Above high-water mark

I recall a childhood trauma

“Hello children….everywhere.” If that rings a bell then you would have to admit to being of a certain age: more than that, of a certain era. An era when children sat with Mummy in front of the wireless on a Saturday morning and thrilled at ’Sparky – the magic piano’ and squirmed at the thought of Burl Ives’ little old lady, and the spider that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.

“Hello children….everywhere.” The avuncular tones of my namesake, Uncle Mac (Derek McCullogh OBE) would preface an hour of music he considered suitable for children, accompanied by special requests and birthday mentions. In Uncle Mac’s day children had proper names like Margaret and Robert, or Gillian and Anthony; and presents would have been Meccano or a Dinky Toy – even for Gillian, if Dad had wanted a boy.

During a bout of infant illness – measles probably – my discomfort was assuaged by the gift of a little cuddly elephant, which, by common consent, was christened Nellie. Nellie was pretty much my constant companion, and the favourite among my small menagerie of stuffed animals, which I called my circus. Anyway, one Friday during the school holidays we went on a coach outing to Littlehampton, accompanied, of course, by Nellie.

The trouble started on the way home when I realised that Nellie had apparently jumped ship, or rather, coach. No amount of searching revealed her whereabouts and I tearfully concluded that Nellie was still buried up to her head in the sand at Littlehampton. “I told you not to bury the thing,” scolded Dad, with his usual sensitivity.

Next morning, in an effort to console me, Mum sat me on her lap (not easy – I was 18 by then) and said with forced cheerfulness “Why don’t we both listen to Uncle Mac.” So as soon as what she called ‘the volves’ had warmed up we waited for the usual greeting. Sure enough “Hello children….everywhere” accompanied an affectionate hug from Mum. And what was Uncle Mac’s first choice? The spiteful old sexagenarian played ‘Nellie the Elephant’, a song about an elephant who packed her trunk, and, without so much as a backward glance, said goodbye to the circus. Needless to say, I was inconsolable; and were I child of today, would have been rushed off for trauma counselling, been given a Syndrome, and probably a blue badge, too.

As it was, I had to go cold turkey. Nellie was gone. And not even, in the words of the song “….with a trumpety trump into the jungle”, but instead no doubt abducted by some dreadful child on a Grey Green coach from Peckham, who would have exhumed her without ceremony. My only crumb of comfort was that I had buried Nellie above high-water mark.




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