By Andrea Porter
Andrea is a poet and writer who has been published widely in anthologies and magazines. Her latest book, 'House of the Deaf Man' is a collaboration with the contemporary artist Tom de Freston in response to Goya's Black Paintings. She lives in the flat lands of the Fens, where she is easily spotted.
“You’ll have to be a Bluebell dearie,” commented the nit nurse as she stood on a chair to examine my head for small creatures. The comb, which had been plunged into something ominously grey between each child, was dragged through my hair.
I was uncertain why a flower was brought into the proceedings. Years later I learnt that the ‘Bluebell girls’ were a troupe of dancers. Even if I had known this then I am sure I would have felt her career advice random.
I always had to dance with Kevin the tallest and fattest boy in the school. In asking that eternal question, ‘Who ate all the pies?’ the answer in our school would have been Kevin as his dad ran the local bakery. Kevin and I galumphed together through strip the willow and other dances whose names seemed to convey peasants frolicking on the village green. Dancing was not my favourite pastime. Kevin trampled my feet, I trampled his and gazed down upon the greasy helmet of his hair, he had taken to using his dad’s Brylcreem from an early age.
I was a gift to the netball team, although I always had be a goal keeper, it required no sporting prowess whatsoever to stand in front of a diminutive shooter and block their view of the hoop. I had to carry my birth certificate to tournaments as puce faced teachers from other school often insisted I couldn’t possibly be eleven. The long suffering head teacher would tell me to show them my credentials. Only one teacher ever suggested that this may be a younger sister’s certificate but then she allegedly once made her wing attack play on with an open fracture of her right arm.
Looming was not allowed outside of the netball court. I learnt the choreography required of me by twelve years old. Adults, particularly small adults, did not like me to loom. I stood at least three paces back to reduce the crick in their neck. I avoided fights in the playground, edging away from anything that might become physical as just my presence was taken to be a sign of some level of culpability. I should know better, I should show more responsibility, I should grow up because I was growing up and up and up.
My Northern mother in a feisty reaction to the soft southerners that surrounded us, introduced me to the time honoured trick of shifting the focus onto others for our own short comings or in my case long comings.
‘Remember the lot of them aren’t far enough out of the ground to be healthy’.
This was my mantra into the teenage years, I was the committed disciple to her religion of ‘it’s them not us’.
The disco at Newmarket, crammed with jockey and slight stable lads was to be my ultimate test of belief. It was there I scoped the room, a lighthouse amidst a boiling sea of sweaty humanity and lost faith.