So, here’s what my teenage son imagines my upcoming expedition will be like:
Tag Archives: childhood
Do you remember your first love?
It’s an interesting question and one to which my immediate response is; “Stupid question! Of course I do. It was, after all, my first love. How could I possibly forget it?” Then I start really thinking about it and begin to wonder. Who was my first love?
The first love triangle
Was it the beautiful firey-haired Roderick McCrae? The first three years of primary school were spent fighting for his attention with my then nemesis, Tracy.
Roderick’s dad worked on the cruise ships and was rarely home. When he did come home, he would splash out on his only son. Roderick’s birthday parties were legend! Only once was Roddy’s mum ever daft enough to include both Tracy and I on the invite list. I shall never forget the joy of attending the party without her a year later. Nor will I forget the pain of being stuck at home the following year knowing that she was sitting next to him in the pass the parcel ring! *sob*
Was Roddy my first love? I used to yell that I loved him, and that he was ‘mine!’ *stamp foot* into Tracy’s face almost daily.
When my mother told me he’d been killed in a tragic motorcycle accident at the young age of 21 I wept, but I was 38 when I first heard and had had no idea until that point.
The first… er…
Or Jimmy Green? The mysterious raven-haired ‘new boy’ who turned up half way through primary year 4 and stole my claim to being the best artist in the year. I was sickly jealous of the little running men he was famous for doodling. Everyone else loved them. I tried my damnedest to copy his comic style only to discover that my art was limited to being ‘technically good’ rather than compelling. I hated him to the point of obsessive fascination.
Jimmy was the son of a rigger. His dad would be on land for one precious weekend every month and had somehow still managed to build the house they lived in, brick-by-brick, all by himself. Jimmy had a pet jackdaw, wore socks on his hands in winter instead of gloves, and bit his blisters.
Jimmy Green showed me his thing!
The first elopement
Or was my first love Timmy O’Dea? My first official ‘boyfriend’. We met during Year One at secondary school. Together we ran away and spent the afternoon snuggled together in a sleeping bag eating refreshers and stealing mutually first kisses as the rain fell around us.
In our romantic bid to escape the oppression of our terribly non-tragic lives, we had made it all the way to the local park. The sleeping bag got soaking wet and very muddy and, later that evening, when I slunk back into my house, I had to hide it under my bed so my mother wouldn’t see it. I made it just in time for dinner of course. The sleeping bag was discovered a few days later… Timmy and I lasted about a week and a half.
The first ‘I love you’
Most in my family would of course pinpoint Simon Thwaite as my first boyfriend. At 15 it was the right time to be having a boyfriend and we were together for a whole year and one month so he sticks in the family memory. He is particularly well-remembered for wrapping himself in a massive box tied in a cliché red satin ribbon and giving himself to me on my 16th birthday. I was mortified when he then presented me with my first sexy underwear to unwrap in front of my entire family.
Simon popped my cherry soon after that sweet 16th. But that’s OK ‘cos I got his in return…
Together we explored our budding sexuality in a safe, mutual way over a long, drawn out period – an approach I would recommend to any young girl. One lesson I would pass on in hind sight however would be to make sure you shut the bedroom door – even if you think his parents are out.
We both said our first ‘I love you’s’ to one another and truly believed we meant it at the time.
The first passion
However, despite the fact that I wouldn’t change my introduction to sex for anything, if push came to shove, I would have to say that my first true love was probably Nick Thornley.
I was 17. He was 18.
I was in our local pub when some numpty poured cold beer down the back of my neck. I turned around to give the idiot a verbal thrashing and found myself staring into the most penetrating ice-blue eyes I had ever seen. I believe that every molecule in my entire being momentarily broke apart under his gaze. From then on I had to concentrate my entire attention on the tiny bubble that surrounded him, squeezing myself into it so that I might take residence in his soul, just to stay in one piece. The rest of the world simply vanished and for the next year and a half he was my entire existence.
Nick held me in his spell for a long time. Years after he had smooshed my heart into a trazillian pieces by sleeping with another girl during his first year at university, I still compared each and every man I ever met to him. However, even this great passion was something my heart was able to move on from eventually.
I guess, the reason why I’m sharing this is in the hope that, if some young person with a broken heart is reading this now they might realise that, however much it hurts now there is always another chance at love. It may be different, but that does not make it any the less important in the long-term. Love has many perspectives. New experiences can be just as satisfying. There’s generally more to come.
When I hit puberty I quickly realised the power I had over males.
Looking back I could so easily slip into thoughts of feeling old and powerless in comparison. However, I made the very best of my youth in this respect and have no regrets. I used my power shamelessly and enjoyed every second of it!
Young girls can be totally ruthless. When I hear news stories about men being accused of abusing underaged girls it is too easy to wonder how guilty they actually are. Of course, every case deserves individual attention. I am not, under any circumstances, condoning these matters. I’m simply noting that, having been a young female myself, I am well aware of the manipulation I was capable of.
Perhaps we should come with an indelible age stamp on our foreheads.
Ladette or lade (no that’s not a typo)
My generation followed the 60′s counter-blows against Victorian values and we had a few precious years before the AIDS crisis hit. Girls were allowed to be girls… or boys for that matter. Although it would be years before the term was coined, the ‘ladette‘ was born within my generation, among the greats such as Zoe Ball, and we realised we could choose to either drink the boys under the table or drag them under the table, or both. Sexual equality had arrived.
Sadly, the AIDS epidemic did hit us. Square in our shiny new balls.
To add to our fears of unwanted pregnancy, we were accosted by the fear of disease and death. Television shorts pounded home the ‘SAFE SEX’ message and condoms were thrown about classrooms willy nilly (pun intended).
We all had to look back through our little black books and learn to judge one another. Sometimes harshly. Paranoia was rife and, unlike today, an AIDS test was rarely definitive and a negative had to be backed up with a second test 3-6 months later. That’s a hell of a long wait. Luckily we had no social media or mobile phones to keep in touch so invariably those we were most suspicious of were totally out of contact. It was a lonely time. If the same happened today – with the communications networks we now have – the potential for online accusations is beyond imagining.
We had to learn to talk to one another about sex face to face instead,
As I have mentioned in my previous post, A Sassenach in Dundee, I spent my young childhood being teased for ‘speaking posh’ and being accused of being a ‘snob’ because my parents had a mortgage. Therefore, when I eventually found myself on a train to boarding school in Harpenden, in the depths of middle England, I made my first conscious decision to reinvent myself.
In Scotland I had been a straight A student, award-winning dancer, accomplished pianist and lead violinist in my local orchestra. In short, I was a parental wet dream, but most of my peers were suspicious of me.
Trading in good grades for popularity
By the time I was 13, I was sick of being clever. My move to England was my chance to be popular!
I distinctly remember sitting on the train from Dundee to Harpenden, looking at my reflection in the sun-drenched window, the countryside speeding by in the background. In my mind’s eye I began to redraw my own outlines. My priorities were consciously reshuffled. Good grades slipped to the bottom of the pack, good manners were hung out in the wind, a brassy attitude was polished, a repertoire of bad language revised, and a middle-finger up to authority practiced until second nature. I knew what my peers revered and I could emulate that… easily. I was off to claim my independence and I could choose to be anyone I wished to be!
I was all set to impress when I disembarked from that train. Fresh, new, and ready for any fight – as long as it didn’t involve fists!
Unfortunately, I was so busy learning to be this new me that it took many months to realise that, what I believed was revered by my peers in Scotland was reviled in England… Intellectually smart I may have been, but my social understanding was sorely flawed and by then the damage was almost irrevocable.
I found myself both unpopular and in trouble with everyone. My reports hit rock bottom with my first F’s and I had no friends to turn to for solace. I was forced to come to a screaming halt. And, as I stood, staring at my own shame in a steamed-up mirror in the girl’s bathroom of my boarding house one winter’s evening, I found myself having to reach down into a virtual pit to dig up what was left of my intellect and self-respect.
It’s never too late
Luckily, I have yet to come upon a circumstance when it has been too late to change.
With a great deal of effort, focus and humility, I was able to scrape together some semblance of social acceptance to find myself a reasonable number of friends. I also had just enough time left over to hit the books hard and drag my knowledge back up before my exams. I didn’t get straight A’s by a long shot. But I did well enough to move forward with my head held high.
It was a very hard, lonely journey. Having made the mistake all by myself, I also had to repair it all by myself. Such is the price of independence.
Do you remember what it’s like to be a kid?
Occasionally I find myself harking back to my youth and lamenting days gone by. However, if I think about it all long enough I do actually begin to remember how tough it really was..
How it really was
It’s all too easy to allow your memories to light upon the joys of childhood. Freedom from the burden of adult responsibilities. The excitement of endless discovery. So much to learn. So much to experience. So many first times.
But we must then filter out our hindsight. When we were living those experiences, discovering life and learning new things, were we really appreciating them the same way we do now when we look back? You only have to bring to mind a classroom full of kids staring out of the window, heads propped up on hands, that wistful faraway expression in their eyes to suddenly remember what growing up was really all about.
The deathly boredom of endless hours at school. The suffocating limitations of being young. The endless years simply waiting to become an adult. The fear of the unknown. The terror of social expectations. The pain of social rejection. The torment of hormones. The pressure from peers. The pressure from parents. The pressure placed on yourself, by yourself.
Suddenly I feel rather glad to be 40 something!
When I was young I was an avid reader and a closet romantic. Growing up with Enid Blyton‘s Famous Five and Secret Seven had me believing that all children had a right to prance around the countryside in the sunshine having real adventures with little or no input or interference from the adult world. And, as for Ms Blyton’s Malory Towers books, based on the boarding school life of Darrell Rivers and her friends, well they set my heart firmly. I became convinced that life could never be as fun, freedom never as close, as that of a young girl’s at boarding school.
As is so often the case, if your focus remains steady for long enough, however bizarre the dream, life will eventually find a way to test your resolve.
A dream come true
When I was just turning 13, my father was offered a professorship in Uppsala and my parents announced the pending transition of our entire family to Sweden within the year, I seized my opportunity. Oddly enough, the idea of moving to a foreign land was less of a draw to me than the idea of putting my foot down and insisting I complete my education in England. In truth, the thought of having to learn a foreign language terrified me. Thus, I stamped my foot mightily and insisted on fair play which somewhat miraculously landed my almost immediate transfer to a boarding school – lest I miss the beginning of my O’ level courses.
St George’s School, Harpenden
St George’s VA School, Harpenden is not your traditional boarding school. My parents were not in a position to consider full fee paying schools. Designed to help families in the forces find some kind of educational stability for their offspring, St George’s was the compromise; a non-private education (how irritating not to be able to simply refer to this as ‘public’ and be understood!) with boarding facilities attached. Pupils’ parents are therefore only required to pay living expenses by term. In my day, the school offered the somewhat unusual concept of a mixed sex school with around 5% boarders with 95% ‘day pupils’. The boys’ and girls’ boarding houses were on opposite sides of the campus. From the current website, it doesn’t appear to be all that different today.
As far as I was concerned, St George’s was the answer to all my romantic aspirations. To my parents it was an affordable solution to the uniterrupted continuance of my education and offered the additional security of being just round the corner from my mother’s sister. Aunty Ronnie could therefore keep an eye on me.
Jolly lacrosse sticks
So, armed with a term’s worth of freshly pressed school uniform, pajamas and a teddy bear neatly packed into a classic travel trunk, I found myself standing on the platform of Dundee train station in a dark green wool coat, clinging onto a lacrosse stick. My parents and siblings were there to see me off and the sun was shining quite perfectly. I was in absolute heaven!
In that moment, my expectations were in total alignment with reality. I had known exactly what I wanted and set out to get it. I had taken my destiny into my own hands and created my own future.
To dream is to dream… destiny must be lived
That was, quite possibly, the very last moment of my true childhood.The joy of naivety was about to be swept away in one of the greatest lessons life would teach me. The difference between dreams and reality. That to dream is to dream, but destiny must be lived through, Every sharp, bumpy, and occasionally painful moment of it.
The next few years taught me to accept that, life will never turn out to be quite what you might expect. And, while destiny may very well begin in your own hands and, yes, you can have an influence, the smart approach is to manage your expectations from the outset. The fact is that, in the end, real life will always be bigger, bolder, more in-your-face, more emotionally charged and – just occasionally – even better than your dreams. However great your imagination – or Enid Blyton’s for that matter – you will never be able to truly conceive life as it will present itself. It will always surprise you.
And thank goodness for that!
Every year, during the summer holidays, we all piled into the car and drove down for a visit. While my mum spent the week catching up with her parents and just ‘being home’, my dad would take a backpack full of packed lunches, my sister, my brother and me out into London to see the sights.
Seeing the sights
London has so much to offer visitors of all ages that our week would speed by. We each had our favourite haunts and there were, of course, family rituals.
Trafalgar Square couldn’t be visited without at least one of us climbing onto the back of one of Nelson’s supporting lions.
There was the Science Museum. My brother’s favourite. Every single button and lever had to be investigated while my father infuriated us all by insisting on reading every single piece of informative text. All we wanted to do was move onto the next, fascinatingly interactive display.
The boat trip to Kew Gardens was my least favourite. To a young, hyper girl it felt endlessly tedious… Although Kew was an absolute joy. Why therefore waste two and a half hours getting there?
We spent our days whizzing around on The Underground. Mind the Gap! If you’re less than ten and have any amount of gumption it is a prerequisite of any tube journey to stand in the aisle and balance your way to the next station – especially if the train is otherwise empty.
A visit to Hamleys toy shop was another popular choice, but always caused difficulties. How to spend the precious holiday pound in a store where the least expensive offering costs five times that?
And, of course, don’t forget Madame Tussaud’s and the Planetarium! The horror of the dungeons, swiftly followed by the joys of outer space. In our day they were right next door to one another, although you need to go to the Greenwich Maritime Museum to experience a planetarium today.
Memories to cherish and annoy
Now, whenever I remember these holidays I am filled both with joy and an annoying song that was on one of the few precious albums my parents bought us as children; ‘Singalong ABC’, or some such.
‘L’ is for London
London is a big place built in a valley,
Where the River Thames runs straight and true,
When I go to London, my daddy takes me…
I simply can’t think of London, without that damn song going round in my head!
It’s all still there
It’s great to know that all these joys are still available today! My own kids have been able to visit and enjoy the same things we did when we were kids. These destinations remain as relevant and wonderful today as they were all those decades ago.
Although I was born at no. 42 Industry Street in Sheffield, we all moved to Dundee in Scotland three days later. And there I lived until I was about 13.
This means that I speak with what most recognise as a Scottish accent. It means that, however much I longed to be able to claim that I was Scottish when I was a kid, I couldn’t – my parents are both Londoners.
A Sassenach snob!
As far as the Scots are concerned, I am a Sassenach (or ‘southerner’) and I speak with what they consider to be a rather posh English accent! Being an English teacher my mother refused to let us drop our ‘t’s or replace ‘ing’ with ‘in’. Therefore, my siblings and I grew up among peers who would laugh at our ‘Englishness’ and remorselessly tease the way we spoke.
We were never considered to be one of the ‘local kids’, whose fathers worked on the oil rigs for weeks and months at a time, leaving their mothers to take care of multiple offspring in small, rented flats in estates such as Linlathen and Mill ‘o’ Mains. In fact, all things being relative, the simple fact that our parents had a mortgage made us ‘rich’! To the Dundoneans we were therefore considered ’snobs’.
Typically, when I eventually moved to England as a young teenager, my new peers in Harpenden in Hertfordshire couldn’t understand a word I said. To them I spoke broad Scottish and my ‘Och’s and ‘Eh’s brought great hilarity to the classroom. I was no longer a ‘snob’ but became looked upon as a slightly shabby relation from the wrong side of the tracks. What a transformation!
You can imagine my frustration with this situation as a young person growing up.
It’s best to be British
Now, if asked were I come from, I always say I’m ‘British’!
When we were kids and my father spent weekends dragging us up mountains in Scotland. He would also spend some considerable effort teaching us the art of ‘survival’. This meant learning to build and light fires, carrying as little as possible, using knives, eating reconstituted food (yuck!), eating cold beans from a can (yum!) and generally making do in the open air without the mod cons.
The pinnacle of our education was an overnight sleep in a ‘survival bag’. All of us. In one bag…
It is good practice to carry some sort of survival bag when hiking through rough terrain. Designed to reduce the loss of body heat in an emergency, these bags serve as a personal emergency shelter (note the word personal here).
There are various types – some better than others – however, the one my father had managed to get hold of was a typical strong, lightweight bag made from a tough plastic material. It was bright orange, to enable rescuers and helicopter pilots to spot you from afar.
My father decided that a night in a survival bag was a must for his brood of three. I thoroughly suspect he was also just a little sick of having to carry a pretty heavy family-sized tent.
A soggy night
So one night, on top of a windswept highland mountain, in the pouring rain, all four of us (dad plus three kids ages 5-8ish) crawled into a large orange plastic bag to sleep.
Fortunately, Dad instructed us to lie facing downhill with the bag opening close to our heads to avoid the endless rain from pouring in. Unfortunately, this personal emergency solution was not built for comfort but for ‘survival’. My father, elder sister and I awoke the next morning soaked from head to foot in condensation. The bag was wetter inside than the rain-drenched surrounds.
My younger brother on the other hand was completely missing!
A cherub by the stream
Following our early morning arousal, lots of girly squealing in disgust at our own discomfort, and a quick mental count to discover the youngest of our party missing, we began following a vague slug-trail squashed into the heather. It led us down the hill.
Halfway down we found a bright red sleeping bag.
At the bottom of the valley we found a five-year old. Curled up in the heather next to a mountain stream… fast asleep!
Like ‘Red Rocks’, Bluebell Woods was a family favourite weekend destination when I was a child.
Nearly an hour by car it was further than other popular destinations and even once we got there the track to the river was rather long and rather steep. However, we were willing to embrace the journey because the reward was great.
At certain times of year, when the woods weren’t knee-deep in kick-worthy autumn leaves, they would be slathered in deliciously scented bluebells, daffodils and wild garlic, and the trek ended at a soft-sanded bay on the low banks of a quiet, lazy river.
Lazy days by a lazy river
I am so lucky to have so many wonderful memories of lazy days by this lazy river. Together with my siblings, my parents and the occasional visiting grandparent or student (my father worked for the local University), I would spend many hours being a kid, free to play without fear… or concern that I was wearing a rather weird ’padded’ swimming costume (see photo!).
My sister, brother and I grew up in these wonderful places. We poked sticks into fires. We caught minnows in buckets. We made sand castles and stone circles on the beach. We picked wildflowers (but not the bluebells of course – they were protected even then!) and made daisy chains and sang to one another and at one another. Of course, we also had the occasional argument or accident. There would, at times, be tears. These were often mine – I was a bit of a whiner! But on the whole, these days were full of fun, happiness and general well-being.
When I remember my childhood, I first think of these idyllic memories and am glad and grateful.