Wem, Shropshire & Cosford, Albrighton, Shropshire – May 1973
Ribbons. Rainbow ribbons, swishing and swirling and swooping around above my head. I’m entranced. I’m standing on my nanna and grandad’s lawn at Single Lane, all safe and secure amidst the surrounding platoons of yellow daffodils and purple tulips, gazing up at loopy sky drawings; my brain going all dizzy watching The Red Arrows strutting their stuff in rehearsal for some big display. Only I’m not standing in a garden that proudly defends the borders of RAF Cosford. I’m not standing in a garden at all.
I’m standing on some wooden floorboards, amidst a throng of children – alien children, strange children – and my mum’s left me. I’m all on my own at a nursery school in Wem and everyone’s singing. None of us really want to sing – at least, I don’t think they do, because I don’t. But, we sing because we’ve been told to sing. We wave ribbons around above our heads because we’ve been told to wave ribbons above our heads. And we repeat the same words over and over and over again: ‘Red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue. I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow ….’ – just because that’s what we’re supposed to do. It all seems a bit weird so, to start with, I just mouth the words and pretend, but I look around me and everyone else is singing – everyone else is doing what they’ve been told. And the words are actually quite catchy and the tune not at all difficult. So, I switch out from the din all around me, focus on the teacher, Mrs Merbury, and I start to sing along to her voice, to her tune. Her tune becomes my tune, my wrists start to move, and my ribbons gain momentum – twisting and turning and tangling themselves all up …
“Hey, you’ve got my ribbon!” interjects some screechy little voice next to me. “I always get the purple one! Mrs M’bry, Mrs M’bry, he’s got my ribbon. That boy’s got my ribbon!”
I’m not a boy, so he can’t be talking about me. But, even so, my looping loses its pace and my ribbon vanishes. I continue looking up, staring at the traces of colour still etched into the sky by the lost tail of my purple ribbon. “Red and yellow and pink and green, orange and ………”, but I can’t go on; without my ribbon, the words are futile. And now I just want to go home. I never wanted to be here in the first place. Where did my mummy go? Has she gone back home? Is she in the kitchen baking fairy sponge cakes? Did she have to leave me here.
But I’m mistaken. I’m wrong. I’m deluded and delusional. My purple ribbon didn’t really leave any traces in the sky, and my mum really isn’t coming back to pick me up any time soon. It’s not home time. There’s more to come. It’s ‘Letter Time!’
There’s no sit down – not yet. We’re told to stay in our spaces on the floor and to turn around with our arms stretched out, to make sure we have plenty of room to ourselves. The child next to me stretches out his fat-pudgy arms and punches me. I’m confused. He got the purple ribbon. He stole it from me, paraded it around and didn’t even return it to the ribbon box at the end of the session. His trouser pocket is fat with purple ribbon and he still feels the need to punch me. I don’t understand. I understand nothing. And now? Now, we are being told to trace letters in the air.
It’s okay, though. I can deal with this. We only need our fingers for this activity – there’s no requirement for ribbons of any description – and the wonder of it all is that we are being taught how to read. How to read and how to write. ‘Down and up and over like a bridge!’ I copy the teacher’s actions and I echo her words. I can do this – it’s easy! I can write the letter ‘h’ and I can read the letter ‘h’. I can write and read in the air and, when I get home, I’m going to get my Crayola box out and I’m going to write the letter ‘h’ on some paper in my drawing pad. But first, I’ve got to learn another letter – the letter ‘a’ and then the letter …
Home-time. I want to stay and learn another letter. I want to know at least three letters, and I want to know what the third letter is. But, we’ve been told to sit down. And, no sooner have I plonked myself down, than I’m being told to stand up again – to stand up, to go to the pegs, and to get my belongings. It’s mum time!
I watch the child with the fat pocket, as his mum collects him and takes him and his still-fat pocket home. I want to tell her, to shout out, to tell her the truth. Your little boy has a fat pocket. He has a fat pockets because he’s stolen a purple ribbon. He thinks it’s his, but he’s stupid. I selected the purple ribbon from the box and I was the first one to dance with the purple ribbon, so by rights, if it’s anyone’s purple ribbon – it’s my purple ribbon – not his! And not yours! And it’s not his to take home. It belongs here, here at the nursery and back in the ribbon box! But I say nothing. I say nothing, because my mum’s here too and it’s time to go.
My legs are aching; mum says I’m too big for my pushchair now and it’s a long walk back. But, even so, I make it back to our bungalow in Wem. And I’m not a little bit tired, so I find a purple crayon and draw a purple ‘h’ on some paper and I show my mum. “Very nice, dear!” she says, but I know that she’s not even looking at it. She isn’t the slightest-teeniest bit interested in my purple ‘h’ or in my purple ‘a’. But next time, if I get to go back to Mrs Brough’s. Next time, I’ll learn the next letter. Then … then, my mum will look.
I snuggle down in my bottom bunk, in the room I share with my big brother,
and it occurs to me that I might, at last, have something of interest to show him. Something he’ll want to know about. “Hey, Simon! Guess what?” I say, as I take my drawing pad out from under my pillow. “Take a look at …”
I place my drawing pad back where it belongs. Back with me. Back under my pillow and wrapped up inside my head. Next time .. when I have three letters to show … ‘h’ and ‘a’ and … Purple ribbons flitter and flutter in and out of my consciousness. Purple ribbons shaped like ‘h’s and ‘a’s laugh at me in my sleep. Ha, ha, ha ….
My nanna’s smiling at me, laughing with me in my night world. And she looks so nice. She’s wearing her Sunday best – her purple hat …
Copyright owned by Jay Cool., June 2017
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