Not being disparaging about Shirley Temple, of course, but interested in the era (my long ago childhood era) when children, even the most lacking in talent, were expected to have something to contribute to a social gathering. A party piece. A performance to make Mummy and Daddy proud. A miniscule demonstration of some sort of skill or even talent to impress visitors.
I was reminded of this by a friend's recollection. At the age of two and a half he was trained to spell Czechoslovakia. Then I remembered that I was told I could say 'Antidisestablishmentarianism' while I was still in nappies.
Why on earth were such achievements considered desirable, useful, attractive or anything other than dotty?
As a parent my priority would certainly have been on house-training rather than antidisestablishmentarianism, but I suppose I can still say it, and he can still spell Czechoslovakia, so the training must have done something to our respective infant brains, even if it wasn't terribly useful in the following seventy plus years.
The party piece was often a poem or a song, a hesitant tinkling on the piano or, even worse, the latest practice piece on a stringed instrument. The party wasn't a party at all, but a gathering of adults, sitting around, as uncomfortable as the performing child. An ordeal for all concerned, and a great sense of relief when it was over.
All this happened in the days before television, of course. The days when adults also sang and played musical instruments at home in the evenings. Everyone had some sort of party piece, even if it was only an uncle who could make his finger-joints crack like castanets.
There were expectations of all of us
Then I remember the emphasis on learning by heart throughout the education system in those distant years. Multiplication tables, hymns and psalms, poems and, at grammar school, great chunks of Keats and Milton and Shakespeare. And I can still do lots of those, too.
And much of the imprinted poetry remains with me, safely in my head, and comes to life at times of stress, sadness and happiness. Great words remain for life, and I think they are not Czechoslovakia and antidisestablismentarianism.
But then I realise, oh.....actually, they are!