Poems and the Past

I was thinking a little more about Helen L and her superior colouring skills. ( see my last post) Those feelings of inadequacy as a child still transfer so readily to the adult. I think I don’t have the persevering skills to make the colouring-in look good. Always, I get a little sloppy, or rush into it with the wrong colour. Both my sisters run immaculate houses and are very precise. My strengths do not run to the precise. My oldest sister does exquisite embroidery. I’ve no idea why I thought I would be able to do it.

Possibly rather foolishly I have bought a tea towel at half price and some embroidery cottons and  I know that even if the front looks okay, the back will be a mess of criss -crossing and split threads. Or maybe I wont even finish it. I won’t start it until I have finished my rug, but it is now becoming a bit of a challenge in my mind. I’m sure not to get it in the middle or I’ll muddle up the colours or get a knot.


At high school embroidery was compulsory and was taken by a fierce diminutive woman called Mrs Lascelles. It was in her class that my inadequacy reached quite dizzying heights. The compulsory embroidery classes were taken in what I see now, was a gorgeous old house next to the school. We would troop up the stairs of the maids’ entrance and enter the room where an old gas fire would be hissing, its white waffle bars glowing. Mrs Lascelles would be standing behind her desk and above her was a painting of The Lacemaker by Vermeer.

All third formers started with a sampler bag. I knew even then that I had “no taste” as mine was navy blue and orange whereas the clever girls would choose beautiful soft greens and taupes and cream. Although tiny, Mrs Lascelles was easily able to make herself heard and a familiar call was, “No canary yellow girls, no canary yellow.” I kept my bag but it brings with it both the sense of accomplishment and the humiliating feeling  when inspection took place to ensure the crosses were all facing in the right direction. My friend Winifred, now a renowned orthodontist was a fantastic embroiderer. May be she takes those skills into her work.

Each year we had to do something else, first the bag, then the tray cloth and then finally in fifth form, the supper cloth. I remember that as I hadn’t finished mine, I was threatened with not being allowed to sit School Certificate. As a last resort I paid Julia D to do it for me. It was supposed to be a border but when she discovered it didn’t meet up we had to pretend it was just a corner pattern. It was ten dollars well spent.

I was similarly disabled when it came to sewing. I had a mean sewing teacher in Form 1 who made us unpick anything that wasn’t perfect. I remember the details vividly, it was an A-line, mustard wool skirt. As I was pretty small back then it wouldn’t have been more than half a metre of material. After watching me using an entire reel of cotton and not an inconsiderable amount of despair, my mother, who was an excellent seamstress, took pity on me and did it for me.

I have again rather foolishly, been lured into contemplating buying a sewing machine because they are now such a reasonable price. I think the only thing I could manage would be little lavender bags or maybe even a zipless cushion. All I need to do though, is to drive past a Cash Converters and see the row upon row of exercycles and other gym equipment to remind myself where that sewing machine and all its intentions might show up.

I now try to bear good old Leonard Cohen in mind when attempting anything. It gets me out of just about everything.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The mindfulness course helps one to focus on the present and to ditch those feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy -yeah right. I wrote the poem below a long time ago about meeting a “mature”, sensible girl at school who got her periods waaaay before me. I was always in trouble for chatting, giggling and not concentrating and she was always so good and calm with straight white hair. Curly hair seems to immediately brand one with a sort of out of control frivolousness.

I wrote this poem many years ago but I hope you have some fun remembering your years at school.

I Met A Woman I Went To School With
I met a woman I went to school with at the baggage claim.

In an instant I was back in a grey gymfrock
with the incorrectly tied girdle, my flat chest, not getting
the joke about Cleopatra going to the Nile periodically
which was why it was red.

Immediately I was transported to hopeless land.
The blotchy colouring in, the teacher ignoring my waving hand
for a place in the orchestra, both of us knowing
I’d be too much trouble.

Straight away my heart shrank in the face of
The glowering, freckled spinster with
Enormous feet, and orange hair who tried to make me
write-handed because left was Latin for sinister.

I met a woman I went to school with.
I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had just sailed past,
like a grown up might, nonchalantly hailing
a taxi with a confident wave and sitting in the back
looking up something important.

Sue Heggie

Have a good day. FG


4 Replies to “Poems and the Past”

  1. My colouring not great either. It’s all about enjoying what you are doing, not being a perfectionist. I still haven’t finished my OGHS supper cloth!!!!


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