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U3A Writing: Numbers

John Ricketts considers some of the numbers which have ruled his life.

In our lives we have many, many numbers. They govern our days and we cannot live without them. Some numbers we remember and some we would like to forget.

Our numbers start the moment we are born. There was a reference in the newspapers to a girl who had been born on at 2.22 on the second of the second 2002. Not all our birthdays are so unusual but we all need to know our birth date because it seems called for on nearly all the official documents we fill in. It makes one wonder how people existed when they didn’t know their birthdays. The registration of births and deaths is a relatively recent phenomenon.

When I lived in Africa there was no compulsion in the registration of births until the Fifties. In an effort to find out the demographic profile of the country teams were sent into the outlying villages. The most recent babies could be put on to the forms and then the hard work started and it started from both ends. With the youngsters the mother were asked questions like: “Did you have your baby before of after such and such and how long before or after?.” The elders of the village were assembled and asked to point out the oldest among them. Then the questioners worked back from there. It took a while but eventually the forms could be filled in from the oldest to the youngest in the village with a very good guess at the ages. Though of course we could not give them birthdays. We found that the very old people exaggerated their ages and if you believed them they were as old as Methuselah.

When I was born in Dudley Road hospital in Birmingham my family was living in Ickneil Street but the address that I remember is 16A Prospect Row to which my family moved when I was very young. I always wondered about the A because the houses on either side were 15 and 17. Maybe the fact that our hose had been extended at the rear and had two staircases, though it was just one house when we lived there, may account for the fact.

When we went from the infants to the junior school we were each given a coathook which we kept till we went to the seniors. WE kept that number for four years, My number was 43 which coincidentally is the number of my house today.

About the same time, another number came into my life, my mothers Co-op number 49826. I think that most people remember their Co-op number which shows how dominant they were before the war and what a lot they must have thrown away when they failed to match the new supermarkets after the war.

When I was 12, I was sent away to school and all my clothes had to be marked with my number - 105. I saw my old trunk at my youngest son’s house recently with the number clearly visible after 53 years.

I wonder how many of you remember the number you were given for your identity card. Mine was LW975805C which is still used for my pension.

Another number one never forgets is the service number. 3058728. When we went up the table to receive our pay, we had to salute and say the last three numbers and your name. 728 Rickets and hold out your hand for the 28 shillings which was a fortnight’s pay.

I have always thought that the people who get special car numbers are fools. I once had a registration number X123 which sounded made up and I was stopped by the police on many occasions so that they could find out where the number came from.

Finally the number which haunts me is my lottery number. I was foolish enough to start buying the same number every week and now I am sure that if I miss a week my numbers will come up. So if you hear the numbers 3, 17, 21, 27, 38 & 43 you can be certain that I haven’t bought a ticket that week.

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