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Who’s Better, Who’s Best?

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In terms of childhood home haircuts, I think I won this one by a whisp. Mine has the qualities of a contemporary stylish bob, with the precision cut fringe and the messy Meg Ryan inspired sides. But my brother’s cut seems to have been modeled on a Hershey’s Kiss chocolate. But at least his fringe was straight. As I recall, he never really grew out of that cowlick. Or the bowtie.

Miles emailed me a couple of days ago with old school reports that our cousin Julia had found while sorting through some of her dad’s stuff. The reports are from our primary school in 1971 when Miles was 7 and a half and I was 5 and a half.  My report was far superior to his, but as I was only in my very first year of school, it’s an unfair comparison. So I pulled my report from when I too was seven. You know, just to see who was better at that age. What? You haven’t yet figured out how ridiculously competitive I am?

When I was 11 and moving from my beloved Lenham County Primary School to the yobby Swadelands Secondary School, I met with Mr Masters, the head of year. ‘Oh you’re Miles’ sister’, he says. ‘You’ve got a lot to live up to young lady’. I may not have known the word back then but I knew for sure he was a twat. What a way to knock the confidence of a kid who already lived in her brother’s shadow. I never did achieve the same academic heights that Miles did before he left Swadelands and went on to Maidstone Grammar School. But then I seem to recall that he tried to burn down his Grammar School*, so perhaps best that I didn’t follow his fine example.

Here’s a few samples of Miles’ report.

“Miles reads exceptionally well. His great love of books will always be an asset to him.”

“Miles’ love of words and thus his rich and full vocabulary enable him to write excellent English. His creative writing is a pleasure to read and his comprehension is of a high standard.”

It’s irritating but not really surprising to me that his teacher was so impressed with his reading and writing at age 7. Some things never change. But, I was rather pleased to read this section:

“Miles does not always seem to understand what he is doing and is slow to grasp new ideas.”

Sadly though, his teacher is referring to Miles’ skills in ‘Number Work’ or as it is now called, Maths. I am, and always have been, at least equal to and probably far more hopeless than Miles in any sort of maths situation. Though I did learn my times table and can still recite them demand. (bit sticky on the elevens and twelves).

And now, here is my report. .

It’s all there, isn’t it. Playwright and performer in the making.

“When reading to the class she puts in much expression and is very pleasing to the ear.”

If only the people at the Italia Conti stage school had read that. I would have been immediately invited to audition and gone on to star in Grange Hill and then Eastenders, full soap stardom and the London stage. All on the strength of a cold read of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.

And I was at the very least a double-threat, with my excellent written work. Having found my old primary school stories book I knew I had a vivid imagination  but nice to have it confirmed. Though I do take exception to this:

“Her high imagination has been prone to colour more factual work.”

Unless they’re referring to my  insistence that my dad was one of the Dambusters pilots during WWII, and possibly the inspiration for the Dambusters film.

I’m also not entirely clear on this ‘immature beginning’ nonsense, though ending up as an above-average member of my class due to my magnificent effort, is a nice arc, as we playwrights like to say. And for the non-Brits reading this, you’ll understand our reluctance to get all braggy about ourselves when the headmasters comment at the end of a pretty blinding report, is:

‘Well tried, Margaret’.

Well tried, Mr Hayes? Well bloody done, Margaret. Destined for great things, Margaret. Italia Conti stage school, Margaret. Soap star, Margaret. But no, let’s not spoil the child, let’s damn her with faint praise. That way she’ll never really be satisfied, no matter how well she does.

But the joke’s on you Mr Hayes (and actually, you were a lovely headmaster) because you’re now dead and here I am still being sort of pleasing to the ear. To  the Texans anyway.

I was intending to write an end of 2021 report rather than a reflection on the British educational system’s failures to reward my early and obvious talent. So here goes. I’m ending the year with my first full-length play, that’s currently hibernating, a whole series of monologues, a lovely recording of a one-act play, and two ten-minute plays, one about quilts and the other, aubergines.

And as I start a new year fully dedicated to playwriting, it’s nice to reacquaint myself with my imagination. And thinking about my mum this week, I also remember the greatest gift that she gave me and Miles. A love of books, a joy in reading and the ability to use a thesaurus.

But good god, her home haircuts were rubbish. And Miles definitely wins this one. Mine defies all explanation.

*possibly an example of my high imagination coloring more factual evidence.


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