This year’s Lady Denman Cup short story competition was an interesting one. ‘Write a letter to your younger self’, it said. ‘What advice would you give yourself?’ All in five hundred words. I knew my younger self would have steadfastly ignored any form of instruction, so I erred on the side of reassurance. It seemed to work. I won the second prize of £50 of book tokens. In real life, though, I’ve been even luckier.
‘To: Miss Fox, Summit Farm, March 1976
You won’t believe me, but there will come a time when your inability to perfect the use of an eyelash curler and your clumsy Carry On Cleo eyeliner skills won’t matter. Where you sit on the bus will have absolutely no effect on your chances of getting married, and the numbers printed on your bus ticket won’t seal your fate. Trust me.
You will barely remember Mr Pickup’s name, let alone his habit of pointing out your mathematical inadequacies to the whole class. Nor will Mr Mellor’s prophecy come true. You will discover that you can do Chemistry, and that actually, him throwing you out of his class in Fourth Year, forcing you to take Beginners’ German, will change your whole future. In a twist of karma you will meet your amazing, kind and talented husband while working for a German chemical company.
Oh, and at the age of 42, you will emerge from an Open University graduation ceremony clutching a first-class degree in Chemistry and Geology. You will therefore be able to write fairly legibly on a bus, and you will have revised oxidation reactions and crystal lattices whilst pushing a shopping trolley round Tesco.
Mrs Butcher, though, is absolutely spot-on. You will always sew as though you’re wearing mittens and you never will master the Quick Unpick. The poor woman who attempted to teach you Domestic Science (and whose name you will consign to age-related oblivion) will be remembered only for insisting you bake melting moments which damaged Grandma’s top set and a cottage loaf which even the pigs refused to eat.
Don’t worry, I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but you will remember Dad. You won’t recall, forty years later, what his voice sounded like or how he walked, but that sense of him, the person who made you what you will become, will still be with you – his love of horses, his desire to write, his urge to better himself and for you to do the same. You’ll eventually recognise his ‘you could do better’ as frustration, not criticism. You will also accept, maybe twenty years from now, that just because you were the last person to see him that night, you couldn’t have stopped him. Nobody could. Sometimes the demons win.
You will remember summer mornings, sneaking out of the house at daybreak, riding bareback up to Cobden Edge with the mist still hanging in the valley and the call of the curlew the only sound apart from hoof beats, watching as the world wakes below you. These moments you will remember always, they will define you.
You will never follow the crowd and you will, eventually, stop apologising for that. Promise to remember that you can do anything you set your mind to. Oh, and don’t ever fret about housework – it’s as over-rated as being able to use a slide-rule.
Be kind, be patient and enjoy every single second of your amazing life.’
Jan, what a beautiful piece of writing. You have such an exquisitely sensitive touch – brought tears to my eyes xxx
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Thank you so much for this xx
Jan, this was lovely. I felt very emotional reading it! Good luck and enjoy your book launch – so exciting!
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Thanks, Alison, it’s all getting very exciting – and a tiny bit surreal too!