This is the initial synopsis for a book I am writing. I would really appreciate any and all comments, please send me a message with your thoughts, constructive criticism or otherwise. Thank you.
I soon learned how to get the attention I’d been missing as I grew older. I would sing and dance, performing solo at the top of my voice on my swing in the garden. The neighbours would applaud and the old Polish man from next door would sometimes throw me a bag of sweets from his upstairs window.
Although there were few books in the house, except for an outrageously expensive white leather bible with thick colour plates, I started to read: jam jars, cereal packets, road signs, anything my greedy, curious, brain could find.
Eventually, this became a “nuisance”, so I was taken to the local library and let loose in the children’s section, where I would borrow the maximum number of titles and devour them.
Around this time, my father’s boss and his wife, “Uncle Bill and Auntie Bette” took a keen interest in me. They were a wealthy, elderly couple in their sixties, who had never had children of their own.
They gave me expensive gifts from their travels, a life size chimpanzee doll, a koala family made from real koala fur, a pair of tiny hand-embroidered snow boots from Switzerland, a handmade red velvet dress, with a lace collar from Paris. I was their favourite little doll and my mother took to changing me five times a day, dressing me up in exotic creations.
Eventually, Uncle Bill used to take me to stay with them every weekend. Both my mother and father were working and I saw little of them.
Uncle Bill’s home was pristine. I had to remove my shoes to walk on the silk Persian rugs. They had puffy silk eiderdowns and exotic souvenirs of their travels; a porcelain geisha, a tribe of ivory elephants. Although I was a curious child, I knew not to touch.
Bill took me on long nature rambles in the woods, teaching me the names of trees and plants, lifting me up to look at the eggs in bird’s nests and we would sit quietly on fold up stools on the brow of a hill to sketch the landscape for hours.
I was taught about the world from a series of 1920′s encyclopaedias. The subjects ranged from classical myths, to miracles of nature and a particularly colonial view of people of the commonwealth. I was fascinated by the sepia photographs of strange tribes and customs, triple rainbows and fossils.
When my brother was born, my mother was very ill. She had fallen badly when pregnant and had developed Bell’s Palsy that left her face disfigured into a sneer on one side, with a permanently arched eyebrow and downturned mouth.
I remember her spending days in bed, staring up at the ceiling, crying softly. My baby brother was in his cot at the end of the bed, listless but awake, so I’d tickle his tummy to make him gurgle and wind up my ballerina music box, which played The Blue Danube. He’d watch the ballerina in her white net tutu and golden bodice, twirl and then fall asleep to the slowing plinking notes.
I still played alone much of the time. So I existed in a fantasy world of princesses and fairies and families that lived inside trees. And books, of all kinds, devoured fanatically with a torch under the bedclothes at night.
I managed to disappoint my mother on my first day of school. I had stoically suffered the hour of preparation, my hair brushed 100 times, my body scrubbed pink in the bath. Worst of all was my stinging scalp as my naturally wavy hair was pulled straight either side of a searing parting and tied tightly with elastic bands topped with blue ribbons. Once she was happy with how I looked, she marched me down to the school gates, just a block away.
Unlike the other children who were sobbing at the thought of leaving their mothers, I ran, free and joyful into the playground. I was so happy to be joining the ranks of the uniformed kids that I had watched, at their mysterious games, from my bedroom window.
I soon found out that my precocious learning alienated me from the other children and exasperated the teachers. Myself and a German boy were taken aside, given the full set of the Peter and Jane reading books and told we could take them home, but had to read all of them. They were pretty basic. “This is Peter”, “This is Jane” and were prescribed teaching in the sixties. Needless to say, we polished them off, in a bored fashion, very quickly.
At a loss, the teacher gave us a new experimental teaching kit. It consisted of a large angled box, filled with colour coded cards. We had to read each card and answer questions on it. We then had to take an answer card and mark ourselves against it.
Unfortunately, this special treatment did not endear Alexander and I to the other pupils. We were sent to Coventry in the playground and called “clever dicks, brain boxes and swots”. Social leprosy at that age.
But children are born survivors and we soon gathered a clique of other outsiders; Elizabeth, who in her round spectacles and tweed pinafores already looked and acted like a miniature librarian, Jennifer, a newly arrived Jamaican girl, with intricately plaited hair and older brothers who looked like the Jackson Five and Johnie, a tiny, fey Arabic boy, who had something girlish about him.
We’d invent elaborate games, mini plays where we acted out the adventures of our favourite characters, while the other children played noisy, violent games of British bulldog and the girly girls skipped to ancient rhymes in groups of “best friends”.
I was chosen to play the part of the Virgin Mary at 6. That didn’t improve my popularity. I remember walking through the school hall, in my costume, holding the baby doll Jesus, with Joseph, a quiet boy named Ernest at my side, as I took central stage, singing my heart out, I was aware of mass approval for the very first time.
My parents were proud too – lapping up the comments of the other mums and dads, “She’s a credit to you” becoming the standard on which I would be forever judged.