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Diary of an Ordinary Schoolgirl
Diary of an Ordinary Schoolgirl
In 1954 in Carlisle lived an ordinary 15-year-old schoolgirl called Margaret. She would go on to become an acclaimed writer, the author of the novels Georgy Girl and Diary of an Ordinary Woman as well as biographies and memoirs. But this is her diary from that year; her life. Hers might be a lost world, but her daily observations bring it back in vivid, irresistible detail.
"23 February Results rolling in! Algebra, 6th = 74%. Not bad. Latin = 55% Thrilled! History top = 85% smashing! Geography, disgusting, 2nd = 67%.
7 May Wonderful feat accomplished yesterday by Roger Bannister! At last, the 4 minute mile. Glad an Englishman got it before anyone else.
24 July Bought a pair of shorts - white, very short with two pockets. Super but rather daring!
2 September Mum's coming back on Saturday. Miss her every minute! I'll never marry and have a family -- housekeeping for two for a week is bad enough -- but for life!"
Hardback; 184 x 119mm
Some black and white photographs
She was 16 in 1954, living in a cramped council house in Richardson Street across the road from the cemetery in Carlisle. She shared the house with her taciturn father, Arthur, a fitter at Metal Box, her mother, Lily, her brother Gordon – he was six years older and doing his National Service – and her sister Pauline – Gordon called her ‘Pud’ - who was four years younger. She was sitting her ‘O’ levels and loving and hating the High School with all the passion of a lively, very intelligent girl.
And she kept a diary. Each and every day, without fail, she would write a hundred words or more confiding her fierce opinions, in the neatest of handwriting, to its secret pages.
The year begins with “a grand row with Gordon, the beast”. She flees upstairs “in a screaming rage” while Gordon and his girl, Shirley, “start a soppy carry on”. She sleeps in on the Saturday and is in “a flaming temper. Did the chores in a vicious mood.”
Back in school, “School dinners murder as usual . . . but Miss Wynne very bright and cheery! (!) “ Miss Wynne seems to have merited the double exclamation marks.
Two months later the results from the dreaded Mocks roll in; “Have been alternately thrilled, depressed, excited disappointed today . . . Awful to see some poor devils crying when they add fail after fail to their results.”
One day in August shows just what was expected of a sixteen-year-old girl in 1954. “Lovely day – just as August should be – sunny, hot. Hope it keeps up. In the morning I went to Denton Holme & town on various errands. Saw Mum safely off to Motherwell in afternoon and the bought a “Woman” and lazed in deck chair until it was time to make Gordon’s tea. Had Dads to make also. European Games are super. Looking forward to Sunday when the 1500 metres is held.”
It’s a constrained, limited life in a small town community. As the eldest daughter she has her clear role in the family. Her pleasures are limited (the Games are on the wireless) and unambitious.
She gets her mop cut at Binn’s, there are trips to the flics – Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh on April 7th. There’s a bike ride to Croglin – a wonderful downhill on the way back – and a car-ride with Uncle Dave and trips to Silloth and birthday presents – she and Pud agree to give each other five shillings each because they’re both broke – and there are plays on the wireless – her father comes in mid-play from The Horse and Farrier and switches it off - and there are books – 66 read in the year. Her favourite authors were Paul Brickhill, Dennis Wheatley, John Creasey and Margaret Irwin.
On 8th September, she’s “back in school again! Hurrah! The advance set – that’s me - is in the library.” On 31st December, she’s got a holiday job in a laundry. She ends the year: “Washed the mop and had a bath as well.”
It’s the diary of nearly every teenage girl in the fifties and it’s the diary of Margaret Forster. Her husband, Hunter Davies, discovered it with her papers after her death. It was one of many diaries which Margaret had kept. In her adult life she wrote one in great detail every five yearsThey were a revelation to Hunter as he knew of their existence, but he had never read them before.
The teenage diary is fascinating because it’s so ordinary and it’s extraordinary because it’s the private teenage world of one of the best writers of the late twentieth century.
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