Saturday, October 22, 2011

Where did I come from?

Earlier this year I was at the picture framers, having my Christmas present from Adrienne put in a frame suitable for hanging at work. The woman who took my order made some observations about the unusual nature of the name "Stan", and was it a family name (it isn't), and did I know how it came about. (Generously, she also told me a story about the appearance of the name "Stan" in her own family, although I hadn't asked her to and, on balance, would probably rather she had just measured up the picture and given me a price.) I kind of shrugged and made the sort of noncommittal noises one makes when one isn't the kind of person who likes talking to complete strangers, particularly in a business or commercial setting, about personal matters.

As it turns out, I do know something about how I got to be Stan. There is a long answer and a short answer. The short answer is that my mother said to my father, "Call him whatever you like, just as long as it's not Arthur." (I probably wouldn't have minded being "Art", or "Artie", but I'm sure I would have been given even more hell at school than I was actually given; "Stan" doesn't carry a lot of baggage that country high school kids could readily latch onto and throw back at you. It's not common, but on the other hand it's also not a signifier like, say, "Adolf".)

The longer answer gets to the same punch line, but by a more circuitous, although not necessarily scenic, route. It is a tale that was related by my cousin Max (at my mother's direction) at my 21st birthday. I was only half listening then (or, more likely, I was listening but in a state of extreme self-consciousness on account of its being about me, thus causing the story to drift into one ear, pass straight through and out the other side, leaving little or no trace), and I have since lost the piece of paper which had most of the story sketched out on it, and my 21st birthday is a generation ago now, and neither of my parents have been around for a long, long time, making it impossible for me to seek clarification of the details. But, from what I do remember, it is kind of a good story. And what does it really matter if it is not 100 per cent fact?

According to Wikipedia, nothing interesting happened on Sunday, 3 May 1964. And yet there I was, at Foster Hospital, preparing to make my big entrance into the world. Trouble was, my position was such that I was folded around on myself, like a piece of tiny human origami, so that every time I moved I kicked myself in the head. (This perhaps explains some things.) Medical facilities in a small country hospital at that time being, it is fair to assume, somewhat rudimentary, my mother's doctor, having decided that I probably wasn't coming out that way any time soon, or not alive, anyway, determined that there was nothing for it but to send her (and the incipient me) to Melbourne, a two-hour drive away.

At this point, a number of "degree of difficulty" factors presented themselves. The regular ambulance driver was on holiday. The relief driver had a heart condition. The ambulance had a heart condition of its own, namely a failing battery. It also had a non-functioning radio. Oh, and its siren didn't work. Nevertheless, our mercy dash seems to have gone smoothly, until the driver went to turn onto Swanston Street, in order to take us across the city and thence to St Vincent's Hospital. The good people at Foster had rung ahead to advise of our mission, and arrangements had been made to close Swanston Street to ease our passage through the city. Unfortunately, on account of there being no working radio on board, there was no way of communicating this to the driver, who, entirely understandably, thought, "Crikey" (or words to that effect), "the flamin' road's closed. What do I do now?", thus putting unnecessary strain on his already strained ticker, and adding valuable minutes, or tens of minutes, to our trip as he sped off up Flinders Street to find another way through, along roads that would have been more congested than they would normally have been, given the closure of Swanston Street (my fault; everything has always been my fault), and unable to alert other drivers of the urgency of his mission, given the lack of a siren. (In the interests of verisimilitude I should point out that all of this isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds; the events in this story took place many years before there were any signs of life to be found in the city on a Sunday afternoon, aside from the destitute and those travelling from one side of Melbourne to the other.)

At the end of this ordeal, the ambulance arrived at St Vincent's, only to find (there must always be one further complication in a story like this) that the maternity ward turned out to be on the other side of Victoria Street from the rest of the hospital. Well, this wasn't anything that a speedy U-turn couldn't fix, of course, and by that stage our driver must have thought he was a cardiologically challenged Evel Knievel. (I can only hope his trip back to Foster was less eventful.)

I, after all that, was born. My spine has been slightly twisted in a couple of places ever since, and I required two blood transfusions (all I know is that my mother once told me they weren't for "the usual reason", whatever that may have been), but in any event I survived. As did my mother, somewhat against the odds. At some point, after I had been taken away and mum had emerged from whatever sedation she had needed (if any; I have always assumed she had passed out somewhere along the way), my father said to her, "What are we going to call him?", to which she replied, "Call him whatever you like, just as long as it's not Arthur." At which point my mother fell asleep for a long, long time. (Three days later, she looked at the nurse and said, "Do you think I could see the baby?" It would appear that that minor detail was overlooked in all of the other excitement.)

And so it was that I became "Stanley".

(My middle name, "Bruce", on the other hand, has always been a bit perplexing. Could there be any good reason for naming your first (and, as things turned out, only) child after Sir Stanley Melbourne Bruce, the man who was, at that time, the only sitting Prime Minister to have lost his seat at an election? (As readers with long enough memories will know, this is no longer the case, which alleviates me from that particular burden, but also kind of proves the point: can you imagine Mr and Mrs Smith calling their little boy "John Howard Smith"? Well, I suppose there would have to be somebody, somewhere. There always is.) I imagine that in my case it was simply a matter of innocent and probably subconscious word association. The world will never know.)