For one of my writing groups the next topic is to write something about five events which changed the course of your life, possibly little things, possibly seemingly insignificant things. I don’t think the idea is about passing or failing exams, or having a successful or unsuccessful interview, I think it’s supposed to be thinking of those seemingly insignificant things which are the seed of something monumental later. I guess it’s that butterfly flapping its wing in the ancient forest.
So what might be my five things include? I’ve thought of three… a book I read when I was a child when the narrative perspective changed, hearing a song I’d not come across by a group I didn’t know, played by my husband’s band, and answering the phone while thinking of something else.
So to the last two moments of insignificance which had profound effect.
- To be honest it did seem a big thing at the time, but I never dreamed the consequences which would ensue from a decision made by someone else. When we were at the end of the first year of secondary school we had to choose an option: German, Spanish, Latin or Domestic Science. I made my choice in that order; I passionately wanted to learn German and I’d already started to learn lists of vocabulary I’d found somewhere. However it was decided I should take Latin ‘as I wasn’t any good at spelling’. I actually was good at spelling, just careless, and even if I had been what a ridiculous reason! I tried my best I really did, but I was off school for six weeks with glandular fever a few weeks into the term and I never really caught up. Our teacher was a dear old thing, but ancient – she’d been old when she taught my aunty when she was at the same school thirty years previously.
I worked so hard at Latin, harder than any other subject, but I didn’t even fail it – the head teacher wouldn’t allow me to take it even though I had really improved when I new teacher arrived. Because I didn’t have Latin, in those days most universities required it to take an English degree… I didn’t get into any university even though I had three quite good A-levels… instead I got into Manchester Polytechnic, which changed my life! I lived there for over twenty years, and in the area for many more… I made the best friends, met my husband, had my children… none of which would have happened if I had taken German!
- The last of my five moments is more subtle, and I’m not even sure i can explain it very well. I was always brought up to believe I was equal to anybody, free to choose what I wanted to do and it didn’t matter that I was a girl. Even so, society was quite different then and there were expectations that girls should behave in certain ways, and even like certain things. There was much more pressure to conform to the norm. I saw an advert in the Sunday magazine; it was for Guinness. There was a stunning dark-haired woman with dark eyes – most ads had blonds with blue eyes, she was slim not curvy, and she had long a white sleeveless dress, maybe with black featuring. She had her back to the viewer and was looking over her shoulder with an amused challenging look. Her hair was cut short and looked glossy and smooth.
I was always quite chunky, because of all the swimming I did and training I was very strong with broad shoulders. I also had short very dark hair – short because of the swimming, and short because I liked it. This woman was a model and I could never be her shape, but I could aspire to the look, the challenging, non-conforming look. However, it was the caption, which I can only vaguely remember but id did make a big impact… it was something like, ‘Do you like your olives black?’ Drink Guinness’
This woman was obviously going drink Guinness… which in those days, the days of Babycham and sweet martini, was unheard of. She was going to do what she wanted.
I’m sure I’ve misremembered some of the details,but that’s the essential…I wonder if I can find that advert?