Pre-teen dreams (Part One)

Leg warmers were originally worn by dancers to keep their muscles from cramping after stretching, but in the early 1980s, leg warmers became a fad, and wearing them was fashionable among teenage girls.


Either I was a faddish teenage girl, or this is what is known as a generalisation.  My story about legwarmers involves Mrs Jeffries and music classes at primary school.

For a long time I wasn’t sure if I had any musical ability.  Probably because of a test we all had to take for the choir at my primary school.  We lined up next to the choir stall and were called up one by one by the man who played the organ at assembly.  When it was my turn I stepped up beside him and he pressed down on a white key in the middle of the keyboard.  “Sing that note,” he said.  I sang that note.  He shook his head, and called out “next boy, please.”  I stepped down and wandered back to class.  I think that meant that I couldn’t sing.  It seemed strange to not be able to sing but to like music.  Like I suppose it seemed strange to my wood work teacher that I had a penis but I couldn’t make anything out of wood, and seemed to have an aversion to tools.  I didn’t like my wood work teacher and he didn’t like me.

I liked Mrs. Jeffries though.  She was the music teacher.  She was tall with long, silvery hair and lovely, slender fingers.  I could imagine that she had been a dancer.  We sang songs in her class and she has never shook her head at anyone and dismissed them.  The songs I remember singing were Beatles songs.  We used to sing When I’m 64 which is a strange song to sing when you’re 7 or 8.  Every time we sang the line about turning out the lights some of the other boys sniggered.  I didn’t know why they were sniggering, but I smiled knowingly anyway to blend in.

One week Mrs. Jeffries asked my class to listen to a piece of music with our eyes closed and our heads down on our desks.  She told us that we were going to imagine a story while we listened to the music and that afterwards some of us would share our stories with the class.  I think that the music was Peer Gynt.

When the music started I was just thinking about how sitting in class with my eyes closed was sort of silly, and how Jonathan had made a funny face, and how James had made a pretend snoring noise and Mrs Jeffries had frowned at him, but the music was so good that I had straightaway started to daydream.  I imagined I was in a desert and I was walking really slowly, almost like I was tip-toeing across the sand, and there was a huge, amazing looking city sort of glowing on the horizon, but the music began to speed up, and up and up, and soon I was flying across the sand, and then shooting up into the clouds and swooping down over the city which was a jumble of towers and amazing buildings, and it was so exciting to dip and surge about that when the music ended I was almost out of breath.

Mrs Jeffries asked us to say what we had imagined, but when I described it my dream sounded sort of ordinary and hollow and I wondered why I couldn’t explain the magic.

Another time Mrs Jeffries asked us to sit in a circle and one by one say what our favourite piece of clothing was.  I was somewhere in the middle of the line, and as I heard the boys ahead of me announce their choices, I began desperately hunting around in my mind for something to say. I wanted it to be cool, but different, because Mrs Jeffries was a cool teacher.  Finally I thought of something.  It was so cool.  I waited really nervously as the boys ahead of me went, desperately hoping no one would steal my idea (ah the irony).  Finally it came to my turn in the line, and I said:

“Leg warmers.”

Most of the boys laughed at me.  Mrs Jeffries quickly hushed them and moved on to the next boy in the line.  I was very confused and red in the face.  Why had the other boys laughed?  I had to wait to the end of the lesson when James told me: “only girls wear leg warmers”.

At first I felt embarrassed and then I remembered that this wasn’t true.  Sometimes boys wore leg warmers.  Leroy in Fame wore them and he was cool.

In fact, at the time of Fame and Flashdance I thought it would have been pretty cool to go to a school like the one in Fame but I’m not really sure what I would have done there.  My mother tried to get me to take piano lessons but somehow I couldn’t understand what the dots and lines on paper had to do with pushing keys and making sound.  Sometimes I tried to dance like Leroy did.  I put on my blue track suit and leg warmers, put on some music, and jumped about, but one day I saw myself in the reflection of the window and thought I had better stop because I didn’t look much like Leroy.

What went on in my head always seemed so much better than what actually was.  In my head when the choir master  pushed down on the key in the middle of the organ’s keyboard at school I could sing like the men on Mum’s Puccini Masterpieces cassette, and when I told the class that I liked legwarmers and they laughed then I could do some amazing dance routine in the middle of the classroom and they would have all joined in like they did on Fame and it would have been totally awesome.

That would have been cool.  Cooler than what happened anyway which was embarrassing.  I suppose what I learned when I tried and failed to explain my dream after listening to Peer Gynt was that music was transporting and magical, but also temporary and illusory.

I think I was in secondary school when I heard that Mrs. Jeffries had died of cancer.  It made me sad.  She was rather wonderful in what was usually quite a drab, and anti-creative school week.  I remember you Mrs. Jeffries.  I always will.  I’m sorry you’re gone, but thank you for your gift to me.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

10 thoughts on “Pre-teen dreams (Part One)”

  1. Beautiful tribute to Mrs. Jeffries.

    Whenever I hear anyone’s stories about grammar school I feel like I was there. I think it is astonishing that any of us actually survived all the traumas that we faced every day.

    Seriously. It is so embarrassing to think back!

  2. I think one of the songs from the series was actually a top ten hit in New Zealand. They’re brilliant books. My image of Thatcher’s Britain and Charles and Di have been seriously shaped by Adrian.

  3. Yeah, I think there’s five. I have them all but the first two are the best. When my wife bought me them a few years back it was like I was reading them again for the first time. I would read bits to her but found it hard to get through an entire entry without crying with laughter. The school trip entry is classic.

  4. Oh yes, we had Mole. Actually I have his first three diaries. Aren’t they still coming out? Gold. The TV series was good too.

  5. Awesome post. I love your posts. They’re so… brutally honest LOL 😀 Are you, in fact, Adrian Mole? Don’t tell me they didn’t have Moley in NZ… classic British literature…

    I had a teacher who played the War Of The Worlds by Jeff Wayne and had us paint it. I must have been about the same age, actually, but this was a few years earlier, in the late 70’s.

  6. Yeah, it really is fame. Actually, I didn’t check for legwarmers. Need to be more careful.

    High school art class. I was so bad but enjoyed it so much. If it had been Fame you would have all leapt on the tables and started singing and dancing.

  7. Lovely tribute to your teacher. The Fame picture is great! (I think it’s really Fame, isn’t it? That kid could very well be you for all I know. I can’t make out whether he’s wearing legwarmers.)

    One time in my high school art class when we were supposed to be having quiet work time, a rebel kid started loudly humming the opening melody to Petula Clark’s Downtown (which happened to be a song we were practicing in mandatory choir class). Everyone apparently thought they’d be original by blurting out “Downtown” when he got to the refrain. Instead, it ended up being most of the class. In unison. We all had a moment. One part hilarity mixed with one part terror (i.e. dear God, are we like Fame?).

    That music test was the WORST!

  8. I also love that there was no explanation before or after, or any teaching. Hey, maybe you should run your admission into music classes this way.

  9. Hey, I love that singing test – one strike and you’re out for life!
    I always failed things like that too.

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