Nameless Souls on Sepia

They were just nameless souls on sepia, staring out seemingly into space:  a peer into a time long since past and now, not often remembered with any degree of regularity. With its jagged edges, it was evident that part of the photograph had been torn away, why is a mystery. Someone in the family, though I cannot recall who, had once mentioned that there had been a rift within the family back in the days when they used to gather at the beautiful hill station of Mussoorie, when escaping the harrowing heat of the city. That was as much as was known. There was no accompanying documentation and nothing written down to suggest who the people in the picture may have been. That they were ancestors seemed a little more than likely. The photograph depicted a wedding scene. Three people remained in the frame. Two seated and one standing or rather two standing but as one had been unceremoniously decapitated he could not be counted. He could have been anyone. The bride wore a lavish wedding gown of lace with what appeared to be a full layered veil laid lightly and carefully, so as not to interfere with her elegant upswept hair which was so fashionable in the early 1900s. Seated beside her was an older man with a head of thick snow white wavy hair, and sporting a long white beard: a little like Santa Claus in a suit. Beneath the hairy façade was a man not unlike my father. In fact, but for the beard it could have been my father sitting beside the bride.  It was the eyes that gave it away. They were the same eyes that had watched over me all my life. Only my father’s eyes had seen different things to those of the apparently stoic figure of the man pictured here. Their worlds were far apart but their narrative of origin was one and the same.

Aunty Paddy had been a gifted and animated storyteller who had a penchant for making colourless characters come to life. She would captivate us with stories of heroes, heroines and travellers tales. “Children….are you listening carefully?” would be our queue to gather round to hear how our ancestors had sailed across oceans in search of fame and fortune. The story told so eloquently and consistently by Aunty Paddy, revealed that long ago when great vessels with billowing sails ruled the waves, travelling the trade routes carrying spices, silks and other luxury commodities, and when George III was King; two or possibly three brothers had set sail from bonny Scotland for the far off and exotic land of India. One of them or maybe all of them had been seduced by what the East had to offer, fallen madly in love with and married an Indian princess, and lived out his days happily ever after in India. This was perhaps a rather romanticised account but this was how the story had been told and retold. One brother had perhaps been a doctor, one a sea captain and the third, if indeed there was a third could have been anything Paddy decided him to be. Such is the power of the narrator. The stories were most likely a mixture of myth and reality but to us as children they were fact rather than fiction, impressing upon our imagination that we were indelibly connected to this mysterious and mystical other world, where gods were more than one, and princes were one and many; a world that had captured the hearts and souls of our forefathers and that was forever in our blood.

Shared experiences, cultures, customs and habits all go some way to forging our identities. What we are told as children often stays with us as adults. However, there are other commonalities that can engender an inherent sense of identity and belonging, such as the idea of shared stories and myths. There is no hard definition of myth. Myth is sometimes seen as being synonymous with fantasy and fairy stories, and little to do with fact. The notion of myth often conjures up images of superheroes and superhuman beings that create an idealised view of where we come from, therefore adding to our sense of worth. To us, these pioneers were real life superheroes; they represented the true to life fodder of fairy tales and fiction, that filled our minds with the machinations of an ‘Other’ world. 

Linking myth to the narrative form is relevant, especially when considering Anglo-Indian narratives of origin because their change in circumstances, and the transitions they underwent in adapting to a colonial and a post colonial era both in Indian and in British society is shrouded with princesses both real and imagined. Of particular interest is what has become known as the princess myth which seems to circulate in many Anglo-Indian families. The myth suggests the presence of a noble ancestral connection and more specifically an Indian princess. What is of importance is why this myth has been created and the reason why some families lay claim to a princess in their midst.

Aunty Paddy’s version of events is echoed in a letter dated 19th December 2004 written by Marjorie Williams to her niece;

     …thank you so much for sending me a copy of the family tree…It’s very interesting that so many Howatsons lived in India. Where does the Scottish side come in? I suppose Thomas Howatson who was originally married to (an Indian Princess)? So I heard. My story was that two brothers, Thomas and George set sail from Scotland – one a doctor and the other a sailor or captain of a ship. I can’t tell you where I got this story from – maybe Paddy…

The letter demonstrates firstly, that we find our narratives of origin appealing at any age. Marjorie Williams was 81 when she wrote the letter. She is unable to remember where she got the story from, ‘…maybe Paddy’ she asserts. Paddy was her elder sister who had died some years earlier and who it is purported knew more about the history of the family than anyone else. When Paddy past away, so too did much of the family narrative.

In addition the letter typifies the element of the ‘Indian princess’ myth that circulates in many Anglo-Indian families. Marjorie Williams is Anglo-Indian. Her father was Hugh William Howatson born in Calcutta, India, in 1886, habitually resident in India until about 1900 when he was sent to Britain to finish his education and later to follow a successful career in medicine. It was in Scotland that he met, fell in love with and married his own princess. His princess was Annie. It was close to one hundred years earlier, when Hugh William’s great grandfather Thomas Howatson had set sail for India. What Thomas would have thought of the Britain that his great grandson Hugh returned to can only be guessed at. It is known that following an irregular marriage in Glasgow, Hugh and Annie journeyed to India and travelled about with their young family for a few years, only to return permanently to Britain later. The reasons for their movements between these two great lands, is unknown. The Diaspora to other lands following partition and independence is well documented but what of those who returned to the fatherland beforehand. What are their stories? Our sense of ‘self’ is governed by what is going on the world and is in a constant state of flux. 

It is only by telling our stories and passing them on to our children that we can preserve the memories and myths of past lives. Many stories are passed down between one generation and another, while other stories remain untold and are lost forever. So next time, when you are gathered cosily around the dining table after a sumptuous Sunday lunch as is quite common among families, laughing at the crazy antics of dad’s schooldays,  finding out about grandma’s culinary gifts or hearing of an aunt’s penchant for telling tales, take note and listen very carefully to the snippets and anecdotes of your elders for these are your stories, your narratives of origin: savour every word and share!

© Liola Lee 2010

This was a piece I wrote a few years back. I was lucky enough to have its included in a lovely Anthology titled ‘More Voices on the Verandah’ which was the final in a series of works by Anglo-Indians and those of Anglo-Indian descent. The Anthology is available still and is edited by Lionel Lumb

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Hugh’s Story

Hugh Montgomery Howatson 11/04/1923 – 29/12/2013 ‘ A man who inspired…’

Hugh was a truly amazing Man, and a beautiful human being! He was good, he was kind, he was patient, he was intelligent, and he always offered encouragement even when the odds were stacked against you! He epitomised Strength and Gentility! At the beginning of World War II he played his part by becoming an ARP Warden (Air Raid Patrol). Then as soon as he reached 18 he enlisted and joined the RAF, and was attached to 294 Squadron as a WAG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) in Air Sea Rescue. He was just a boy at the start of the War but had strong values and believed in doing his duty by his country and his family, and fought for the continued freedom of his fellow countrymen and women. Joining the War Effort was just par for the course. While serving King and Country Hugh demonstrated a skill for languages, and during the war years mastered fluent French, German and Arabic. He was a very talented man. He attained a Degree in Chemistry with the University of London as an external student, and later became a Research Chemist by Profession, a job which he stayed in until he retired. He was a devoted family man being a wonderful Husband, brilliant Dad, loving Brother, Uncle, Grandfather, Great Grandfather and friend! He worked hard all his life and always paid his dues. He had always been a healthy man, and always looked much younger than his years. He never ever complained about anything, least of all his health, and just got on with Life. He believed that if a job was worth doing it was worth doing well and to the best of your ability. He had many hobbies and interests. He was a brilliant Photographer, an avid reader, an exceptional craftsman with wood, making his own beautiful items and restoring antiques. He used to enjoy making his own wine. He would always tell us to follow our heart and our dreams!  He passed on his love of learning and his many gifts to all of us. We are all better human beings for having had the honour and privilege of being a part of him. Getting mixed dementia was not on the agenda. You always think things like Dementia and Alzheimers happen to other people, and other families! When it comes, it can be a gradual process, and even go unnoticed for a long time. But when it takes a grip it does n’t let go! Each day bit by bit the person you love is taken from you until they no longer know who you are or even who they are. There are drugs that are currently used but in all honesty they fall far short of doing anything that really helps. Resources are limited to say the least! Much more Research is needed to explore this soul destroying illness in its many guises. 

This story is Hugh’s story but it could be anybody’s story. Alzheimers/Dementia does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, male or female and not always when elderly. It’s a cruel, unforgiving and soul destroying illness which lays claim to an individual bit by bit chipping away relentlessly until a person is just a shadow of their former and vital self. Families are heartbroken as they watch their loved ones die, and then when physical death occurs they lose their loved one all over again. When Hugh was in hospital he shared his part of the ward with Bertie, Terence and Tony. All had Alzheimers/Dementia in one form or another. This illness is on the increase! A former Global Summit said we need to do something! So let’s do something  and raise awareness to find a way forward.  No one knows what the future holds until it happens. Let’s make it a future free from Alzheimers/Dementia!

© Liola Lee 2014

It is five years today since our beautiful Daddy passed away from this World to the next. I originally wrote this piece in 2014 when I set up a charity page in his memory. It was about raising much needed funds for research, the message remains relative and of course to raise awareness. The page is no longer running but the message remains as important today as back then I am posting this article here in his memory and in memory of all those who have suffered from Alzheimer’s/Dementia and of course for all their loved ones…

Today is the day ~ Glad

Today is the day when I shall focus on being glad. This is easier said than done as I am sitting here in my dining room, organising the wage run for our subcontractors, which if I am to be honest does not make me glad. The recent recession has meant that each Friday I have to practice my circus skills as a juggler, and rob Peter to pay Paul so for that reason I am not glad but if I am to practice being glad about other things I am sure I can manage that.

I am glad I have a roof over my head, and I am glad that I am in good health which is always something that one should be glad about. I am trying to think what else I can be glad about today. Well, the sun is shining and I have managed to pay everyone, and so far nobody has annoyed me. Mind you it is still early, and my daughter has yet to arise from her bed, and as on most mornings she is likely to get up on the wrong side of the bed and be grumpy. It is 8.30 on a beautifully sunny morning on the 21st May 2010, and by now you will most likely have come to the conclusion that my daughter is not an early bird who catches the worm, although on the subject of worms, the wriggly ones which can be found in the garden, and not the type that you catch from animals where you need to be wormed, I can recall a time when my daughter was four, and used to subject me to worm patrol on the way to nursery. You may by now be wondering what exactly is worm patrol? Let me explain. 

In order for worm patrol to take place, there had to be wet conditions. It had to have been raining overnight so that next morning worms would be out and about, worming along on their daily business which tended to be winding along the pathway through the park. The walk to nursery was always an eventful time as four year olds tend to be curious little things, and for most of the time rather sweet. Back then my daughter was a morning person, still in awe of the world around her and saving worms from hungry birds was the order of the day. At that time I was temping for Lewisham Council as a cashier. I would drop my daughter off at nursery, and then run to catch the number 75 bus. I was late most days, only by minutes but nevertheless late, and the head cashier would let me know it by looking up at the clock as I walked in, and then at his watch. He never said a word but the look on his face said it all. I always just said that the bus was late again. After all how could I explain that I was assisting on worm patrol. The things we do for our children, and the trouble we get in to for them!  Back then there was not even the slightest inkling that my darling daughter, saviour of worms would evolve into a tempestuous teenager as most children eventually do. That said, I am glad that we shared such times, so yes today I shall focus on being glad for the times I shared with my daughter when we were on worm patrol and be proud that I too was instrumental in the saving of worms. 

What else shall I be glad about today? 

Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…

© Liola Lee 2010

Memoirs ~ Class 9, 2 Davids, Isle of Wight & a smack

In numerology nine is the number of completion and so it was I completed my primary school years in class nine. There were three classes at the top end of the school; classes nine, ten and eleven. I was in class nine taught by Mrs Shelbrook formerly Miss Marcham, my favourite teacher. Class ten was taught by Mr Orford who I think was a hippy or new ageist in the making or something that came close to either. He used to play guitar and sing, had longer hair than the other male teachers and a long shaggy beard, both brown. In my book that made him a hippy or at least it did in my eleven year old eyes. In reality he was probably just a man who enjoyed sporting a beard. As a child, I was always thinking about the whys and wherefores of things, and coming to my own conclusions as do we all but children see things in a different light to adults. The funny thing about Mr Orford was that his own children attended the free school further down the road in Kirkdale, towards Cobbs Corner. The free school looked like it might have been fun, at least that is how I perceived it. Every time you went past, there were children looking scruffy, carefree and happy, I mean really happy! You always heard laughter coming from the free school. Perhaps Mr Orford taught at Kelvin Grove to pay the bills. Finally, there was class eleven which was Mr Phenong’s class. Mr Phenong was scary, I mean really scary!. He was Chinese or appeared to be from that part of the world. He was tall and he took no nonsense. His was the quietest class in the school. You never heard any commotion from his class. I was glad I was not in his class. His class was at the top of the cast iron steps in the old Victorian building. I was always so happy that I never had to ascend those steps  into Mr Phenongs domain. Class nine and class ten were based in the new pre-fabricated huts that were built a little distance away from the main school building. When I think of the huts in my minds eye, I see the colour yellow. They were light and airy, a far cry from the old Victorian classes that I had been accustomed to. When I see those classrooms I see the colours red and brown, lots of glass, really high ceilings and dark corridors. 

Class nine probably made more of an impression on me than any other class at Kelvin Grove. I was growing up and everything was preparing us for secondary school. I had pretty much stuck with the same group through school. The group consisted of Ruth, Angela, Debbie, Ken who joined the school later than the rest of us but fitted in with us all, as if he had always been one of us, and then of course there was David. We all sat on one desk. The others in the group were Perry, Tina, Dawn, and Lillian who sat on other desks but were equally part of the group. 

At playtime the boys would chase the girls, the girls would squeal as young girls have a tendency to do if they were caught, and then they would run away again only to be chased and caught again. That’s just how the game went. It seemed the girls had the most fun, or maybe we were typically stereotypical for  that period of time with the boys being the hunters and the girls being chased. We were all in the first flush of youth approaching puberty but not quite there yet, and so were still enjoying the freedom associated with childhood. A couple of the girls had paired off with a couple of the boys, Ruth and David and Tina and Perry. The funny thing is that all the girls in the class had a crush on David . Whether he knew it or not is a mystery. I kept my feelings on that score to myself. It was a secret crush that had he have known I would have died of embarrassment. I remember wearing a David Cassidy t-shirt one day for PE and David  telling me that it really suited me. I am sure I blushed brilliantly but was thrilled, as him commenting meant that he had noticed me. I wasn’t invisible after all. That was as far as my relationship with David went. It was innocently sweet. 

These children were such an integral part of my junior school years,  and yet secondary school saw us all separated and going off in different directions on our next phase of life. All us girls went on to Sydenham County School for girls, and the boys went to Dacres Road, which was actually Forest Hill Boys School. Even though us girls were in the same school we were split into other groups, our new groups. That’s how life often goes with us going from one group to another as we travel through life on our journey with destination unknown. I only ever saw David (not Cassidy) once more in my life, and that was years later when I was working in the local record shop Treble Clef. Working at Treble Clef was my Saturday and holiday job. It was poorly paid at just £5 for the entire day but I loved it. I got to listen to music all day, and for the most part I got to choose the music. It did not seem like work at all. I never went home with any money as I spent it all on records. Anyway, it was here I last saw David. He was with who I presume was his girlfriend. Strangely she reminded me of me with her dark curly hair and bright eyes. David had not really changed much but I no longer had butterflies in my tummy when I saw him.  I never knew what became of him after that.

Class nine was a good class to be in apart from when we had Mr Hog (what a name! Is n’t hog another name for pig?). Mr Hog was a supply teacher who covered for Mrs Shelbrook when she was away. He had a red face and had straight oiled hair with a side parting that was slicked back and stuck flat to his head. I have a feeling he was Welsh but could be mistaken. His mouth was crooked as were his teeth that were stained dark yellow bordering on green.  It’s strange how we can see people so clearly, and in so much detail even though it was such a long time ago. If I were to annotate any colours to him it would be red because of his ruddiness, and green because of the various greens of his clothes which seemed to be muted together in a mass of coarse fabrics that sat awkwardly on his sturdy frame..  He wore thick glasses and had spiteful eyes. He was quite stocky, not fat but solid. He took a dislike to our class who were by this time quite well behaved as we had the greatest amount of respect for Mrs Shelbrook. One afternoon he was teaching, and said something that the class found funny. There were sniggers all around but the person who was more obvious, and louder than the others was David. He was just ten or eleven and had n’t done anything terrible but the teacher had other ideas, clearly felt belittled and wanted someone to pay. Mr Hog went up behind David and I am sure  if my memory serves me right, thumped him hard in his back. It must have hurt terribly, as well as feeling humiliated. David’s face reddened to a deep crimson. I am sure he reacted by running from the classroom as a way of escaping such a traumatic situation, although I am not altogether certain. We remember things to suit our own perception of events and situations. 

David  was n’t the only David in my life and he was n’t to be my last.  I secretly admired David, he was decent boy with a head of fabulous brown curls. I was also a fan of David Cassidy who had a string of chart hits in the 1970s including Could it be forever; How can I be sure and Breaking up is hard to do. Maureen, my older sister knew that I liked David Cassidy and that he was my favourite pop star but that did n’t stop her from going to his concert. Maureen was four years older than me and was allowed to go to concerts with her friends. While she was at the concert she even bought a David Cassidy pillow case and pendant. I ended up with a t-shirt, although I am sure she wore it a few times before letting me have it. Maureen was so lucky to be allowed to go to concerts. I was just too young at the time. 

Now that we were in our final year at Primary School it meant that we could go on the annual school journey to the Isle of Wight. The school journey was to be both educational and fun, and like the other children I couldn’t wait to go. We were only to be away from home and school for a week, which before we went did n’t seem that long a time but when we were actually there it seemed an eternity and I was horribly home sick.. The teachers that were to accompany us on school journey were Mrs Tuppenden and Mrs Shelbrook who were both teachers, and Mrs Atkins who was actually a lunchtime supervisor who kept an eye on us at dinnertime, and made sure that we ate our school dinner. If there were any other teachers on the trip I don’t recall. I remember much of that journey, not the actual travelling which was by coach and ferry but the actual trip itself. We stayed in chalets in San-down, four to a chalet on bunk beds I think, although I don’t remember if I took the top bunk or the bottom bunk. At night time on that first day we were to bathe and clean ourselves. I soon realised that mummy and daddy had forgotten to pack a flannel. I told the teacher and was given a J-cloth as a substitute. An adult would simply see that as improvisation. That would have been fine but a couple of girls in class eleven had overheard my dilemma, and for the rest of the holiday repeatedly sang the song from the J-cloth advert. I tried to laugh it off but it seriously got on my nerves in the end. They just didn’t know when enough was enough. So that was the first thing on the trip that got me down. 

Being homesick I wished that I was back at home but there was nothing I could do. I would just have to hope that the days went by quickly. Being on the Isle of Wight we made various trips to the beach. Allum Bay was one place where we went because of the variety of coloured sand. As children we were encouraged to play and run around to work off our excess energy. I remember Mrs Tuppenden and Mrs Atkins lifting me by my hands and feet and mockingly acting as though they would hurl me into the sea. I struggled, screamed and cried, and got quite aggressive, threatening that I would tell my dad and that they’d be sorry. They were just playing but I didn’t like that game, and felt scared. I did tell my dad when I got home but he could see that no harm was intended, and said that I was far too sensitive and should n’t take everything to heart. 

On the trip we would all eat our breakfast together. My favourite breakfast was Kellogg’s cornflakes with a rather large sprinkling of sugar. After breakfast we were told what we would be doing and where we would be visiting that day. One particular excursion that I remember only too well was a daytrip to Carisbrook Castle. Now, either on the estate or maybe on route to the estate we went to visit a windmill. Before entering we were told not to touch anything as it was very old. I obviously either did n’t hear that point or maybe switched off and chose to ignore it. It does n’t matter as the result would have been the same. I touched when I should n’t have touched. What it was I touched I could n’t even now say, some sort of cog I think. What I remember is how much my leg stung as Mrs Shelbrook’s hand came hard across the back of my leg. There was no warning, it just happened spontaneously. Suddenly, my favourite teacher was no longer my favourite teacher, and I was no longer the good girl I had always strived to be. Not only did the smack sting but my pride was in pieces. I never saw Mrs Shelbrook in the same light after that, and I never touched anything that said don’t touch again. With that in mind, it’s true how they say history repeats itself, and that each person can only learn from their own mistakes. Two years later on the same school trip, while on the same excursion my younger sister got smacked by the same teacher for doing the same thing, in exactly the same spot. 

One of my friends on the trip was Linda. Linda was only in my life briefly, and for a short time we were good friends. Linda was an only child, and lived on the Hillcrest Estate, known to us also as the flats at the back because they were situated down beyond the Orange Moon at the rear of our houses in Hillcrest Road. Linda had dark brown hair and sky blue eyes, and was confident and self-assured. I wanted to be like Linda. Linda lived with her mum and her dad when he came home on leave. Linda’s dad was a soldier. Linda’s   mum drove a bight red convertible MG Spitfire. Linda’s mum wore her shoulder length blond hair in a flick. Linda’s mum was young and fashionable and did n’t look like a mum at all at least not in my eyes. 

Once during that brief time that Linda was a part of my life, I was invited to stay over at Linda’s for the night. I had never slept away from home before, and I am sure my parents had reservations as sleepovers were not the done thing back then but I managed to persuade them that I would be fine, reminding them that I really was n’t going very far. I had to sleep with Linda in her bed. The only recollection I have of that sleepover was her mum asking what drink we’d like to have on the bedside in case we should become thirsty in the night. Linda chose orange juice and I chose milk; milk was a bad choice as it curdled over night. To this day I have never left milk out overnight. You learn all sorts of things from the people you meet in life; sometimes we learn simple things and at other times not so simple things. 

Linda went out of my life as quickly as she had come into it. Where she went I don’t know. I never saw her or heard from her again. Linda was just one of many people I befriended or who befriended me during my life, and who made a lasting impression on me. They say that people come into your life for all manner of reasons so that we can learn something from them or vice versa. Sometimes we see the lesson immediately, and sometimes we don’t see it at all. Perhaps it was Linda’s parents who were learning something from me being with Linda. Perhaps they went on to have another child so that Linda would have a playmate and companion. Of course this is just conjecture but it is a possibility.

Memoirs ~ Head Sore

Class six proved as ineffectual educationally as class four. I don’t really remember learning that much in either class, as most of the time the teacher was shouting at the class trying to gain control. It was a losing battle for the teacher most of the time. She was soft, and the kids knew it! Miss Lawrie mentioned previously, was far too nice to be teaching at Kelvin Grove. She might have been safer teaching the infants! What her memories of Kelvin Grove Junior School must be, can only be guessed at but it is my guess that when she left, it was like being set free from a horrible period of punishment.  

At this time in educational establishments boys were still given the cane if they were really naughty. I often remember taking the register up to the Head Teacher’s office, and seeing a queue of boys sitting outside waiting to be caned. It was just accepted as the norm. I was glad I was a girl at such times as boys really did seem to have a much harder time at school. Mind you, I always felt that they shouldn’t be naughty then. Whether the punishment fitted the crimes committed is debateable. 

One day, a day like any other at Kelvin Grove but not like any day I had ever had Miss Lawrie left the classroom, a common occurrence, to fetch assistance from another teacher to help calm the class down as it was beyond her skills to achieve this. While she was away from the classroom a boy named Paul took a ball of hardened plastacine and hurled it hard at the windows between the classrooms; a good throw if he had been playing cricket. One of the windows smashed. There’d be trouble now. Paul hurriedly went round the classroom threatening that anyone who told on him would get it. By that he meant he would hurt them. Even in class six Paul was the best fighter in the school and not someone you upset intentionally, at least not if you had any common sense. He was a volatile and unpredictable boy who could be charming one day and a monster the next. Paul was blond, blue eyed and athletically built. He had a nice voice that gave little indication of the stormy nature that brewed within but he was a troubled boy who was just dismissed as naughty. That was the thing if you misbehaved you were quickly labelled and the label would stick and over time you lived up to the label as if you had decided to give people what they expected.

My mistake that day was being little Miss Goody Two Shoes. Rather than say I knew nothing about the window I told the truth and told the teacher that it was Paul who broke the window. I am sure he got the cane for that, not something that I had given any thought to at the time. I found out later that Paul used to get beaten by his dad at home not because his dad was necessarily a bad man but because that was how he viewed fatherhood and had probably had a similar upbringing himself by his own father. I think if I had known that about Paul I might not have said anything but as it was I thought it was the right thing to do.  With hindsight I know that I was more scared of getting in trouble from lying than I was of anything Paul could do to me. I had been brought up to tell the truth and shame the devil. It was better to admit to a lie than to prolong the lie and get found out that you were lying. I paid the price for informing on Paul. He waited until dinner play when there was the minimum of staff supervision. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. At that age boys rarely think that they mustn’t hit girls. Paul took my bag off me which I recall quite clearly was a dark maroon colour with a white rim or edging that I took off my toy shopping trolley. He roughly snatched that bag, swung it high above his head and then brought it down hard on mine with forceful anger. The pain was excruciating. How my neck didn’t break I don’t know. No one did anything to protect me as they were all too afraid to stand up against him. They could only help and support me in the aftermath when I cried my eyes out. It seems that very few people stand up to bullies, not because they are cowards necessarily but just because they are trying to survive in a tough world and let’s face it they are scared of getting hurt themselves.  At these times you don’t always think about standing together and uniting against the bullies not when you’re children anyway; not always even when you’re an adult.  

I only ever remember one person standing up to Paul. The girl’s name was Sharon. I don’t remember why they fought, just that they did. As the fight started, cheers of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” could be heard chanted across the playground. The children descended on the fight as vultures to a rotting carcass, surrounding the two figures in the middle. No child present tried to stop the fight; it was n’t the done thing. Paul repeatedly punched Sharon with precision to the head while Sharon’s flailing fists tried to fight back. She did n’t, would n’t back down. Never before have I seen such determination to stand one’s ground. Whether she was brave or stupid depends on where you are standing but on that day in my opinion that girl was the bravest person that I had ever seen. She had no way of beating him; her tear stained face was red with crying but she kept going. She was the first person I ever saw stand up to a bully even though she was scared. Whether he ever felt any remorse for hurting me, Sharon or anyone else I have no idea or whether he felt he was justified in punishing me for telling, again I have no idea. I had been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and either way I would lose. I didn’t ever tell on Paul again. That was the first time anyone had really hurt me physically. It wasn’t to be the last. I got over it and Paul  forgot about it, even being kind to me when he kicked a football against my head.  He was a strange boy who puzzled me. 

Paul was one of those boys always in trouble for fighting, and losing his temper, yet it was unheard of to involve Educational Psychologists back then. The boy would get in trouble, possibly get the cane, maybe a letter home. At home he would probably get a smack from his mum, even worse from his dad. Parents knew that kids could do wrong, and invariably did do wrong. If the child was in trouble it was a case of “What did you do. You must have done something”. Parents did not go in, and accuse the teachers of unreasonable behaviour. Parents let the teachers do the teaching, and the teachers left parents to do the parenting. There was no overlap. Parents didn’t crowd the playground at the beginning or end of the school day. The minute children entered the school gate ,the kids became the school’s responsibility. Each understood their role in the development of the child, and neither interfered with the other. That’s just how it was.

In Kelvin Grove it was better to just flow and fit in with the main crowd, if you didn’t want trouble. Back then it didn’t do to be too different. The kids that were different were the ones that tended to get picked on. I remember some of the kids that were given a hard time. Among them I remember a boy by the name of Sinclair Hart. What were his parents thinking giving him a name like that, then sending him to a like school like Kelvin Grove.  Personally I think it is a beautiful name! A film star’s name! His name was different, and he himself was a little eccentric to our rather limited life experience. In fourth year juniors he was still wearing grey knee length shorts, another no-no. On top he would wear a tank top over his shirt and sport a bow tie; no kidding, a bow tie. He wore his hair short and smart unlike the other boys who had longer, messier hair that was typical of the 1970’s.  Sinclair looked out of place, and his appearance along with his name made him stand out as did his beautifully pronounced diction. I do not know what became of him but think that maybe his parents eventually withdrew him from the school and sent him elsewhere. With retrospect I now think he was a real character but never attempted to be friendly as it would have brought trouble on me. Yet earlier on in the school my younger sister and I had been among only a few pupils who bothered to wear school uniform. So maybe we were not that different after all. That didn’t last long when we saw that wearing uniform didn’t fit in with the other kids. As I grew up I decided that I did n’t want to be the same as everyone else and tried my best to be different. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I did n’t. It would get me into trouble from time to time but by the time I was an adult, I had learned that it is okay to be different, although to be honest there were plenty of times when I chose to be different just to be awkward, and not because it was the right thing to do for me. Mostly it was because I did n’t like being told what to do.

Another pupil who was treated with disrespect was a young South East Asian boy by the name of Barrett. I think he too was friendly and decent, and never remember him doing anything to hurt anyone else. Yet he was berated at times, which looking back was not only unfair but pretty dehumanising. Children can be heartless at times, and demonstrate a ruthlessness one would not usually associate with childhood. It is often not until we are adults that we realise how cruel, and thoughtless we have been and even though we have been so thoughtless ,we brush it aside as just part of growing up. 

For the most part I managed well enough, just every now and then would I do something that landed me in trouble with those kids, I would have rather steered clear of. Even the nicer kids could sometimes be cruel. Maybe they didn’t realise it at the time. I know that in Secondary School I was guilty of being inadvertently cruel in a secondary sort of way. That in a way is even worse than the ones being overtly nasty. 

I look back, and know that I could have made a difference to the likes of Elaine and Kay  who at secondary school were often the butt of cruel and snide remarks. Both girls acted like they did n’t realise it but I am sure they knew it and felt hurt. Elaine was a skinny girl with blond hair and freckles who reminded me of a pop star called Clodagh Rodgers, a winner of the Eurovision song contest with a song titled  I’ll be your Jack in the Box.  She used to be picked on, and called skinny ribs but it’s Elaine who’s had the last laugh now as I am sure that many of those who made these remarks are overweight with middle-aged spread, and would now die for a figure like Elaine’s.  Then Kay who was very short and busty was given a hard time for being big chested. Some of the girls used to taunt her about having greasy hair as they did Elaine, and yet don’t the majority of teenage girls suffer with greasy hair from time to time. What was the big deal? Kay actually looked to me like a young Liza Minelli, although her hair wasn’t as dark. I never told her or anyone that but had I let her know that she was like the famous caberet star then it may have helped her self- esteem. Instead I watched in silence from the sidelines minding my own business. As an adult I know now what I ought to have done but growing up is difficult. No one tells us how to do it. We just do it the only way we know how.