Today I?ve been acting a bit Padge.
Back in 1975 this was a common expression, similar to ?it?s all gone Pete Tong (wrong)?, except it wasn?t cockney rhyming slang and meant nothing unless you were one of the 60 or so pupils in my form at Lenham County Primary school. Padge was Karen Pagett. She was the target for a lot of teasing, meanness and our need for someone to pick on. I?ve just sat at my desk for over 5 minutes, trying to decide whether to write ?.. our need for someone to bully? and talking myself out of it because we really weren?t that bad were we? It was harmless enough. So why do I still feel guilty 30 years later?
Karen Pagett gave us plenty of ammo. She lived with her grandparents and various odd adult relatives. Her mother was a nasty piece of work who would only visit when she was feeling particularly cruel. Karen wore national health pink plastic glasses that had broken on the bridge and were taped with a thick wadge of sellotape. Her grandmother cut her hair, pudding bowl style with a fringe so short that it just stuck straight out from the hairline. She wore a hand-knitted bobble cap and a jumble sale school uniform. We called her fleabag. Karen was uncoordinated, worse at PE than me and told people she had a ganglene (cyst) on her wrist. Funny, the details you remember. She would bring sweets to school and we?d eat them all and make her feel popular. I don’t think I ever saw her cry.
From then on, whenever we did something stupid, or felt socially awkward, accident prone or otherwise out of sync with the world, we?d refer to it as doing a Padge. I hadn?t thought about this for at least 20 years but today it came back to me. First in the supermarket, where I realised I?d forgotten my wallet, but only once I?d got to the checkout and they were ringing up my items. They were terribly nice, no sighs or raised eyebrows but I felt like a dithery old dear and hurried out, embarrassed and hungry. Then as I walked home I tripped over my feet and did that awkward stumble. It?s bad enough as a kid, but as an adult ….. I could hear my mother – ?pick your feet up Margaret?. This afternoon, I sent an idiotic, half-finished email to a talent agent because I pressed send instead of save on my mail program. I poured boiling water on my hand while making myself a cup of tea. Not enough to warrant any kind of medical attention, just enough to sting like a bugger. And then I decided to go to pilates class. A class requiring co-ordination and flexibility and quick responses. Oh but I got there early so I could jump rope because it?s good for your running. I might as well have gone and practised playing hopscotch. I?ve always wanted to jump rope the way they do in boxing gyms on TV, with the fancy footwork and criss-cross of the rope. I couldn?t even manage 30 consecutive jumps without catching the rope on my feet, and that was with the little mini-jump inbetween each swing. Pilates class was four people in a soccer pitch sized room and no place to hide. The teacher seemed to accept my inability to tighten, lengthen, squeeze, isolate, scoop, hinge or anything else and treated me like the elephant in the corner.
No comedy tonight thank goodness. I?ve only tripped up once going on stage and although it got me the biggest laugh of my set, I looked like a twat. Instead, Erik and I went out to dinner. Sensing humiliation, I mentally prepared myself for when I?d knock over my wine glass, miss my mouth while drinking water, collide with a waiter carrying one of those giant stacked trays, walk into the men?s room by mistake and push the door that said pull on it. But none of it happened. Shame, I was sort of looking forward to seeing what happened next.
I stayed friends – or rather became friends – with Karen Pagett for a while after primary school. I last remember seeing her on the platform at Lenham station going to work. She was in a smart suit and wore low heels and carried a cool looking bag. I was in my Sainsburys supermarket beige check polyester uniform carrying a plastic Superdrug bag. It seemed only fair.
Dear Karen, I?ll always feel a little guilt over the way I treated you. Rather, bullied you. I just needed a crappy day to remind me.