Sunday, 18 July 2021

The wrong Catherine - by Lu Hersey

 Recently a thread went viral on Twitter, all about how someone's dad had invited his friend Barry over, but he'd invited the wrong Barry by mistake. He knew this Barry, but he wasn't the 'right' Barry.

Anyway, the whole Wrong Barry thread brought back a memory from childhood I hadn't thought about in years. On my tenth birthday, I invited the Wrong Catherine to my party. 

It would be almost impossible to invite the Wrong Catherine today. This wasn't just some other Catherine I knew, listed on my mobile phone, like the Wrong Barry. This was a Catherine I'd never seen before in my life. What impresses me now is that the Wrong Catherine showed up to a party where she knew no one, including the person who invited her.

At the time, we'd just returned to Plymouth after living overseas. We were living in Naval quarters (a bit like council housing, but arranged in an oddly hierarchical way for people in the Navy) and I'd started attending the local Catholic school. I'd only been there about a term, but it was coming up to my birthday, and my mother encouraged me to invite some of my new friends to a birthday party. So I did. About six or seven girls from school came along, though I don't remember any of them now. I only remember the Wrong Catherine - and that's because she wasn't the Catherine I was expecting at all. 

Of course this was back in the days of landlines, not a mobile in existence (in fact some of my friends didn't even have a landline). If you didn't know someone's number, you could usually find them in the telephone directory. A girl at school I liked was called Catherine Rooke and I wanted to invite her, but didn't have her phone number, so I rang a few Rookes from the directory (there weren't that many) and asked to speak to Catherine. Third time lucky - Catherine came to the phone. 'You sound sleepy', I said. 'Do I?' she said. Anyway, I invited her to the party and thought no more about it.

The birthday arrived and my friends (or at least girls from school I knew) showed up... and then the Wrong Catherine was dropped off by her mum. She was about the same age as me and she'd brought a birthday present and everything. I told my mother I didn't know her and she told me not to be ridiculous. 'No, seriously - I've never seen her before in my life. I definitely didn't invite her,' I hissed. 

But of course she was the Catherine I'd invited, I'd just invited her by mistake. What's really surprising is back then I still used my real name, which is Lucinda. No one else I knew was called Lucinda. The name was a millstone around my neck (especially when I started at secondary school - being different is never good), which is why these days only my father and the dentist call me Lucinda. So how many blooming Lucindas could the Wrong Catherine possibly know? 

Anyway, my mother dealt with the situation very diplomatically, and encouraged the Wrong Catherine to join in all the games, which the Wrong Catherine obligingly did. Actually, she seemed to be really enjoying herself. I began to think that despite being a mistake, she was probably okay.

Few ten year olds would be seen dead playing those party games today, but back then no one dared question grown ups in charge. Not out loud anyway.  And certainly not my mother. The party started with Picking Up Peas, one of my mother's favourite games, which involved her scattering dried peas all over the house (in advance) and giving everyone a bowl to collect them in. The child who collected the most dried peas won a prize. I always thought that game was annoying, but I guess it kept us all out of her way for at least 15 minutes while she organised the follow up games, like pin the tail on the donkey, murder in the dark and pass the parcel (incidentally, the only prize in pass the parcel was right in the middle - none of that namby pamby packet of sweets in every layer stuff I had to do for my kids).

Before everyone went home we sat down for the birthday tea - which involved the kind of strange sandwiches my mother insisted on making, white triangles filled with cucumber or banana (which had always gone a weird colour by the time we started eating), followed by iced gems (tooth breaking stuff), fairy cakes, chocolate fingers and lastly the birthday cake itself. 

There were no tasty Colin the Caterpillar cakes back then. My mother loved to decorate cakes with royal icing and my birthday isn't that long after Christmas - so the birthday cake was the same solid, leaden fruit cake, and got decorated at the same time. The icing was like rock by January, and the cake (not her forte) underneath was generally burnt to buggery. No one ate it, but when they all left soon afterwards, they'd be handed a party bag (my mother also liked making party bags, beautiful creations in crepe paper), the only thing in it being a slice of the inedible cake. 

Anyway, as the parents turned up to collect their children, I remember the Wrong Catherine's mother asking 'Does Lucinda go to ballet?' and my mother lying through her teeth and saying 'yes, but she hasn't been recently as she's been very ill.' 'Oh that must be it then,' said the Wrong Catherine's mother. 

So I guess at least they did wonder - but afterwards probably never thought to question it again. 

The Right Catherine didn't believe me when I told her why she hadn't been invited, and refused to have anything to do with me afterwards. Worse, she was a popular girl and the other girls sided with her, even though some of them had been at the party. 

Fortunately it wasn't that long before we moved again, and I started at a different school. Looking back now, I think perhaps I invited the right Catherine after all, even if it was by mistake. My mother liked her, and she seemed really okay. I definitely liked the fuzzy felt she brought me. 

And sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction.

Lu Hersey


Nick Garlick said...

What a lovely story. Really lovely.

LuWrites said...

Thank you, Nick!

Eugene said...

So, can I call you Lucinda now? The Wrong Eugene

LuWrites said...

Are you a dentist, Eugene? 😁 Yes you can if you like. Guess these days I'm unlikely to be bullied at school for it...

Mystica said...

Lovely story and made me nostalgic for birthday parties of the past. Nowadays you need a diploma in party making and setting before you could venture on one!

Steve Gladwin said...

My dad was very good with my parties, Lu and especially the treasure hunt, which he would place on bits of card and board all over the house. I remember iced gems and fuzzy felt of course, and a classmate called Andrew Murray gave me a half-crown and my dad saying when I turned my nose up, 'That's probably a lot of money to his family! We had ham and tomato and salmon and egg sandwiches and of course jelly and blachmange and all that, but birthday cake was more likely to be be orange or lemon, or jam and cream, which were my favourite. These days iceing sets my teeth on edge, but I used to love it then. It was all simple and innocent and lovely and thank you for bringing it back.

Susan Mann said...

Aww that’s such a lovely and memorable story from your childhood. I just loved fuzzy felt xxx

Anne Booth said...

What a great story!

Joan Haig said...

This is a top blog post. Just… tops.

Lynne Benton said...

Great story, Lu! Brought back many memories of my childhood birthday parties!

LuWrites said...

Oh thanks everyone - seems like this post brought back memories for quite a few people...💜