Well, mother. That is, childhood shapes the adult, of course.
And yet, I have changed hugely, I’m very different from child Z. My childhood could almost be defined by my shyness and general bewilderment. I never understood how others could seem so confident, make friends easily when I had such little self-confidence that I never, throughout my childhood, referred to anyone as a friend. Pathetically, I was afraid that the person might correct me, would scoff at the thought of me calling them friend. Even more pathetically, I very rarely called anyone by their name, just in case I got it wrong. Susan might have decided to be called Sue, or her name really be Sarah and I’d forgotten.
Yes, I know. Two things – one, what a drip/poor confused idiot child. Two, blimey I’ve changed. You’re right in both respects.
My mother told me that I was a normally outgoing toddler until someone called at the hotel – she was a sales rep for china and glass and lived in a flat on Bournemouth seafront. Although their connection was originally business, she and my parents became friends and on this occasion she came to lunch. Apparently, she burst into the room where I was sitting and came to sweep me into her arms. I was terrified and, to the embarrassment of the friend and my mother, cried inconsolably and had to be given lunch in another room as I wouldn’t come to the table.
And my mother said that I never got over it. Now, looking back, I can see that she shouldn’t have let me get away with it, that this behaviour was allowed to get embedded and it became impossible to alter, but it was understandable that she did. I was sweet and biddable and we adored each other and it was probably only too easy to baby me a bit too much. I was also, however, very strong-willed at the bottom of it all. There are various childhood anecdotes about my father and Al is the same – good-natured and willing to go along with a great deal, but when you get to the sticking point, we don’t give in.
At home, I was happy and confident, if rather solitary and bookish. Wink is several years older than I am and I was used to my own company. I did have friends, usually two or three rather than a bigger group. I can’t have been very rewarding to teach, once I went to school. Although I could express myself eloquently on paper, I contributed nothing verbally to lessons. I was afraid of getting it wrong and being laughed at and, later, too selfish to contribute to a discussion, reckoning that I’d get more credit for writing an idea down than offering it to the group. I tended, and still do, to come up with a quirky angle on a subject. I would talk to a teacher one-to-one, but there were usually a couple of people bursting with ideas in a general discussion and, even if I’d have been willing to offer anything, I’d not have bothered to try to assert myself.
In the way of shy people, I was confident when acting a part – what a pity that my secondary school didn’t do much in the way of acting. It could have done me a lot of good. There was a certain amount of musical performance, but I loathed that. I played the piano reasonably competently, but tended to fall apart if anyone was listening other than my teacher. I couldn’t sing in public, if I thought there was any danger that anyone might pick my voice out among the others then I would mouth the words and make no sound. I was no good at games. Small, not very fast (I wonder now if my undiagnosed hip-socket slight malformation had any effect on me being a poor runner), short-sighted though not enough to wear glasses all the time, poor at aiming, no competitive or team spirit, all I was reasonably good at was long jump (the length of the run was just about my distance), throwing a javelin (Mike can tell you how keen I am on cold steel) and I wasn’t a bad tennis player. I could even extend my meagre teamliness to doubles, though I got bored after a few deuces and reckoned that, if the other person was that desperate to win, fair enough and I stopped trying.
It was daft, I was so distant from things, not just people. I was more likely to read about wild flowers than to go out and look at them. I had a lot of armchair knowledge but little practical experience. I was an odd child.