At five I was photographed in my new school uniform: grey tunic, white blouse, red blazer, and a big red bow in my almost white, straight hair. In the picture I am leaning forward towards the camera, with a huge smile on my face. I have just skipped round and round the garden path, chanting ‘I’m going to school’.
All of this joy evaporated quickly when I discovered that in school you had to sit in rows in silence, doing sums. If you got them right, you moved forward in the row. If not you stayed at the back, conspicuous in your shame.
There were PE lessons, where you had to run and jump, and learn difficult games. I longed to sing in the choir, but was not chosen. In the Christmas play, I wanted to be an angel, or Mary, but instead got the part of the sick child. No doubt chosen for this because of my pallor, the dark rings under my eyes. My ‘costume’ was blue and white striped pyjamas and a dark red dressing gown. I felt ashamed again, appearing in front of the whole school in night attire. I only had one line, the last one in the play – ‘It’s the nicest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen’. I thought about the first Christmas I could remember, at my grandparents’ house, and I delivered the line in the loudest voice I could muster.