I have been locked down and shielding nearly six months now. I have the evidence of this extraordinary isolation in my rather untidy notebook.
These conditions, for good or ill, lead to excess introspection – a detailed examination of the present, future and - particularly if you are my age – the past.
So was that one day my late sister took residence in my imagination. I loved her deeply and for a long time she was my heroine. So one day, notebook on knee, shielding myself beneath my trees, I started talk to her about the hard times of our growing up, which we faced in very different ways.
Your hair is the colour of a bright penny
much admired by everyone.
Mam - also red-haired -says,
“Like Boudicca and the first Elizabeth.
great women, both.”
At first you wear your hair in long plaits,
hooked up with green ribbons. One day
I sit on the stairs listening to them row
when – school looming - she insists
on cutting off those long plaits;
My own hair – curly and tangled, mostly unkempt -
means that eventually I’m christened Medusa
by cruel boys at school, where clever does not count
and I’m never picked for teams and am ignored
by you in corridors. Unhappy times.
And each day with my tangled hair
and slipshod ways I walk ten paces
behind you on our way to school.
You do not turn. And I feel
I am not here.
But with your clever mind and bright penny hair
you find your place among the racy girls
who admire your dancing style and love
those green shoes with four-inch heels –
that Mam has bought for you on credit .
At school your friends - too cool to study –
hold you back, drag you down,
and stop you showing your clever brain.
(Even so, you still go on into the world
and rise to the top. )
With Mam working at the factory
your cool friends visit our tiny house,
roll back the rug, put Bill Haley
on our Dansette player – also bought on credit –
and start to dance
But I am here, lying on the sofa, half asleep -
these days playing truant seems to be my only option.
“Hey lass!” says the coolest girl. “Are you off school again?”
But you just stand there before the mirror, back-combing
your bright penny hair into a bouffant style.