By Celia Pearson
NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK
Key Themes: suicide, grief, alcoholism, mental health services, depression
This book is like a roller-coaster, it chronicles the many twists and turns, high points and low points of Celia's extraordinary life. Celia is a very strong woman, there have been many distressingly sad events in her life, from suicide and alcoholism to the deaths of family members and the effects of having ECT (a horrific and some say inhumane treatment for depression), yet after all this she is still full of courage and drive. There are precious few publishers who are willing to publish books like this. Yet this book is Celia's life, the pain of the author, and the facts of her life just make you want to reach out and it is important that people are able to read this fascinating and heavily emotional memoir. It is with pleasure that Chipmunka publishes her book.
About the Author
Celia Pearson was born in September 1942 in Maidstone, Kent. Her early and happiest years were spent living with a doting mother and grandparents. She was educated at Ashford School and went on to become a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital and worked for a time as a legal secretary. She has endured much pain - her husband committed suicide, her baby died, she has had several miscarriages - all of which must have contributed to her crushing depression. Nowadays Celia lives in Cumbria and shares her pain to help others. Having her book published is important to Celia, she hopes others with similar experiences will draw strength from her writing.
My father was in Japan for a time, but during my Lower Fourth year he was posted to Singapore , and the rest of the family (minus me) went out to join him. I spent all but one holiday at Lenham. I never saw many people during the holidays at Croft-An-Righ, but was always happily occupied. Gampa helped me with my stamp collection and catching and identifying butterflies and caterpillars. My mother had given me a box Brownie camera and I grew very keen on photography. Gampa would black out the bathroom and let me watch him developing and printing my films. As "compensation" for being left in England I was allowed to have riding lessons and progressed rapidly to jumping. However, when we jumped the "Grid" - a series of low poles - I didn't really understand what I had to do. I never fell off, but after a bit I started to get nervous about jumping and preferred to go for a hack. I now had a hard hat, but I had to wear my mother's old jodhpurs. They had a green stripe in the Bedford cord, unlike those worn by everybody else and I was mocked by one girl. The riding instructor shouted like a Sergeant-Major as we went round the school, and really, what with the jumping, I should have disliked my lessons. But no, nothing could put me off!
Gan frequently took me to the cinema, and she and Aunty Ethel (one of various aunts but always called 'Aunty') took me to an ice pantomime at Christmas. Thus my holidays that year were quite happy, but underneath I was terribly hurt that I had been left behind. Great was my excitement when, in summer 1955, I flew out to Singapore . The journey took from Saturday to Tuesday to complete. We flew in a Skyways Hermes, more usually used for London to Paris trips I was told. I loved the trip to Rome , Nicosia and then Bahrain , but between Bahrain and Karachi we hit a sandstorm. By the time we reached Karachi I felt really ill. I had refused to take the Kwells I had been given up to this point, but I was glad of them for the rest of the way. We spent a night in a hotel in Karachi , where one of the hotel staff woke me up by leaning over my bed and saying "Love, love" - I was in a room on my own and screamed in terror at which he ran off. We also spent a night in the Grand Hotel, Calcutta , which was uneventful. Finally, after stopping at Bangkok we arrived in Singapore.
The first thing I noticed was that it had been raining. I was quite surprised. I soon discovered that in the tropics it rains most days. I was re-united with the family at last. It took me a week to get acclimatised but after that I enjoyed the daily visits to the Singapore Swimming Club where the head Waiter in the restaurant wore black and you could watch a film in the evenings whilst swimming. I had a very busy holiday. We had a picnic in Johore Bahru across the Causeway to Malaya . I went to the Singapore Museum with its terrifying stingrays, one of which covered an entire wall, went to the Tiger Balm Gardens , Tang's emporium, and Daddy taught me to haggle in Change Alley. At the Botanical Gardens a monkey stole my bag of nuts. We visited the Bukit Timah Polo Club where I rode a friend's polo pony. I went to Blackgang Mati, an island off Singapore with the Guides and got extremely badly burned. My shoulders had inch-high blisters and I had to wear a Tee shirt when swimming for a fortnight afterwards. We also went to the Army cinema every week. The only two blights on the holiday were Daddy and my periods. My periods were hugely painful and copious. No-one knew why, and the doctor said I just had to get on with it. Daddy and I battled constantly. "I overheard him saying "We were one happy little family of four until she came out and ruined it.."
Nevertheless, I seemed to shrug this off and continued to enjoy my holiday. We went to the Garrison Church on a couple of Sundays. It was open at the sides with palm trees and was packed for Sunday morning worship. At school we had all started to say our prayers at night, and with all the unhappiness of School I was at last feeling there was a God, and I needed his help. On those Sunday mornings in Singapore I felt there was a happy world, and I believed he made it.
We never encountered many snakes, but one morning I was coming up the hill with Susan, having taken her to the swings when a very long black and silver snake slithered across our path. I was petrified and picked Susan up, jumped over the snake, and ran all the way home. There were huge cockroaches, the ants were enormous, and the snails the size of a fist. I suppose they liked the climate. It was very humid, and I couldn't keep a film in my camera for very long before it became unusable. Susan had a big pink birthday cake from Singapore Cold Storage in the shape of a ship. After one day it was mouldy in the middle.
All these things fascinated me. I loved it all so much, and on the last night I sat on the grass on Island View and took a long, last look as the sun set beyond the islands and the lights on the fish traps started to twinkle off the shore. The wind sighed in the jacarandas and the mynah birds were quiet at last. Along the coast, at the Naval base at Nee Soon there was gunnery practice, and the glowing red shells were ricocheting off the sea. Then in the early morning, it was time to go. The flight back was spoiled by eleven ten -year-old boys returning to school also. At the Acropole Hotel in Nicosia , where we spent a night, they kept us, the only three girls, awake all night by coming in to our room and throwing water all over us.
For the next two or three holidays I was at Lenham again. Week-ends were even better when Uncle Phil came as he was great fun. He had brought some chocolate back from Dunkirk , and one day Gan and I opened it. Although it was so many years old from the War it tasted marvellous. I was now in the Upper Fourth at school. I wanted to do Extra Singing but because I was already doing piano the old rule held and I wasn't allowed to do another extra. I was always thinking about the family so far away and that wonderful place. I was frequently depressed and had no interest in my work. I became quite embittered towards the Chaucers, and hated to see them going home after school. Luckily I still had my hockey. I was in the Under 14 school team and also in the House hockey and netball teams. There was a lot less bullying now, but then everyone started talking about what their fathers had done in the War. Daddy never mentioned it and I had to ask at home what he had done. He wouldn't say, but he told me I had had two cousins, paratroopers, who were killed and that my Grandfather on his side had the Belgian and French Croix de Guerre. Eventually Mummy told me that Daddy had been first into Belsen with the Allies, and I understood.
My parents asked me whether I thought it a good idea for Jane to start at Bridge. I was horrified, and although we fought all the time, I dearly loved Jane, and had to save her from a fate worse than death. I said she was too young. They listened to me. Jane did not land up at Bridge, thank goodness.
They all came from Singapore in the summer of 1956 by troopship. I really had missed out on this experience, judging by the extent that they talked about it. I felt I had missed out badly. For years they would reminisce about it, and if I had a penny for every time the "Gully Gully man" was mentioned I would be rich by now.
On arrival home Daddy told me he had been promoted to Lt. Colonel and that we were moving to Repository House, Woolwich. Carol and I were thrilled to bits as she lived in Plumstead, adjacent to Woolwich, and we would be able to see each other during the holidays. At school, Cherub had retired, and our old House Tutor, Nightie was Head. As Upper Fourths we had no Common Room, still no newspapers, television or access to phones. We were Middle School and didn't seem to belong anywhere. My school work deteriorated again. I seemed to be getting quite bad bouts of depression, which didn't help.
The holidays were a great compensation, however. Repository House was all on the ground floor. It had 13 rooms, including two bathrooms. It had been a Mess and a Brigadier's quarter in its time. The grounds were very large, consisting of two lakes and woodland. It was all situated behind the R.E.M.E. Workshops with no entry for the public. We had two gardeners, Bell and Sid Pickett. Sid also managed the boiler and the greenhouse. He grew wonderful dahlias and luscious tomatoes. When missing he was to be found on the hillside opposite Charlton Cemetery in our vegetable garden. He was often asleep behind the runner beans, his head resting on his ubiquitous beret.
The best thing about Woolwich for me was the proximity of the R.A. Saddle Club with all its horses for members to hire, and of course, (the best thing) the grooms. After being passed fit to ride alone by Sergeant Moye I took Grable, and sometimes Aldershot and Gertie out across Woolwich Common. It was absolute Heaven. I rode where I liked and went at whatever pace I fancied. I was very taken with grooms. One of them gave me my first kiss under a tree next to the outdoor school and I was over the moon.
That summer I went to Northern Ireland with Patrick Semple and his mother. My abiding memories of the trip were poor Aunty Norah lying in the four-poster bed with chicken pox and how friendly everyone was in this land so very green, with its majestic mountainous terrain and the beautiful loughs. Before I went Mummy came up trumps and bought me make-up and showed me how to use it. I felt quite grown-up in Ireland and also when we all went to St. Agnes in Cornwall for the family holiday. The weirdest thing about that was that one evening Daddy announced we were going to Perranporth to meet his father, Granddad Hall. I had understood him to be dead. We used occasionally to go to Ruislip and meet Nanny Hall, my father's mother. When I asked why they didn't live together my mother told me Nanny Hall liked London and he liked Cornwall . Whether they were divorced I never discovered.
We went back to school to the Lower V, G.C.E. and "Libs and Pros", short for Liberties and Probationers. This was a scheme whereby once you had been voted by girls and staff as being worthy of it you attained heights whereby you had a flash tie like that worn by the R.A.F., lapel badge and blazer badge, and could go "up the Town" and go with other Libs for "Lib Walks." There were other freedoms and privileges, and it was a Good Thing to volunteer for jobs, be terribly polite to everyone and generally ingratiate yourself with people voting for you in order to achieve Lib status. Until you managed that you had to exist as before on crocodile walks and being generally imprisoned at school . One of the best things about getting on the Lib. was you were allowed to bring your bike back to school and go on cycle rides. One of the best days we had was when we cycled to the point-to-point.
That year I finally persuaded my parents to let me drop music, and have Extra Singing instead, which I loved. Most of us joined the Operatic Society and we performed "1066 and All That" in the summer. Back in the autumn I was in the Under 15 hockey team and loved especially the early morning practices when the dew sprayed off the ball and there was the crack of ball on wood.
We had by this time to have chosen our G.C.E. subjects. My parents were of little help. Daddy said I must do Geography and Mummy History so I did both. I was no good at Maths but took Carol's father's advice and took it. He said it didn't matter if you failed, in my case, because it was still essential to study it in the modern world. I also took Latin as well amongst other things. We started the O Level course in the autumn term. The following term I was Confirmed - by now my belief in a God was much stronger. It was completely divorced from the God of the school at Church on those dreadfully boring mornings. I was desperately upset when neither of my parents would come to Communion with me during the holidays. When I finally persuaded my mother to go to the Chapel in the Royal Academy grounds we were the only ones there, and we never went again.
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