For over 60 years of my life I have been Lionel. But all this time I have been triplicitous and deceitful. My first name is, in fact, Cedric. Yes, Cedric. Lionel is not even my second, but my third and middle name. When I, at four years old, told my father that my nursery pals were laughing at my first name, he unexpectedly offered me any of my other given names. Somehow I contrived to choose ‘Lionel’ over, for example, the risk-free ‘John’ (my second name) or the deeply cool ‘Clement’ (my mother’s maiden name). Cedrics were unknown at that time outside the theatre, but Lionels weren’t exactly mainstream. In my earliest years, the celebrity Lionels were Blair, Bart and Barrymore. Lionel Blair dancing every Thursday on Crackerjack in the early 60s wasn’t helping my case. The mirth continued. But I couldn’t change my name again. So this sly change of skin, unaccompanied as it was by any official passport change, is now haunting me over sixty years later. Not using a first name was once de rigueur (my mother never used her first name; my father’s family never called him by his) but in the current digital clime of lockstep algorithmic precision, I am perceived by officialdom as not being entirely correct. I am stopped by nay-saying computers and their human servants for not being a Cedric. This month the mismatch nearly prevented me from boarding a flight; I am suspected of making fraudulent movements of capital, and Paypal has threatened to cancel me. But if I can identify as a transgender woman, surely I can identify as a third-choice Lionel?
We celebrated the birthday of my late father-in-law Lawrie, when Jessie, Ella, and Gwen, with Jurrat and me, took Kay out for a walk in Sheffield Park, (photo above) with its woodland gardens, lakes, paths, a 650-year old oak, a giant Redwood, and its own Champion tree, a unique and eponymous Tupelo. The garden of Broad Oaks, incidentally, is fast becoming a nature reserve. Several deer have been appearing daily around dusk and dawn to graze, defecate, and eat the squirrels’ acorns. It’s a bucolic scene. However, one morning, a young deer lay decapitated near a bush half-way down the garden. No blood, no mess, just an unnerving sight. We alerted the police and the gormless RSPCA, but little could be done to discover the back-story, a genuine murder mystery, permitting a brief flash-glimpse of the rural underworld. ‘How very Godfather!’ as the Crimestopper lady said.
On my birthday, our daughters plus Alli and Sam invited me to Abyssinia, an excellent Ethiopian restaurant in Brighton. As gifts, I had asked for second-hand items. I was given three shirts, a pair of black shoes, a rucksack (new), and books (including one by Rory Stewart about walking on the Marches, and another about a 1950s car journey from London to Lagos). Jessie and Jurrat gave me a ticket to see Thea Gilmore in concert in London; Gwen paid for my dinner; and I had a theatre ticket from Ella and Sam to see ‘To kill a mockingbird’ on the West End stage. Ella and I went to see the play the following evening. It was challenging and enjoyable, but the play’s continuity stumbled somewhat near the end.
Jessie, Ella, and Gwen also took out Alli and Kay for dinner at the Oak Barn to celebrate Mothering Sunday, a triple-generation gathering that is turning into an excellent annual family tradition, and Alli and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary with dinner at Pera, a bland Turkish restaurant in Burgess Hill. We also went for a entertaining and gossipy lunch with our friends Nigel, Andrea, and Julia in Tunbridge Wells. At the end of the month, I joined my daughters and Jurrat in Brighton for dinner at Pompoko and to see a great concert by one of my favourite bands from the alt-country wave – Death Cab for Cutie.
Earlier, I had flown to Toulouse with Jessie on a visit to prepare La Hune for its first commercial year as a holiday house for lets. When we arrived, the house was still in the grip of a stone-cold winter, although our kind neighbours had laid a fire in the bedrooms for us on the first night before we accepted their invitation to cross the road to their smaller and warmer house the next day. After five days of purchasing, fixing, constructing, washing, hanging, and extensive interviews with builders, electricians and gardeners, we returned well satisfied. I was exhilarated but also exhausted by Jessie’s get-up-and-go, bowled along by her indefatigable energy and engagement. La Hune can be found on Airbnb for summer reservations.
No sooner was I back from France than I headed south again to Barcelona to help celebrate my friend Peter’s 50th birthday party in Sitges. Peter and his partner Silvano left Basel and became the proprietors of a 16-room hotel near the beach just before Covid struck. They hung on through that difficult period (Peter and I were regular phone-buddies) and now they live in a workmanlike paradise where the locale is sympathetic and accommodating, the food five-star, the beach sandy, the weather warm, and the sea classic Med. Some 50 of his friends came to mark his birthday with him and Silvano at a very professional variety show and dinner which they organised in the town. I was delighted to see several good friends from Basel, especially Bruce, Philip, Susie, Andrew, O’Patrick, Kirsty, and Liz. Peter and Silvano are again at the hub of a wide circle of friends, local and expatriate, in Barcelona’s own joyous seaside resort. They are in their element, hard-working and hard-playing lovers of life, always brightening the lives of those around them.
It has been an unusually successful month for tying up loose ends and resolving several years-long-running problems. These included successful but excessive phone calls about national insurance with ever-helpful civil servants; locating the missing gas meter for our Brighton flat after three years of stray correspondence and confusion; sorting out the related bills accordingly with an apologetic British Gas (albeit with a last-minute hitch); applying and getting my free bus pass; Alli applying for a UK driving licence and a new passport; getting my web site updated (in which all the monthly Ahems since 2004 can be found literatim at www.clement.co.uk/Ahem); finding and updating the service record book of our car after misplacing it for three years; preparing our French house and garden (as described above) for a year of renewal and rental; and, not least, mobilising resources in order to make an offer on a house in Horsted Keynes. The offer was accepted and so at long last we may be moving to a new life together in the coming weeks (if my changeling identity is to be believed by the digitalistas). I am wholly
yours in full,
Cedric John Lionel Clement Stanbrook