Stable and comfortable, Staid and Constricting. Leafy and well situated. Ludicrous and wealthy. I moved from Leytonstone in (then, unregenerated) grim East London when I was 7. Which isn’t strictly true of course because I didn’t move my mum moved. At the time I was growing up there Woodford Green was a mostly peaceful small well to do suburb just outside of London.
I’m going about this all wrong.
Woodford Green was and still is safe. Quiet and safe. Boring and safe. Soporific and safe. Great for young families. Great for retirees. Great for children. Some of the best schools in the country. None of which I went to though.
Not bitter, touchy subject. Moving on.
For Americans the best way I can describe it is that it was a small town, a really small town.
I grew up without a racial consciousness until the advent of rap music reaching the UK in the 90’s.
In 1987 I was 12 years growing up nouveau middle class unconsciously black in a mostly White and Indian neighborhood. I was living the dream and I slept happily until I woke up.
My mother’s West Indian Culture was alien to me. The rest of my family lived on the other side of London. Mum had moved us to the North East boundary with the home counties and the rest of the family lived in South London for the most part. I didn’t speak with an accent, eat anything except English food, didn’t listen to black music.
I grew up white in a middle class black family.
I was top of the class for the most part in school. Smart, but bullied (but not racially. I didn’t really count as black in the eyes of the racists.) I was uncool, nerdy, awkward. Popular with the teachers who were tired of hammering square pegs of knowledge into round ear holes.
I was obedient, malleable and quiet. Screamed straight at home. I had it impressed that nothing mattered more than education, Not friends, not girls – nothing else.
Not a coincidence I had my first suicidal thoughts about that age.
I had failed the “11+” exam which was the entrance exam to the good schools. Failed is a probably a bit rough. The private schools had three entry methods – scholarship, paying and half scholarship. Mum had put me down for the scholarship route and I hadn’t made the grade. Simple as that.
So I went to a rougher comprehensive school I was completely unprepared to deal with. My friends from younger easier times drifted away. I became the butt of jokes, pranked, bullied even spat on. I had no idea how to deal with what was happening to me.
I stopped enjoying school, enjoying learning, enjoying being around other people. I stopped enjoying life itself. And Mum was always angry and I had always done something wrong or something not quite right. I had no-one to talk to and nowhere to go.
So it was at age 12 I found myself standing over the kitchen sink holding a knife in my right hand against my left wrist considering my options. I stood there for a while willing myself to do it. I gave up, finished the washing up and went upstairs to do my homework.
I have very few fond childhood memories. I didn’t have a rough childhood. Didn’t live in poverty. Didn’t have to do without. Wasn’t abused. Wasn’t abandoned. Wasn’t exploited.
But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t find much happiness until I left Woodford Green.
Tangent – I vividly remember the first Comic Relief event the next year which was televised on the BBC and became a significant event that schools became involved in. I hadn’t smiled for so long that I had to work my facial muscles with my hands practicing a smile of some sort. I knew if I was the only child in school not being seen to be enjoying the enforced hilarity I might be even more of a target for bullying.
Nice town, you’ll probably like it if you ever visit.