the distaff side

Among the really not very many photographs I keep are two or three of me and Rosemary who was a first friend.  She was dark blonde with a wonderfully shaped face and when the presenter of the local television show asked me years later what I remembered about her, I could hardly say her smell but she smelt like a plant or a herb, as precise as a perfume but harder to describe.

I woke up this morning thinking of Jean Treverton – and that led to how many names I could remember from school. Jean had thick wavy dark red hair, a singing colour, and she bustled.  I even own a piece of amber the same colour, it’s in a ring and although I cracked it years ago in a large gesture that ended up banged on a metal filing cabinet, I cannot part from it.  A alcoholic Buddhist (very Western) I only met once, somebody else’s fella, said “ You keep that – for the son you are going to have “. I think of him sometimes, well wishing me down the years.

In my last radio job, a man emailed that his wife had told him she went to school with me and I joyfully wrote back “Ginger hair, white skin with freckles, her father died early, her mother had a big house on Acklam Road: one of the kindest, nicest people you could ever meet !”    And there was Maureen who wasn’t a Maureen whom we christened  Mingi – for much or very – mingi maradardi means very pretty in Swahili – because she was.

Whenever I could,  I sat with Sue Sanderson, Jean Dunn and Lesley Gill while we talked our way through a tale with no ending about four friends at a medieval court (we must have liked the head dresses) so we describe every detail of what we wore – that’s what I remember, the endless preoccupation with colour and clothes  – and little adventures, all made up for our own entertainment.  I grew up with stories, stories read and stories told, and I obviously wasn’t alone.  This was just at the time that I had begun to see films  (the first was The Barkleys of Broadway with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the second a full length animation of Alice in Wonderland) other people had been to the Saturday morning matinees,  had older brothers and sisters in film clubs about sports and hobbies.  We were nine or ten.

I wasn’t thinking about best friends or regret at time passing.  I was just thinking who I could remember –   fair-haired Ann Simpson and Susan Milner who was tall and good at maths and Rosalie Annette Eve Kirkbright with dark curly hair, the only person in the class who, if asked her name, gave them all.  I remember the Caroles, with or without an e, Woodall and Irwin.   I remember Brenda Horsman, Helene Simon (who studied Russian – we were among the few state schools to take on a teacher of Russian), Ruth Saville and Gwendolyn Lamb.

I remember Dorothy Crosby as the only person who could put a drape into a school blazer, there was Doreen Turner and another Carole I met at the bus stop  – the first person I knew who wore stiffened petticoats every day and she introduced me to the music of Buddy Holly.  And Jennifer who hated me.

Years ago the Times Educational Supplement asked me if I would write about a favourite teacher and I couldn’t because I liked most of them and I couldn’t choose one.  So I had the great pleasure of writing about all of them.

And I think of women in the world of paid work –  Rose Phillip s the school secretary, Ellie at my first job, Avril who took me home to her family when my father died: Brenda who kept me employed longer than I might have been at the film company in Soho: Helene Kantor in New York, who made everything understandable.

I recall hands, faces, hair and voices.   I wonder if this means that they are gone to glory ?  Or just gone from my life.  Not from my memory, my sisters of the early morning smile.

“every one her own woman!”

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