I don’t remember my tenth birthday either. I might have had a party, but we were all growing out of them by that time. I found them an ordeal, I must say. I was an unsociable child and very shy. You may find that hard to believe now but, at least until I was sixteen or so, I was the shyest person I have ever met and even after that it took me many years of effort to become not shy.
However, that’s not relevant to my tenth birthday. If I didn’t have a party, we had a family day in London. Family days in London were normally spent mostly shopping with my mother, who loved London shops (there weren’t the good provincial shops in those days) plus a visit to a museum or some such place.
At this time, I was about to enter Junior 5 at my school. I was a year young for the final year of junior school but Junior 4 was the Remove, and the older pupils in the year were, if deemed academically able, skipped past it. I know that three of us, all with birthdays between September and December, did this (we were Z, Lynn and Julia) but I remember nothing else about it. I must have been taken from classmates going back five years and put with bigger boys and girls, and I went from being the oldest in the class to one of the youngest but I can’t remember a damn thing about it. I was an accepting sort of child, I didn’t understand what was happening so it was simplest to just take it and run, or amble slowly, with it.
My main achievements in the year were passing the 11 Plus and being the Walrus in the school play. I never took the 11 Plus, but I was deemed fit to enter Grammar School. My mother thought Grammar School was unsuitable however. She also thought that a half-decent school was unsuitable, so I continued my half-arsed education in Lowestoft. One of the regrets of my life was, when I went to the no-longer-Grammar School, it having been overtaken by comprehensive education, discovering that I could have learned Ancient Greek there. I couldn’t help wondering why I’d been obliged to spend all those years in a pretty inferior private school when I could have gone to an excellent state one. Many years later, I mentioned to my mother that, as I was a girl, my education didn’t matter – she was furious and denied it, but it was true. All the same, being as I say an accepting child, I just got on with things and was happy enough.
The Walrus – ah yes, as I’ve mentioned, I was the shyest person anywhere, evah. In the past (each year did a play for the end of term concert) I’d always been given non-speaking parts as it was assumed I’d have stage fright. In fact, as many actors will testify, they are not shy on stage, because they are not having to be themselves. One teacher got this, and proposed me, not as Alice (she wasn’t quite that brave) but as the Walrus. Actually, I was the very image of Alice, with long blonde hair and an – wait for it – Alice band. So that would have been boring.
It was fine. The only person who lost his nerve was Vincent, the Bart Simpson of the class, as we might say nowadays, who played the Mock Turtle. I wore a handlebar moustache, baggy trousers with braces and a red and white striped teeshirt.