Write page three of your autobiography
Me aged 15, mum and dad
Where did pages 1 and 2 go?? Never mind, who on earth could be interested in my baby and infant years. I even found them boring. Life started with becoming a teenager. You discovered there was another sort of human (they gradually started to shave and had deeper voices). Of course, before I got to that part, a lot of other stuff happened.
“That’s the school uniform department” said mum as we entered the shop in Central London. I was not really interested in that part of the shop, they had such a wonderful section selling pets, like mice, guinea pigs and budgerigars. OK, mum was calling the cards, and was frightened of mice in any case. Looking around I saw shop dummies of children wearing green everything. There was a sort of beige blouse with a very unfashionable square collar to be worn under the green dress. And mum started buying. There were even green knickers. If I had known that going to a grammar school meant a life clothed in green I would have failed the exam. Green was just not my colour, I was more a blue type.
It could only get better. A few weeks later I was sitting in a large hall, surround by some more greenly dressed girls, singing hymns and listening to my new school headmisstress telling us this was your new school (like it or lump it?). This new school became quite old with time, six years exactly. My uniform had to be replaced now and again, as six teenage years meant you grow and grow and grow. There were a few other changes in my figure as well, but mum found explanations were not necessary. It was true, I picked up all the information that was necessary in my growing years from the older girls at the school.
Of course, I had a private life. School was out some time in the middle of the afternoon. There were a few hours for homework and then I was free, more or less. I was not really the happy go lucky dancing queen of teenage life, but now and again I had a fling. During the week I would spend the evening at home reading, looking at the TV and arguing with mum – she just did not understand the requirements of teenage life. It was Beatles and Rolling Stones days. I would be taping all the latest programmes from the radio. I even had a band full of Beatles that were discovered some years later in a BBC basement and a newly discovered record was issued. Unfortunately, although I still had my tape, it had disintegrated over the years, otherwise I might have been able to make some money out of it.
In between I would visit the local library to fill up on my reading material. The library had a good selection. Books were too expensive to buy. I was quite interested in literature even then. I sometimes wondered where I got all this information from. I think I had read every John Steinbeck book available at the time. I remember when John Steinbeck died.
“Hey mum, John Steinbeck has died” after reading it in the newspaper.
“Who’s he?”, so there we have my cultural background.
I had a very good friend at school. In spite of the distance between Switzerland and England, she is still my friend, and I usually stay with her when visiting my dad in England as she lives in the same area. We both developed a taste for football. Her father supported Leyton Orient and mine supported West Ham United. Our Saturday afternoons were spent either at Brisbane Road, where the Orient played, or West Ham’s Boleyn Ground. We could afford it, entrance fees were cheaper at the beginning of the 1960’s. However, it was tight in calculations.
“Why not walk to Brisbane Road, it would save a couple of shillings on the train fare?
So we left after lunch and walked for an hour until we reached the ground. It was quite a nice walk along the River Lea. Little did we know that some fifty years later the whole area would be hosting the Olympic games. We also walked back.
We would cut out match reports and photos of the players and stick them in an album. We played land hockey at school, because it was the nearest we could get to football. My teacher did look a bit strange when she discovered a photo of the West Ham United team on the class notice board. She never asked, but I am sure she knew it was me.
Then there were the Saturday evenings. We “backcombed” our hair until it stood a foot high on our head (it was fashion). Dressed in our mini skirts which were so tight you spent quite a time climbing into them. I was always tall, but was even taller with the stiletto four inch high hills which were fashion at the time. There were two main colours, bronz or gunmetal. I went for the bronz leather (or plastic?). We would hop on the underground and arrive at the Mecca dancing temple, in London, usually Leicester Square.
You were even asked to dance by some members of the opposite sex. The problem with Leicester Square was it was quite international. It was not my problem, but I knew I could not introduce a boyfriend to mum that basically spoke with an Italian, Maltese, or Persian accent. She would just not understand. One Saturday evening I met Eric. He was English and had a car. I was just a little bit taller than him, but I had got used to that problem. I was taller than most people.
Remember the school holidays, where we could go abroad with the school class. It was the beginning of foreign journeys and the kids whose parents were a little better financially situated, went on every holiday. I never even bothered to ask, as I knew it would not work with the money. However, one day there was a Baltic Sea cruise offered, and preference would be given to the girls that had never been on a cruise. I decided this was it. Mum said we cannot afford it (I believe it was £43 at the time). So I found a Saturday job in the mens department of the local co-op. Every penny I earned for a Satuday job went on the cruise. So in my last year at school I was off to Russia, Sweden and Denmark. That was 1964 – and that was not the Russia of today. I had my first taste of communism.
When I returned from my first holiday abroad, school was out forever. Working days had arrived. Shorthand typist for the P & O shipping company in the pay department was my first job. After a year I worked a month in an office for car insurance.
This was all too boring for me and so I joined a temporary agency. Every week a different job in a different office and you only got an hourly salary, but the salary was twice as much as the average, so I did not mind. No holidays, or no holiday pay. I just was not bothered. This was all in the city of London. I already decided then that England was not my country, I wanted out. I wanted to learn and use my foreign languages. It was my favourite subject at school. I had learnt five years french, two years German and privately I had enlisted for Italian (two years) and a year spanish.
Around this time the first boyfriend Eric decided to go to other pastures. At first great disappointment, but a day later I was glad. I was free.
By chance I saw a job advertised in the newspaper for Switzerland. I applied and on my twentieth birthday I arrived in Switzerland with a work permit. Now that would be page 4, my learning and wander years in Zürich – but that would be more than one page.