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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 19 - Blossoming

“I was tanned, tall and slim…and the boys of the surf club noticed me…’’ Gayle Woodward experiences her first chaste kiss. “I thought this game to be rather fun…’’

We went to dances at night in the Surf Club and suddenly I was blossoming. My hair got sun bleached even blonder, and long straight hair was now fashionable, made so by Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary, the surfer girls of California in the Beach Boys songs, and the girl singers coming out of Liverpool.
I was tanned (at great personal cost), tall and slim and the boys of the surf club noticed me. I felt I had arrived as a teenager at last.

I was still shy and naïve and thought some of the lads to be outrageous and forward. I had my first chaste kiss in the sand hills of Muriwai. I thought this game to be rather fun and would be out on the beach from early the next morning. This was such a different holiday to the dreamy, idyllic, peaceful times we had at Onetangi.

I went back to school in February to the fifth form, and School Certificate exams loomed out ahead of us. I was to sit exams in English, Geography, History, French and Mathematics. Homework became a heavy load and I spent hours each night writing and pouring over textbooks.

My father coached me in mathematics. Simultaneous equations and all things algebra flummoxed me. I could see no reason on earth to multiply x by y, and therefore could not capture meaning in my literal mind. Dad made it real by using literal examples and I was able to grasp it all, in a rudimental way.

For English class that year, our teacher was the new Senior Mistress, a Miss Conyngham. She was fierce in her management role but loved her literature and was an inspirational teacher. She got me writing and called me back after class to suggest that I carry on with my poetry writing on my own. She suggested that she could critique them for me, but I knew that I would never submit to that. My poetry was intensely private. I came first in English that year.

During the winter term (of three), the Glendowie College First XV, the First XI soccer team and the Senior A and Senior B basketball teams went on a sports exchange in Rotorua at Western Heights High School. We were billeted out and although the girl I was allocated to was nice, I was very lonely, shy and anxious. She was shy too and younger than me so that did not help me socially.

The sports day has paled into insignificance as all I remember of that trip was the dance held at the school hall that night. I worked hard to get my hair shiny and gleaming and wore a white long sleeved shift dress and high heels but was left sitting on the side of the hall, a wallflower, with the other girls. Nobody asked me to dance and it would have been embarrassing to dance with the girls as if you were desperate. I could not believe it.

After my triumphant summer six months earlier, now it seemed my teenage years were headed for disaster. I think maybe I looked too intimidating being so tall and so blonde. I was told afterwards that some boys thought I was gorgeous but snobby, and I was shocked. Certainly I only felt anxious, shy and embarrassed.

It was significant that most of the netball girls had boyfriends among our schoolmates in the rugby and soccer teams and boy-girl revelry was rife. They had so much fun dancing in groups, and giggling and flirting together. I could not wait to leave for home. I was puzzled rather than hurt.

Still smarting, I was back at school again for the final slog to exams in November. The study, or swot as we called it, intensified.

My father was a great motivator, and empathised with me as I struggled to keep alert and on track. He would bring me late night snacks which to me were real treats. There were Cheese Dreams – pieces of toast, dripping in hot butter and thickly sliced melted cheddar cheese or seasonal ‘Pumpkins’, which were winter poor man’s oranges, with the top cut off, the fruit scooped out and chopped up and then piled back into the skins. I guess the protein in the cheese and the sugar from the oranges helped my brain.

I told my mother that I wished I had a boyfriend like some of the more popular girls at school. She thought fifteen was too young but arranged for the son of a friend and me to have a ‘date’. This was not the way to go about things, I thought, but went along with the idea. He duly arrived, shorter than me by inches and shy. I think he thought it was a silly idea too. We walked to the movies at St Heliers and walked home again after. We didn’t have much to talk about and it was a learning experience only. I learned what I didn’t want! I never saw him again.

We sat our School Certificate exams in the school hall. Having had no experience of sitting an exam away from the classroom, the whole situation was frightening and not conducive to producing one’s best effort. However, as I looked slyly sideways and out in front of me, I could clearly see that everybody else felt the same and it made me feel better.

The first exam was English and three hours later when the call came to stop, I was still writing. I loved to write and the expressive writing and poetry sections had me in my element. The History was all essays too. The Geography paper had maps and diagrams to help. The Science exam had a Biology section included thankfully.

But the Mathematics exam sent a shiver through me when I first looked at it. I thought “I can’t do this!” Slowly it dawned on me that I only had to listen to my father’s voice repeating in my mind, “Now, what do we have here!” and “Break it down!” I concentrated hard, trying to remember everything that he had taught me over many nights of Maths cramming.

It worked! For in January when the School Certificate results arrived in the post, I found I had an excellent overall pass, with surprisingly, Geography as my highest mark, but more significantly that I had passed Mathematics with 56%.

This holiday seemed to go slowly as these results were life-changing for teenagers of those times. We were all anxious for the results as it meant the difference between going back to school to study for the University Entrance qualification and ultimately University study or else having to leave school and get a job.

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