Wednesday, 25 February 2015

I Study A Photograph

I started at South Hampstead High School in 1975 and left in 1982.  This is a photograph of my form in our first year.  We were called Upper III 13.  Our form teacher was Mrs Audigier.  On our first day, she taught us to pronounce her name by writing 'Mrs ODJ' in white chalk on the board.

We had to sit alphabetically and I can still remember the names of every girl in the class, from Jacqueline and Rebecca to Suzanne and Victoria: we were together, more or less, for five years, until we were reorganised in the sixth form.

The year after this photograph was taken, Gina became seriously ill.  I remember our headmistress, Mrs Burgess, coming to tell us that she had died.  We were in the middle of a Geography lesson.  None of us learnt a single thing from Miss Smith during the rest of that lesson.   Lucy died the year after we left school.  These losses are some of the hardest I've had to try to understand.  They colour my feelings about my school years with sadness.

I hadn't seen this photograph for forty years until earlier this week.  What I had remembered about it is that I was sitting slightly apart from the rest of the class and I looked grumpy.  I remember my feelings of shame when the proof came back from the photographers and my parents didn't want to buy it.

When I look at this photograph now, I see beautiful girls with eccentric potential.  We aren't lined up neatly, and we don't care.  I see myself as fierce and resentful.  Instead of feeling shame, I feel proud of my young self's containment and her survival instincts. I remember the warmth I felt towards Emma.  I see Noele in the back row, who I hardly knew then but with whom I was to develop a long-lasting friendship.  And I see Madeleine: the beautiful, wild American girl who friended me out of the blue on Facebook this week and reconnected me to this part of my life - Madeleine, from whom I first learnt about Sigmund Freud, about star signs, about trick or treating, about glamour, about other ways of framing the world.

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