I was born and raised in Balham, South London. My father was a teacher and my mother a nurse, and they both valued education very highly. I joined Putney High School in 1978 in the second term of the first year. Having started out at another, less academic school, I hadn’t thought I was clever enough for Putney High, so getting in was a bit like winning Strictly Come Dancing and my first lesson in not underestimating myself.
I was the only black girl in the school for many years but it was never something I felt awkward about – there was no bullying or racism. I wasn’t a great student in terms of wanting to do my homework and getting good grades, but I had great curiosity and devoured books, something I still do now.
My love of literature came from my fabulous English teachers, Miss Dampier, Miss Sackett and the indomitable Mrs Raphael. Miss Sackett had a unique way of bringing Shakespeare to life. It was one line of Shakespeare followed by ten minutes about her childhood during the Blitz and buying stockings from a handsome spiv in Camden market! In 2014 I was made a board member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a dream come true. I have Miss Sackett to thank for instilling in me a love of the Bard all those years ago.
My other favourite was history with Mrs Berner. There is very little about life that history doesn’t teach us. I still dream of going to Cambridge University one day to do a masters in the subject.
Dance was a guilty pleasure of mine. One year my friend Hannah and I choreographed a piece for the Lewisham Dance Festival to a mixed tape of BBC sound effects. Our theme was Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est, about the First World War. I admit we fancied ourselves a bit and I’m pretty sure nobody had a clue what we were doing up there on stage, but we enjoyed ourselves.
It was a time of great rebellion. I was usually late for school because I was busy planning weekend marches and political protests with my best friend, Fran. We were regularly in trouble for sticking anti-apartheid stickers all over the school, although I think that the teachers found it quite amusing and were secretly pleased we were taking an interest in the outside world. I learnt from those days at Putney High that my voice was just as important as anyone else’s. I always wanted to be a lawyer and help others fight for their rights and to this day, my passion is to make the world a fairer place.
At school, you were either a skinhead, a punk or a New Romantic back then and I fell firmly into the punk category. We were always modifying our school uniform which was purple, a colour I hated; we shortened our skirts and wore Doc Martens. I always wore a skull somewhere (something I still do to this day) and I remember one hilarious day when Amanda came into school with pink hair and her mother was summoned for a meeting with the headmistress. Amanda’s mum arrived with pink hair as well, something that we all loved her for.
Putney High was never for one type of girl. Yes, it was academic, but it was also for the curious, the iconoclast, the creative and for girls who wanted to change the world (moi!). My PHS friends haven’t changed; they still have the same cracking sense of humour, the same warmth and not one of them takes themselves seriously even though they have all gone on to do amazing things.
What I did get from those marvellous classrooms and dusty hallways of PHS was my love of learning, my questioning of the status quo, my curious nature, and my dislike of wearing anything purple!
This article was originally published in the SS18 issue of School House.