Today is the day ~ Glad

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…

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? 

 

© Liola Lee 2010

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Memoirs ~ Addicted

It has been 29 years since I gave up smoking. Or it will be on New Years Eve. It is many years since I fancied a cigarette. Addiction is addiction! Whether it is sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, spending, cocaine or even the gym. That said, recognising that we are addicted to something, whatever that may be is the first step in stopping!

It’s coming up to 10.30pm on a Thursday night-

The date is 8th August 1991; a date that will be remembered in British history as that on which John McCarthy, a British Journalist, who for the past five years has been held captive in the Lebanon, has at last arrived home having been released by his captors.

Here I am sitting in my sitting room, listening to Trevor MacDonald reading the latest news on the situation at RAF Lynham which is where Mr McCarthy has been taken to for a check up. Here is an important historical event taking place and here I am, too worried to go to the toilet because of some small insect buzzing about on the ceiling, just inside the bathroom door. I feel so pathetic and paranoid, when I think what that man and all those other hostages have had to endure, and still I cannot bring myself to go to the toilet. Well, I’ll have to take some action soon, that or I shall simply wet myself where I am, as I said totally, one hundred per cent pathetic. 

It’s funny the things we think about at the strangest of times. 

One of the most difficult goals I ever set myself was giving up smoking. I had embarked on the tobacco road at the tender age of sixteen, by no means the youngest nor indeed the oldest. It was still respectably young enough to be considered rebellious, although that’s not the reason I took up the nasty smelly habit. I was not immediately hooked. Getting hooked on cigarettes took a lot of practice, a lot of cigarettes and a lot of money. Almost all my school friends smoked at the time, it was the ‘in thing’ at the time. We all wanted to appear very laid back and grown up. The first cigarettes I smoked were Consulate menthol Cigarettes which really were quite disgusting, a bit like smoking a tune as in the cough sweet rather than the melody. You kid yourself that because they are menthol and pretty mild that you’re in control and are unaware of the nicotine addiction taking hold.

I would smoke at every opportunity. It made me feel very glamorous, grown up and superior to my non smoking peers, who I thought were just too afraid to be caught instead of thinking that they actually had a deal more common sense than I did in not taking up a habit that would prove hard to kick, and would be indicative of my addictive personality. I would even smoke in front of the mirror when my parents were out in order to practice the perfect pout on exhaling, which at the time I thought made me look incredibly sexy. How wrong was I? Only totally and undeniably so. And, how sad! That perfect pout I was after, could have so easily turned into a cat’s bum mouth or worse still a pig’s arse if I had n’t stopped when I did.

Both my parents smoked, so I could n’t see why I should n’t. I remember wanting to tell my mum that I smoked but was not brave enough to come straight out and say it.  I devised a plan that would let her in on my secret. What I did was to leave my packet of cigarettes on my bed when I went to school. The plan was that when mum came into our bedroom to brush her hair (she always used the mirror in our room), then she would see the cigarettes on my bed and arrive at the obvious conclusion, then she would raise the issue with me and I could confess. Unfortunately, I had not envisaged my younger sister being present, and when my mum commented on the packet which had been planted so carefully so as to be seen, my sister, always loyal, informed her not to worry as they belonged to one of my friends, and that if they had been mine does she really think that I would have left them there to be seen? I did eventually, and not long after that tell my mum that I had started smoking, and she was alright about it saying that she would rather I didn’t smoke but that she would n’t preach as she smoked herself.

Cigarettes became a very important part of my life, a very sad but very true fact! I took them everywhere with me. They became my crutch. When I went for interviews, I would ensure I had enough time beforehand to smoke at least one. Smoking made me feel confident. When I was on the telephone I would need to smoke; when I had a cup of coffee out came the fags or when I went out or saw friends. The cigarette almost became a physical extension to my hand; never was I out without them. As time passed I became more and more dependent upon cigarettes. I was a tobacco baron’s dream catch lured as surely as a trout to a fly. I had a cigarette for every mood. When I left school at the age of eighteen I had been smoking for two years and had now progressed from the low tar variety to the middle tar and stronger brands. 

Some months later the strangest thing happened; my cigarettes made me feel sick, not just the taste of them but the smell of them. I was soon to discover that I was pregnant. The chemical changes that were taking place within my body had resulted in a strong aversion to cigarettes. Throughout my pregnancy I did n’t smoke, not because I was being good but because they made me feel so sick. This state of affairs was not to last as after I had my baby, and finding I could n’t breast feed I took up smoking again. Now I was smoking as if it was soon to go out of fashion.

During this time I never once gave any thought to what smoking was doing to my health, and it certainly never occurred to me to try and stop. I was aware of the public health warnings that appeared on packets of cigarettes advising of the risks of lung cancer and heart disease; I could read but it really did n’t bother me. I told myself that I enjoyed smoking, and was convinced that I could give up whenever I wanted to but I did n’t want to at that time. 

At aged twenty three I had my second baby. As before being pregnant had turned me off smoking. Yet again I was unable to breast feed for very long due to a severe case of mastitis. My husband had refrained from smoking while I was pregnant for which I was grateful, and we decided that we should both now continue to abstain. This was easier said than done. My husband had by way of tradition smoked cigars after the birth of our second son. He concluded that this was not the same as smoking cigarettes because he maintained that one didn’t inhale the smoke.  Not having ever smoked cigars I had no notion of whether one could smoke anything, and call it smoking unless one inhaled the smoke. Anyway he made it all sound so plausible. The problem was that he was soon smoking a packet of cigars each day so his theory was wrong, that was the first thing. The second thing was that I was desperate for a cigarette, and one day while my husband was at work I went to the shops and bought a packet of ten cigarettes. I did n’t buy my usual brand as if by doing that I was somehow not really cheating and smoking again.

On reaching home I took that first longed for cigarette and hurriedly smoked it as quickly as I could for fear I might somehow be deprived if I did n’t smoke it immediately. When I’d finished, I had another and then another. I giggled to myself finding it hilariously funny that me, a grown woman should be sitting and smoking in secret. When I was ready, I opened all the windows and sprayed the room with air freshener in an attempt to conceal the smell of tobacco which has a tendency to hang in the air. When my husband arrived home I behaved naturally or so I believed but the guilt was already eating away at me. I did n’t say anything because I did n’t want him to think that I had weakened.

We sat chatting at the table as was our evening ritual; my husband filling me in on the events of his day. I noticed he was looking at the table, a little too closely for my liking.  

“What’s that?” he said.

“What?” I replied trying to look bewildered and hoping I looked innocent.

“That there”. He pointed. “It looks like cigarette ash” 

Still acting innocent, I replied rather foolishly now I think back on it, “It can’t be” knowing full well that it could be, and that of course it was. I could contain myself no longer and started to laugh. The truth came out. I justified myself by informing him that it was no worse than him smoking cigars. He reluctantly agreed. He too returned to cigarettes not long after that, in fact immediately as they were cheaper than cigars.

We smoked more and more. By now I had developed a cough in the mornings. As time went by the cough became more severe and I started to wheeze and found difficulty in breathing. It was at its worse last thing at night and first thing in the morning. One morning it was so bad and worried my husband so much that he called the Doctor out. The doctor arrived and listened to my chest and lungs. His diagnosis was not long in coming. I had developed asthma, and was informed that it was directly related to my smoking. He advised that I should stop and said that eventually the asthma would subside. I stopped smoking immediately, and managed to go without for three weeks, mainly because I was unable to breathe properly when I tried. After three weeks the cough disappeared and I felt much better, and started smoking again. As always that one cigarette led to another and another and before long I was back on a packet a day. 

Sometimes we take a long time to learn the lesson.

Sometime later but not that much later, I changed my job. In my new job I was on the phone pretty much all day, and developed a chain smoking habit; me and everyone else on my desk. At that time employees could still smoke in the work place while they were working. Over a period of three months my daily intake had increased to almost fourty  a day. Steve too had increased his consumption. Again I developed a cough and it was during this time that I seriously began to consider the implications that smoking really was damaging my health. Initially, I stopped for a day here and a day there but I was unable to keep the momentum going for much longer than this. I tried alternatives such as sweets and chewing gum. Temporarily, they had the desired effect. I managed to stop for a month but then found myself arguing with myself about why I should or should n’t smoke. This pattern continued for three years. I even put myself through the torture of getting people to sponsor me for stopping for a month in order that it may help me quit. That month was possibly one of the worst of my life. I was desperate for a smoke but was under a promise not to. I succeeded in not smoking for the entire month and raised £100 for St Christopher’s Hospice.  I received a lovely letter from the Hospice thanking me and congratulating me on my success. Again I did n’t stay virtuous for long.  As soon as the sponsored ‘no smoking’ came to an end I went and bought some cigarettes. That same year, our youngest son was diagnosed as asthmatic. I was now desperate to give up but every attempt to stop ended in failure.

We never smoked when the children were about but knew that it was in the atmosphere. The guilt was unbearable. New Year was coming and as in previous years we resolved to quit smoking once again and hopefully for good this time. From the moment the New Year came in, I stopped smoking altogether and although Steve no longer smoked cigarettes, he smoked cigars for a further two weeks. After that, he too gave up. At first it was terrible. We were short tempered and the temptation to smoke just for the sake of peace was ever present, but somehow we got through. It was n’t easy but somehow we managed to persevere and to this day we are still not smoking That was almost eighteen years ago now. Over the years there has been the odd occasion when I have fancied that I fancy a cigarette but the moment passes and I don’t smoke knowing that I will always be one cigarette away from being a smoker. I still get asthma if I am near smoke but as of 1st July 2007 that will be less of a thing to worry about since Parliament passed that there is to be no smoking in public places, “HOORAY!!!” 

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

Class nine, two Davids, Isle of Wight and 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

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.

Memoirs ~ Ping…”Oh no not my knicker elastic”

Ping!! Oh No, not my knicker elastic

If you have ever had your knicker elastic break then read on. This is the story of one child’s harrowing experience! The girl was in Class 6 at the time or Year 5 as it is now called. The teacher was a lovely lady with long mid- brown hair, and a kind warm-hearted smile. Her name was Miss Lawrie. She wore short skirts and long suede boots which were in keeping with the fashion at the time. She was an attractive woman, and far too nice to be working in a school like Kelvin Grove Junior. The school was rough and not for the faint hearted. Try as she would Miss Lawrie could not control the class. You had to be as tough as old boots to work in this school. Miss Lawrie was out of her depth, and drowning in a sea of chaos and child led conflict. By now you’re probably thinking that it was Miss Lawrie’s knicker elastic that snapped. Not so. To understand the enormity of the impending situation, one has to have some idea as to the establishment in which the event took place. The teacher, as has been noted was lovely, the school was not! The children or at least some of them were as you’ve probably guessed by now lacking in social skills, and in training for a future stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.  Some of the boys were scary and some of the girls even scarier still. Hopefully by now you are a little clearer as to how things were.

‘PING’ -” Oh no not my knicker elastic ” thought the girl who was instantly thrown into a state of shock, horror and disbelief all rolled into one. Everything that ensued was the result of a nine year olds race to rescue herself from ridicule and embarrassment. The girl put her hand up to gain the teachers attention, for it would be fair to say that she was a good girl, and liked to adhere to the rules, at least most of the time and to have shouted for attention would have been quite rude. Miss Lawrie saw the child’s raised hand and asked what it was the girl wanted. The child asked to be excused to go to the toilet. The teacher agreed to her request, and simply said not to be too long. Oh, she was so nice, that Miss Lawrie! Holding tightly onto her knickers as discreetly as she could manage through her clothes, the girl stood up to leave the classroom and make her way to the toilet. She hoped that no one would notice how nervous she was, and how red in the face from embarrassment. She hoped no one would question her. If they did she would feign a stomach ache. That is what she would do. This would explain why she appeared to be holding her tummy; just to be on the safe side the girl pulled a few good faces as well, as if by screwing hers eyes up, and opening and closing her mouth in mock pain she would appear more convincingly unwell. Luckily the toilets were only a little way down the corridor but nevertheless the walk to the toilets seemed to take forever. She walked slowly, trying to appear as though she were in great physical discomfort. After all, if one must pretend to have a stomach ache then it went without saying that one should look and act the part. Whether she looked the part or not remains a mystery. At the time she felt that she gave an Oscar winning performance.

Arriving at the girl’s cloakroom, for that was where the toilets were the girl looked about to make sure that she was quite on her own. There were two toilets in the cloakroom adjacent to each other both with the walls painted a pale understated shabby pink . There were grey slightly chequered melamine doors. Children observe the strangest of things at the strangest of times. The girl turned to tackling the problem of her falling down knickers. The knickers were nylon and had a purple design with a sprinkling of orange flowers. The girl never forgot those knickers. The girl got so involved in fastening the offending garment that she failed to hear someone enter the cloakroom quietly, and oh so sneakily. What was worse, the girl did not notice that she was being watched. There was a gap of some six maybe eight inches between the toilets in the single window recess which served both small rooms. The toilets were not original features but had been added much later and the builders had clearly not thought to fit the dividing panel flush to the window, so that generations of girls could enjoy at least a modicum of privacy. Why should they care?

Back to those knickers. Fortunately, the girl was quite practical, and had a good head for solving problems. She was wearing lace- up shoes. Good strong laces should be just fine to fix things for now, the girl thought. She unlaced one shoe and gathered up the loose material on the waist of her knickers, and tied the lace as securely as she could. This done, the girl returned to her classroom, still unaware that she had been spied on. She was actually feeling quite pleased with herself for her ingenuity and immediate improvisation. She wondered if others would have thought of so clever a solution. With hindsight it would probably have been easier to discreetly let the teacher know of her predicament, and she might have simply been given a pair of spare clean  knickers. The school always had spares of everything, including knickers, just in case of emergencies, and this was most definitely an emergency. Yes it would surely have been easier but then when you are nine, something like this is difficult to talk about. You’re not thinking in the same way you do as an adult.

The girl returned to the classroom relieved that her knickers were now tied securely. However, she moved about carefully just in case the lace worked itself loose. The fear of her knickers falling down was too awful to contemplate. It just didn’t bear thinking about. Returning to the classroom the girl carried on as normal until lunchtime. No one need ever know. Thank goodness for that she thought. After lunch the children gathered in the playground for play, before the afternoon session got underway. Anyone who noticed the missing shoelace was told how one minute it was there, and the next minute it was gone. Children often take things at face value. No one questioned that it seemed odd, and indeed unlikely.

Then, the girl’s worst nightmare happened in the guise of Wendy. Wendy was really not a nice girl. In fact she was a mean and nasty individual who ran a good line in bullying. Even some of the boys were afraid of her! She was someone to be avoided at all costs was Wendy, best to stay out of her way. Wendy made it quite clear that she had seen the girl in the toilets tying her shoe lace around her knickers. Wendy said it in an all knowing smug way, her weasly face looking even more weasly than usual; it seemed to empower her, and give her satisfaction that she had the upper hand in this situation should she wish to exercise any control over her involuntary victim. The girl felt her world crumble about her! She wanted the ground beneath her to open up and swallow her whole. Soon she would be made the laughing stock in the playground. The tears welled up inside her, and she could feel a knot forming in her throat that was making it difficult to breathe. It took all her effort to hold the tears back. She felt sick to her stomach and totally panic stricken. The girl wished that Wendy would get it over and done with! Wendy was cruel and hateful! Never before had the girl hated anyone, not really anyway but today she thought she hated Wendy. Today was the worst of all days, and the girl felt sure that there was worse yet to come. 

Wendy made the girl’s life a misery on a daily basis. Wendy and her partner in crime Robert used to wait for the girl and her little sister after school skulking in the shadows, only to appear from nowhere or so it it seemed. They would push and shove the girl along the road, taunting her and spitting at her, making fun of the fact that her and her sister were the only kids in the school who wore the correct uniform. The girl did nothing. She let them push her, she let them shove her, and let them call her names. She did nothing, and she felt that by doing nothing they would leave her sister alone. She was right. They never lifted a finger against her little sister. Whether the girl was right or wrong is a matter for debate. Some would say that she should have hit those bullies as hard as she could. Others might say that she was right to turn the other cheek. Some would say, ‘Well, that’s kids for you’. What was strange that year was that Wendy could have pointed the finger at the girl, and told the entire school what she had seen that day in the toilet. She could have let everyone laugh at the girl’s expense but she didn’t. If she told anyone, they never said anything. Childhood can be a tough journey for some. Children try to find their way in the world. Some seem to sail through with ease while others have many challenges and obstacles to overcome. It was a long time ago now and the girl has grown and dealt with far worse! Yet at the time those feelings of panic, and the fear of being ridiculed were very real. 

This really happened. The bullies were really called Wendy and Robert. I would have named and shamed them but decided to omit surnames to protect others. They know who they are and I can only hope that they changed and that if they didn’t, well that is for the Universe to decide.