On some of our school holiday, days, mum took us to her work. Some of the time we spent sitting in the high backed seats at the milk-bar doing drawings or reading. I loved reading and mum had brought me a sad book about a little crippled, lame prince. The Greek boss, was very nice to my sister and me, making us yummy milkshakes and paying for tickets for us to go to the pictures.
Mum also sent us on the train to a lady who lived in Khandallah and looked after lots of kids. I never liked her at all, she was mean to the little kids and left the baby crying hard out, in its cot all the time. Us bigger ones tried to escape the house as much as possible. We wandered about the neighborhood and went roaming in the Wilton’s bush park.
A lady mum knew and we liked because she gave us Mackintoshes toffees, came for sleepovers when mum was away overnight. My sister and me would sleep together in her big bed, and if we asked mum where she was going to, she would tell us, ‘to see a man about a dog’, which we sort of, half hoped, was true.
Mum agreed to me joining one of my school friends at a weekly Brownies group, it was a bit of a hike for us to the church hall up at the Miramar central shops where it was held. A lady we all called, ‘Brown Owl’, gave me one of the brown tunic dress, uniforms, all the kids wore, with a yellow tie and a tiny golden Pixie bar badge pinned on it.
Each session ‘Brown Owl’ laid out a large white table-cloth on the floor and in its middle placed a ginormous white mushroom covered in big red spots. All of us little pixies as we were named, sat cross-legged around the table-cloth edges.
After reciting the Brownies mantra, promising to do our best for God and the King we did the Brownies salute. The fun part was after this, working on lots of different skills and challenges to earn felt badges that pictured the activity. Badges earned were stitched onto the sleeves of our tunics. I figured some of the others must have been beavering away on badges for a long time because their tunic sleeves were nearly totally covered over.
At the end of the afternoon, my friend and I faced a long walk back to the Miramar Junction to catch our Strathmore tram, and amused ourselves along the way by inventing dares for each other to do. Sometimes it was banging on letter boxes, running up house paths to ring doorbells, or sneaking into gardens to pick flowers, all just for the heck of it. Each successful mission would make us feel exhilarated, and excited as we ran flat tack away up the street laughing out loud at our own daring cheek.
Bored waiting around outside the dairy for our tram to come rattling along, we popped inside for a nosy. Peering at the sweets in their counter, I was suddenly caught short and couldn’t hold on any longer, accidentally, wetting myself right there and then on the shop floor. Luckily just in time our tram appeared and we raced out of the shop and leapt aboard. I never dared to return to that shop again in case they remembered my face and my puddle.
March 3, 1953, mum gave me a real watch present for my tenth birthday. It would help us with getting to school on time. My school day, birthday, started out just like other days, with teacher wanting someone to read out loud. The other kids always called out my name and teacher picked me. I never knew if they did that because they wanted to escape being picked, or if they really, did, like it when I read.
Teacher always made the readers stand out in front of the class which made me feel very nervous, thinking that the kids would spot my funny school blouse and second hand gym frock. Before the start of the school term, mum had got the bright idea to take to my old floral dresses, that didn’t fit any more, with her big black scissors. Chopping them in half, she separated tops from bottoms, and ‘WALLAH’, in her eyes, had now new created blouses for under my gym frock. That the real school uniform was a white school blouse was irrelevant to mum.
Anyway, with all this running around in my brain, I glued my eyes on my book and began reading. Almost immediately, Jeffrey, began his usual, distracting, calling out in class. Teacher told me to, ‘pay no attention and get on with it’ as she headed his way at the very back of class. Quickly, I got some words out, but in the back of my mind I was listening to her fancy high heeled shoes, clomp clomping on the wooden floors.
Unable to resist a sneak peek, my words faltered as I couldn’t believe my eyes at the drama taking place at the back of the classroom. After weaving through the close packed rows of desks, Teacher dragged a chair alongside Jeffrey’s desk, climbed up on it and slowly sank down on top of his head.
The rest of the class turned around to join me in gawking at Jeffrey’s head, flattened into the desktop, his squashed up face poking out from under teacher’s skirt, was getting redder and redder. His protesting, moaning and groaning voice fading away to silence. Watching Jeffrey squirm and gasp for air, with no body to be seen, reminded me about Nana’s, King Henry the Eighth of England story. He used to chop off the heads of the wives he didn’t want any more.
Teacher’s shrill, ‘get on with it’, cut through my thoughts of headless people and chickens and for a few rash seconds, feeling sorry for Jeffrey, I thought of shouting back for her to, get off him. In the end I was too scared. Fed up with my dithering, and the kids fidgeting, teacher let me off the hook and chose a new reader. I hurried back to the safety of my desk to calm down.