I was young and reasonably stupid. Notty was young and not stupid. I had a lot to learn.
I had to struggle with everything, Notty had no problem. She was never top of the class, never bottom, never in trouble, a friend of everyone. Notty could learn anything, she seemed to know it all in advance. She never stood at the front of the class and read her essay or poem or anything. Notty was often gone for days, nobody asked.
I asked her about James, any more James recently. “No!” she said, “I don't live in the house any more, they don't feed me enough. I eat in the supermarket sometimes.” “Where do you live?” “Oh, nowhere in particular.”
“Where do you sleep at night then?” “Sleep? I don't sleep, I go to the woods and watch the birds and the animals.” “Ha, you can't see at night!” “No, you can't see much, you have to keep your ears open.”
It was the Governors' Prize, the trophy for the long distance race at my school. The sports teacher wanted me to run. This year I was old enough to enter and I wanted to win it. Notty helped with my training, she timed me with a stopclock on the running track.
Round and round I ran, I needed the staying power, the speed, the confidence, I was going to win. I trained very hard and my performance improved. Everybody knew that I was going to win, my Mother wanted me to win, and my Father, the whole class, the teachers, even Notty seemed a little bit enthusiastic. I was going to win.
I lost by two seconds. Everyone ignored me and crowded around the winner, even the bunch of runners who came in three minutes later. My Mother looked disappointed, no trophy on the sideboard. Notty kissed me and gave me a biscuit.
I won by a whole life, my life. Yes, I learnt a lot. Don't let other people, teachers, bosses, anybody, set targets and goals for you. OK, sometimes you need those pieces of paper, their paper, to get ahead, so get those pieces of paper, even if you just scrape through the examinations, and then move on. The race was not my idea, the rules were not mine, the trophy was a worthless tin can with handles, no pay-off.
I learnt that I must set my own targets in life, set my own rules, goals. It's harder to do it yourself and the hurdles are higher, but you get what you want and you are your own man.
I dropped Latin, it's difficult to talk to people who are long dead. I stopped going to the boys club. No, I couldn't join the girls club. I stopped doing sport, who needs to compete on a field, I kept myself fit by helping my Dad in his fields. I dropped the foreign language that I was so useless at and concentrated on those subjects that would get me a place in college.