Once again, Tim hardly needs an introduction to this series based around the China Doll. He evokes many emotions and continues to enthral us.
I promised myself that the third piece I wrote about China Dolls would be the last. Then, as I sent the last piece to Bob for him to decide about suitability to publish this one crept into my head. The last three had ready made titles. They forced their way into my head and insisted I write them whereas, this one snuck up behind me and whispered into my ear.
It’s about growing up in a weird household. It’s about being a china doll, being afraid of those with the power to smash me, but it’s about odd things too. It also looks at the duty of a parent, but sometimes in an oblique way.
When I was tiny, I thought my home was normal. There were, though, some odd things.
At the age of five I met David Morgan. He and I used to play together. We kept up our friendship when our primary school closed down when we were both seven and went to different schools. We rode our bikes together. We collected thrown away bits of bike to make track bikes from. He showed me his proudly. I had all the parts and had to confess that my mother refused to allow me to make a bike, far less ride one, because “Cow horn handlebars are common, dear.”
There was always this hidden agenda that David must be common because his parents lived in a semi-detached house and we were far better than that, living in a detached and rather ugly house. The weird thing about that, is that Mr Morgan drove a Wolesely 4/44 but we had a lowly Ford Prefect. I always wondered about that and, more so when The Morgans moved to a nice detached house.
I was discouraged from playing with David Morgan. He was ‘a bad influence’, or a real boy with real mischief about him but this didn’t stop me. I had a bike and could go and see him provided I lied about it. Not to him, obviously; he knew I was with him.
We lost track of each other around the age of 12 or 13. I’d like to meet him again just to find out how he turned out. Not much chance of that. How many David Morgans are there in the world? Well, only one who lived in Mortimer Crescent! Like that will work!
I was also encouraged to make friends with ‘suitable boys’ like the twins around the corner, whose father drove a ~gasp~ Lanchester. I’m sure they were very suitable. Lanchesters impressed us. They also didn’t make friends. The twins; Lanchesters are cars and cars don’t make friends either. My limited experience of twins suggests that many form a self contained unit, and need no-one else.
At seven, though, Class was taken care of. I was sent to a Preparatory School. We were Upper Class at last; it was official. The school rules said ‘No ragging in the street’ which was my parents’ perfect excuse not to allow me to play football with a tennis ball with the neighbours’ lads in the almost traffic free road outside our house. “No, dear, the school won’t allow it.”
I never learnt how to kick a ball properly. Come to think of it, I couldn’t catch a ball until I was in my mid teens. The reasons are similar, plus my father not bothering to play catch with me. The title of this piece, comes from stuff like this. Inept at sport, and never taught how to become better because that never happened in the schools of the day; I was always picked last for teams, or compulsorily put in the basic shags’ side.Being picked last, makes you die inside every time it happens. #team #children Click To Tweet
Finally I got there with a title, though!
Because we had now made it, class-wise, by buying a place at a prep school, my parents avoided any responsibility for my educational wellbeing. They didn’t even do basic quality control. At seven I was told I would just have to learn joined up writing, something we had not done at my primary school, because the unpleasant woman teaching us had ‘no time’ to teach me herself. They accepted that. My handwriting, for which I was complimented weeks beforehand went to hell in a handbasket. It was the bone idle teaching bitch’s fault, but where were my protectors?
I have, previously here, lifted up mine eyes unto the hills and screamed “From whence cometh my help?”
From nowhere. I am probably entitled to a “Good Grief!” here.
You’ve got used to my using myself as an example, I hope. There is a point to this largely maudlin ramble, you know.
The same woman taught us singing. I was humiliated in front of the class by the words “’NON-Singer’. Stand at the back and MIME the words. You may not make a sound!”
Even today I do not dare to sing in public for fear that the sound I make is musically offensive. She was a vile bitch who should never have been allowed near children. This was, in the simplest sense, Child Abuse.
My mother liked her.
As an aside, the lady was from Jamaica, and effected a non-Jamaican complexion despite being remarkably not white, by using pancake white makeup and white cotton gloves. My mother explained to me that many people from Jamaica had very white complexions.
In those days I had no bullshit resistance, nothing like the bullshit repellent aerosol I have today. I accepted this meekly, as I had accepted the previous year when I had been in hospital for tonsils and adenoids when she told me
They use the black nurses as night nurses, dear. It’s far less disturbing for the patients.
At the time, I assumed that was because the darker skin tones blended with the dark. Today, I wondered as I wrote that down, what she had meant by ‘disturbing’. I find that more and more disturbing today.
Children make no racial barriers. Children accept other people at face value, the face value of the person inside. Children major on nice to play with or not nice; they don’t look at skin colour as an attribute that makes a ha’porth of difference. Children look at the core of their playmates. I was being educated by my Upper Class mother to be potentially racist. I expect non-white folk were not Upper Class – like wot we was.
I wasn’t treated badly by the school; not beaten more than twice – though the first time, they drew blood. I was not made the subject of sexual abuse by any teachers. I was an academic child, not a sporty one, but I think that ‘not sporty’ part may be down to ‘No ragging in the street’ and being unable to kick or catch a ball well.
But here’s the thing. I was invited, sometimes to school friends’ homes. I offered a return match. No boy came to my home twice; visit one was enough. I don’t remember anything specially odd, but I was always supervised to within an inch of my life. That was unlikely to have made the visit a pleasure for my friends.
I didn’t get invited over after they’d been to my home, either.
At thirteen I transferred to a Public School in capital letters. I was a truly bright child, and also the youngest in my year. I was pretty good. Not the best, but way up there. My school reports, from then on, showed a child who was out of his depth.
…I was much too far out all my life, And not waving but drowning. – Stevie Smith
The school reported it in the reports to my parents. Those, whose job it was to protect and nurture me, were so happy they had bought me a fine education that they missed it, missed it every time. My wife looked at these reports out of curiosity some years ago and was horrified. She saw a child in a serious mess, one who needed help, one who was failing, and likely not through lack of ability.
I saw it, too. It made me cry, cry tears of sadness and tears of hot anger. How dare my parents let me down like that?
I was also going through the terror of finding I was homosexual at that time. This is about the outward signs of my struggle, not about homosexuality. This child was having a terrible time with his school work, and was not waving but drowning.
I’ve lived through a lifetime of unrequited love. I might never have won his heart, but, if I’d not been too scared of my weird parents and what they would have done to me, I would have been able to tell him I loved him and learned to accept his almost certain rejection. I could list the many injustices, major and minor. I have a final pair.
When I was about 16 my mother, out of nowhere, asked me “Do you masturbate, dear?”
Excuse me? What possible business of hers could that topic be? What was she hoping to achieve by asking me that? That was a real rapport building question, that was. I wish I’d thought faster and told her I had toothpaste stains on my pyjamas. Instead I just said that I didn’t. It seemed that was the correct answer.
At 17 I was finally allowed to go to parties, provided the next day was not a school day, and it was at a friend’s house, and their parents were to be present, and no alcohol was to be drunk. I had friends by then who were also girls. I was a member of a sailing club, I had a sport I was good at and a hobby. Again, out of the blue, came this:
Your father and I are so glad to see you’re going out with girls now, dear. He and I thought you might be going to be homosexual.
Well, slap my behind and call me Mary! I’ve already told you how they stopped me from meeting girls, when I needed to meet them to try not to be homosexual, and now suddenly they were glad I was meeting girls. Actually, please neither slap my behind nor call me Mary. I’m homosexual, not a BDSM adherent, nor Trans. I mean no disrespect to those who are.
I have enough injustices and stupidities from my formative years to fill a substantial book, but I want to do something else here, today, instead. I want to ask you a question.
I don’t mean “Was your childhood as weird as mine?” We’re not comparing childhoods. I’ve shown you the weirdness that surrounded me and which created the environment for my mental health to suffer. It caused me to consider suicide as a serious option. I’m pleased I discounted it but I considered it carefully and seriously.
I’m an example. I may even be an extreme example, but, remember, this stuff was my normality, my loving home, my doting parents. I have no idea whether I was raised in a reasonably usual way or whether my parents were Dagenham, which is, as we know, way past Barking. This was the stuff I went home to every night, went to school to every day.
It formed me. I’ve even wondered if I am gay because I was starved of true affection as a child and looked for it in my only real companions, other boys.
This normality formed me. My normality was surprised, as an adult, to find black nurses on the wards during the daylight hours!
Here’s the thing. Try not to say “At Last!”
You, too, were formed in great part from your home and school lives. Your opinions, your prejudices, your hopes, fears, friendships, ability to trust, these were all formed by your experiences of life. As a parent, do you, will you, pass on what you learned in the way you learned it? Was that way a good way?
My background is in marketing, in launching new products. If we had a poor performing product we could repackage it and relaunch it.
You can correct your approach as you find it’s not right. You can have a radical rethink. Ideally, you will talk to your child about what’s going wrong, what they need to change, what they need you to do to help them.
Nike has a slogan, Just Do It! JDI!
I have a slogan for you: JFDI!
Work it out!
If you’re the one in my shoes, a child still, perhaps, an adult maybe, and recognise something of yourself in my description of young Tim then I’m glad you’re here. I have a question for you:Have you chosen to be a victim or a survivor? Click To Tweet
It is very much a choice, your choice, no-one else’s choice.
I wonder if we need a little time for that to sink in. Just before you dismiss me as a fool who knows nothing about you I have news for you. I’ve been called a fool before, I’ve acted like a fool before and I do know nothing about you.
And yet, right now, if the pieces are starting to shuffle towards being in place for you, even a little, perhaps, just perhaps, by knowing a little about me, you can discover that there is a choice in there for you. Maybe the time to make the choice is a little in your future. So let me ask which is better, which you prefer.
Victims get a bit of sympathy, a couple of buckets full of pity, some even get 15 minutes of fame. Then they carry on being victims, with all the baggage that victim status carries with it. The pain stays with you for ever. You’ll die with it and you may die early because of the stress of it.
Survivors don’t get a walk in the park, you know. It takes grit to be a survivor. I know you’ve got grit because you’re reading this. Something’s caught your interest, turned the gritty part of you on to it. And no, I still don’t know you, nor anything about you; you can tell me about ‘you’ in the comments if you like and I promise to reply. Survivors have to work hard; there’s a load of stuff to unwind, to sort out, to process, to learn how to recover from and it takes all the grit you’ve got.
But the rewards for the survivor are a life where you can remember the pain but no longer suffer from it. I can’t forget the many painful things that have happened in my life. Sometimes the memories are painful. But I lived though them and I refuse to be a victim.
So, that’s choice. Which sounds better? Both are tough, but you’re in a tough place right now. Which sounds better?
Still undecided, eh?
Took me a while, too. First, I had to understand that I needed to make the choice at all. I learned that, as you will see from one of my previous posts,
… at home, in a lovely hot bath, with candles lit, and the lights off. It had been provided by my wife, with love. The setting was peace and tranquillity. And, in that setting, I found myself in a deluge of sudden tears.
It wasn’t quite clear to me then. It took me some time to understand that I was where I was because of all the choices I had made to get myself there.
That meant I needed to choose to get out of the deep mess I was busy ‘enjoying’, otherwise I’d stay there and the manure I was treading water in would finally engulf me. I had to work out where to turn for help. You’re already here, at one of the places you can find it.
Will you choose?
Will you choose, today?
I’m nobody’s victim. I’m a survivor. I made my choice. I’ve worked hard to be a survivor. I’m making it.
Which will you choose?