Five years

When we went for walk this morning, George and I, there was a football match being played on the field so we walked around the outside instead. With George on the lead and no ball-throwing going on, there was time to reminisce as we were walking along.

I realised that I have said nothing about friends outside school. None of my school friends lived locally, the nearest being Saltaire in one direction and Keighley in the other. A girl came to live in the next street and we could see each other’s house from our back bedrooms. When we were small, we used to play in her garden, ride our bikes around the local streets and flash torches at each other when we were supposed to be in bed asleep. As we grew up, we ventured further afield, including going for a smoke from time to time in the park where no-one could see us. (Shhh… I haven’t told you that!) My friend went to the local secondary school and when she left and got a job, we grew apart.

Sixthformers were treated differently at school. We had more freedom to hang around inside the classroom, we had a different uniform (still unflattering, but different) and we got to wear a prefect’s badge and be a bit bossy.

As I’ve said, I made the choice to study Chemistry, Zoology and Botany for ‘A’ Level. We also studied higher level “Apologetics” and a bit of German (in case we were really going to be scientists).

I have to thank a teacher who ran an after school club called “World Citizenship”, or something similar. We learned and talked about issues which were affecting people across the world. She berrated us for our conservatism and said that, at our age, we should be railing against the status quo. I was surprised, as I came from a Conservative (with a capital ‘C’) household and she was a teacher with a plummy voice. However, she woke in us a desire to learn.

We learned about a young American doctor called Tom Dooley and the whole class became obsessed with him. We read his heroic account of being a doctor, treating refugees across South East Asia during the late 1950s and we agonised over his diagnosis and death from cancer in his early thirties. We didn’t know at the time that he also worked for the CIA and exaggerated his stories in order to stir up anti-communist sentiment. Our devotion was similar to that awarded to a pop-star. But at the very least, it kick-started my interest in the world outside Bingley.

As we moved into 1963, I had my first brush with breast cancer, when mum’s sister Violet died after a short illness, aged 62. Another sister, Jessie, had already died at the age of 35, I believe from the same cause. I’m telling you this on the day I took my final hormone suppressing tablet, having survived five years since my own breast cancer operation.

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