So I am five years old and my father decided that I should learn to be a boy. This meant that when he played with an engine I had to stand beside him and hand on the tools he wanted. I learnt a lot while this phase lasted.
Then the day came when my mother said “You go to school tomorrow”. School? I knew my sister was at school but somehow I thought I wouldn’t be doing the same thing as her because she was Dad’s pet. Anyway what was school? Nobody told me but the next morning I trotted of to school with my mother.
Dress had changed. I now had dresses to my knees and elastic in the leg bloomers. Ball bouncing was allowed and although on Sunday one wore one’s best the whole idea was relaxed. Whilst church was well kept on Sunday, Sunday school was a recognised must. Having a Catholic father and a Quaker mother I was forever being switched around. My sister remained High Church even when she was grown up. I became all and nothing. Just had faith.
We sat on two hard chairs whilst all around us kids ran and shouted and screamed. Some other mothers just stood and chatted not heeding the noise.
Suddenly a bell rang and like magic everyone disappeared. Just a tall big lady was left and holding out her hand she said “Come with me”. I wasn’t going to be magicked away by anyone so I dived for a door that was open at the side of a platform. This platform I later learnt was at the end of the hall and had storage under it for chairs and things. It was a hideaway for me as it was low and the big lady couldn’t get in. The lady and my mother tried to talk me out but I wasn’t going to be tricked into disappearing like those other kids.
After vain efforts by others a soft voiced person crawled through the door and came to sit by me. She didn’t touch me and though I was ready to fight she talked me into expressing my fears. When she learnt that I refused to be magicked. She explained the children were only in classrooms being taught and had not disappeared. I felt I could trust her and left my hideaway holding her hand. Of course mother started slapping me and calling me a naughty girl but the soft voice soon put a stop to that and held me tightly to her side.
After some discussion I was allowed to leave with Miss Golding holding me by the hand and gently explaining everything as we walked. We visited rooms with lots of kids in them and finally she urged me to go and play with some of them. This was hard for me to do as I had never been free to mix with other children. My mother always said that other children brought colds and measles etc. and wouldn’t let me play with them.
All went well, and I liked school, until my first belting at home for something. I can’t remember what, when my dear Miss Goldy reported bruising to the headmistress. The next I knew two priests arrived at our front door to talk to my father. His roar and declaring that what he did with his family was his business sent them on their way. In those days there was no law against cruelty to children or wives. They were a man’s possessions. Of course I collected another smacking for complaining. It wasn’t until later years that I learned my father was a catholic. Lapsed but still a catholic.
Life went on and I became quite fond of school and learnt to mix with other kids. All holidays were spent in Devon and it became my favourite place. More like home than home.
I had developed a liking for words and started to write poetry. I can’t remember what but suddenly I was absorbed in writing a play. At eight years old it must have been drivel but I was proud of it. Then calamity, my father found it. Some of his friends were visiting and he pulled me out of bed, stood me in front of these friends and commanded me to read my play. With tears of fright pouring down my face I stood in my nightdress and read it right through. All the time he made snide remarks and laughed. Then he snatched my work from me and threw it on the burning fire.
As it burned I cried but his relentless voice ordered me back to bed and to “Never write such rubbish again”. Only too pleased to escape without a smacking, I fled to my bed declaring my hate for the monster and that I would never write again.
Over my bed hung a picture of Jesus with arms reaching out and beside him an Angel. I always told “Him” of my troubles and asked for help. That picture still stays in my mind and I still talk to “Him”.
My main source of play was a box of screws. They stood on their heads and became anything I desired. My mother said I would sit all morning just looking at them with perhaps a few moves now and again. At one point she tried to take them away from me but I howled so loudly she gave them back. She didn’t understand that when I was just looking, all kinds of teaching, battles and parties were going on in my head. The leader was always a big brass screw, shiny and gold. I couldn’t write yet but the stories were there even then.