Monday, September 23, 2013

I'm a Saint Sylvester baby

My son François Skyvington was conceived (so it appears) at the height of the summer of 1968 in a magnificent corner of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in the vicinity of Sommières: the village of Lawrence Durrell [display]. Then he was born in Brittany on 30 May 1979, at the time that NASA was making final preparations to send astronauts to the Moon. I once took the liberty of referring to my son as a "Breton moon child" [display], but he may not have appreciated my poetic touch.

Let's talk about my own date of birth. How come that I happened to be born on 24 September? I've written already—in my ongoing memoir entitled Warm Days Down Under—about this momentous event.
My mother’s eldest brother, Eric Walker, liked to point out in his typical loudspoken manner that my parents had conceived me under Bawden’s Bridge, on the Glen Innes Road to the west of Grafton, about twenty kilometers beyond the Walker home at Waterview. He never described the precise circumstances in which he had acquired that trivial piece of knowledge, but I imagine him lurking behind a tree and watching the lovemaking from a distance. Be that as it may, I could never understand why he seemed to take pleasure in shouting out this information every now and again, with a self-satisfied smirk, as if it were a scoop that he had obtained with difficulty. I can imagine a scenario in which Eric (a 29-year-old bachelor nicknamed “Farmer”) had accompanied his 21-year-old sister Kath (my future mother) and her 22-year-old boyfriend Bill Skyvington (my future father) on an excursion to Bawden’s Bridge. Counting nine months backwards from my date of birth, I deduce that the excursion must have taken place around Christmas 1939. Maybe the trip to Bawden’s Bridge was a family outing on the warm afternoon following the traditional midday Christmas dinner of spiced roast chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, steamed pudding and bottled lager. It is perfectly plausible that my future parents, inspired by the balmy atmosphere on the banks of the splendid Orara River, decided to find a secluded shady spot under the lofty span of the bridge where they could make love. Did they realize that Kath’s big brother Eric was spying on them? I shall never know. In any case, Eric was probably not accustomed to seeing live demonstrations of human sexual activities in the environment of the dairy farm at Waterview, and this chance happening starring his young sister must have impressed him greatly.

If anybody were to ask me what I thought of my parents’ choice of Bawden’s Bridge as a place to conceive me, I would say that it was a fine decision. But they surely did no explicit choosing. The sultry atmosphere and their passion took charge of the affair.

An article in this morning's French press [display] has shed light upon the logic of my date of birth.

Needless to say, I'm delighted to learn that serious researchers are still investigating this question. Here's my translation of the opening lines of this article:
During the final fortnight of September, maternity clinics record a boom of births when compared to the rest of the year. These babies were conceived during the night of New Year's Eve. Specialists in demography speak of the Saint Sylvester syndrome. Every year, starting on 23 September and extending over two weeks, maternity clinics record a daily exceedance of 300 to 500 births with respect to the rest of the calendar.
Laurent Toulemon, researcher at the French government INED institution [Institut National des Etudes Démographiques], explains this phenomenon as follows:
The period between Christmas and the New Year is both a moment of euphoria for couples in love and a period of intense cultural festivity. Consequently, contraceptive behavior is at a low ebb. Obviously, we have no way of knowing to what extent a fecundity during this period was, or was not, accidental. But many parents confirm that they did in fact hope to create a baby during this period.
In other words, this high-level French research suggests that the pregnancy of my dear mother Kathleen Walker [1918-2003] was surely more than a vulgar accident. So, I'm happy to consider myself as a greatly-desired first offspring. WTF! On the other hand, I'm obliged to admit that Mum and Dad didn't actually get married until a month later, on Australia Day, 26 January 1940. Was the choice of that date an exceptional demonstration of patriotism, or did it rather reflect the initial absence of Kath's menstruation? I like to think it's a bit of both.


  1. I had a giggle at the time lapse between conception and birth of François. Must be a record!

  2. apologies. I got confused with the north and southern hemisphere seasons...that and i failed maths at school, so you can have a giggle for my part.