I was born at three o’clock in the morning in 1973, under the glare of the bedroom ceiling light, on a bed covered in plastic sheets in a square 1960’s semi-detached house in Yorkshire.
When I was five years old, my first teacher was Mrs Cruickshank. She had steel-blue eyes enlarged to a terrifying googliness by her magnifying spectacles that were framed in pearlescent, pink plastic to match her pink rinse. She wore maroon crocodile shoes and fawn-coloured tights that flattened Daddy Long Legs on her strong, old lady calves. When she gave her special smile that was reserved only for little boys, deadly venom dripped from her canines. In her presence, I could not speak or think or move. I was paralysed in fear. I was utterly mute. Mrs Cruickshank was a whiz with a wooden ruler. She told my mother I was stupid. I agreed.
Later on, I found privacy from the intrusiveness of my rowdy family in writing and I escaped in words. Inner sanctum did not last long. The three sisters took English exercise books from my school bag and read my stories out loud to one another for their evening entertainment.
‘And then I woke up with no arms and legs!’ squealed Marjorie in delight.
The evil trinity howled hysterically and revelled and rolled around in the morbid gore of a shark attack. They mocked my imagination which they considered to be uncharacteristically dark for an eight year old girl. I don’t know why they were surprised; we had all watched Jaws 1 and 2 together after all.
At high school I met a friend. Her name was Ronda. She didn’t like P.E. either. I enjoyed my first truant with Ronda. Instead of walking into the changing rooms, we conspicuously walked across the chalk-white lines of the school field and ran into the woods. Legging it, as it was called, with the prison-like deportment of the hulking school mass disappearing steadily from view, was exhilarating. It was freedom. We enjoyed hanging around the disused playground while tufts of grass crept up the rusted, blue metal poles of the swing frame and grew around our woollen tights.
I should have been in the sports hall being picked last for the netball team and shouted at by Miss Yates for not running fast enough or not defending or not attacking or not catching the ball. That ball. It came alive in my butter-fingers and bounced off sweaty palms into the hands of my opponent. I did not want an opponent and I did not want the ball.
And so, I truanted and then I truanted more and then Ronda, Nicky and I drank Ronda’s Dad’s home-made plum wine and looked at his pornographic magazines one afternoon instead of attending Biology. It was biology of a sort. Only Nicky evacuated plum wine all over her school desk in the next lesson. And then I got caught over and over again until I earned the grand title of ‘truant’. I became adept, or so I thought, at forging my mother’s signature on my truant notes but unfortunately I wasn’t very good at that either. By the time I had earned the grand titles of ‘inept truant’ and ‘ham-fisted forger’, school was almost over.
I didn’t try because I didn’t think I was any good you see. I said I didn’t care but I did. I cared.
At eighteen I started working in my Dad’s surgery. I remember a lady there talking loudly. Her name was Doris. Her hair was translucent, blond-grey and it gleamed in harsh strip lighting. She was talking to another woman.
‘I mean I feel sorry for all those coffee-coloured kids…they don’t know where they come from, they don’t even know who they are, I mean who’s going to want to marry them?’ she said indignantly.
I looked at my forearm. It was the colour of coffee. Not the greyed, dirty dishwater colour of Mellow Birds. More the colour of a nice, warm, nutty Arabica bean monsooned in Malabar, with a splash of cream, I prefer to think. But I do know where I come from. I was born where I was conceived; on that saggy old mattress. And my Dad was born on an island six thousand miles away and he fell in love with a Yorkshire lass. And as for marriage, ‘well I’m too young to think about that’, I thought.
But people like Doris made me want to know more. And so, I woke up one morning and decided I would. I moved to London and I studied Anthropology at UCL. They let me in because I knew a bit about bonobos. Then I buggered off to Thailand and Vietnam and Australia and I came back with no money. So I worked in a job I hated for five years. They gave me a car and a phone and a computer and I got by until my soul was hanging from the jaws of Satan’s hellhound and then I left. I found a job I hated less for the next five years and then I got angry so I took an MA in Human Rights Law. They gave me a First Class Honours. It was the first time in thirty one years that I began to think that Mrs Cruickshank could have been wrong.
Life happened and I decided that it’s too short to waste it on being too afraid to do what I love. So I wrote a book and now it is sitting on an editor’s desk and it is waiting to be read. And I am waiting.