This is a brief profile of the underpinning events that shaped my life. The purpose of this is that maybe my not fitting into Risinghill School was down to me and the type of child I was; maybe Risinghill should not take the blame for three years of complete misery I endured from 1960 to 1963.
I had my first panic attack at the age of four. I remember it very clearly. My mother left me at the school gate for my first day at school and told me that she probably wouldn’t collect me, I would never see her again, as she would most likely be dead. At four years old, I believed her. Now I realize that she was ill. Panic attacks dominated my life, along with guilt and total self-loathing, as I was the cause of her impending demise. I was constantly told that not only was my existence a mistake but, my mother was going to be ‘taken away’, because I was sending her mad. She wished that I hadn’t been born and if I had to be around, could I hurry up and grow up and get out of her life.
I loved my father; he was an intelligent man, but unfortunately I didn’t see him much as he was either working or drunk. I think he loved me in his own way. When my parents were together they rowed constantly, and as we lived in only one room, I had no escape. My grandparents lived in a dark adjoining room but my grandmother worked long hours as a milliner at the Angel, Islington, and my grandfather was an unemployed alcoholic who talked continually about cutting his throat. I used to watch him shave with a cut-throat razor while he looked at himself in a broken mirror, repeating to himself ‘cut your throat’, like a mantra, while the razor rasped across the stubble of his chin and throat.
I was emotionally abused.
I was born and grew up in Islington - or Canonbury, as my mother would insist on - as she was terrified that she would be considered common. I had to wear white gloves whenever I went out or met anybody because she had seen Princess Anne in a pair of white gloves, and these gloves became almost a status symbol. I was alone and frightened of everybody and everything. I became a good target for bullying and, on occasions, I truly prayed to die. My God, my cat and an Enid Blyton book called Shadow the Sheepdogshared a parity of preciousness in my childish emotional turmoil.
At the age of seven I discovered self-harm; something that I could control. I would punch myself in the face resulting in spectacular nose bleeds. My nose started to bleed spontaneously, but that was never as satisfying. But, either way, she would have to touch me and, along with a certain degree of irritation, display some signs of caring about me. I threw myself down the stairs on numerous occasions but only succeeded in injuring myself once - I broke my arm. I cut my arms but would usually cut in places that only I knew about. That brought me peace.
At the age of thirteen I realized that I could fight back. I had grown up fast, both physically and psychologically; I knew what I wanted, and I was determined that nobody would stand in my way. I didn’t need to self-harm any more, although I think it has continued to the present day, manifesting itself as an eating disorder.
I gained nothing from my secondary education at Risinghill School; my education and qualifications came later. Risinghill was just another frightening place to be and I felt an enormous sense of freedom when I passed through its gates and walked away from that school for the last time at Christmas 1963.
I had my first daughter when I was seventeen. Despite the 1960s being a time of love and liberation, there was a great stigma attached to being an unmarried mother in 1966, but my new daughter increased my resolve to fight. My parents were devastated when they found out; I, being the coward that I am, was terrified, but for the first time ever I felt that I had something to live and fight for.
In fairness to my mother, she made it possible for me to train as a nurse as she did a lot of babysitting to allow me to work long shifts and unsocial hours. I watched them very closely with my daughter. When my daughter was three years old, and I was a third year student nurse, I met my future husband. We married a few weeks after we met and my life took off. We went on to have four more daughters, and so far we have fifteen grand and great-grandchildren. (My husband died in 2012 following the death of my second daughter, Joanne, aged just thirty-seven years).
At the age of forty-one, in 1990, I confronted my mother with an explosion of pent up emotions that were so much a part of me. She was desperately upset and explained it all away with the fact that she had been ill. This wasn’t good enough as I felt an anger I had never experienced before; we didn’t talk for around six months. I knew she was hurt and I felt so guilty that I thought I would make my peace with her. The day I planned to turn up and see her, she suddenly, without any apparent illness, died. Again, I was denied a closure – I almost felt that she had planned it.
What I don’t want taken from my story is a feeling of self-pity. What happened, happened to me. If I could choose a life to live it would be the one I have now. My experiences have made me the person I am; most of the time now, I like that person. I know that I am a good, loving and caring mother and in return I am loved and cared for. My husband and I had a fantastic relationship and I have been a sensitive, considerate and compassionate nurse. I have achieved my academic ambitions so far and am still achieving; I have a BA (hons), BSC (Hons), PGCE, MA (Medical Law) and a PhD in Medical Jurisprudence.
Risinghill played no part in any success I have achieved, it added to the nightmare that was my life. But, I’m glad I had that experience. I ran a busy Accident and Emergency department until my late forties, when I changed career and became a teacher for over ten years. I found teaching a hard and thankless job; I put a lot of myself into my work, and wanted more for the youngsters than they wanted for themselves. They had so many more opportunities than we did, but most seemed to have no interest in grabbing them. I hesitate to suggest it may have been the geographical area I was working in, but the attitudes of the children in the area I lived, including my own children and grandchildren, was a little different.
You had to be tough to survive the Risinghill years; Mr Duane was a man before his time, and a good man. In my opinion children today have lost that hunger for life, they have so many expensive things bought for them, they are driven everywhere and not encouraged to make their own way in any area of their lives. My granddaughter has been a primary school teacher for three years now, and said to me, ‘the children I teach are only seven and eight years old – I’m not going to make any difference to their lives’. I hope this is not a feeling shared by her peers.