magical about great explorers isn't there, like him & Robert Falcon Scott.

10:00 pm  
Blogger Catherine said...

As another kiwi - it's nice to see that people in other countries recognise his greatness. I'm afraid I don't remember the Moment though, since I was two years old at the time :)
I loved the detail in your memories of that time period.

11:28 am  
Blogger Jan said...

CB:
3 Great Events!!

Lucy:
Remember THIS was the Olden Days...!

Philippa:
Yes there is.
THEY never featured in Hello mag, did they?!!

Catherine:
I think ther'e a bit of "poetic license" in my memories (between you and me) ...
I wasn't very old but I squeeze every drop out of a MERE glimpse of a memory.
It's actually a wonderful process once you start writing, when stuff is "dredged" up, things you forgot or things you shelved or even things you didnt really notice properly at the time.
I think that's just one of the lovely things about writing...

11:46 am  
Blogger Jon M said...

Cor Kelvinator Fridges...bet yours was made in the factory by our house on the Wirral! Factory gone now but the memory hums on.

One of those moments in History.

5:22 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Jon:
You're right and it was!!

7:10 pm  

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