Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Queen Mary

In the days before my fourth birthday (of my 79 birthdays it was the first one of which I have any memory) my parents took me to a toy shop, and asked me to point out to them, anything which especially caught my fancy. Little attracted me largely because toys in such profusion were new to me, an  embarras  de  richesse  you might say.

I walked round the shop in bewilderment and when  they explained that the object of the exercise was to choose a present, I entered a whirlwind of indecision. I had not yet reached the age when acquisition becomes an end in itself.  And I was beginning to lose interest in the whole affair when with a cry of delight I stopped in front of a dolls' house. "That's what I want," I said, transfixed by the inter-connecting rooms, the miniature furniture and the feeling that something large and familiar - I understood houses because I lived in one - could be reduced to something as small and manageable as this.

The details of what followed are vague in my mind. Nothing specific was said  about my choice of present then or subsequently. I certainly never raised it, and this must be the first time that my recollection of the event has seen the light of day. What I do remember is some sort of huddled conversation with which I did not concern myself. What I have reconstructed  goes like this. Dolls houses means dolls. Boys don't have dolls.  Heaven forbid. So he can't have a dolls' house. Sexual politics and gender stereotyping were not yet in the air, and even if they had been, knowing my parents, they would not have considered for a moment giving me a dolls' house.

I have never had   to see a psychiatrist. If I  had, I daresay he or she would have found  some meat in this story.  I will not speculate on that point having little time for their theories , open to misinterpretation as they generally are. But I do know if only because I have remembered it so vividly that it must have had some  sort of effect on the person I was to become. At its most simple it defined a liking for architecture  and a dislike  of .... But am getting a head of myself. First I must tell you what I received instead of  the house  - dolls I should say at this point did not interest me then any more they do now - which I still believed was coming my way.

The present which I eventually unwrapped was a solid block of wood crudely painted black and carved into a boat-shape. On it was imposed the superstructure of an ocean liner, three funnels painted red and white, and I believe some masts but little else in  the way of detail. "It's The Queen Mary," my mother said. The liner had just been launched the first of the ships which took the names of the queens of England who released bottles of Champagne on their hulls to introduce them to the water for the first time.

The Queen Mary was the first if not the biggest disappointment of  life. I have not thought about it a great deal, but it is a fact, that even as I grow more sedate the idea of an ocean voyage or cruise fills me with horror. And with infinite satisfaction at having survived into the age of jet travel. Meanwhile I still linger in front of a dolls' house if I see one.


  1. Another wonderful short story! I noticed that most of these stories are in the first person, which tease me into wondering how autobiographical they are. No matter, all art is infused by the spirit of the creator.

    (I hope this comment comes through - have not had luck the last couple of posts...)

  2. It came through well M-L and thank you. The signal where we are the moment is not good, which may explain problems. This is fiction. Sometimes there is a strong autobiographical base, sometimes not. Often fiction has more truth in it than mere reportage, though.

  3. I should have said that The Queen Mary story is true in an autobiographical sense and as accurate as my memory allows.