When Mum and I returned from our brief sojourn in Yorkshire, Mum and Dad decided to have marriage counselling with a view to getting their relationship back on track. In addition, and I believe, partly as a result of the aspirin incident, I was sent off to see a Child Psychiatrist as it was felt that Mum and Dad’s issues were also affecting me.
This was my first experience of counselling and, if I am honest, I didn’t think much of it. I remember very little about it except that it felt to me as if I was being “punished” for my misdeeds, rather than counselled because of my problems. On only one occasion do I remember asking for help from this woman (whose name I cannot remember) and for the life of me I cannot recall whether or not any help was forthcoming. Yes, it was THAT good!
It was during this time that I contracted Glandular Fever. I woke up one morning feeling distinctly unwell and called out to Mum. She felt I should stay at home as I had a high temperature – Dad, for reasons which would become apparent later on – was furious and insisted that I should go to school. I was on my way downstairs when, on the broad landing halfway down, I quietly fainted away. That decided the issue and I was bundled back to bed. Dad was on late turn so he was to stay at home with me until Mum got home from her work at tea-time.
Dad was marvellous – extremely solicitous – and brought me drinks and pain-killers at regular intervals. I was barely conscious much of the time but I kept thinking I could hear voices downstairs, which was puzzling as Dad was on his own (I thought). Then around lunchtime I thought I could hear Mum and Dad arguing in low, urgent tones. This definitely couldn’t be right, I thought, so I crawled out of bed and dragged myself onto the upstairs landing, to peer down through the banisters. The door to the living room was closed and Mum and Dad were struggling in the hallway – Mum trying to go into the living room and Dad holding her back. At that point they must have become aware of my presence and they let each other go. Mum came up to get me back into bed and that was the end of the incident, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I discovered the voices I had heard at first were those of Dad and Carol, his “girlfriend”. They had arranged to meet at the house while I was at school and Mum at work, so my illness really threw a spanner in their works! Mum was so worried about me that she came home from work at lunchtime to see how I was and consequently caught them “in flagrante delicto”. Carol was in the living room and Mum wanted to go in to confront her, while Dad was determined to prevent her from doing so. A horrible situation for everyone concerned and one which, when I knew the truth, left me terribly confused and conflicted.
I’m aware that the picture I’m painting of my Dad is far from flattering and I would hate anyone to think that this was all there was to him. In spite of our many clashes, he could be hilariously funny and very loving towards both Mum and me. He was highly intelligent and a great draughtsman and could be really good company both to adults and children alike. I mention this now because my relationship with him deteriorated even more in the next few years until it seemed we barely tolerated each other. It was a horrible time for both of us.
All my classmates at Walthamstow knew that I was a policeman’s daughter, and an Inspector’s daughter at that. It was therefore deemed necessary to make me break the law – as many of my friends did – partly so that I couldn’t “grass” on them and partly for the sheer hell of it. Dad was equally determined that I should never, ever break the law, even by accident. I once brought home a biro which I had found in the street and he went absolutely berserk, telling me that this was called “stealing by finding” and a criminal offence. Something of an over-reaction but it had the desired effect.
I did flirt with the wrong side of the law, in order to stay “in” with my friends, but managed to avoid actually breaking it myself at any point. Life was a constant tightrope walk between the expectations of my Dad on one side and my peers on the other. At 12 years old I started smoking. Mum was a smoker but Dad was not and hated the habit. Naturally, this became a huge bone of contention between all of us. A lot of my peers were experimenting with “pot” at this time but I managed to avoid smoking it myself, while not appearing to disapprove – no mean feat! I accepted a lift with another girl and two boys we knew in what turned out, when we were stopped by the police, to be a stolen car! I had had no idea and was absolutely terrified that Dad would find out but thankfully he didn’t. My first real boyfriend took me to a pub once and tried to buy me an alcoholic drink (at the tender age of 14!). He was 18 himself and didn’t see the problem – but as luck would have it the pub he chose was my Dad’s local and the landlord took one look at me and refused to serve us. Even back then I was my Dad’s spit and image! He did, however, tell Dad about it and you can guess what his reaction was.
Why did I let myself be dragged into these things? Well, it largely comes back to what I mentioned before about the gang being somewhat “fickle”, particularly Lesley, whom I idolised. I felt I had to do these things in order to keep in their good books as NOT being in their good books was too awful to be contemplated. For example – there was the affair of the pond.
Walthamstow High School for Girls had wonderful grounds, which included, as well as a games field and tennis courts, an outdoor Greek-style amphitheatre that was used for plays etc. in the Summer months and a wild area, surrounded by shrubbery, which included a deepish pond that was home to frogs, newts and assorted wildlife.
I don’t remember what, if anything, I had done to incur Lesley’s wrath that day but she had decided that whatever it was required immediate retribution. She rounded up the rest of the gang during the lunch hour and sought me out amongst the shrubbery (where I was probably enjoying a crafty puff!). They laid hold of me and dragged me bodily to the pond, where, after tormenting me both physically and mentally for half an hour, they threw me in.
Happily for me I managed not to sprawl full length in the water but I did fall to my knees, soaking my shoes, socks and the bottom half of my uniform skirt. I was in a dreadful state and I couldn’t go straight back to class as if nothing had happened, so I went to the office and asked them, between sobs, to arrange for me to see my Psychologist. Naturally there were a lot of questions about what had happened but I refused to answer and just kept asking them to call the Psychologist. Eventually they did so and I went squelching off to see her but I have no recollection of what was said or done. Only that by the time I got home I had dried out considerably and was able to make up some story to Mum about my damp shoes and socks.
Someone must have seen me go into the office as the following day, when I returned to school, I found that someone had drawn grass in green chalk on the underside of my desk lid. It took me a long time to persuade them all that I had not, in fact, told anybody anything!
There were lots of other incidences of this kind of treatment, either at Lesley’s instigation or Sylvia’s. For if Lesley’s cohorts had “fallen out with me” they would cosy up to Sylvia for a while in order to ensure that I was completely isolated. They would chalk appalling things about me on the form room blackboard for everyone to see; they once engineered an actual physical fight between Sylvia and me, in such a clever way that neither of us could back down! One thing I remember very clearly was the one occasion on which I visited a particular youth club. Mum had bought me a really gorgeous yellow canvas double-breasted shower coat and a pair of matching yellow shoes. Naturally I couldn’t wait to wear them and this outing seemed the perfect occasion. They were all very friendly with me that evening and I was having a really good time. At the end of the evening, I went to the cloakroom to get my coat and found that it had been screwed up in a wash basin, soaked with water and then stamped and trodden on until it was a sodden, filthy rag. As I picked it up and shook it, preparatory to leaving, I could hear mocking laughter from the doorway.
Nowadays people are aware of bullying and will take action to stamp it out. Back in the 1960s you just had to get on with it, which I tried my best to do. When I was “in” with Lesley, everything was fine – but when I wasn’t it was pure hell.
During one of my “in” periods, a classmate called Olwen was having a party at her home one Saturday evening, to which I was invited. Mum had bought me a special dress and some new shoes (I was very hard on shoes!) for the occasion and I was really looking forward to it. However, a couple of days before the big event, Mum found ten cigarettes in my school bag and I was grounded – no big party night for me!
On the Saturday, Angie came up for the afternoon and when it was time for her to leave, Mum gave me permission to walk part of the way home with her. Being me – I seized my opportunity and notwithstanding my scruffy “casual” attire, I hopped on a bus to Chingford, determined not to miss the party. I didn’t think beyond the party itself and was confident that neither Mum nor Dad knew where Olwen lived so I would be safe until it was time to go home and face the music. I reckoned without Dad’s police resources. When it became clear that I had done a lot more than walk Angie home, Dad somehow found Olwen’s address and came over to Chingford to fetch me. He waited on Olwen’s drive for me to come outside and then hit me so hard that I flew half-way down the drive, grazing my knees and arms as I skidded along the gravel. Olwen’s parents were about to phone the police, as this was a bit too extreme, even in those days, when someone pointed out that Dad WAS the police and there would be little point.
When we arrived home Mum was horrified at my condition – I was bleeding quite spectacularly and having hysterics into the bargain. It says much for Dad’s skill that he managed to get a hysterical and thoroughly reluctant teenager home on a motor-scooter pillion without accident! She would not take my side against Dad – she never did and I now admire her for her loyalty, even though it was to my detriment – but she spent an hour in the bathroom with me, bathing my various cuts and grazes and trying to calm me down.
Dad sat downstairs seething and fuming with rage – not only because of my behaviour but – as I now know – because he knew had had gone too far and was angry with himself. Needless to say this marked the absolute nadir of our relationship and it was a number of years before there was anything in the way of change. Our dealings with one another from then until I was around 15 were never warmer than a kind of armed truce.