It wasn’t always the bike sheds. Sometimes it was the tennis pavilion. Or, in winter, the air vent near the boiler room. We fondly imagined that the teachers had no idea, of course, that it was here that we congregated to gossip, apply illicit lipstick, smoke forbidden cigarettes or meet one of the boys from the neighbouring school. It was here that romance lurked in the shadows…or occasionally in the bushes… where the abhorred cherry-red beret, otherwise worn at the regulation angle, was discarded and where the horrid white socks were exchanged for more womanly hosiery before we left the premises.
Whilst the majority of the girls still studiously spent their time on more acceptable pursuits in the library or debating society, we were the rebels… the bad girls of the Grammar School… the ones who would be regularly hauled in front of the terrifying deputy headmistress for our perfidy…
Except, we weren’t of course. We were just prototype women on the verge of adulthood, stretching our wings within a cage of rules and regulations. We were doing what countless generations of teenagers have done before… what, perhaps, even the dragon of a deputy head had also done in her day… We were learning about life. Making mistakes, learning how to deal with them… but we were learning through experience, the best teacher of them all.
I never thought of myself a rebel. I was just lucky to be part of that particular group. It had a vibrancy and a life that was lacking within the prim corridors of the school, where uniforms encouraged uniformity. We were expected to leave those hallowed halls fluent in Latin, Domestic Science and socially acceptable mediocrity. It was an era where, in spite of the burned bras of the previous generation, the majority of women were still expected to simply marry and raise children after a few years of suitable employment. And, of course, the heads of the school were of an older generation still.
I had moved to the school less than two years before, when my parents had moved home, leaving the progressively modern school I had attended with its excessively modern syllabus and had been forced to rethink all my exam options… “We don’t do art here, dear… How about Latin instead?” More than that, the stringency of the social expectations the place raised irked me. I couldn’t wait to leave and get out into the world. The headmistress was horrified when I chose to leave and become a window dresser at the earliest opportunity. She would have been even more appalled had she known the team I travelled with were all male!
I still didn’t see myself as any kind of rebel and ended up following a fairly normal and domesticated path. It didn’t last long. It is only in retrospect that I see that the Bohemian decades, painted in shades of Paris and music, became rather more unusual. Then, I embraced the normality of my days without a second thought.
Yet a glance over my shoulder at the path I have followed shows it to be peopled with rebels, misfits and the extraordinary people I have been privileged to meet; ordinary people living their own unique journey, extraordinary minds and talents… people whose stories could fill book after book with unusual tales and viewpoints. People who are, in spite of how the world may see them, anything but ordinary….and who are and have been my friends.
While my body, to all outward appearances, walked the long-accepted path of womankind, my mind, in the company of those friends, was led to explore strange avenues, discovering in both the gutter and the stars a joyous and exciting beauty in life itself. In many ways, it is not I who have shaped myself … it is the trail of sparkling thought left by others for me to explore.
These are the rebels… many whose lives conform to utter respectability and some who choose to conform to no societal standard… ‘ordinary’ people from all walks of life… yet their minds and hearts have found the freedom to fly. These are the people who embrace life and experience and live it to the full and in doing so touch a wider existence than the neat lawns of suburbia. These are the ones I hope to meet one day, congregating behind the bike sheds of heaven.