Saturday, 9 October 2021

Rebellion in my soul.


Twin passions, net curtains and Ribena
  How it started.

I was born rebellious.  A nice little girl, born to wonderful parents in a Catholic/Protestant household which was properly mixed faith in those days, I was brought up to behave well.  Except, I did not always want to behave well.  It seemed, to my little fairy brain, that behaving well meant no glitter, no dressing up in net curtains, no running away from nursery school. Why would we not want to do all those things? I wondered.  Following my heart did not always turn out well though and I soon understood that it was better to do what was asked of me.  I do understand, it is no fun having a class full of good little children with one wayward fairy disrupting everything.  And I only ran away from nursery school once, but I did so with a pretty beaded purse I had found in a coat pocket in the cloakroom on my way out.  My mother returned me and the purse to school where everyone was very nice because at five, I was considered too young to be a proper criminal.  Later, at my nice convent school in Liverpool I found a shed full of packed lunches brought in by the children.  I must have eaten a good third of them before I was discovered, and though it looked bad for me, I had no idea that these were lunches for other children.  It was just a mountain of food, and so I dived in. I was discovered in a Ribena coma too, I had never experienced Ribena until I found it in all those lunches and could not believe anything tasted so good.  I vaguely remember focusing on going through the mounds of packed lunches like an addict looking for more Ribena.

At no point was I aggressive, mean or willfully naughty.  I just did not understand the rules and so I went my own way.  I suppose now I would be given a label and extra support.  In fact, my father who always thought I was perfectly fine, did take me at my school's request to an educational psychologist.  In their report he was told to give up, because I would never make O levels, let alone A levels.  I remember that session and being asked to do some drawing.  I drew male hippies in bell bottom trousers and flowers in their hair all over the place and did not really engage with anything else that was part of this assessment.  So my father, probably a fairy himself too now I come to think of it, took me to another one.  I must have liked this next educational psychologist because I came out as super intelligent.  Everyone liked that result better, so we went with that one.  I want to balance this, and say that I am neither educationally subnormal (first assessment) or super intelligent (second assessment), I am just a creative person much like other creative people.  Very creative people (me) have a different take on life, and it is as simple as that. 

However, I did get to university, I did go into the real world afterwards, and I did find it all very difficult unless - I could do my own thing.  And therein lies the rub. 


Doing my own thing.

From the word go, I did my own thing if I could get away with it.  I bleached my hair white in the early nineteen eighties and then coloured it pink.  Instead of getting a job, which was very hard because I was inclined to be a bit unemployable, I squatted in old houses and flats in London and made art, met mad people, and became very alternative.  But even that did not feel completely right.  I liked being nice, and it upset my family that I was so far on the edges of polite society.  Too right, polite society would have run a mile if they had had to engage with me.  I could tell them how to break into empty houses, how to find the nearest reggae sound system and where to collect your dole money.  But I was at heart too nice to be this far out of the loop.  Despite living in squats and having pink hair, I was a moderate in the eyes of my companions, I was nice and I didn't smoke, take drugs or drink.  I must have seemed odd even to them.  I spoke well, was well educated, and thanks to my mother I knew how to make a proper bed and to wash lace.  I did not really fit in. 

Bolt cutters and a cheery smile

I did get a job, eventually, and became a well paid member of an economic consultancy as a receptionist and then an assistant librarian. It was a culture shock, and very good for me.  I really tried to conform, but it ate at my soul, and after ten years, I left. Not without much gratitude and respect for the lessons learned, and I think economics improved quite a lot after I had gone.  I was not very good at my jobs.  But people liked me, I liked them, and I think I was kept on as light relief. 

Doing my own thing, trying to understand the rebel inside and living in the real world outside made me ill.  I hadn't the courage to be really me, nor the ability to integrate the conventional world around me into my own world.  It seems now, looking back, that I had many lessons to learn and most of them were about who I really was.  Once I got that sorted, I could make sensible headway with everything else. 

It was tough.  I married my first husband, lost him (mutual agreement) and had my three children.  (Before my husband left).  I struggled with money and life but I managed.  This is no sob story!  The moment I began my upwards journey was when things could not get much worse, a friend offered me space in her studio to paint, and I took it.  I became a full time proper artist.  I was, at the time, a divorced mother of three tiny children and weighed sixteen stone.  Within a couple of years, I had lost five stone, run a London Marathon and was calling myself Artist Exraordinaire. Well done Antonia.  Except that I still couldn't work out how the world actually worked, and still had much to learn, experience and understand.  Onwards and upwards, then, carry on with the journey of life.

And now -

Here I am.  Aged 61, once divorced, twice widowed, living alone and making my way as an artist and many other things besides. I have grey hair, four grandchildren (not linked), a studio and some peace. 

The rebel in me is much quieter now, but more discerning.  I have done much homework, I had to work out who I was and who I am and yes, it is ever changing.  We never really arrive at the definitive Me, every time we think we have done so, life throws something else at us and back we go to square one. But as we get older, we retain the memory of who we have been and who we want to be, and somehow it is not as hard as it used to be when we were younger.  So now, I feel better about stepping outside the box because I feel better about myself.  I do not have to worry about so much.  So now, acts of rebellion feel like the right way to go.  Unless I get arrested or kidnapped, neither of which I want, I can always come home and shut my door and unless either my brain malfunctions or my hands fall off, I can write, paint and draw. I can cook, pick flowers, and make things. I can be creative, I can be a fairy.  But a rather unconventional, grey haired fearless one.  These days, I take my personal freedom very seriously.  I live my freedoms and do not wish to comply with nonsense, but I do not need to make a fuss about it, I just do it.  Once, long ago, when I had pink hair and frightened my mother's posh friends with talk of what bolt cutters to use on locks of empty houses, I felt I bumbled from one crazy situation to the next.  Now, as I get older, I care much less about getting things wrong - though I do still care - I have enough history behind me to know I will probably be OK.  In fact, it may be that this next stage in my life is where I man the barricades at last.  Rebel Grandma has arrived.


Rebel Grandma.  Naughty, but nice.

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