Apart from school though, I learned to love where I was.
My parents introduced me to a friend of theirs, an amazing woman who taught French at the American school who gave me much support and help in my French, introducing me to Le Petit Nicolas, and bande-dessinée by the dozens. She was also a warm and loving person and used to take me away with her on her travels. She gave me warmth and love that I didn’t get at home and reminded me that it was possible. She used to cook for all her students at the end of the year, having 150 teenagers round without panicking. I loved her very much and was devastated at her death many years later.
I used to go into the centre of town on my own at weekends, pretending to phone a friend and arrange to meet at the train station. My mother would give me cinema money and let me go off, quite aware that I was fibbing. Nevertheless it gave me the freedom to wander the streets and enjoy the sound of my own thoughts.
One Easter holiday they persuaded (bribed?) 2sis to teach me to ride a bike, something I wanted to do.I eventually learned and was able to ride the streets locally, safe in a country where bike paths were so much better designed than they are here.
My mother and I got involved in local amateur dramatics, getting involved most notably in their annual pantomimes. I used to really enjoy it, being taken at face value without any of the crap of real life. I would get chatted up and my mother used to smile, not bothering to point that I was not just under age, but way under age. We both used the theatre as an escape and I was a lot better at making friends than she was.
My father worked away a lot; in fact he got 15% off his tax if he spent over half the year out of the country so he would often take my mother away for a few days at the end of the tax year to make the numbers add up. He worked from home which meant that he was around more during the daytime although I wasn’t allowed to disturb him if his door was shut.
We had good holidays, involving lots of driving. We famously drove to Greece on a 3 day marathon each way with three girls in the back. Oh what larks, 1sis and 2sis couldn’t survive long with each other and I ended up the peace maker. We did go to places I am very grateful and pleased to have gone but I used to yearn for the occasional beach or similarly meaningless holiday. They used to be awfully educational. 2sis famously once said (allegedly) “I don’t care if I never see another cathedral again!”. One of the other difficulties was that I got travel sick but my father was reluctant to believe it. I can remember him not wanting to stop the car and my mother having to be very forceful to get him to stop before I threw up in the car. It was years later that I discovered the existence of travel pills.
I fell off my bike once on the way to school and woke up, in the back of the car on the way to hospital to my mother saying”Oh no, she’s being sick again” in a very exasperated, I know who’s going to clear that up, voice. I almost lost my eye but had 8 or 10 stitches just above my eye instead and have never remembered those few moments before the crash.
I stood up to my parents twice. When I had learned to ride a bike I was riding my father’s which was old, solid and not mine. I think they bought me a cheap second hand one to practice on but I wanted a new one. I got it but I had to pay for 80% of it as otherwise I might be spoilt. I had to do the same for my radio-cassette player, a Sony which lasted me for years and saved my sanity as I would put my headphones on and listen to it in bed in the dark and sing myself to sleep, trying not to cry or enjoying the emotional release it brought. My parents did not understand the desire for music. They owned very few records, almost all classical and would listen to Radio 3 at the weekends. I could not imagine my father having been at a Beatles concert when he was younger, but he had.
1sis was around, although in and out of living with us, depending on money and whatever was going through her head. 2sis was with me for her A’levels after which she went to Bristol to read theology. She started going to a nearby American church, to which she’d take me. She met her first boyfriend there (although he was American which probably did my parents’ head in….) She babysit for me when I was still young enough to need one and we had phases of getting on with each other to the extent that I visited her at university for a week which she must have found hard work. The cynic in me wonders whether my parents bribed her to do this so they could have time without me.
This is a bit of a mish-mash of a post, but life was a mix and a mess. If it lacked one thing, it was consistency.