It was the ‘Swinging Sixties’, I was twenty years old. Looking back at myself, fifty four years later, I realise what a child I still was but, then, I thought I was a ‘grown-up’. I had just failed to get the qualifications for the teacher training college I wanted to go to, managed to get myself a job helping to teach in a London school in rather an underprivileged area (at the time), and thought that once I’d re-taken my exams, I’d be following my dreams.
I had wanted to be a teacher since I was seven when I had played a game with a group of children one summer day. In that game I was the teacher, standing at the front of the class with all the (5 or 6 children) listening to my every word and obeying my every command. (I seem to remember we were outside and playing on a set of semi-circular concrete steps somewhere in Convers Avenue, Zanesville, Ohio. Despite the aphantasia I have this ‘not quite’ picture in my head!)
Not long after Christmas I went to my usual Saturday morning haunt, Henekeys in Portobello Road, and was introduced to Mike. He was dark haired, green eyed and charming. Within a few weeks we were seeing each other most days and, eventually, moved in together. We lived in a shared flat in Maida Vale. Shortly, I realised I was the ‘bread winner’ and that much of what Mike had told me was untrue. But, by this time, I was pregnant.
Me? How could I be pregnant? I was a well-brought up girl and things like that didn’t happen to girls like me!
But they did and still do.
Remember, this was the 60’s and life in London was a lot freer than it was in many places but, even so, it was going to be hard. Abortion was still illegal and I refused to consider it, not from a religious or even pro-life point of view but because I couldn’t bear the thought of it, from the moment I found out there was a baby inside me. My mother, who was very upset, had a very different point if view! She found a friend of a friend of a friend who had had an abortion and got a doctor’s name, made an appointment and took me there in a taxi. She went into the doctor’s office with me and told him what she thought should happen. He asked her to step outside while he examined me. I told him that I didn’t want an abortion and, a few moments later, he told my mother that it was too late to carry out a safe abortion.
Nowadays, it’s not really a big deal. There are many, many well-loved children born ‘out of wedlock’ every year but in those days often girls were sent to ‘unmarried mother homes’ where they would sit out the time when they were obviously pregnant, have the baby taken from them at six weeks and then go home to get on with their lives as if nothing had happened. If a girl stayed at home all the neighbours would know about her ‘sin’ and (though not always) would make her feel like an outcast and the child would be labeled ‘bastard’. I decided to ‘front it out’. I bought myself a second hand ring in Portobello Rd and wore it when I was out and about. At the school I was working in I wore an overall which I hoped hid my baby bump and possibly was successful as no one ever mentioned it!
Mike and I saw each other once or twice after I moved back home but he never saw his daughter and, apart from once, never asked to see her.
My beautiful daughter, ’Veronica’, was born on the first of November and was welcomed by the whole family. She was healthy and happy, enchanting the friends, neighbours and nearby shopkeepers and bringing much joy into our lives.
As she grew up we realised how very bright she was and, when she won a scholarship to a Oxbridge college, no one was surprised. Today she is happily married with a beautiful and intelligent daughter of her own and I am the proudest mum in the world!
In Part Five I’ll tell you a bit more about my mother.