Upon visiting my mother yesterday to deliver shopping and deal with correspondence, I found the bungalow more cluttered than usual and with the attache case of paperwork strewn all over the bed. A neighbour, on dropping off Mum’s newspaper and finding her frantically searching for a piece of paper, had told her ‘You don’t want to keep all your paperwork in one place! You should get rid of the old stuff you don’t need, archive the papers you do and keep the attache case for ongoing and current paperwork.’ Mother repeated these words of wisdom to me as if they were a sacred mantra from the most auspicious guru….the song I had been singing for 10 years, just like the song about the smoke alarm, the hearing aid, the cooker and the chair with the automatic foot rest. My tune had been discordant, unwelcomed by her ears but once the song was sung by others, Mum’s ears welcomed it.
An interesting bi-product of this paper clear out was the return to me of my old school reports, from junior school through seniors. My school career was detailed from the age of 7-17, ten years of my life commented on by the adult influences of my childhood…fascinating reading.
For example, all comments about art and craft from 7-15 years are of enthusiasm, creativity, dilligence and understanding, culminating in a C- and ‘Wendy struggles with art’. I remember the teacher and the argument I had with her (you will find the whole story in my first non-fiction book ‘Wendy Woo’s Year – A Pocketful of Smiles’ due to be published on 1st December 2012) and how her dismissal of my opinions about my work led me to neither draw nor paint again for ten years.
Another interesting comment came from my form teacher at the time who believed me a mature, thoughtful, intelligent individual who ‘must always use her influence for good when needed’ and ‘is capable of making constructive suggestions to the betterment of the form’. Had this elderly spinster any idea how difficult it would be to stand up in a class of 32 15 year olds and suggest they follow my lead?
I did well through school until 14 years of age and then, in the majority of subjects, I began to struggle. The comments of the teachers for the remaining 4 years were all about what I should do….’Learn vocabulary more thoroughly’, ‘have a better understanding of the basics’, be more organised with revision’ and ‘read more widely’ on a subject but none of them, not a single one, gave me any help, guidance or understanding in how to achieve these goals and yet, in my final year at junior school, I had achieved As in all subjects and was praised for my organisational skills with project work as well as my wide knowledge of a subject that brought depth to the work I produced!
My teacher in the final year at junior school, Mr Davies, was a great teacher….a great singer. An ex-policeman, big, broad with a roaring laugh, he told me I could vault over a horse in the gym because he wouldn’t let me fall and I trusted him. He believed in Maths, English and sport every day. He was strict and he worked us hard but he instilled in me a belief in my own abilities, irrespective of what others thought. He encouraged the thinking of the individual, being able to support an argument even if you were the only one who believed it and self confidence when faced with new tasks, subjects and challenges. I carried his song in my heart for 3 years until the grammar school teachers stripped me of my freedom of thought and insisted I learned what they said without question.
As a writer, I was most interested in the comments of the English teachers through the years. In my early school life, I reached dizzying heights of achievement with a reading age of 14 years at 9 years old and comments of ‘great ability’, ‘creative storytelling’ and ‘wide knowledge and understanding’ but as the years went on, the comments on the reports reflected the sorry tale that culminated in a C grade English A level.
It seems to me now that I was presented with what I needed to learn but my lack of understanding and ability to bring this knowledge together to form a concise, well planned and thoughtful argument, displays the lack of support I received from my teachers at the time. My maturity was based on a blinkered, narrow world where I was ill-informed and sheltered from unfavourable outside infuences. Instead of spreading my wings in the world of academia, I made myself a hermit’s cave and took refuge in it with my books. I drew my own conclusions and reached my own decisions based on the little that I knew. No longer was I the fun, popular member of the class, form captain term after term but the loner, the odd ball, the girl who came to school early to study and went home late.
I was 17 years old when I took Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ and shortened it, typing the whole thing to be reproduced on the Getstetner machine by the secretarial staff. I produced and directed the play for Oak House as well as playing the part of one of the critics. Our play won, out of 7 houses, acclaimed by the local councillors and director from the local theatre who judged our end of year showcase….and booed off the stage by the pupils at the school who hadn’t understood it.
Today, as a writer and storyteller, I am the singer….I hope you enjoy my songs.