I was never designed for work in the sense of having to go somewhere in the morning, having to be somewhere all day, having to be the someone everyone else was, having to do something I didn’t in the least want to be doing for hours. And hours. And hours. Then slouching home too tired to do anything else. I did it, of course. I had to. Not even the break most women take for child-rearing.
I don’t think I’m lazy. I don’t sit in front of the TV all day, watching one lot of drivel after another and pigging curly crisps from a cardboard tube. Actually, I got a couple of those tubes for my sister and brother-in-law when they came over from Canada. They’re so salty. How does anyone manage more than three of them without downing a glass of water? I don’t play Bingo on a phone app and I wouldn’t know where to start in one of those high-octane war-games. Most of the time when at home I am working, but after my own peculiar fashion; a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A bit of writing, a bit of feeding the cats, a bit more writing, a cup of coffee, a bit of tumble-drying, a bit of ironing, a bit more writing, a walk to the post box, a bit of reading, a sandwich and a yoghurt, a bit more writing, yanking a year’s worth of grass, mud and wiggly-woos out of the storm drain (this morning, yuk!) more writing, collecting ideas for writing, planning longer bits of writing; something-out-of-a-tin on toast and half a tin of stewed apple with a yoghurt on the top; feed the cats again, watch The News, more writing, more reading…
I work more effectively left to my own eccentric devices than I ever managed whilst corralled into an office with a massive stack of torn cardboard files full of legal stuff behind me, a word-processor and an ever-ringing phone in front. I run on inspiration rather than application. I can concentrate, ferociously and for long periods of time, but only on what interests me. Nothing else sticks.
So, when I was younger… well, ‘cool’ wasn’t a word then, except in connection with summer drinks and cotton blouses, but I did want to be a ballet dancer. This was after I felt I needed a horse in the back garden, where it would be quite happy. Also after my tentative and unsuccessful request for an acoustic guitar, to be paid for at 1/- a week from my pocket money. The ballet-dancing ambition was down to Lorna Hill. Lorna Hill was an author of children’s books, mostly about ballet. I have since learned that she started writing the ballet books when her daughter Vicki (Shirley Victorine) left home to be a ballet student at Sadler’s Wells. Lorna missed her, and started writing stories about young ballerinas at Sadler’s Wells. She started with A Dream of Sadler’s Wells (1950) and just carried on at the rate of one a year: Veronica at the Wells (1951), Masquerade at the Wells (1952), No Castanets at the Wells (1953), Ella at the Wells (1954), Return to the Wells (1955), Rosanna Joins the Wells (1956) and so on. She carried on writing until ill-health forced her to give it up, dying in 1991.
I just hoovered these books up as a child. My parents and grandparents, seeing there was nothing much else that interested me, apart from books, all joined at once and handed their tickets to me wholesale. I think at the time you were allowed five tickets per person so I had in my sticky little seven-year-old hands … four times five… twenty tickets, plus my own. I’m not sure whether the grown-ups had fully thought this through since it gave me instant, unrestrained and unmonitored access to the adult side of the library. Once a week I would stagger the mile and a half to the library (mostly uphill) with my old library books, having read all day, sometimes, and part of the night, with the traditional torch under the covers. I remember I had a torch which could be adjusted to shine red, green or white, which added a certain something. A while later I would stagger home with more books, some of which were children’s, others distinctly not. I remember trying to puzzle out a book called The Venial Sin which had pictures of men and ladies doing funny things on or under silken sheets. I never did puzzle it out. The librarian gave me a dark look when I returned it.
In the children’s section, I simply headed for ‘H’. Even now, I can picture where ‘H’ shelving was, and even where the Lorna Hills were within that shelving. That also happens when I’m hunting for quotes inside books. I can remember whether the bit I am searching for was on the left or the right-hand page, at the top or the bottom, whether there was white-space on the page, indicating the end of a paragraph. Recalling the page number would be more useful, but I have no memory for numbers.
So, I lived every moment of these little ballet books, and the triumphs and anguishes of their heroines. I pictured myself in a netty pink tutu doing arabesques and twirly-things all over the place; sitting on the studio floor darning the toes of my pink silk shoes the way ballet dancers must, winding those long pink ribbons around my long, pink legs and scraping my wild, pre-Raphaelite locks into an elegant chignon (whatever one of those was, it was always elegant), doggedly practising at the barre till my muscles cried out and my poor little ballerina toes were sore and bleeding…
The only problem was… well, there were a lot of problems but the most glaring was that I was tall, horribly tall, even as a child. With a six foot four father and a five foot seven mother, there is no escape from tallness. I was also somewhat… large boned. Not fat, you know, more Statuesque, more Junoesque. I was the sort of child that came in useful for fetching things down off the tops of high cupboards. I still come in useful for that. My mother was having problems with the changing of the clocks the other day. She remembered it was the day to do it but not how to do it, so of course I ended up doing it. She told me not to even bother with the kitchen clock as nobody could reach it. I reached up and hooked it off, without even stretching. This seemed to astonish, almost offend her. Yet how many years has she been looking at me? Dementia logic. I’ve shrunk so you’ve shrunk, at the same rate and to the same size. We have become one interconnected being.
At some point I discovered – allowed myself to discover – that a ballerina had to be under five foot seven, have a tiny smidgen of a waist and a tiny thigh measurement. Realistically, how was a male ballet dancer ever going to lift a great Emu like me? Tiny thighs have never been within my grasp. An elderly doctor once reassured me, when babies were failing to come along, that I would surely prove fertile because I possessed those Great Child-Bearing Thighs. Pervy, unnecessarily personal and, as it transpired, medically incorrect. Do thighs have any relevance to success in child-bearing anyway? Mostly, it would seem to involve lying down and screaming.
I asked for ballet lessons but, as in the case of the back-garden horse my request was declined. Piano lessons would have been a better choice, for a child like me, but we didn’t have a piano and my parents didn’t think I would stick at it, and they were probably right. Someone later told me I had piano-player’s hands. Probably all those years of typing had given me those since, unlike the rest of me, my hands are flexible, steely and honed. That Vulcan Live Long And Prosper thingy? Not a problem. Not much of a problem. But all I could ever play on the piano was Chopsticks. No doubt I’ve even forgotten that now.