Welcome to the first of my weekly showcases for June. The current Write On! theme is Transformation, which is all around us, not just in the re-emergence from our lockdown life, but also in the seasonal changes on our shrubs and trees, now we are coming into the full bloom of summer.
June has traditionally been known as the month for weddings and blushing brides, and therefore the official recognition of two people starting off on their life-long journey together.
As a therapist for 18 years, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I am showcasing pieces about human transformation. The most obvious type of this is growth, from an embryo to an adult, from the budding potential of a child to the developed, skilled, success of a person they become.
With all this in mind, I am kicking off this month’s showcase with an extract from the beginning of my own novel, Pretty Bubbles, which I wrote for Pen to Print’s ‘The Book Challenge: Real People, Real Lives’, to mark the 50th anniversary of England winning the 1966 World Cup. Next month will be the 55th anniversary.
The novel is the partly-fictionalised tale of two real Barking children who were in the same class at school from age 11 to 16: my mum and Bobby Moore. My mum lived on the Becontree estate, which turns 100 this year. She grew up and, among other things, married my dad and had four children; and Bobby … well, we all know what he went on to do.
My mum and Bobby Moore were products of their time. In 1952, passing the 11-Plus was the chance for an education which would propel them from their working-class backgrounds and help transform their lives. My mum took, and passed, the 11-Plus exam after just hearing her father died of TB earlier that morning. Her two eldest sisters had already died of the terrible illness.
In this extract, my mum, whose name I have changed to Gillian in the novel, meets Bobby, on their first day at their new school.
Extract from Pretty Bubbles, by Lucy Kaufman
Expectant buds upon the bough — Thomas Hood
“What do you think of Bobby Moore and Tony Ladd?”
“Me?” Gillian mouthed, unsure if it was her the girl at the desk in front was whispering to.
The girl nodded in reply, her two plump, corn-coloured plaits bobbing up and down enthusiastically.
“Aren’t they dreamboats?” the girl said, jutting her head towards the corner of the classroom.
Gillian glanced over to the front desk, where two eleven-year-old boys – one as blond as the other was dark – sat side-by-side in identical grey wool blazers, quite oblivious to the stir they were causing on the opposite side of the classroom.
Gillian wondered how on earth the girl knew the boys’ names already. Bobby Moore and Tony Ladd. What was so special about those two boys in particular, out of all the rows of boys in their new form? But she didn’t dare speak up. She supposed the girl had simply paid more attention than she had when the register was called.
Mr. Carter checked his seating plan. “Sylvia Abbott!” he said to the girl in front of Gillian, “I can’t very well talk to the back of your head.”
Sylvia mouthed to Gillian a lovelorn “What do you think?”, crossed her hands over the bib of her grey pinafore and swiveled around to face the front.
Gillian didn’t know what she thought. What she was even supposed to think? If Sylvia hadn’t pointed the two boys out, she wasn’t sure she would ever have thought anything. Besides, she couldn’t very well judge two boys she’d never set eyes on before by the backs of their heads.
Sylvia’s gaze drifted once again over to the far front desk and Gillian found herself following the turn of her head. The boy closer to the wall – the blond one – rested his cheek on his hand, as his darker neighbour was engrossed in dipping a pen-nib into the indigo pool of his inkwell, tapping it on the edge of the well, spotting some ink over the desk. Without so much as a glance at the boy, Mr. Carter passed him a sheet of blotting paper from the pile on his desk, and continued talking.
“Every single one of you has earned your place here,” Mr. Carter said, pointing his blackboard rubber at various children around the classroom. “A few of you did exceptionally well. A number of you were not even eleven when you took the scholarship. And one of you—” Gillian was sure he was wafting the rubber in her direction, “–one of you sat and passed the exam in the most difficult of circumstances.”
Gillian hung her head and squeezed her eyes shut. Don’t look at me, she willed. Don’t look at me. She sat heavier on her hands and did not look up again until they started to tingle and Mr. Carter had returned back to his blackboard.
“And whether you scraped through the scholarship by the skin of your teeth,” he said, “or passed with flying colours, all that is by the by. You’re here now, on the first page of a new chapter in the story of your life.” He wiped the board bare. “Write on that page wisely. Write on it well. So that when you boys and girls leave here, as young men and young women advancing into the world, you will have all the skills at your fingertips and the required strength of character to progress onto your next chapter.”
He scrawled on the blackboard ‘YOUR FUTURE’ in large capitals. The clouds shifted and parted, and the morning sun came streaming in through the high, narrow windows and across the board in long, distorted rectangles. The white chalk of the letters instantly lit up and the words glimmered with a ghostly prominence.
Gillian glanced around the classroom. She cast her eyes over the polished frames of reproduction paintings and green glazed tiles that finished half-way up the verdigris wall. She took in the pair of giant, paint-chipped iron radiators and the hefty volumes in the glass-fronted oak bookcase. All this was so much more serious, somehow, than the cosy old classroom of her Junior school. She thought back to kind Miss Moss and the pink hyacinths exuding their spicy sweetness from their fat pots on the windowsills, and how the row upon row of girls she had sat amongst for so long Gillian knew exactly which of them it was she could hear breathing. Girls she had cartwheeled alongside on daisy-strewn lawns, and had leapfrogged over in her blue gingham dress. Or skipped over ropes with in the playground in the colder months. Brenda, Margaret and Sue. How all four of them would link arms to form a chain and try their best not to break it the whole of their short walk home together, even when the pavement was narrow and the lamp-posts got in their way. But all that may as well have been a million years ago. It belonged in another world. Now this was her school. Tom Hood. And this man in the tweed sports jacket was her teacher for the next five years.
“Now that we’re a form,” Mr. Carter said, “we’re going to need two Form Captains. One boy and one girl. Do we have any volunteers?”
The volume in the room increased as the boys and girls debated with their neighbours the prospect of volunteering. Over in the corner, the blond boy shook his head, at the dark one egging him on.
“Does this mean I’ll have to choose somebody?” Mr. Carter said, when no-one came forth. “I can always choose at random from the register.”
Mr. Carter glanced in Gillian’s direction, and the two boys at the front desk concluded their discussion. The dark-haired boy spoke up, his voice croaking from having been quiet so long.
“I’ll do it, Sir,” he said.
Sylvia jumped in. “So will I.”
“Wonderful,” Mr. Carter said to Sylvia, and then to the class, “Any objections to,” he checked his seating plan, “Anthony Ladd—”
“Tony,” the dark boy said.
“–To Mr. Ladd here and … Sylvia?”
There were no objections, only audible sighs of relief. Mr. Carter made a quick scrawl in his register and clapped it shut.
“Well, how about we give our new form captains a round of applause?” he said.
Everyone clapped, the sleeves of their blazers rustling on their desk-tops, as Tony nodded around the room, grinning from ear to ear. Gillian bristled. How cheeky he was. And how utterly handsome!
Sylvia turned and beamed at Gillian, two tiny lights dancing in her eyes. A little too triumphant, Gillian thought. But she smiled back anyway and gave her two thumbs up.
Next there was the timetable for the children to print by hand into their pristine exercise books and a couple of other formalities before Mr. Carter opened the door wide.
“So,” he said, “I wish each and every one of you a good morning and I’ll see you all back here again this afternoon.”
The forty boys and girls of varying heights collected in a large, noisy huddle headed for the door. Sylvia sought out Gillian and clung by her side, whispering conspiratorially against her cheek.
“Bobby Moore should have been the Form Captain. He’s a footballer.”
Gillian’s eyes widened. How in heaven’s name could Sylvia know that? Sylvia must have read Gillian’s mind, for right on cue, Sylvia said, “Bow legs.”
Gillian followed Sylvia’s pointed look to the blond boy a few feet in front of them, shuffling towards the doorway in his cotton shorts. She saw that Sylvia was right. The boy’s sturdy legs parted at the knees and did not meet again all the way down until his grey-socked ankles.
Gillian shot Sylvia an admiring look. “You should be a detective,” she said.
Sylvia snorted. “It’s not only his legs, silly,” she said, “I heard him telling someone when we were lining up. He was captain of his team at his old school. They won a shield.”
In comparison to Sylvia, Gillian felt suddenly ignorant. As if all her life she must have been merely gliding along in a foggy trance, her eyes and ears well and truly closed to everything going on around her. She would have to be more like Sylvia from now on. Keep an eye and ear out at all times. She must learn to pay attention to the little things.
In the collective impatience to get out of the door, someone jostled someone else and Gillian was shoved hard from behind. She lurched forward. And threw up her hands, and hurtled headlong into the back of Bobby Moore.
Bobby turned around and threw Gillian a sharp look, but he softened when he saw she was just a small, clumsy girl and not a boisterous boy giving him a deliberate barge.
It was the first time Gillian had set eyes on Bobby’s face. In her new-found determination to be observant, she made an extra effort to drink in every tiny detail. When Gillian looked up into Bobby’s face for the first time, she noticed the pale freckles dotted all over his squat, baby nose, the dimple in either cheek and the complete calm and trustworthiness in those cool blue eyes. She clocked the yellowish tint to his hair, the kind of thick, coarse hair, that must be kept very short or it soon grows into unruly curls. A single curl flopped forward onto his wide forehead. And so, she took him in, close enough to taste the soap he had washed with that morning. But most of all Gillian was struck by how Bobby’s whole head seemed to glow. Glow a sort of gold.
A golden boy, she thought in awe.
“Ladies before gentlemen, please, Mr. Moore,” Mr. Carter said, looming above them.
“Sorry,” Gillian managed to say to Bobby.
Bobby broke into a shy smirk, deepening the twin dimples in his soft schoolboy cheeks.
“After you,” he said, and he stepped aside to let her pass. “You’re more desperate than me to get out.’
Gillian blushed. Not only had she gone flying into the back of a boy but now she had been given special priority to pass in front of everybody. Talk about make a spectacle of herself! As she felt the heat of every single pair of eyes upon her, the sight of Bobby gripping onto his cap made Gillian remember her own. The grey beret all the first-year girls wore and that she now remembered she’d left hanging on the back of her chair. Her precious beret that her sister Peggy had gone all the way to Harrods to pick up, and that had cost her mum an arm and a leg. She would never hear the end of it if she lost it. They would never be able to scrape enough money together to buy her another.
By the time Gillian had fetched her hat and was out of the classroom, she was behind the stragglers marching down the corridor. She could make out Bobby’s golden head above most of the other boys, bobbing alongside Tony’s, and those now unmistakable bow legs striding along.
Sylvia was halfway along the corridor, leaning against the wall, when Gillian caught up with her.
“When Tony grows up, he’s going to be Clark Gable,” Sylvia said, and locked her arm around Gillian’s. “Or Cary Grant.”
Gillian laughed. She had only caught that one quick glimpse of Tony’s face. Dark-eyed, dark-skinned, smooth and perfectly symmetrical. It certainly was Hollywood-handsome and no doubt would one day break hearts. But right now, Tony’s matinee looks were superseded by another face more indelibly printed on her mind.
© Lucy Kaufman, 2016
Take a moment to marvel at today’s illustrations of the ten-year-old Bobby Moore, brought to you by Emmanuel Oreyeni and Susanna Wallis. There is even more wonder behind the creation of Susanna’s textile portrait. When I put a callout to our illustrators for an illustration, Susanna said she would love to do it, and added, “He was in my mum’s class at school.” It’s a cliché but my jaw literally fell open. That line is the one I am used to writing! It turns out Susanna’s mum was in Bobby’s junior school class, so today’s story and artwork has been brought to you by two women whose mothers, coincidentally, were both in Bobby Moore’s class at school. How’s that for serendipity?
Don’t forget issue 8 of Write On! magazine is out. Read it online here.
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! ‘Showcase’, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucy Kaufman is an award-winning playwright and author. Thirty-four of her plays have been performed around the UK and Australia, to critical acclaim. A person-centred/integrative therapist for 18 years, Lucy now writes full-time and teaches Playwriting and Screenwriting for Pen to Print. You can connect with Lucy on Twitter: @lucykaufman_ and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LucyKaufmanAuthor
Connect with Emmanuel on Instagram @oreyeni_arts
Connect with Susanna on Instagram @susannawallis