The day will begin with a massed rendering of ‘Oh Joyous Natal Day to Rod’ (the Henry Wood arrangement for old sea salts) by the London Symphony Orchestra, the massed bands of Her Majesty’s Guards, the BBC Choral Society and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If the venue is not of sufficient capacity – ie Auntie Rose is reluctant to turn on the heater in the conservatory – then Elton John on the upright in the living room will suffice.
I have had so many dozens of birthdays that they have all merged into a dull November blur, generally cold and grey, although at least less foggy these days, and inevitably imbued with the melancholy of having to immediately precede Armistice Day with memories everywhere of family losses.
My mother came from a large family of ten, if you include the parrot, so I had a wealth of aunts and uncles and cousins. Unfortunately November 10 was not a date which welded itself into their subconscious so as I watched over my raised spoon of Sugar Puffs the measured tread of Syd the postman approaching the front gate I knew all too well that it would be followed by his measured tread straight past the gate and on to our neighbours’. Postal present hopes dashed, I would open my parcels from my parents, sister, godmother from two doors down, grandparents and favourite Auntie Evie: books and requested sporting items from shin-pads to batting gloves, and scuttle off to school.
Nobody at school or later at work ever knew it was my birthday so in the years after I left home it amounted to a couple of cards and otherwise passed unnoticed. This must be an older generation thing as my daughter and her many friends, some of whom date back to schooldays, still celebrate each other’s birthdays in great style with outings and presents and much joyous merriment. Mine seem to flash past at an ever more alarming pace. My wife, always adept at keeping a move ahead, characteristically arranged to be born on November 9, the day before – although a good many years after – mine so we are able to celebrate the 48 hours gastronomically, each pretending the feast is for the other.
So that’s my birthday pretty well taken care of, although at this late stage of life I would like to take issue with my parents on the names with which they saddled me on that original birthday when they received the indescribable joy of my arrival. I will confine myself to the first one.
I have never quite embraced the name Roderick. During my newspaper days I always thought Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick McGregor had a fine look to it and in high court press boxes I was frequently noting the eloquence of Roderic Bowen QC. The little Gaelic and Celtic variations made all the difference. But Roderick? Rod Stewart clearly felt the same. I too went for the short version.
One thing to be said for Roderick is that it is better than Rodney. There was a rather camp conversazione on a radio comedy show in my childhood which always began ‘Hello Rodney!’ ‘Hello Charles!’ (I suspect Kenneth Williams and/or Hugh Paddick may have been involved) so when I journeyed through newspaper life I was frequently greeted in the newsroom by the normally terrifying news editor, the legendary Walter Grossey, with a ‘Hello Rodney!’ which bent him almost double in uncharacteristic mirth.
When I began to get books published I reverted to Roderick on the doubtful grounds that it might have a more literary ring to it. Library pulp fiction really needed no pretention however, and in later life, in non-fiction as in journalism, I became Rod again, as I remain to this day, except, curiously, on Twitter. Who knows how many friends or followers I might have had if I had kept to the shorter form.
Still, I am very proud indeed that my American nephew keeps the name alive, just as I was always happy to share the birthday with Richard Burton until his sad demise. I will raise a glass to him over lunch and wish it were a pint of Rhymney Welsh Bitter with which he must have been familiar before his tastes became more exotic. I look forward to meeting other November 10 birthday boys and girls in another place – no hurry, mind – if they celebrate together with regular parties up there. No religion, politics or football, so keep it light, Martin Luther.