As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed unless they are publically known. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
Midwife Nettie has been blamed for a lot of things over the years, but most of all by me because she simply must have given my parents the wrong baby when they left the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading in November 1975.
Mum had really wanted a daughter who would want for nothing more than to wear frilly dresses, lovingly made for her, by lamplight after a hard day at work in the lab. It was to prove another battleground in our already very difficult mother-daughter bond and worse still, I was now to be made to have ballet lessons.
I had to wear pink tutu dresses, hair in a bun tied with an elastic band that always seemed to leave me with a headache and involved having hair brushed, and silly shoes with ribbons that I couldn't tie up myself because apparently they had to be wrapped around your shins in a criss cross fashion, and I would be surrounded by all these silly giggling girls with pigtails and buns, when all I wanted to do was to play outdoors in the mud, in my long socks, shorts, and sandals.
I hated shopping with mum, and each trip would go exactly the same way. She would find a dress that she thought would look lovely on me. I would hate it, and we would argue to the point where I agreed just to get her to stop talking because I knew she was going to buy it anyway. Mum would buy it but now be annoyed at how ungrateful I was for not wanting pink and frilly attire, and I would have to do everything in my power to avoiding wearing the new dress (including falling into the garden pond on more than one occasion). Then mum would complain that I never wore what she had bought me and that it was a waste of money, and I would say well I never wanted it in the first place. Of course, mum would complain that I should have told her I didn't like it at the time and ask me why she bought it if I didn't like it.
Both of us would walk away in a sulk and feeling terrible because we had argued which was not what the expectation we had of each other from our respective imaginary handbooks of how mums and daughters love each other. I'm pretty sure that the first word I ever learnt to say was 'no' and from an early age I had no issue in making my opinions very clear to those around me. If I didn't want to do something, you were in for a battle if you didn't accept my decision!
But far worse than the dresses, tutus, tights, and knitted pink ballet tops, was the physical pain of the ballet classes, and the feeling of not meeting expectations placed upon me, of being a failure through no real fault of my own, and a disappointment to my mum, even though I just wanted to make her happy and proud.
Constant chest infections had lead to me being the smallest child in every scenario and in the winter time I would always be coughing and wheezing and that just made me feel irritable and my chest was scratchy and tight. I hated wearing knitted jumpers and leotards felt restrictive across my chest, and worse still, across a large strawberry birthmark I had been born with on my left shoulder.
Mum had been mortified when she first saw it on me as a tiny baby, and felt like it was somehow her fault, and dad blamed it on the doctors and nurses who simply must have caused it by poking about with needles somehow and damaging me.
Other than the pain it gave me as the leotard cut into the scar tissue of my birth mark, and the migraines (and associated vomiting) I got whenever I moved that shoulder too much (especially in ballet), it didn't bother me at all, and I certainly didn't care what it looked like. It was just there, just part of me, as much as a hand has fingers and a foot has toes. But it upset mum to see children prodding it or mothers gasp at how unsightly it appeared and it made her feel like she had failed me as a mum somehow. So she did the best she could to hide it from public view, even if it meant that I had weird haircuts compared to other children or wore tops to keep it covered in public.
Aside from the strawberry birthmark on my shoulder which doctors assured mum would shrink and disappear by the time I started school (which it never did because I still have a smaller version of it today), and the chest infections, and small stature, the biggest problem I had with ballet lessons was my knees which clunked when I bent them, square shaped feet that never fit normal shoes and always required the most expensive and wide fitting ones (more shopping torture with mum and granny!), adding a strain to the family's financial budget, and legs which led to me constantly being in trouble for not doing the pointed toes and pliés that all the other little girls pulled off with such grace.
I was simply not cut out to be a ballet dancer, however much mum wished for me to have all these amazing opportunities. Instead I would stand sucking my thumb or hide in corners of the room, exploring on the floor, and looking for spiders and coins that people might have lost on the floor, or even better, lost sweets.
But I continued to have dance lessons right up until I was a teenager, though by that time I'd discovered all kinds of other forms of dance that I did enjoy, like tap, modern, contemporary, and my favourite, the Charleston and Tango, and I eventually loved to perform on the stage in theatre shows like Aladdin and at secondary school, and later with the Ludus Dance Company, even having a piece choreographed just for me by a famous choreographer called Liv Loren. I still love dancing today!