Over the last few days I have been meeting up with a fourteen year old who has been sharing with me her thoughts on her life to date. These have been quite a revelation - which is somewhat surprising for reasons I will
My young friend seems to spend most of her school life either (I) in dread anticipation of a test in one of many subjects; (ii) undergoing a test
which has gone incredibly badly; (iii) worrying about the results of said test; or (iv) expressing relief and surprise in equal amounts that her results weren’t any way near as bad as she feared. It is possible that the generally favourable results are
down to the fact that she often gets her Little Sister to test her when they have both gone to bed - before they turn on the radio to listen to a programme called Doctor Thorne (to which they appear addicted) and Radio Luxembourg. She is an avid supporter
of the library, favouring detective novels and those which will make her laugh, P.G. Wodehouse being a favourite.
She harbours a secret fascination for a
“very nice boy” whom she often sees at the bus stop after school. As far as I can tell, she has never actually engaged him in conversation but is content to look out for him and to watch from afar, like a bird-watcher studying a rare and exotic
feathered friend, never daring to venture too near in case it flies away.
Life at home is noisy so she often seeks solitude: “I love to get away from it
all, to be absolutely alone with my hopes and dreams,” she tells me, “The funny thing is that I never make any allowance for the fact that I wear glasses and have a spotty face and wear a dull, grey uniform. But it brightens life up to dream of
being really beautiful and exciting though I could tell no-one!”
She is no Greta Thunberg but she does care about what’s happening in the world. She
is worried about threats of a small-pox epidemic (especially as she is pretty sure she hasn’t been vaccinated); is following the peace talks between France and Algeria (her prediction that there would be more trouble in store despite General de Gaulle’s
optimism sadly proving true when she later reports on 70 dead in a fierce outbreak of fighting); and is endlessly fascinated by the space race between the USA and Russia, predicting that there could even be a Moon Landing by 1967. She is furious with the Prime
Minister, Harold Macmillan, for even thinking of following America’s lead and deciding that Britain should resume nuclear tests: “Why should we all live in fear of nuclear war because two or three eminent men wish to play with fire?” she
agonises, “Why is it impossible for men to live at peace with each other?”
In her world Prince Charles has just started school at Gordonstoun,
being accompanied on his first day by Prince Philip. “Poor kid!” she says from the height of her fourteen years to Charles’ thirteen) “There is so much publicity about him and the school.”
In case you haven’t guessed, I have been communicating with my fourteen year old self, through the pages of the diary she / I kept for a whole year in 1962 and which I have just retrieved from
the loft. The front page reads: “Being the diary and personal record of Jacqueline Anne Usher, in the year 1962, with the best intentions of writing an entry once a day herein.” I have signed it with a flourish.
Quite apart from world events and the various sightings of “the nice boy at the bus stop”, it was an eventful year on the Home Front. There was the tour of Europe on the back of my brother’s
scooter, visiting Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Luxembourg before the scooter broke down and we had to hitch- hike 1000 miles home. My Little Sister sat (and passed) her 11 Plus, joining me at grammar school. I also spent a lot of time washing
my stockings, helping round the house and knitting myself a sweater which turned out badly: “I am so disappointed with it. It does not look half as good as I had hoped. Oh, why, why must everything always be perfect with me? Nothing is ever good enough
- there is always something better. I wish I wasn’t such a perfectionist.” That day I went to bed feeling tired, worn out and “unaccountably depressed.” I was so very glad to turn the page to find out that the next day was “quite
a nice day...”
On December 31st, my by-then fifteen year old self signs off on the year: “Another year has come to an end. Well, in 1962 we have seen
several men into space, crises in Cuba, India and China. There have been crises at home, too - tests, exams, various trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows that make up the life of Jacqueline Usher, an oh-so-ordinary schoolgirl. Behind me lies 1962 - ahead
1963, robed in mystery. Will it bring success or sorrow, or joy or sadness. Only God can tell. God bless.”
Little did she know that in December 1963 she
would meet Mr B and a whole new life would open up before her...