No. Of Leigh-on-Sea. (Sorry Helen. You probably weren’t expecting to land up here).
‘Never heard of it,’ I hear you say. Yes, it’s not likely. Leigh-on-Sea is part of Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England. And it’s where my parents (and my older sister) were born. I was born in London. But then my Dad – hating the ubiquitous British weather – dragged us all to Australia. THEN my parents got homesick for tiny little Southend and shlepped us back there when I was 11 (before returning to Australia two years later). You find this hard to follow? Imagine being the kid (me) who was constantly uprooted!
Anyway, when we arrived in Southend, my sister and I were sent to Westcliff High School for Girls (Westcliff-on-Sea is also a suburb of Southend). So there I was, this 11-year-old kid, being dropped into some strange vortex. I call that experience like being in an Enid Blyton novel with no means of escape. Of course, if you’re not British you’re unlikely to know who Enid Blyton was. And seeing we’ve already bypassed the E’s and B’s of blogging you’ll just have to Google her. Sorry.
What could have been a horrible experience in a new country was made wonderful by two other 11-year-old girls I met at Westcliff High. Namely, the Helen of this post and Johanna. (Ha, and there you were Johanna thinking you’d escape). Well, Helen, Johanna and I became like the three musketeers. Helen with her long dark plait and her brilliant violin playing; Johanna with her cute little blonde ringlet ponytails with a penchant for tap dancing while waiting in the dinner queue at lunchtime. Who am I kidding? She’d tap dance anywhere, anytime. What did I bring to the triumvirate? The ability to do a rain dance, which we faithfully employed every Monday afternoon in a desperate effort to get out of the dreaded hockey classes (this is field hockey Americans, not ice hockey) so that we could play team games indoors instead. For a country that is renowned for its rain, you’d be amazed how often it DIDN’T rain on Monday afternoons in Southend!
In our second term we had a fourth member join us. Lynne arrived from Luton. A total tomboy with fire engine red hair, Lynne played some instrument (I forget – trumpet?) in the Boys Brigade on weekends. Were it not for these friends, my life would have been tough at WHSG (Westcliff High School for Girls).
And then, I was back down the rabbit hole and in Australia again before you could say “To Be A Pilgrim” (The WHSG School Song). I kept in touch with my friends for a while via letters (Hey this was the 70s – no email!). I remember letters from Helen complaining how lucky I was to have avoided hockey FOREVER), but eventually we lost touch. Until about 18 months ago. Thanks to the Facebook gods Helen tracked me down 35 years later and we were chatting away as if no time at all had passed. And I was so excited to learn that Helen and Johanna (who now goes by Jo but will always be Johanna to me), both still live in Leigh; both have teenage daughters at WHSG and both are still the best of friends. Helen still plays violin (and viola) and Johanna still tap dances. She’s passed that love on to her own daughter, too. We’ve all lost touch with Lynne, though. None of us know where she is. So Lynne – if you’re reading this, reach out to us!
We’ve exchanged some emails; some Facebook posts (although Johanna’s not a big FB person); and LOTS of tweets. We’ve reminisced about our time together all those years ago and I still feel so close to these women who were such an integral part of my pre pubescent growth.
I’m hoping that sometime in the not too distant future I’ll take a trip back to Southend (I still have family there) and the three of us will go out and have a jolly old time together, just like we did all those years ago.
So thank you, Helen, for reaching out, for finding me, for putting our little triumvirate back together across time and space. I am still amazed at the power of true friendship, that can withstand time and distance. I cannot wait to see you and Johanna again someday and to meet your husbands and daughters.
And of course you’re both welcome to drop by La La Land anytime to visit me.