Years and years ago, in fact so many years ago now that we are talking way back into the last century, I became engaged to my first husband, Martin. I was 19 years old.
We’d met 8 months earlier in Kenya where I was working at the time as a teaching assistant in a school near Nairobi. Our actually meeting however was on the back of a cattle truck that was headed north from Nairobi to a camp on the Samburu game reserve. At the time this was the cheapest safari going, and I was traveling with one of my oldest friends Joe, who had come out to Kenya with me for the first month of my stay there.
There were an eclectic mix of travelers on this cattle truck safari and some brilliantly memorable characters too, such as the mad, gay American artist who claimed he could do auto- phallatio. I am not going to name him as I don’t want him hounding me for deformation but needless to say I have been in awe of him ever since and he continued to be a friend to both Martin and I long after our week safari was over.
Back in Nairobi, Martin and I said our ‘goodbyes’ as he had to return to London for work and I still had another 6 months being an assistant in the school. Every single day for those 6 months a blue airmail letter would arrive for me, a billet-doux filling me in with news of life in London, his thoughts, ideas and sweet nothings so that by the time my stay in Kenya was over, I had, almost an entire suitcase of correspondence and a large parcel of sable paintbrushes that he had sent out too.
Two months after my return to England Martin asked me to marry him. Keen to do things ‘proper like’ he decided to ask my Father formally for my hand in marriage. I remember them going into my Father’s study together and closing the door behind them. After a few minutes I was getting increasingly desperate to hear what was being said so I slunk away from the kitchen where I was supposed to be peeling the potatoes for dinner and crouched down outside the door to listen. It took Martin a good ten minutes to get onto the subject of marriage but eventually he plucked up the courage. My Father, who I suspect was absolutely delighted that his unruly, wayward daughter was about to be taken off his hands, gave Martin an affirmative answer. However, after an audible gulp of whisky he then proceeded to tell Martin about all my bad points.
‘You do understand’ he said to Martin, ‘that Lottie really isn’t very bright, she’s not academic in the least’
‘She’s never done terribly well at school, in fact she’s been asked to leave most of the schools that she’s attended. She is very willful, and she has no qualifications to speak of’. ‘You may eventually find that this is a problem especially since you are an academic yourself?’……………..’She’s also…’
I was horrified! I got up from the floor and sped back into the kitchen to tell my Mother. ‘Well Lottie, you know what they say about eavesdroppers? Now get on with peeling those potatoes’
It’s funny how those little things can colour your life if you let them. Ever since that day I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about anything to do with academia and learning. It seems that in that moment I was written off as being thick and it has stuck with me ever since no matter what I am told to the contrary.
The reason that I’m telling you this is, is because I’m feeling rather pleased with myself. No, I have not just in case you are wondering, gained an ‘ology’ in Rocket science or Biochemistry, nor have I got myself a PhD. It is because my Bahasa Indonesian is coming on in leaps and bounds and I have just learnt the numbers 1-99. It would have been to 1-100 but ummm, unfortunately overnight I seem to have forgotten what 100 is, so for now, just to be absolutely sure, I’m just going to boast the 1-99 bit.