The other day I found a little pocket diary from my last year at school, just before I went off to university. I was a couple of years younger then than my youngest child is now.
But what a square bear! My main interests were: homework (“Nature imagery in “Persuasion”- make notes”); a (very) few social engagements (“Under 21’s disco, Preston Grasshoppers Club”); a driving test date (failed); a list of “essentials” for university: 1. Buy duffle coat; 2. Buy long woolly scarf; 3. Kettle?… – all written in a constipated, miniaturised script.
Tiny handwriting for a tiny life. No wonder I was so desperate to get away.
Mrs Mutton, Summer 1976, in THAT Ohio State University sweatshirt
It did make me think though. Now, l’m technically old enough to be her grandmother, what would that girl think of how I’ve spent these intervening years? Would she be pleased, disappointed? She’d certainly get a surprise or two.
Reader, I married somebody. Cover your ears, younger women. At a reactionary all girls school in the 1970’s, getting married was still pretty much our main aspiration. The alternatives were too terrible to contemplate: become a nun; care for your aged parents; be a Latin teacher, or, worst of all “fall pregnant by the wayside” (according to the nuns at school, a fate worse than death). So we were always talking about prospective husbands.
I dimly remember doctors being high up on the list. And Americans, a category purely theoretical since none of us had never actually met one. I had got closer than most because I did own an Ohio State University sweatshirt from Grattan’s catalogue which I wore all the time (see photo above). We imagined ourselves wed to one of four types of Americans: blonde West Coast “Beach Boys” (oh, the disappointment when I clapped eyes on the actual Beach Boys!); clever law students as in “Paperchase”; a father figure like Dick Van Dyke or, ever loyal, David Cassidy (swoon!).
In fact, no Americans ever crossed my path. I met a clever, handsome, feisty Northern boy and fell for him. On paper, he’s the worst of every world: not a single medical qualification and from Yorkshire. He has, however, very many redeeming features which have allowed me, over time, to overlook his negligence in being born in Keighley.
I’m hardly a triathlete, but the idea I would, of my own free will, put on gym clothes or run, if not towards an accident in the hope of saving life, would have baffled Little Miss Mutton.
“Games” at school, we considered an ironic misnomer. Only hefty tomboys steaming malodorously all day long, enjoyed it. The rest of us shivered on the touchline, trying to look as weedy as possible in the hope of not being picked, so we could fold the tabards, put the cones out and chat.
I did, however, nurse a small yearning to be able to do a cartwheel. For a while I practised unsuccessfully every lunch break at school. Then “Jackie” magazine, David Cassidy and mascara took over. Shame. I’m pretty good at magazines and mascara but I still can’t do a cartwheel.
In the midst of (yet another) mid life crisis late last year, I found myself having a rather beautiful botanical bee tattooed on my forearm. That would be a definite surprise. Back then, only sailors and dockers had tattoos.
I’m a little surprised myself to tell the truth. But, no, it didn’t hurt – well, not if you’ve ever had your eyebrows threaded. Yes, it’s a little bigger than I intended, about two inches across. No, I don’t think it’s the first of many. Yes, I do really like it. But I have enough of my Northern convent school self still left to get a little jolt whenever I catch sight of it.
Like a lot of aspirational working class kids, my plan was to end up in the professions. In fact my school put me off trying for medical school (not for nice girls, unlike nursing). That was probably just as well since I suspect all I wanted was the lab coat and stethoscope. A couple of days in a sleepy Preston solicitors’ office, were sufficient to put me off law. Well, there’s still time for teaching I suppose.
Like everyone back then I had pretty perfect recall of every advertising jingle from 1969 onwards (Altogether now.. “A finger of fudge, is just enough to give your kids a treat…”), but I had no idea there was a job called working in advertising. 17 year old me would have taken a dim view of a job like that – especially one without its own special costume.
Nobody we knew drank wine. Well, not “table wine”. My grandma doled out Buckfast and Sanatogen tonic wines with a heavy hand whenever we looked peaky. My English teacher, in this year of the diary, invited me to her house for dinner. She lived in a big house in Lancaster and her husband was a professor. I remember she served red wine. Sipping it was like a surreptitious Bushtucker trial.
By 17 I was sneaking into pubs and clubs and hoping not to bump into my Dad’s mates (the downside of small town life) but my drink of choice was the classy and sophisticated lager and blackcurrant. Mmm. I can’t remember when I weaned myself onto wine but I’ve got through a cellar or two since those diary days.
I have been lucky. In the last few years I have travelled extensively. All for work, but, hey, what a privilege to travel to far flung places on someone else’s dime.
I’ve never lived abroad though. I’ve had a few opportunities but I always told myself there would be a later, more convenient time. Secretly, I suspect a certain amount of inherent cowardice lurked in there somewhere: such a big move; such a big risk.
In the end I outsourced my wanderlust by marrying someone whose parents had lived abroad all of his childhood – impossibly glamorous to someone for whom a trip to Blackpool was a twice yearly treat. But it turned out he’d had enough of the nomadic life, so since we’ve lived in the same house for 22 years, I reckon we’re here to stay.
Finally, I would be delighted to be blonde again. As a fair haired child, I was indignant at the loss of my flaxen locks. Post puberty, I spent any spare money I had trying to restore the lost highlights of yore to my puddle coloured mop. I started on Shaders & Toners (wash in, inspect barely noticeable change of shade under bright light, notice slightly auburn highlights, wash out again). I graduated onto Recital hair colours – Florida Blonde – although the result was more Florida Orange.
I couldn’t have believed that just by spending incredible amounts of money with increasing regularity I could be as blonde as my baby self. I’d be thrilled! A married bottle blonde. With a tattoo. Who drinks wine. She would barely recognise me.