Saturday, May 3, 2008


I didn't know anything about 'the square' or the thinking required to be inside or outside it, until not that long ago. In primary school I was always popular, top of the class, the one the teacher could rely on....a pretty perfect little girl. But even then I loved the freedom that came with running in the rain on the beach where we had a shack only 45 minutes away, but in another world. I loved the feel of the sand on my fingers as I built sand-castles. I loved our 5 dogs. I loved my canoe and paddling out at 6am to get a few fish from the small net we put out sometimes (before the crabs got the fish). My mother had a bell she would ring when she wanted me to come home. Other than that I was totally free there. We went there nearly every weekend.

We learned about debating in Primary School and I loved that - free to say what I thought, be witty and totally left-field. I was good at it and loved it until they asked me to be in a team. No, I said, don't make me be in a competition and have to do it for a prize. They pestered me for months, I remember, and then I started to hate debating and have never done it since. This was the beginning of that feeling of not being like everyone else. It happened with tennis too. When I was about 14 or so I started catching the 7.20 bus to school so I could play tennis until the bell went - on beautiful lawn courts, in bare feet, with a friend. It was peaceful, lovely and the ball would sound a wonderful 'crack' in the cool morning air. The PE teacher asked me to play in a competition - the school 'needed me' in the team, she said. I thought about it for a few seconds but it would have meant missing Saturday mornings at our shack, I wouldn't be playing in bare feet on the school courts, I would have to want to win, so I said thanks, but no thanks. Over and over - they just didn't understand.

In my last year at school we started playing squash at a local court. I had been playing it already, with my brother at a court near home, so, again, I was already pretty good. By this time I had wised up and when they asked me to play in a school competition - just between girls in my own school, in school hours I said yes. I knew all the contestants and they were all the top sports players and most 'popular' girls in the school and I knew I could beat them all. By now I was a complete nobody and thought I deserved to be noticed. I practised with my brother and the day drew closer. Suddenly the competition was cancelled - no reason given. Why? I never found out but it was pretty disappointing for me. This was when I started to have the confidence to see things as they often were and to make my own choices and read between the lines and delve a little deeper. The teachers began to get a bit of lip from me; I refused to go to maths lessons because the teacher was hopeless, I told other people what I thought of the whole school system but, because I was bright, I didn't get into too much trouble. Who could argue with my standards when I was top of the class?

It wasn't until I went to University that I saw some other types of people but still felt they conformed to a set of expectations - just different ones. That wasn't for me either but I loved it - so much more freedom to be yourself than at my lovely, safe girls' school, which I had also loved, most of the time. I found a club at uni called the Mountain Club. It was full of people who loved bush-walking and other outdoor things. They had a range of ideas, were all doing different courses and it was wonderful. Some of them could play musical instruments so we always had folk-dancing and music all weekend. We all ended up marrying each other and now these people are our best friends. Even if we don't see them for 10 years, when we get together it is like we just saw each other yesterday. When you spend a week bush-walking or cross-country skiing with people, in hard and demanding circumstances, you really get to know each other. I was the least unusual and most ordinary of them all then but now things have shuffled about a bit and I think some have mellowed and some have even gone a little way down the slippery-slide towards average!

Years later...
When your children are at school you want them to be happy. It soon became obvious that both our boys had inherited some thinking skills from Roger and I but, unlike us, they came on out with them right from day one! Luckily, as with me, they found that being clever kept the teachers at bay most of the time and so they never wavered in their path to say what needed to be said. It was an eye-opening experience and one we felt, on the one hand, proud of fostering but on the other, in trepidation of them going too far. They never did...well...not quite or not too often... Now they have their own lives and live them to the full, always leaders, always witty and quick as well as deep and broad.

I really only understood all this when, one day only a few months ago, I was standing in a queue at a smorgasbord with a group of acquaintances when I heard a man, not from my group, talking behind me. He said to his friend something like...."you've got to think outside the square, Fred...". He went on a bit and I turned around and said (god only knows why) "My problem is I don't know where the square is..." and he replied - looking at me with such intensity that I thought he thought I was mad " know what? Neither do I and I never have. What square?" Silence...connection. I wanted to leave my group and join his to talk about this more but the line shifted on, and we drifted back to our own squares. Until this moment I had never known there was a square either. 49 years of living not just outside but without the square that most people live within and I didn't even know. The jigsaw pieces became a picture.

1 comment:

Ian said...

The thing is Kate, because your just so rounded, I don't think you'll ever fit inside the square. To me, that's true individuality!