Two Little Dickey Birds Sitting on a Wall
One Called Peter, one called Paul
Oh Brother, what a mix up.....
I doubt very much if my parents ever really considered how much my brother and I would be taunted at school when they decided to call us Peter and Paul, but before our ages had reached double figures, I guess we had suffered that annoying little nursery rhyme being chanted at us maybe a thousand times. Still, I guess it wasn't a particularly offensive taunting. (I went to school with a girl called Penny Black who used to be tortured by rude comments about 'licking' and more innocent jibes about being 'priceless'! Some parents can be so unconsciously cruel!)
We were, of course, called Paul and Peter because they were Biblical names. It had nothing at all to do with the nursery rhyme. Indeed, the rhyme has little to do with the story that I am about to relate. It merely serves as a way to introduce you to the names with which my brother and I were christened.
Paul was, and indeed still is, a year and two months older than me, and while I have developed, in adulthood, a great appreciation of his character and sense of humour, as a child, he was the cause of much torment in my sensitive world. Being so close in age, it was inevitable that we should share a bedroom, and in our case we had bunk beds. Being the younger brother, I was given the choice of which bunk to occupy, and I acknowledge now that my choice of the upper bunk was quite definitely a mistake. From his haven below, Paul could get up to all kinds of mischief in the night in his efforts to torment me.
Matresses, in those days long gone by, had cords running through them from one surface to the other. I never understood what their purpose was, but to my mischievous brother they were the means by which he could torture my attempts to sleep. Manys a night, I was at that twilight brink were waking and sleeping are intertwined, only to be abruptly disrupted by the pulling and pinging of those damn cords. I would cry and whinge a bit until he desisted, and just as I again crept towards the solace of sleep, the 'footsie' would begin. Paul would place his feet under my matress and push it up and down so vigorously that I would almost topple from the bunk. When I complained, he insisted that he had to do his nightly exercises. (He was always the sporty type.) It wasn't until I started crying and yelling for Mum or Dad to intervene that he would eventually turn over and go to sleep.
As annoying as these practices were, they were much more bareable that his favourite form of torment. When he was in a particularly vindictive mood, he would start by making soft groans, like the low growl of an animal about to attack. I hated it, but f what frightened me most was that I knew it was just the premble to the inevitable horror that was.... The Green Monster!
Now don't ask me from whence the fictitious character of the Green Monster originated, because I honestly haven't a clue, but to me, he was the epitome of evil, and very probably the cause of a bed-wetting problem that lasted until I was 12.
The groaning would increase in frequency and volume, as I wrapped myself tightly in the sheets and tried to ignore his teasing, but it always led to the same threat. "Here comes the Green Monster! Here comes the Green Monster!" And just like that, I was screaming and jumping out of bed and racing to my parents for comfort and reassurance that I wasn't going to be eaten alive! I don't know if Child-line existed in those days, and if it did, I wasn't aware of it, but if I had been, I most certainly would have contacted them and recommended that my obnoxious big brother be taken aware and forced to suffer the most severe punishment for the anxiety that he had caused me.
In adulthood, I have tried on many occasions to visualise exactly what this phantom Green Monster may have looked like, and the best I have come up with is some kind of cross between Godzilla and the Incredible Hulk. Not at all scary, really, except to a tortured child with a vivid imagination.
Suffice it to say, the Green Monster was very probably the reason why my parents decided that Paul and I would be better off not sharing a room. It was only a few days short of my tenth birthday that the move took place, but let us for a moment slip back to the occasion of my fifth birthday.
Even as a young child, I was very much at one with nature. I had an appreciation of the great outdoors, (our garden!) and a love of animals, a fact that prompted my parents to buy me a budgerigar as a birthday present. I was rapturous in my approval of such a thoughtful gift, and in an act of sheer vanity, insisted that, as it had been presented to me on my birthday, it should be called Peter. Pretty Peter! Paul thought it was a decidedly silly name for a budgie and recommended Polly, but aside from the fact that it was a He bird, the name Polly sounded far too much like Paul for my liking, so Peter it was named. He was my pride and joy.
Alas, then, when the day of his demise came around, which, as fate would have it, occurred only 2 days after I had moved into my own bedroom, and two days before my 10th Birthday.
Mum had discovered the poor creature lying in the bottom of his cage when she arose to make the breakfast. He had obviously breathed his last during the night, and toppled from his perch! Mum, bless her, was not that fond of the creature, but her tears welled up at the thought of having to break the news of his passing to me. Possibly for moral support in dealing with the expected out-pouring of emotion, she decided to waken Paul first and break the news to him.
Well.... sometimes fate is kind, and finds a way of restoring the balance of torture and torment, so that the perpetrator becomes the victim. All the years of provocation that had been inflicted upon me by my big brother were swept away by the devastation that was landed upon him in the moment when my mother shook his bedsheets, with tears in her eyes, and announced...
"Paul. Waken up! Peter is dead!"
I was already half awake, but I sat bolt upright in bed as an explosion of cries and screams emanated from my brothers room. It wasn't until the words had left her lips that she suddenly realised the impact they would have, without more detailed explanation. Next, it was my mother who was wailing, with a mixture of tears and hysterical laughter... "No no, not our Peter... I mean the Budgie.... Peter the Budgie is dead!"
Ok, ok.... I know it's a bit cruel that I can laugh at the shock that Mum inflicted on my poor brother, but hey, I had suffered often enough at his hands, and from that day onwards there was a change in his attitude towards me. Possibly he realised that, despite me being his nerdy little brother, he actually really loved me, and although the incident will forever bring a smile to my face, it warms my heart to think that his anguish was the true reflection of how he regarded me.
Peter the Budgie was buried in a shoebox in our back garden. The service was presided over by my father. Paul huffed throughout the ceremony. My mother observed it, red-faced, from the kitchen window, and I found a hither-to undiscovered acting ability, as I fakied crying to mask the fact that I couldn't stop tittering!
Peter the Budgie. (1963 - 1968) RIP.