One of the things which contributes to my Borderline Personality Disorder is a complete inability to tolerate anything which I perceive as an injustice. I am not ‘cured’ of this nor, in all probability, will I ever be. I don’t mean that I get hot under the collar and seethe about incidences of injustice in the news – I do, but then so do almost all sensible human beings. No, what I mean is that if I feel that I am being unjustly treated, in however small a way, I am liable either to fly into a screaming, tearing rage or descend into a pit of suicidal despair. In other words, I over-react wildly and this has been the trigger for many of my breakdowns over the years.
Before my years of counselling and therapy, I could bear a grudge for Britain, too! I would lie awake at night and go over the trivial episodes where I was, to my mind, the victim of injustice, right back to my first days at school. Which brings us neatly to the next installment of my story … The Whittingham School.
To say that I hated The Whittingham would be seriously to understate the case! I still feel that awful sensation of impending doom in the pit of my stomach when I see the above photograph of myself in the uniform. I look so happy and excited – little did I know what lay in store.
The school building was a big, rambling old house in Highgate. I clearly remember Mum walking me into the building and the two of us being shown into the Headmistress’s lair. It’s odd that I can’t remember the old bat’s face or name, but Boy!, can I remember what her office looked like! It was a large, high-ceilinged Victorian drawing room – dark and stuffed with the heavy furniture of the period, every surface covered in nick-nackery as was the fashion in the era it portrayed. Ominously (to my not-quite-four-year-old eyes) a cane was mounted on one of the walls!
Before I quite knew what was afoot, Mum was being hustled out of the door and I was left in this horrible room with an alarming old woman whom I had never met before. (It’s quite possible that she wasn’t old – but in my memory she is the archetypal Grimm’s hag!) Not unnaturally I began to cry and made to go after my mother but I couldn’t open the vast, heavy door. She sat there – not speaking but smiling at me in what I perceived to be a very sinister fashion. After a while, when my crying had not abated, she began to be impatient. “Oh, really – this won’t do!” and words to that effect … but it was no use, I was terrified. She saw that my eyes were fixed on the cane and said “Yes, it’s for naughty girls who won’t stop crying!” Really helpful, eh?
Eventually, I suppose I must have run out of tears and I was led to one of the classrooms. I remember very little of the rest of that day except for two things. Firstly at lunch, where all the pupils perched on wooden benches around a long table, a girl near me was violently sick onto the cloth. It was horribly apparent that she had been eating cheese. From that day onward I have been unable to bear the smell of strong cheese, indeed, I went from loving the stuff to refusing to eat it at all, in any form, an aversion which lasted well into my twenties.
Secondly, the staff insisted on calling me Susan. I corrected them, explaining that I was called Wendy, and always had been. They ignored me as though I hadn’t spoken. In fairness, my birth certificate does give my name as Susan Wendy Rickett but everyone has always called me Wendy. It’s a family peculiarity – my mother’s name was Lucy Hazel Parkinson but she was only ever known as Hazel throughout her life. As a result, when I didn’t immediately respond if someone said “Susan!”, they assumed that I was being awkward or inattentive, rather than just not realising that they meant me!!
I don’t remember going home that afternoon but I know I must have told Mum how horrible it was and how they wouldn’t call me by my right name and so on at great length. I remember vividly the next morning – and many mornings thereafter – refusing to go back there and being horrified that Mum and Dad could actually want to leave me again with these awful people!
In Mum and Dad’s bedroom there stood a massive, old-fashioned dressing table, which was placed diagonally across one corner of the room. I discovered that not only could I wriggle underneath and behind it, but that once there it was well-nigh impossible for an adult to reach me, much less to haul me out. So this became the morning ritual, I would take the first opportunity to sprint into the bedroom and squirm into my sanctuary – from whence it took Mum any amount of cajoling, bribery and when all else failed threats, to winkle me out.
I suppose that the business of my given name must have been ironed out in due course but it wasn’t long before my name became a bone of contention once again – this time over the spelling of my surname. We were each given a box of plastic letters which somehow clipped together and told to make our own names. “Aha!” I thought, “No problem!” Mum had taught me how to read and write my own name and this was going to be a piece of cake!
After much rummaging in the box and a commensurate amount of effort expended in making the warped letters stay clipped together, I proudly displayed my name – WENDY RICKETT. The teacher gave me a patronising smirk and said “Now, that’s not how we spell our last name, is it?” She proceeded to change the spelling to RICKETS. Now we had a saying in our family, precisely because the spelling of our name was unusual, to whit “I’m a person, not a disease!” Without thinking, I blurted this out, with what effect you can no doubt imagine. However, I knew I was right and the teacher was wrong and I wasn’t going to back down for her or anyone else! This resulted in me spending the rest of the afternoon sitting in the corner with my face to the wall.
I think my stubborn refusal to back down when I know I’m right is something I inherited from Dad, ironically enough. This streak in both of us led to some mighty clashes between us, particularly during my adolescence, although I’m very glad to say that once I was an adult we became extremely close. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. All that was still WAY in the future and apart from Dad’s determination that I would do as I was told without question (when he was the one doing the telling!) life at home was “sunshine, lollipops and roses” to quote the old song.
Happily for me, before I had been a year at the hated Whittingham, Dad was promoted to Sergeant, transferred to a different Division and we moved to Walthamstow in the East End of London. (For those of you who don’t know London but who watch East Enders – Walthamstow, E17 and neighbouring Chingford, E4 were amalgamated to form the fictional Walford, E20!) From our spacious but elderly flat in Muswell Hill, with Highgate Woods for our back garden, we transferred to a modern police flat in a small block standing in its own grounds in the middle of Walthamstow. A greater contrast would have been hard to find but I was so glad to be free of that horrible Whittingham School that I barely noticed.