Friday, 25 December 2009
Dusty Springfield fans will recognise 'Goin' back' as the title for one of her most beautiful and evocative songs, about the simplicity of childhood and how in adult life we should live life without unnecessary complications, and absolutely to the full. Melissa has brought her to mind (see her comments on my last posting).
Childhood is a very sad subject for me. I usually cry if I reflect on it too much. I always felt I didn't experience it properly, and somehow lost the plot.
It began to go wrong pre-school, when I found myself avoiding the boy next door, who wanted to play rough games, and then later I didn't socialise at all well with the other kids at infants school and junior school. I just didn't know how to play; I knew no games at all; and I was wary of the other kids, suspicious of their intentions, except the pathetic wimpy ones who were even worse than me, although I felt an urge to protect them. How strange that was! Perhaps I felt that if we made a stand, we might get some respect. Mind you, I wasn't a pushover. For instance, on the first day of my junior school, my Mum sent me there in a red blazer, which was the colour used by the old infants school. Mum and Dad weren't well-off then, and she obviously thought that a serviceable red blazer would do for the new school. I mean, I hadn't grown out of it. The only thing was, in my new school, you wore a blue blazer, so I stood out. And kids being kids, they gathered round mocking me. Well, I wasn't having that. I clenched my fists and stood my ground, and in my desperation threatened the ringleaders with a terrible bloody death if they tried anything. I must have looked so fierce and convincing - an incredible contrast to my usual placid, try-to-hide nature - that even the dockers' kids backed off and let me alone. (This was at Barry Island in 1958 or 1959 and the school had a great view of the coal ships and banana boats and rough goings-on in Barry Docks) So I got my respect. And Mum relented, getting me a blue blazer without delay. But I was branded as a touchy, defensive, awkward individual you didn't mess with, and didn't play with, so I never made any real friends in that school.
It was the same at grammar school. It was all boys, no girls at all, never were in my time. First day again, I'm aged eleven, it's dinner time, and the class bully Keith Cox, a tall hulking boy already used to throwing his weight around, kicks me viciously under the table and tells me to do as he says. So I kick him back, a nice juicy kick too, and you should have seen his face! He'd been defied. I gave him my 'there's more if you want it' look. Talk about David and Goliath. Well of course as soon as we were outside in the playground he knocked me to the ground. Just a kind of shove. But he didn't do anything else. He didn't laugh. And he never bothered me again. We never became friends; that sort of thing doesn't happen in real life, but once more I saw that taking a stand paid off, and although I went through grammar school as a lone wolf, I was left alone and I wasn't bullied. But it didn't do me any good from the social point of view. I felt like an outsider and a misfit, and was. And there were all kinds of reasons for feeling odd and different, not just vague worries about not being like the typical boy. Academically I was good at classwork, but rubbish at exam time. My parents must have been absolutely ashamed at my exam performance. Until the sixth form, when I got three A-levels to crow about, in Art, English Literature, and Geography. I got a B grade for Art (only a B - well, I rebelled over the still life, and turned it into a cartoon); a B grade for English Literature (well, I hadn't read enough); but what would now be a marvellous A-star for Geography (despite a thin write-up of the Field Trip to the Isle of Arran in 1969, to study the geology - it was too physically demanding, all that serious crag-climbing, and I was appalled by the heights. I found excuses to go my own way, and remember a whole blissful sunny afternoon spent alone, just me and the wind, at Mid Thunderguy on the north-west side of Arran, gazing out over the sea at Argyll. I was at peace)
I digress. But if you get the picture of an entire school career, an entire childhood, at odds with school authority and wanting to be my own lonely self, and getting my way most of the time, then you have it right. And I left school defiant. I refused to fill in my university entrance application forms. I walked out of the grammar school gates in June 1970 with a feeling of freedom that I recaptured only in 2005 when I retired. And I'm not joking: I felt in 2005 that I was at last at liberty to resume a young life that had been interrupted by the need to work. Resumption also meant facing some other things too, that had been tucked away for years and years. You know what I mean. Not straight away, mind, but it had to happen.
At home, while I was still under eleven, I had loving and caring parents, but they couldn't see inside me. I recall vividly the eighth birthday party my Mum arranged for me. All the other kids enjoyed it. It had all the right ingredients. Lovely food, balloons, presents, funny hats, false noses even, lots of noise, parents there to keep a semblence of control, kids laughing and shouting and candles and cake. But I was out it, longing for my own company, and was found eventually upstairs hiding in my bedroom. I begged Mum never to throw another such party again for me. She didn't; my next proper party was my 40th, and I arranged that myself. I felt like an ungrateful misfit again. I couldn't explain why.
These are all pretty sad memories, but I do have a few that I cherish. And an abiding vision is one at Christmas, before Dad gave up smoking, when the aroma of cigar-smoke would drift through the air. In the hush of the late afternoon, I would sit in our front room, by the fire, in the semi-darkness, and gaze at the lit-up Christmas Tree, and the presents and things beneath it. I didn't ponder my life, or the future, or anything really; I just enjoyed the atmosphere, so magical, my favourite childhood moment. I dare say I had my teddy bear Teddy Tinkoes nearby, propped up in a chair to share the moment. He's presently (in 2009) propped up in my lounge, in an armchair, near my ceramic Christmas Tree, all lit up with a few presents from M--- at the foot of it. I shall be tearful in a minute, so I'll finish now. Merry Christmas, everyone.