I caught a cold, a snot-rattling, throat-rasping, eye-watering, croaking-voiced cold.
Fräulein Optenberg was certain the cold would be gone by the day of the concert. All would be well. I begged to differ. The cold was the perfect excuse for backing out. What teacher didn’t know was that I had long had cold feet and the nearer the day came the more terrified I became. "No, Miss, I am certain the cold won't be gone in time and please excuse me from going on stage”.
Snivelling little idiot.
Frl. Optenberg was frantic. I hadn’t ever heard the phrase ‘The Show Must Go On’; Miss begged, cajoled, implored. I sneezed pitifully, then I had an idea. If it meant that much to her I’d get her a replacement. I’d get her Klara. Klara was plump, small, stupid and in possession of a much healthier, more powerful voice than my lung-sick one. Klara jumped at the chance and was so abjectly grateful that I began to doubt the wisdom of my abdication. Aladdin’s cave was no longer mine for half an hour twice a week.
My cold evaporated, the day of the Christmas concert came and Klara was a great success. Neither Mum, Dad or I were in the audience.
This was the beginning of a lifetime of doubt in my own abilities.
Then came Middle School; I passed the entrance exam with flying colours and was granted a scholarship. There were school fees which my parents couldn’t afford, ends were barely meeting. Still pig-tailed, tall and very skinny and ten years old I joined children from varying backgrounds, some already well-off, particularly the children of farmers and professional people, and some from poor backgrounds like mine, on scholarships. We scholarship kids were the bright ones, the kids from the farms the least able. (That’s not prejudice, that’s how it was. After the war many farmers were rich, had their girls been bright enough they would have gone to Grammar School, where the fees were higher.)
Herr Thomanek was my form master. I adored him and he seemed to enjoy teaching me. For three years all went well. When kids from professional households made fun of my pronunciation of foreign words he shut them up and patiently explained where these words came from and how to pronounce them. Herr Thomanek was my favourite master and I had a bit of a crush on him, as a thirteen year old might.
When from one day to the next he turned on me I was devastated. Open-mouthed incredulity met every unkindness, every jibe at my expense, every shouted term of abuse. It’s no exaggeration to say that my form master bullied me unmercifully. He focussed the attention of the whole class on me. “There she goes, sneering again. That cynical grin of hers, look at it. What makes you so superior, I would like to know." Once I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I got up from my seat, howling in fear and frustration, making for the door. “Look at her, look how she runs and howls; exactly like one of the Furies.” I went home and finally told my Mum.
That same afternoon Mum grabbed me and we went to Herr Thomanek’s house. His wife came to the door and said we couldn’t come in, they were about to have their evening meal. Mum insisted. For once she believed me without looking for confirmation elsewhere and she was going to get the truth out of him there and then.
We were let into the sitting room. I was probably too distraught to take in details, but I instantly saw an old fashioned roll top desk in an alcove, with lots of papers on the open flap and a lit desk lamp on the shelf above. Otherwise the room was in shadow. Herr Thomanek turned towards us as we entered, his face, illuminated by the lamp, a study in angry discomfort.
to be continued