The Blue ‘Twist Dress’
My primary school career was not distinguished. My arithmetic report said ‘slow to grasp new ideas’ and I was even kept down a year at one point. The school finally gave in to the inevitable and let me re-join my contemporaries in the top class. I suppose they thought I would not be much trouble there, quietly not understanding much and lost in my own thoughts. The teacher, who looked a bit like Harold Wilson, liked to read to us in the afternoons. He always chose boys’ stories. ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ seared terrifying images into my mind of the heroes being trapped in the cave with only diamonds ‘to eat and drink their fill of’, and then on escaping, being so hungry they killed an animal and ate its liver, still warm.
The only lesson I enjoyed was painting, even though I just copied the work of a talented classmate, and throughout the autumn painted red and black leaves and mushrooms. While I painted I looked with longing at a beautiful blond boy who sat on the other side of the room, but there was not much chance he would notice me.
The only other thing I remember about this classroom is the music of the Beatles. Not that we listened to it there, but it swept across us, transforming us from 1950s schoolchildren into 1960s teenagers. Before the teacher arrived in the classroom in the mornings there was excited chatter about the latest song and which Beatle was your favourite. I did not own a record player so just had to listen on the radio, but it did not seem to matter.
At around this time, my mother finally gave in to my pleas and bought me a ‘twist dress’. It was blue, with the requisite low waist, straight bodice and full skirt. I danced in this dress in the parish hall at the back of the Church. The music was ‘Telstar’ by ‘The Tornadoes’. It was not obvious how to dance to this – not the Twist, obviously – so I just floated about allowing myself to be carried along by the song’s dreamy melody, and feeling completely happy in my new blue dress. For the first time in my life, I was in and of the moment.