For the next year or two, the exact chronology of events is a little hazy, so please forgive me if I appear to leap-frog back and forth in time. It’s also from this point onward that things become a little darker and more serious, so once again, forgive me if my humour is a little thinner on the ground then it has been until now.
Looking back over these first few ‘instalments‘ of my blog, a question has occurred to me, to which maybe some of you out there will know the answer. I wonder whether it was the events of my early life which led to me developing Borderline Personality Disorder etc. – or whether the fact that I was pre-disposed to develop these conditions led me to cling to my grudges and wear my past difficulties like a hair shirt until I was in my fifties? Keep reading and when we slog our way to the end of the tale, tell me what you think!
The sad thing about moving up to High School was that Angie didn’t go with me. She went to Sidney Burnell, the local Secondary School in Highams Park, and it was not long before we began to drift apart and make new friends at our respective schools. I cannot remember how I met a lad of the same age as me, called Alun Roberts, but we did become quite good friends for a while. He lived near Highams Park Lake, a wooded area around a local boating lake that stretched between Highams Park and Chingford. Alun, along with another lad whose name escapes me, and I spent most of our free time in the woods around the lake.
One frosty morning we were watching the ducks skating and sliding on the ice and had the brain-wave of trying to break some of the ice for them. Armed with longish, stout sticks and large stones, we began our assault on the ice nearest the shore. So engrossed were we in our task that we didn’t notice the arrival of an oldish man, who stood by the shore watching us. When we eventually spotted him, he called out to us that he had seen us throwing stones at the ducks and was going to report us to the Park Ranger. With true male gallantry, Alun and his friend sprinted off at high speed, leaving me to face the music! I couldn’t run as I was half in and half out of the shallow water at the lake’s edge, where we had been breaking the surface ice. I turned to the man and tried to explain that far from harming the ducks, we had been trying to help them by breaking the ice. I scrambled to the shore where he nipped in front of me so that I couldn’t follow the boys and said he was going to search my pockets for stones. He then proceeded to sexually assault me.
While it was happening I wasn’t terribly scared or even shocked – it was just rather unpleasant and “dirty” in my 11-year-old mind. I can’t remember how I got away from him, I expect he simply shambled off and left me. He wasn’t a rapist – just a rather sad old man whom I now know to have been a paedophile.
I was, however, thoroughly pissed at Alun for running off and leaving me, so I by-passed his house and went straight home. When I arrived it was to a scene of uproar – Alun had obviously watched what was happening for a while and then run home to tell his Mum – by the time they arrived back at the lake I was gone. They then drove post-haste to my house, not seeing me en route as I had gone the pedestrian way through the woods and back roads. I came in to find Mum and Dad were in the process of alerting the police.
If the actual assault had little effect on me at the time, the fall-out certainly did! I was questioned by Dad and Mum, who were twice as upset as I had been, and it began to feel as though I was the one who had done something dreadful. Everyone seemed to be so angry and I could only assume they were angry with me. I did my best to play the whole thing down, saying it was nothing, he had only “touched” me, I was fine – and so on. Luckily, Mum was against me having a medical examination and her will, for once, prevailed. I think that would have been the last straw!
Naturally, my lake-side activities were seriously curtailed for a while and I don’t remember spending any time with Alun after that episode. I believe Dad had told him that he wasn’t to come near me and I can’t say I blame him.
It must have been not long after this that Mum went to Yorkshire to visit Grandma and Grandpa and left me at home with Dad. This was a most unusual occurrence – if Mum went to Yorkshire I always went with her and I was not happy at being excluded. However, it was term-time and her excuse was that I had to go to school. In actual fact, I believe she went to seek Grandma and Grandpa’s advice, as relations between her and Dad were at an all-time low.
As I settled into life at the High School, my relationship with Dad had begun to deteriorate. I was starting to test boundaries and assert my own will which did NOT go down well with Dad and we regularly butted heads. I don’t remember what caused the row between Dad and I while Mum was away, only that it was ferocious and left me feeling that “the end of the world was nigh“. The following day was Saturday and Dad was on “Early Turn” so that I was on my own for the morning and early afternoon. I could see no way out of the trouble I was in, convinced that when Mum came home she would side with Dad and everything would be even worse.
I remember trudging miserably down into Highams Park to the Chemist on Hale End Road and purchasing a large bottle of aspirin, having told the Chemist it was for my parents. I then trudged back home where I made myself a big jug of milky coffee and used it to wash down the bottle of aspirin. I then went up to my bedroom, got into bed and lay there waiting to die. Making the coffee with milk probably saved me from the worst effects of my actions as it must have lined my stomach.
The next thing I remember was Dad coming home and finding me in bed. I told him I felt sick (which by that time was true) and he helped me into the WC and held me over the bowl while I regurgitated a solid mass of partly digested aspirin tablets, about the size of a tennis ball. Needless to say he was horrified and very shaken when he realised what I had done. I don’t remember what happened next but I think he must have telephoned Mum, causing her to cut short her visit and come home.
The next event of any consequence that I remember from this time was Mum and I going up to Yorkshire to live with Grandma & Grandpa for a while. We must have gone up for Christmas and stayed on, as I was enrolled for the Spring Term at Batley Girls’ Grammar School, my Mum’s “Alma Mater”. I now know that this was by way of being a trial separation for Mum and Dad, but at the time I knew nothing about why we were there or if / when we would be returning to London. Apart from the fact that the Deputy Headmistress, a Miss Sowden, detested me on sight and was continually on my case because I didn’t have the correct uniform, it must have gone pretty smoothly because I remember very little about it.
One thing I must mention is that during this term spent at Batley I met a quiet, wryly funny girl called June, with whom I hit it off straight away. We became firm friends and, much to the chagrin of her Mum, who considered me a very bad influence with “my posh London ways“, we were more or less inseparable and have remained “Best Friends” ever since – a period of 50 years, to date. When Mum and Dad decided to “give it another go” and we returned to London, June and I wrote to each other almost every day.
Back at Walthamstow High School for the Summer Term, it took me no time at all to find my way back into my old social circles, few – if any – of which met with Mum and Dad’s approval. Our form seemed to divide itself into two quite separate groups and these were led by two outstandingly clever girls called Sylvia and Lesley. Sylvia and I disliked each other on sight – for no good reason that I can remember – and so I quite naturally found myself in Lesley’s group. Whilst Sylvia was clever by dint of a lot of hard work, Lesley was – to put it simply – brilliant. She sailed through everything with a minimum of effort and as her number one admirer I followed her example. Now, I was also a very clever girl, but Lesley left me standing and I could have done much better if I had put in a bit more effort, the way Sylvia did! However, the die was cast – I was a part of Lesley’s set and detested the group around Sylvia and all their ways.
I say that I was part of Lesley’s group – and as far as I was concerned, I was. But they were a fickle bunch and would chop and change allegiances at the drop of a hat. It was common knowledge that Lesley had “troubles at home“, although we never knew what they were, and there were times when she would eschew my company for no reason that I could understand. The rest of the group would take their cue from her and I frequently found myself temporarily ostracised without knowing why. It was dreadfully confusing – and on top of the constant clashes with Dad at home it did nothing to improve either my academic performance or my mental health.