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Victor's 21 st Birthday

The extract below comes from S. Barstow's novel A Kind of Loving. It introduces us to some of the customs connected with the celebrations of a person's coming of age and shows the importance attached in England to this event. Here we meet Victor's girlfriend Ingrid Rothwell.

I have my twenty-first birthday in October and I start paying my board at home. I think the Old Lady's always fancied throwing a party for me, but I'm not in the mood, so her and the Old Man buy me a gold wrist watch, a real beauty.

I see Ingrid a day or two after. She's sent me a card and I thank her for it, though I wish she hadn't done it because naturally the Old Lady was on to it like a shot. [...]

"Well," she says, "How does it feel to be a man?"

I give a laugh. "Ask me another."

"Did you get any nice presents?"

I stretch my arm across the table to show her the watch. "Me mother an' dad bought me this. Isn't it a gem, eh?"

She takes hold of my wrist and turns it so she can see the watch better. "It's lovely ... What else did you get?"

"Oh, Jim bought me a tie and Chris and David got me a book of crime stories and an L. P.* record of Tchaikovsky's Pathetic Symphony."

* (L. P. - long playing.)

"My, my," she says, lifting her eyebrows. "Haven't we gone highbrow lately!"

This niggles* me no end. She's so satisfied that these yawping crooners** are the last word.

* (niggle - (coll.) to get on one's nerves.)

** (crooner - a singer of highly sentimental songs.)

"Well, what's wrong with it?" I say. "It was written for people to like, wasn't it? What's wrong with me liking it?"

"Oh, nothing at all. Only there's lots of people who pretend to like that kind of thing just because they think it makes them Somebody."

"You know me better than that."

She shrugs. "Oh, if you like it you're welcome to it. Personally I can't stand it. I like something with a tune."

"But there's bags of tunes in Tchaikovsky," I say. "You can't get away from 'em..." I stop. Be damned if I'm going to defend myself for liking something that's worth something instead of the latest boy wonder* from Clackne-cuddenthistle** who gets on television because he happens to have a check shirt and a guitar and a lot of bloody cheek.

* (the latest boy wonder - (here) a singer who is very popular at the moment.)

** (Clacknecuddenthistle - an imaginary town (in Scotland to judge by the sound); an onomatopaeic name (Свистозвоногромопляска).)

We just sit there propping our chins on our hands and say nothing else for a bit.

(A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow)

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