‘I did not realise at the time I recorded it that as one grows older events that took place a long time ago are more vivid and more easily recalled than what happened last week or six months ago.’ (preface. np)
Writing in her preface Kathleen M Lindley foreshadows the beautiful and intricate role memory plays as she accounts her fascinating childhood. Throughout her memoir ‘A time to be born’, Kathleen describes memories, events and significant moments with such detail and description it is hard to imagine that these events took place many moons ago.
Born in England in 1920 her mother was an apprentice dress maker and her father was an army man who successfully climbed the ladder. From Kathleen’s parents occupations it appears they came from a respectable working-class background, and her father’s involvement and progression within the army allowed them to move up the social scale within society.
Kathleen begins her memoir with one of her earliest memories of her childhood spent in Hong Kong. From this opening chapter there is a clear distinction between Kathleen and many of the other working-class writers as she introduces us to servants within her upbringing. We are introduced to Amah who stayed and worked for Kathleen’s family during their time in Hong Kong. When it was time for Kathleen to leave Hong Kong, she had ‘not been told that Amah would not be coming with us, and in fact did not realise this until we had sailed, I cried bitterly…’ (12). Kathleen had a clear bond with Amah and was upset to leave her behind. Kathleen discusses her profound and touching relationship with Amah in detail as she recalls her childhood, this will be explored in greater depth within later blogs to understand class relations. Kathleen’s opening chapter takes us on a journey through Hong Kong, not only geographically but culturally as she vividly depicts famous monuments and traditions.
Kathleen discusses her family throughout the memoir suggesting her high family values and their close bond. She describes her parents’ marriage and the love they shared throughout, something she herself always strived towards. She describes her relationship with her elder brother and sister who are much older than her, as a conventional sibling relationship with many fights but nonetheless her sister Betty, was her greatest playmate.
Kathleen does not shy away from providing us with a description of her childhood personality traits, describing herself as a shy and nervous individual with a great fear of the dark! It was this nervousness that made Kathleen often the butt of many family jokes.
With a mother who was always keen to explore and travel it is not surprising to find Kathleen similarly intrigued and excited by what new adventures lay in the countries she would visit being part of an army family. She takes us from her time spent Hong Kong to her brief years in Chester, England and summers in the Isle of Wight, to her voyage and time in India. Every location left an impression on Kathleen and it is difficult when reading her memoir to not become jealous of all the things she got to experience in her childhood alone.
Kathleen’s eventful and exciting memoir comes to a devastating end in 1932 with the paralysing death of her father quickly and suddenly. Her father was an intriguing character throughout, a man with great zeal for life and high family values, it is hard to not share in Kathleen’s heartbreak. Kathleen poignantly notes her father’s death as the ‘end of her childhood’ (98). A sad quote for a twelve-year-old.
Lindley, Kathleen M: ‘A time to be born’ Typescript. 98pp 1976, Brunel University Library.