Listening Through Closed Doors

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I’m sure many of your parents, like mine, told you that no good comes of listening to conversations not meant for your ears. But when you’re a bored teenager sometimes listening to an adult conversation can be quite revealing. How else were we to learn about life?

On one occasion my parents’ saying proved to be wrong and what I heard became a turning point in my life. The conversation unfolded between my father and a woman who often visited us, the very woman written about yesterday with the silver grey hair and the pink volkswagen car.

Said woman disapproved of the freedom I was given since I had started competitive swimming. She’d apparently seen me biking home from training with some boys.

‘You give that girl too much freedom,’ she said. ‘She’ll end up getting herself into trouble.’

Now I was at an age where girls getting into trouble meant only one thing, they found themselves pregnant. I was about to burst through the door in protest, but my father’s reply stopped me. His answer was simple.

‘We trust her,’ he said.

They were such powerful words and even though he never said as much to me personally he didn’t need to. His trust always came to mind when I found myself getting involved in teenage shenanigans.

So, conversations listened on through closed doors are not always a bad thing.

Painting My Writing With Colour

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Image courtesy of  https://pixabay.com/

Falling into familiar patterns is easy. They creep up on us without our noticing and we find the excitement in our writing slowly goes into hiding. That’s what it’s like for me anyway.

I’ve done more factual than creative writing over the past three years, but now I’m trying to kick start my creativity. I have a few go-to books I enjoy when this happens and I pulled out one this morning. I randomly opened at a chapter about including the detail of colour in writing.

This was exactly what I needed. I’m currently writing a piece about ‘That Woman’ for my memoir group. My writing was drab, even though I was describing a woman vibrant in both the colours she chose and in her personality. Just being reminded of colour enabled me to revitalise my writing, bring more life to it.

The woman’s grey hair became silver grey hair, so silver the light bounced off it like sparks. Her pink volkswagen car became a car so pink it shocked the drab neighbourhood around it.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into lazy habits, but they are not impossible to turn around. Today I’m looking forward to painting the piece I’m writing with colour.

On Being the Middle Child

Apparently yesterday, Sunday 2 April, was middle child day. Living in the southern hemisphere as I do, I’ve only just found out about this. We’re already more than half way through Monday as I write.

However, the whole concept of middle child fascinates me for two reasons, the most obvious one being that I am a middle child. I’ve read so many things about the negative side of being a middle child, especially of feeling left out, but that hasn’t been my case at all. I loved being a middle child. The family position proved very advantageous to me.

You see, while the other two were being doted on by our parents, as middle child I was left to be independent and free. There were plenty of times, especially during my teenage years, when I was grateful for my parents not really knowing what I was up to. And then, if I wanted to curl up with a book on my own, no one actually noticed.

The other reason I was interested to learn about middle child day is related to one of my current writing projects. I’m exploring what life was like for me in the 1950s and 1960s through the eyes of a middle child. The revisiting old memories is proving lots of fun.

So, to all middle children out there, I hope you had a happy day. I’d love to hear about your middle child experiences and whether it was a positive or not-so-positive experience for you.mice-395831_960_720

A Middle Child Considers Riding a Bike

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The life of a middle child can be somewhat solitary, especially when your brother is nine years older than you and your sister not yet old enough to be an interesting playmate. I found my own amusements, one of those learning to ride a bike and being able to venture forth alone into the wider world. Most of my early years play was on my own, my only company my own imagination. One day, probably about the age of six, I was investigating the darkest corners of our old overcrowded shed, when my curiosity rested on Mum’s old bike resting in the corner.

The bike and I weren’t complete strangers. When I was much smaller I’d travelled around town with my mother, perched in a tiny seat above the back wheel behind her. At first she’d pick me up and place me in the seat, but eventually I preferred climbing up on my own without her help. My instructions were clear when riding in that seat – hold on tight to the seat and don’t let go. There were no child safety restraints in the 50s. I must also sit still, very still, otherwise my mother might wobble and we’d both crash to the ground. So I sat in obedience, part terrified, part thrilled by moving effortlessly through the air, my feet far above the ground, my feet resting on little footrests to avoid them straying into the spokes.

The risks seemed high – mangled feet, falling from my perch, or movement that caused my mother to wobble and crash – all enough to keep my four year old body rigid with fear. Yet the excitement was even greater. I felt so grownup to be moving on wheels and so envious of my mother’s riding skill. I’d laugh and declare to the world that I was king of the castle.

Captured by the Fairies at Midnight

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I’m sure you’ve heard the term, away with the fairies. Well, that’s me right now! I was writing a few words at midnight elsewhere last night, when my mind wandered back to childhood and what midnight meant to me then. For some reason, fairies leaped into my mind, and they’ve stayed there ever since.

All sorts of notions have been running through my brain, as if the fairies have captured me and transported me back into another world. My childhood visions of fairies were deeply embedded in my imagination, fuelled by the books I read. I even went fairy hunting in the backyard by moonlight.

Today my preoccupation continues and I’ve decided to delve into these mythical little creatures further. Just for fun of course. I don’t want them to think I’m spying on them!

The Hole in the Macrocarpa Hedge

The next monthly challenge of my local writing group is the topic ‘Trees.’ The first thoughts tumbling through my head cried out, “This is too overwhelming. Where do I start?”  I took a breath, grabbed one of my writing journals and started writing, hoping to make sense of the topic. It occurred to me, if I write a short piece of free writing every day, one will take my fancy and will be suitable for developing into a more polished piece. Of the three written so far, this childhood memory is my favourite.

The bottom of the backyard boasted a magnificent macrocarpa hedge, trees closely planted and merging their branches so closely they were more effective than a wooden fence. On the neighbours side the hedge was trimmed neat and tidy, a perfect boundary to their perfect garden. Our side grew in an unruly tangle, like a child’s unbrushed hair, matching the rest of our backyard.

Over the years the tree had grown thick and bushy, providing a total curtain between the two properties. But, down in the corner, behind our overgrown vegetable garden, hidden from the prying eyes of my household, the hedge and I shared a secret. A little parting of the branches close to the ground protected a hollow space, a sanctuary large enough for a budding writer to hide away from the prying eyes of the neighbours and my family.

I often wandered out to the hiding hole and stayed out of sight as long as I dared. I sat crouched, not wanting to attract attention, until one day I picked up a broken branch and started sweeping the earth beneath me, transforming the hole into a secret home.

Back in my bedroom I gathered a few treasured belongings, like a squirrel stashing away its stores for winter – a book, a scribble pad, pencils and pens and an old discarded box for storing them in. After further rummaging in other parts of the house I found an old biscuit tin, perfect for storing food supplies of broken biscuits, apples and sweets, necessary for my more prolonged stays in the hide-out. An old doll from the toy box came along to keep me company.

My hole in the hedge gradually became my castle. For one long summer I became the mistress of my kingdom. Whenever I needed to disappear I had a place to call home, where I could read and write, play imaginary games and munch on my secret food supplies.  My only visitor was our old cat, who sometimes followed me to my haven. If others were aware of my secret place, they didn’t let on.

When winter came I moved back inside, behind the couch in a rarely used sitting room. Not quite as private as the hole in the hedge, it served the same purpose. I seemed to thrive in small spaces. Now, all these years later, I long for a small quiet space, hidden from others, where my thoughts can tumble onto the page without interruption. I need an adult version of the hole in the hedge.

What about you? Are you lucky enough to have a private space for your creativity? Or do you, like me, drift through the house, inhabiting the quietest place you can find when you need to write?

Leather Straps and Flying Chalk, School Memories from the 1950s

The thought of holding out your hand to be whacked by a teacher held piece of leather provided a powerful reason to behave at school in the 1950s. In New Zealand, where I live, getting the strap was an acceptable form of punishment during my school days. This violent practice has been illegal in New Zealand since 1990, though I do think students had more respect for their teachers when they understood what the physical consequences of misbehaviour would be.

I loved school and I loved my teachers, but nobody is perfect. As hard as I tried to avoid this fearful form of punishment, I managed to find myself in trouble from time to time.  Whenever the teacher called one of us to the front of the room we all sank further down in our seats, hoping we too wouldn’t become his next victim.

Playground misbehaviour and classroom disobedience rated high on the list of offences for which the teacher produced the strap. The victims held out their hands, some trembling with fear. Temptation to pull your hand away as the strap came down resulted in extra whacks.

I usually received the strap for more minor offences, such as talking too much and spelling mistakes. That’s right, for getting my spelling words wrong in the weekly test. I was a good speller, but if I made  careless spelling mistake I received the same punishment as the others.  I didn’t think this fair at all. Tears filled my eyes, even before I felt the impact of the piece of leather.

Another form of punishment that wouldn’t be tolerated in classrooms today involved a piece of flying chalk. If the teacher held a piece of chalk when someone started talking, look out. The chalk flew through the air with such accuracy it landed on the desk beside you. I think we all in admired his skill of landing the chalk just where he wanted it.

A more preferred punishment involved writing lines while others were outside playing, especially during the colder winter months. My teacher liked variety in his choice of punishment though, so it wasn’t worth misbehaving, hoping to be given lines to write, when he could quite easily choose to strap you instead.

My recently published school memoir, ‘West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s’ includes discipline and punishment as some of the anecdotal stories of my memories of my school life. Times have changed and former practices are no longer acceptable. At the time, however, none of us questioned the right of our teacher to inflict physical punishment on us. Getting strapped was a part of school life in 1950s New Zealand.

What memories do you have of school punishment in other parts of the world?