I thought today that I might go back to where it all began, not on the Girl Guide camping trip in 1985 in the picture, I’m the one in the background with the white hairband, but on a school camping trip to St Non’s stnonsretreat.org.uk/index.htm near Britain’s smallest city St David’s in the summer of 1986.
1985 was an important year from me; it was during my last year at primary school, which was a small Catholic primary school where everybody knew each other. I was quite a small weedy kid, quite young for my age, the second brainiest kid in the class, I was a good Catholic girl, going to mass every Sunday with my family, going to Girl Guides, playing the guitar, doing crafty stuff, playing with my friends, pretty average really. It was at this time I developed tricotillomania which was my big secret. My Aunty cut a fringe into my hair to cover the patch where I’d been pulling out my hair. Nobody knew the reason why. I was looking forward to going to secondary school, a bit apprehensive as I’d heard that some of the teachers could be a bit fierce despite visits to our school from my future form tutor, the lovely Mrs F, the Welsh teacher with an Italian name, more puzzling was the Italian teacher with the Welsh name!.
When I got there secondary school was great and made new friends and new subjects, The mad RE teacher who delighted us with tales of his travels, ( when I started teaching he was a great influence on me) The chemistry teacher and his wacky experiments, and the hell of PE. I was the worst netball player EVER! I was still doing very well, top set for all the subjects, I had also taken up the viola (the last instrument in the cupboard) and managed to squeeze 3 years worth of viola playing into 1, doing my Grade 3 that first summer at secondary school. The following year I found myself sitting o the first desk of the Llanelli Schools Orchestra, and there I stayed until I switched to double bass.
At the end of my first year our PE teachers arranged a camping trip for us, so off we went down to St Non’s to do some outdoor pursuits, lots of canoeing and walks long the cliffs. Amongst our group of happy campers was my boyfriend, well a boyfriend in an 11 year old kind of way, sitting together in lessons etc…until he came to talk to me on the camping trip and told me that he was now going out with another girl M. Understandably I was upset. It was on this trip that I’d started to twitch, I was told by my mother that I shouldn’t go due to my hayfever but insisted that I’d be ok. I’m not sure which came first, being dumped by S (who now lives in Surrey with his wife and two young kids) or the twitching. Initially the twitching seemed to be a relief for the hayfever, my eyes and throat were itching, I was stretching my face until it felt like my eyes would pop out, I would need to do this over and over, I was also making weird grunty noises, like clearing my throat, I needed to this over and over as well. I stood outside our tent just wishing that I could stop but I couldn’t. My friend J asked me “Mosey, what are you doing?” “Nothing” I replied, trying to deny all existence of the twitching. N came along, a girl who never really had anything nice to say to anybody and started to copy me. I carried on twitching for the remainder of the trip, I hoped that it would have stopped by the time I got home, but it didn’t, it carried on. Face pulling, eye rolling, blinking, grunting, on and on, through maths and English, Italian and textiles, on and on, through breakfast, dinner and tea, through Newsround and Eastenders and the relentless questions “Why are you doing that?””Why don’t you stop?” I wish I could have stopped. I twitched all the way through the summer holidays, my Aunty had cut my hair, so it wasn’t that making me twitch, the hayfever had finished so it wasn’t that, I had new glasses which I could see with perfectly well and fitted me well. My Mum was perplexed, Mrs F was perplexed, and my Dad was annoyed “Stop pulling funny faces at me!” “I’m not!” “You are!” My Doctor told my Mum that I was probably stressed about something and that I would soon stop. Little did he know, the twitching went on, I earned the nickname “Twitch” the schoolwork became harder I started to slip backwards, it was impossible to stop, yet it was so hard to concentrate whilst twitching. Some of the work that I had previously found easy had become almost impossible, I began to dread some lessons, I disliked my new form tutor immensely I could never do anything right, she was also the Home Economics teacher, I burnt everything I made in I her lessons, I got the rollicking of my life when I told J what the ingredients of faggots were. The only subjects were I seemed to be succeeding in was Music and Art. When I’d given up on trying to stop twitching I’d sometimes find myself drifting off into a trance-like state, this didn’t go un-noticed by my teachers, Mrs C the maths teacher, “I’m sure Catherine’s head is full of beautiful music” or Mrs P the French teacher “Catherine, please read the blackboard, not look through the black board” I drifted off again, she said something to me in French “uummm, I don’t know Miss.” “Get out! if you can’t be bothered to learn get out” I left feeling upset. This seemed to set the tone for the rest of my time in secondary school which carried on in much the same way. I always hoped that the twitching would stop, I set deadlines in my head, next Wednesday I’d stop, if I had a new school coat I’d stop, but I could never do it. I was falling behind my old adversary, R that I’d known since primary school, he was beating me hands down in every subject except art and music.