@Cazzwebbo threw down the gauntlet of writing a song based on the questions below and I vowed to make it my half term job. It took me back down a lot of pathways! Here goes:
How did you used to get to school?
When I was at primary school in Gillingham I guess I must have walked – probably with my mum and younger sister but I have no memory of it. I think that occasionally my dad would pick us up in the car – a novelty at the time. In Monifieth I walked to the primary school and once ran home at break because I thought it was lunch time. I was very flustered! When I transferred to high school in Broughty Ferry we used to get the train. This was a good wheeze because most days we managed to not pay our fair and had money for the sweetie shop. In Barnsley it was a combination of bus and walk and in Liverpool it was the bus – except when they went on strike and we all had to walk everywhere. That went on for ages but I really enjoyed as we had to walk across Sefton Park. As you can see, it was a bit varied and unconventional!
Who was your first crush?
I was always a bit star struck (I wanted to be an actress but recognised I would never manage it so went in to the branch of acting that is teaching!) so had celebrity crushes galore. My first was Richard Chamberlain in Doctor Kildare and Cliff Richard who, my mum assured me, was not married because he was waiting for me. Seems she was right!
I was pretty fond of Bobby Seith – son of a footballer – who was in my class but we were just mates. I didn’t really understand about boys until well in to my teens! Funnily enough, when I went to New Heys High in Liverpool I was very pally with John Gidman (once we had become co-ed) who went on to play football for Everton amongst others. We used to pretend to be brother and sister but I have no idea why! There was alas Greg who was the love of my life. I was devoted to him but alas, it was not to be. I often wonder where he is and how his life panned out.
Did either of you know about it?
Nobody much noticed me.
What was your first car like? Make? Model? Condition?
I think it was a Standard something or other. It was quite old but in good nick and I didn’t realise it was quite fast. I just knew I could leave everyone standing at the lights but had no idea why being a bit of a nitwit in these matters as I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my 30s.
How did you feel when your crush got into the car? If they never did, perhaps insert an imaginary dream scenario here about how you might have felt if that had ever happened.
It never happened dear reader but had Richard or Cliff ever got in the car I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Do you ever drive back through the place you grew up? What do you think about when you do? What does it remind you of?
As you can see from my first response, I had quite a peripatetic childhood. It’s one of the reasons I have stayed in the same town as an adult – I wanted my children to have stability and a belonging that I never had. I have never been back to my starting point in Kent amongst the Medway towns but have lovely memories of long summer days, lots of sunshine and freedom. I loved our house – and funnily enough live in a very similar style house now. We had apple trees in the garden and my sister and I had to pick up the fallen apples to earn pocket money. We had a cat called Panda which my sister used to dress up and wheel to the shop in my dolls’ pram. Going back is on my to-do list. I did go back to Monifieth some years ago with my husband and sons. It was nostalgic. The school is now council offices so I guess that the woman from the bread shop no longer brings hot rolls to the railings at break time to sell for two old pence each! Much of the little town is the same but it all seemed so much smaller. I took my dad back to Barnsley a few years ago. It was radically different in the town centre where we lived in a hotel for six weeks when we re-located from Scotland but not much changed in the suburb here we lived in a very nice bungalow.
I feel quite sad writing about it. I loved these places but my childhood was one long trail of being there, loving it and moving on. I have no childhood friends further back than Liverpool where I moved when I was fourteen and no place I feel I can call my own. I think that’s why I have no particular loyalty to a place – although I wish I did – and don’t understand intense attachment to places.
What songs on the radio take you back? What memories do those songs trigger?
Brown Sugar reminds me of college and the Saturday disco and is guaranteed to get my feet moving. I’m moved by beautiful music whenever I hear it and I cry easily. The worst is Christmas Carols! The first notes will have the tears flowing – especially In the Bleak Midwinter – and I have no idea why.
Do you wish you could go back in time to then? Why? Why not?
This is a difficult one, really. I have very happy memories from all those places even though times were not always happy. We fled in the night to Scotland following a crisis in my parents’ marriage. My mother hated Scotland and all things Scots mainly because she had developed a hatred of my father so that didn’t make for an easy time. I came in for some bullying because I was different and that was quite miserable. Barnsley was a brief stop-over and the end of my parents’ turbulent marriage. I mainly spent time alone or looking after younger children.
So, I guess not. What I would really like is to be from somewhere but I’m not.
What other memories do you have from just after you left school?
I was quite immature and had no idea about the world at all. One of my school chums gave birth before the end of the summer we left school and none of us knew she was pregnant! I’m not sure I even knew what caused babies! I spent the summer kicking around and working at Woolies while I waited to start college. I was still with Greg so I spent a lot of time with him and his baby sister.
What were the ups and downs?
I was lucky to go to college because my mum had absolutely no money. She and my dad split when we went to Liverpool – I only found out two years ago that he just came home and found us all gone. It must be put on the record that my dad was hard work! My mum worked three jobs to keep my sister and me. We would be woken about six in the morning by the keys of the typewriter which was on a table in our bedroom, tap, tap, tapping away as she did correspondence for one of her jobs. She was a talented, clever woman scarred by her childhood, hating school and being evacuated with her sisters for the whole of the war. She left school at fourteen as was the custom then and went to secretarial college. She never thought she was capable of anything else after that and there was no-one to encourage her to think differently. It is for this reason I have always been vehemently against vocational courses for under 16s.
We had a lot of laughs my mum and sister and I. My mum loved dancing and used to take me to the dance halls of Liverpool – Reece’s and the Grafton – when I was only sixteen. It was both exhilarating and scary at the same time. I had mates, we had laughs and sweaty parties with a bit of groping going on. I had a job in Woolies. It could have been worse.
Do you remember falling in love? Who with?
I loved Greg with every fibre of my being.
Did you try smoking? Provide some detail about the experience. How long ago does it seem like now?
I have always had a visceral hatred of smoking. I lived in a household – mum, Nan, by this time, and sister – where I was the only non-smoker. I always thought it a dirty, disgusting habit and, in fact, have been slightly phobic about it. I cannot even hold a cigarette and have to work hard not to wash my hands when I have to handle matches. It’s crackers but has saved my health and a lot of money. My greatest sorrow is that, despite this good role modelling on my part, both my sons smoke – although not in front of me!
Thinking of the road you now look back on as the roughest one around, how did it seem to you at the time when growing up?
There wasn’t one. The roughest road was growing up!
When driving, do you ever turn your stereo up and roll your windows down? On what type of occasion?
No. I listen almost exclusively to Radio 4. I’m a bit boring, really. If I did it would be Brown Sugar by The Stones just because I felt like it.
In your late teens, what did you never imagine about your future that is the case now?
I never thought Greg and I wouldn’t love each other forever.
I never thought I would have a successful career and earn the professional respect of my colleagues – something I value a great deal.
I never thought I would be retiring.
I never thought I would be married more than once.
I never thought I would fail to give my sons the nuclear family I so wanted them to have.
I never thought I’d allow them to make so little of their education because I didn’t realise how much I needed to put into it.
I never thought I would have a son living at home in his thirties when my sole aim was to raise them to be independent and successful.
I never thought I’d have a fully paid for house or that it would take me the best part of forty years to manage it.
I never thought I’d have a second property in Spain or that I would have a good enough pension to enable me to do that.
What types of stuff from your late teens did you think could never end?
Love, sunshine, good times.
How has time taken over since then? What has changed? What can’t you fight?
There’s been a lot of time since then with very many ups and downs.
My love life has been fairly disastrous and caused a lot of pain and difficulty all round. I was lucky that John found me and brought strength and stability and encouragement and love with him. My family is hopeless. On my mum’s side they were all a bit feisty and there was never more than two people speaking to each other at any given time! It was female heavy and on the plus side it did teach me the importance of being independent and that women don’t need men. I had a brief flirtation with the whole stay-at –home-while-the-man-brings-home-the-bacon thing but got severely burnt by it. Since then I have never not earned my own living and paid my own bills. My dad’s lot were a big, Catholic family – 13, with 11 surviving past childhood. There are aunts and uncles I have never met and those I did were not interested in my sister and me. No-one attempted to have any contact with us once my parents were divorced. Come to think of it, they didn’t before that either!! My father died in November and only one of the last five has bothered to offer condolences.
My parents both died suddenly and unaccountably – you can’t fight that. You can’t fight your kids’ battles but I have tried really hard to do so.
I don’t want to fight – mostly it’s not worth it!
How do you feel about making it this far?
I have reached contentment. I have a lovely family, husband, sons, stepsons and grandchildren who give me a great deal of pleasure. I’ve even been in touch with my sister after eight years of radio silence. I have lots of friends and masses of things to do. It feels good.
I am loved and that’s all any of us need.
What reminds you of your first kiss? Tell us more…
I’d like to but I can’t remember it!