The next few years of my childhood were probably the best and happiest of my life. Anyone with the stamina to read this blog to the bitter end might be forgiven for thinking that my whole life has been one long streak of misery – not so! It’s just that I am setting out to highlight the small, apparently trivial things which affect those of us with mental health problems so profoundly throughout our lives. This being the case, the good times are not particularly relevant to my story, but there were plenty of them, I can assure you.
There were six flats in the block where we lived, two each on the ground, first and second floors. Ours was one of the second floor flats but there were two other young families – Mr & Mrs Coote on the first floor with their two daughters who were younger than me, and Mr & Mrs Pallant on the ground floor with their daughter (also called Wendy) who was a year older than me. It was a nice, tight little community and I came to enjoy it very much.
With the move to Walthamstow came a new Infant School, St Mary’s Church of England. The only vaguely negative thing that I remember about this excellent seat of learning was that, thanks to Mum and Dad’s influence, I was way ahead of the class when it came to reading. Exposed at home to a diet of A.A. Milne’s excellent series of ‘Pooh’ books and anthologies of children’s poetry, Kenneth Graham’s ‘Wind In The Willows’, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘A Child’s Garden of Verse’, I did not find the “Janet and John” Reading Primers, which were the standard fare at school, either challenging or stimulating. My exasperated form teacher expressed the view that my parents ought not to have taught me to read – that was her job! Ouch!!
However, in due course I was elevated to the Maynard Road Junior School where I was more than adequately challenged and stimulated. I think it became apparent even then that language was going to be my first love and my forté, and I romped through my classes with relish. With figures I was not so good … but basic arithmetic wasn’t too great a challenge and I could learn my “times tables” by rote as well as the next pupil.
I really only remember one negative incident at Maynard Road, but it was to have a really profound effect on me for the rest of my life. Our form teacher, a young Welsh lady by the name of Mrs Davies, set us an exercise which was to write a poem, in our own time, and read it to the class the following week. This was the type of assignment I loved and I threw myself into it, heart and soul. At that time I became really interested in the exotic – jungles, desert islands, anything and everything which was completely outwith my sphere of experience. My poem was therefore about a South-Sea Island. It was pure fantasy but I chose my words very carefully while letting my imagination run riot. I was extremely proud of the finished ‘opus’ and showed it to Mum, who was very complimentary – by no means a foregone conclusion, Mum was honest to a fault!
When I presented my masterwork to the class next day, Mrs Davies accused me of plagiarising it. She said I couldn’t possibly have any knowledge of such a place and I couldn’t possibly have known some of the language I used – ergo, the work was not my own. I blurted out that it WAS my own work, that I had used my imagination … She simply replied that I was lying and told the whole class that I had cheated . I was dumb-struck (not something which happened to me very often, even then!) and absolutely devastated. At the end of afternoon class I ran all the way home in floods of tears and poured out my story to Mum. Mrs Davies had told the whole class I was a cheat and a liar – and it wasn’t true!
I fully expected Mum to be as upset and angry as I was and felt sure she would stand up for me to Mrs Davies and make her eat her harsh words. To my absolute horror, Mum simply said it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. We knew that it was my own work and it was good – and that was all that mattered. I begged her to tell Mrs Davies that I hadn’t cheated but she wouldn’t. I don’t believe I have ever felt such a sense of disbelief in my life – my own Mum wouldn’t speak up for me – I don’t know if I knew at the time that what I felt was betrayed, but years later I certainly knew it.
In retrospect – and in the interests of fairness – I should point out that Mum had troubles of her own at this time, of which I, naturally, knew nothing. I will explain later on what was happening in her life but suffice it to say that my spat with Mrs Davies paled into insignificance by comparison. However, at the time, I knew none of this and felt that the solid foundations on which my life had, until now, been built were crumbling beneath me.
Life – naturally – went on more or less as normal after this incident. Dad attended the Inspector’s course at Bramshill Police College, which he passed with flying colours and became, at 30 years of age, the youngest person ever promoted to Inspector in the Met. Of course, it would be nothing nowadays, with Graduate Fast-Tracking and so forth but back then it was really something. However, the down side of this was that he seemed always to be working and Mum and I saw less of him than ever before.
The other tenants on the second floor, whose name escapes me, were older than Mum & Dad, The Cootes and The Pallants. They had a teenage nephew, Geoff, who seemed to spend a lot of time at their flat. Geoff went out of his way to talk to me when we met on the stairs or in the garden and everyone thought this was very sweet of him. Sometimes I would bump into him on my walk home from school and he would walk with me, chatting all the way. He always allowed me to precede him up the stairs to the second floor and I thought nothing of it (well, at my tender age you wouldn’t, would you?) until the day when he put his hand up my skirt! Not having learned at that time to keep quiet about such things or to lie about them, I told Mum straight away. I don’t know what was said or done – but Geoff was far less in evidence across the landing from then onwards – and I never again bumped into him on my way home from school.
Soon afterwards, we were on the move again, this time to our own house in Highams Park – a leafy suburb between Walthamstow and Chingford. It was just far enough away for me to have to change schools and I was enrolled at Selwyn Road Junior School in Highams Park without delay.
Next door but one to our new home lived a beautiful girl called Angela Coe, who was in the same year as me at Selwyn Road. We hit it off together immediately and became “best friends” very soon thereafter.