I am unlikely to be invited to upmarket functions. But if I were, and if, while minding my own business, I was approached by someone – a lady-in-waiting, say – who inquired about my name, background and family history, I should be delighted.
The conversation would probably not last long, because none of the information likely to be gleaned would be very interesting. In fact, I might get annoyed at being treated in such a cursory manner and tweet about it afterwards. But probably not.
True, I was born in Earlham Hall, Norwich, but that’s only because it was being used as a maternity home just after the war. The second world war, since you ask.
The rest of my family history its less impressive. The words “agricultural” and “labourer” appear often, and my paternal grandfather’s line comes down to us from just outside Peterborough – a hamlet called Norman Cross, which was largely swallowed up when the A1 in that area became a motorway.
His mother’s name was Archer, and she came from Harlestone, near Northampton and close to the Spencer pile at Althorp. In fact her parents’ gravestone at Harlestone is suspiciously swish: could there be a connection? You tell me. Please.
My father’s mother, on the other hand, came from Sheffield, which is obviously more exciting. Her name was Booth, and she claimed to be related to the founder of the Salvation Army, which I suppose is possible, though not traceable.
I could go on, but perhaps the lady-in-waiting would be more interested in my recent history. Between the ages of five and 11 I lived in Coventry, but we returned to Norwich after my father died.
I can remember a great deal about what Norwich was like in those days – the livestock walking down Ber Street to the cattle market just below the Castle; the ships loading and unloading at the mills on King Street, where my brother worked for a while; the railway goods yard off Grove Road; the slums replaced by Rouen Road; and Prospect House, where I would later work on the Eastern Daily Press, now sadly in reduced circumstances.
What is the same? Certainly not St Stephen’s, which was a bustling street full of cars, cycles and pedestrians. But the Market, the Castle, the stunning Cathedral and the relatively new City Hall (where I also worked) look very similar.
By now the lady-in-waiting is receding into the far reaches of the room, smiling in a distant sort of way.