Friday, 22 January 2010
Hair Affairs #2 and other ramblings
Chris from 'Life on the hill' told me how her twin brother cut off one of her plaits – just one! How cruel! Did he cut off the first and immediately regret it? Did he think the reprimands would be only half as severe if he left one plait in place? Perhaps Chris ran away. You will have to ask her! It woke distant memories of which only one is really related to hair.
My brother is six years older than me and occasionally he would be obliged to suffer my company; at such times our views on life showed marked differences. If we played cricket in our long narrow garden I was always the batsman so that he could practise his bowling. Pleased to have his attention I stood for what seemed like hours trying to hit the ball and generally missing.
I enjoyed writing and boasted one day that I could write about any subject – oh, the conceit of youth! Brian then said, 'Write about nothing' and I was completely stumped. What should an eight-year-old know about such a concept? It was an effective way to shut me up for I was a chatty child while he, from a young age, was introspective.
Sometimes Brian would be forced to entertain me at weekends to give my parents some time to themselves. 'Let's imagine' was my favourite pastime and I would appoint rôles – 'You be the King and I'll be the Princess.' Some days we were what we then called 'Red Indians'. (Years later my brother worked with the Tsilhquot'in people by which time we had all learned not to insult them so.) He must have been thoroughly disenchanted by the heady imaginings of a romantically-inclined sibling. One day 'Let's imagine I've been captured and tied up in a tower and you've got to come and rescue me' (shades of Rapunzel, I think) must have irritated him inordinately because he tied me to a drainpipe by my plaits and wandered off to follow more interesting pursuits. Caught up in the game I waited patiently for his return but it was my sister, fifteen years my senior, who rescued me.
While my brother quite understandably seemed to resent spending time with me, my sister loved to take me out. We would go shopping on a Saturday morning, spending much time in W.H. Smith where I would select a book and read as much as I could before we had to move on. Before we returned home on the bus we usually went to 'Lyon's Corner House' for refreshments, another little treat I really appreciated. I'm sure those trips were the basis for my life-long fascination with stationery. I find it difficult to resist the lure of little notebooks with pristine pages and neatly packaged pencils and pens. Envelopes, files, folders and note paper always draw my eye. Coloured paper clips, especially the ones in the form of miniature clothes pegs, and drawing pins in their neat little transparent boxes are irresistible and I can even rhapsodise (almost) over packets of elastic bands and the variety of staplers and drawing pins. A new book of plain pages is to be savoured before being despoiled. The first mark is carefully made but I'm no calligrapher and my scrawl soon turns the special into the commonplace. I love the smell of ink even though my 'writer's bump' seemed to be almost permanently stained when I was at school.
However, for much of the time I amused myself. I loved reading aloud, often to myself or to whoever would listen and would regularly call into various shops on my way home from primary school to read to owners who were friends of my parents. I read voraciously, losing myself in classics like 'Black Beauty' or 'Heidi' or 'Anne of Green Gables'. I would emerge hours later, sometimes in tears, and immediately turn to the beginning again. My mother understood for she had a similar relationship with books. Words have a profound effect when used to draw in the reader. To this day I cannot read aloud Oscar Wilde's 'The Happy Prince' without tears springing to my eyes. Michael Morpurgo's 'The Butterfly Lion' has a similar effect on me. I always enjoyed reading to the classes I taught – indeed I considered it essential – but frequently I had to stop and explain to the children that I was overcome and sometimes suggest that they should continue to read on their own if they wished so to do. At other times I was overcome with mirth and could not continue.
Almost as much as reading I enjoyed playing the piano – or perhaps that should be playing at the piano. My father was a very good pianist and encouraged me in my endeavours. I could never get to grips with tonic sol-fa so was never able to vamp like he could or change key and carry on. My eyes were – and still are – firmly fixed on the black marks on the manuscript. I had lessons for about a year and then my teacher had a baby and that was the end of my formal training. Nevertheless I continued to 'play' the piano, my fervid imagination conjuring up an appreciative audience for my outstanding performances. I can still play – badly - 'Für Elise' without music and part of 'Moonlight Sonata' (I was keen on Beethoven!) The only other piece I can play without reference to the printed note is the Battle Hymn of the Republic ('Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord' or 'John Brown's Body') The problem with my piano-playing was that I liked to practise in the evenings, quite late, and my parents finally became rather weary of me hammering out Chopin's Funeral March or Rachmaninov's Prelude in C# minor at 11:00 pm. They didn't say anything as far as I can recall but one day I came home to find that my father had chopped up the piano! I don't remember being upset and I'm quite sure they were relieved and looking forward to peaceful early nights in bed.
I also thought I had a dramatic flair and would perform on top of the coal bunker, which became a spotlit stage in my mind. Despite never having had dancing lessons I attempted to tap and twirl as I sang. We didn't have many neighbours which was probably fortunate. We did have a garden wall, however, which became my trusty steed. I desperately wanted to learn to ride – I did eventually, when my own children were little and learning too. Thank goodness my parents didn't have a video camera or its early ancestor. By the time they had a ciné-camera I was older and had grown far too self-conscious to do more than grin, chimp-like, in the general direction of the device.
So, although I spent a good deal of time on my own I was never lonely and rarely bored. I am grateful to my parents for actively encouraging me – and my siblings – to find pleasure and solace in books and in so doing to develop a life-long passion and desire for the printed word.