In retrospect, I think I started to feel different from other people at nursery school. The adults were like characters out of Alice in Wonderland: uncompromising, and full of bizarre, enigmatic statements and demands. One of my abiding memories is of being constantly told not to ‘answer back to the teacher’. All I can remember thinking is, What else do I do when someone asks me a question? We were also inexplicably expected to take naps on gym mats – literal gym mats, like the dusty dark-blue ones you find stacked against the wall in a school gym. They might as well have asked us to take a nap of a piece of concrete.
Other children were little more than a nuisance. They happily took part in the straightforward activities designed for them by the adults (one particularly ingenious activity was ‘painting’ the outside walls of the nursery with pots of water – the water would temporarily stain the bricks a darker colour, creating the illusion that they’d actually been painted). They found the things that happened outside their brains more interesting than what happened within – it was possible for them to spend their playtimes interacting with one another rather than running around, trying to process the images and sounds whirling round in their heads. They even had the audacity to poke finger-holes in the deliciously smooth mountains I created in the sand pit.
The worst thing was the Christmas play. My family still has this travesty on video: a snot-encrusted army of toddlers banging blocks of wood together in an obscene parody of an orchestra whilst tunelessly belting out a tinkly song whose lyrics are not entirely recognisable through all the lisped ‘s’s and random sneezes. In the midst of it all is me, clinging to a teacher and surveying the whole spectacle with wide-eyed horror.