About MeWho am I and why did I write this book?
At fourteen I discovered sex and rock ‘n’ roll. The drugs came later.
‘So what?’ you may say. Well, this was in 1960, before London was swinging, when nice girls just didn’t.
I was the youngest of an occasionally dysfunctional family of seven. I was spoilt by my siblings, adored by my father and tolerated by my mother. As a change of life baby, she wasn’t too keen on having another child at her time of life, and she could be volatile and unpredictable.
I wasn’t neglected, but Mum only took care of my discipline and nutritional needs, whilst my big sister, Sheila, was the nurturing one. It was Debbie, though, my next sister up, who was my playmate and tutor. She was nine years old when I was born, but we never had a moment of sibling rivalry. She would go on to become an important element of my story.
We were Jewish working class, living in a tiny house in Tottenham, which was a step up from our previous accommodation of a two up/two down hovel with a shared lavatory in Spittle Street, in the East End of London.
Debbie had experienced anti-Semitism at school, so in 1950 my older brothers and sisters clubbed together to send me to a little private school. My teacher there, Miss Queenie, was a classic English eccentric, all wildly uncontrollable hair and a passion for Esperanto, a newly developed lingo cobbled together from various European languages. To my three year old self, though, Miss Queenie was my sun and my moon. I loved her.
We moved to a bigger house when I was nine years old. We thought it was a palace in comparison, with an indoor bathroom and more bedrooms. My Dad died later that year and I saw Mum cry for the first time ever.
To compound my grief, I was sent to a large state school because Miss Queenie’s pupils did not take the Eleven Plus exam. I didn’t pass it anyway, and went to an all girl secondary modern. We were not encouraged academically. In the 1950’s working class girls were expected to take jobs in factories, shops or, at the very pinnacle, in an office.
Following a brutal initiation into heterosexual sex, I struggled with my sexual identity for many years until I finally came out as a fully fledged lesbian, having seen many changes in social attitudes towards LGBT people over this time.
I travelled many avenues in my life, exploring my sexuality, experimenting with drugs, having passionate relationships, finding enduring friendships and experiencing a late blossoming education.
You’ll need to read my memoirs ‘Rebel Without a Clue’ for the whole story. Sad, funny, ridiculous and surprising … it’s all there.
The Rock and Roll years…
My first memory of music was singing along with Uncle Mac on Children’s Favourites, a radio programme popular in the 1950’s. It was all novelty songs – The Laughing Policeman, Arthur Askey singing ‘Busy Bee’ and a bit of culture now and then with Rossini’s Cat Duet.
In 1959, though, I discovered Cliff Richard singing ‘Livin’ Doll’ and was hooked. I had my first crush aged twelve, preferring his soft look to some of the more butch numbers that were around. I think that Elvis was too sexual for me.
Years later, as an adult, I had a dream about sitting on Cliff Richard’s knee. I talked about it in therapy, laughing because it seemed so odd. My therapist commented that ‘Perhaps it was because here was a man who was safe?’ And that made absolute sense.
But as a teenager the pressure was on to have other favourites, so I became a Beatles fan, with my pash being Paul McCartney, another seemingly softer man. (I see a theme emerging here.)
My best friend, Jenny, and I would go dancing at Tottenham Royal, where we perfected our jive until we were in perfect unity, dipping, twisting and turning. We would also go to the local youth club, where, at fourteen years old, I met a boy who abused my trust in one life changing encounter.
I got engaged at seventeen to a bloke from the East End. He introduced me to Rhythm and Blues music. We would go to crowded clubs to see Georgie Fame, Ike and Tina Turner, The Animals. It was raw with a pulsing beat that would make the rafters shake.
By now London was swinging, and Jenny and I would go to Carnaby Street and Biba’s, with the Rolling Stones or The Kinks playing on the PA system. We’d spend hours trying on the latest fashions, then pick up copies in Petticoat Lane market for a fraction of the price.
A chance encounter made me question my sexuality, and I wondered what it would be like to make love with another girl. It was some time before I had an opportunity to find out, and then it was through a circuitous route of swinging parties, where more mature music was played – appropriately Frank Sinatra’s ‘Songs for Swinging Lovers’.
Some songs live on in my memory and I can be transported back in a moment. Even now, Procol Harum singing ‘Knights in White Satin’ takes me back to 1969 and sensuous, summer afternoons spent making love with my new girlfriend. Or ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye instantly takes me to a crowded, heaving lesbian club on Kings Road, Chelsea.
Then came the hippy lifestyle, complete with recreational drugs. In the hottest summer on record in 1976, the grass in our garden turned brown, the flower beds became hard and cracked and we were advised to ‘Bath with a friend’ to save water.
As we smoked dope and took acid, we listened to Thin Lizzy, The Eagles and Tubular Bells, it was rock music to get lost in, as we laughed and dreamed it would never end.
I returned to education in 1977, and found that being constantly stoned did not sit well with studying for my ‘A’ levels, and later a degree. It was almost time to grow up. Which I did, although my love of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll has not waned. And I can still sing all the words to The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
My Academic Years…
When I was fourteen, my family were horrified to discover my apparent promiscuity. They felt that a complete change was called for, so I went to stay with my married brother for the summer term before I turned fifteen.
When I returned to London, I was sent to fee paying Pitman’s College to learn to be a secretary. This was the highest ambition a working class girl could achieve. I wasn’t asked if this is what I wanted to do, which is probably just as well. I would have said ‘An air ‘ostess’. And, seeing as I was under five foot, and could only speak schoolgirl French, this may have been a non-starter.
At Pitman’s I passed exams in shorthand (but only just – it was a bit of a mystery to me); typing; bookkeeping; commerce (whatever that is) and English. Thus I was set up to become a secretary, and found a job which paid £20 per week. Not a bad first job salary for 1964.
And that is what I did until 1971, when I decided to go into nursing. Having no ‘A’ levels, I had to sit an entrance exam, and passed this without too much trouble.
Leaving nursing, I became an artist’s life model, then a topless waitress which led to work as a stripper and glamour model. It certainly paid more than nursing, although was not without risks. It could get very chilly in the winter. The nocturnal nature of the work fitted in well with my now hippy lifestyle.
Eventually, though, I realised that I could not go on making a living from getting naked. I wanted to go back to education, get ‘A’ Levels and a degree. So that is what I did. I studied for two ‘A’ levels in one year, then went on to get a BA in Social Sciences, together with a professional qualification – the Certificate and Qualification in Social Work. After working for a few years, I followed this up with a Diploma in Management Studies.
My memoirs ‘Rebel Without a Clue’ follow this early part of my life in all it’s chaotic, mad, druggy, rebellious chapters. What redeemed me, ultimately, was education. It provided me with a ticket to a different kind of life. And I’ve never looked back.