When standing before my minute but ferocious execution teacher, Miss Rose, I might have matched her height even though I was twelve and she many twelves and counting, I was diminished by her power and knowledge. She was so confident, standing there just above the floor with her fingers pointing, her arms working, no fear of taking up space. I wondered, even then, if she had wanted to be on stage. She would have been someone noticed and that’s for sure, but back then beauty and elegance was all the fickle world of theatre wanted unless you wanted to play Bottom. Nowadays, there is more room for character actresses. I say Actresses because Actors could get away with no end of compromises to their body and still be taken for a chance. Let’s see how you act. Not so women. I am happy it has changed. Back to the point.
El-oo-si-date! She annunciated at me from behind the desk that dwarfed her, her whole body shouting at me. Not a shortened ‘oo’ but a loooong one. I did that, forming my lips into a ridiculous fish pout. Better, she said. Go again. I also remember the word snow. You must round on the O, she said, like this. And did the O thing with her own shaky old lips. I heard her, wanted to please her, wanted to be the best. I noticed I was standing on tippytoe as if my height could alter anything. Relax your heels, she said, without looking. She just felt what I was doing and could hear it in my voice. Even then I was marvelled. How did she know? Well, she was passionate about her work, that diminutive woman in a sensible frock that never showed her knees because knees meant something dodgy, like an invitation and she was of a generation that thought that way, or, at least, her parents did. Did she have parents? I could barely imagine them. Was her first name Rose, or her surname? I never knew, never asked. I just brought my heels down and practised enunciation for hours.
I did win the elocution cup. I recall the thrill of it, that being called up to the stage, a grass stage that Shakespeare would have known well, the parental audience flanked in rows that spread all the way back to the headmistress’s office with its big light-wild windows. She, the headmistress was also both diminutive and powerful and all her dresses forbad knee escape. Did they have knees these women, these women with all the heart longings and losses and confinements we know today but now have the ok to talk about, as they did not? I may forever wonder that and in that wondering send back a great big hug. But with that freedom we now have, that chance to speak out and to be taken seriously, there is still the old cover-your-knees thing in our thinking. Who among you has not wanted to step out in something a bit different to the ‘brown’ functional clothes you once wore? Who has not wanted to show her knees and more? I understand why so many young women go crazy with their clothes for a night out, I really do. There is something blood red and fire inside each one of us that is so easily extinguished for ever.
Oh, the point……trust me to forget that. Rein in you blood red and fire woman with knee issues.
I walked the doglet to the old pier, the skeleton and I know that the old sea dog is now just that. I wonder how it is inside that coffin. Of course I do. So much not to bother about in that safe case. Just let go. The old pier, my husband, is diminishing now. He would have hated that, but he is not here to do the hating thing. He had a big problem about letting go. I pick up a feather, divided into white and black, and wonder which bit of Goose this came from. Not a wing feather, not a kill, just a shed. Ok. We walk on, the doglet watching my every move, ahead of me, looking back, behind me, following up, always there, always right there. We pass Scabious flowers and watch honey bees (who’s?) and two peacock butterflies, blue, eyed-up, blood red, letting me watch the beauty of them as they go about their work. The tide is outing, the oystermen at work across the inlet. We sit awhile and the doglet keeps vigil. Actually, I ignore her keeping vigil thing because it is relentless. Every single sound alerts her to ‘vigilling’. I begin to swing back to my watching, curlew, gulls of many a hue, oystercatchers, a seal, the flip of an otter, the indecision of the tide. Still she alerts. Turning, eventually, (a tawdry spin) I see a young woman coming across the seagrass. She hesitates and I welcome her. We talk. She is French and on holiday. She wants to explore. Can I guide her someway? I do, with my heart right in it. She smiles, thanks me for my ‘direction’. She understands me, she says, because my English is proper.
God bless Miss Rose.