Monday, March 2, 2009

The Orange Cardigan

The orange cardigan was the only thing I won in school. A local wool shop had arranged with the primary school I attended to have a story writing competition. The prize would be a bag of Patons Totem (I still like to use Totem.) The older kids at the school must have been involved. In New Zealand (where I went to school) primary school began with 'primers'; 'primer one', 'primer two' and so on. I was either in 'primer three' or 'primer four'. I was about 10 years old. Anyway, I digress. I had to write a story that advertised the value of pure wool, for school. So I wrote one.

Our house was full of stories and books, and lots of them told heroic tales of people who were mountaineers and sailors. Adventurous people. Real life heroes and heroines. So it was easy to think of a context that let me herald the wonderfulness of wool. Being a kid who never won, I also had no thought, let alone expectation, that this was more than another story writing task. I had had stories read out to classes when teachers wanted to demonstrate what it was they wanted us to do, but that's not the same as winning, that's more a bullying offence. Anyway, I wrote a dramatic thing about how someone had been caught out in snow, wind, hail, ice etc. on a mountain, and had just made it, thanks to his pure wool garb! Because pure wool breathes, and traps body heat so keeping us warm and so on. I shudder when I think, now, of those early mountaineers in, say, the Himalayas, who were clad in layers of wool, canvas, cotton and more wool. Manifestly inadequate. However from a 10 year old in a primary school way down in tiny New Zealand (a mountainous place itself) the theme was popular and it was the 1960s/1970s when we still didn't have all the wonders of man made fibre for safety gear in harsh climates. So I thought I was writing something that was factually accurate and I do recall feeling quite proud of that.

I thought no more about my story. Heck! This was me! I still did times tables on my fingers (with admirable speed and secrecy as I do it now, in my head) but still, on my fingers. I forgot about it so thoroughly that when a day came to find out the result of the competition, I had no idea what was going on. My class, and several others, were taken to the school hall to hear about ... I knew not what, having been day dreaming while our class room teacher explained what we were doing. I think I hoped we'd be shown another Disney cartoon movie, a thing that happened in the school hall and was absolutely delightful, much better fun that learning. We'd just seen Alice in Wonderland and I'd been enchanted by it.

We all shuffled in there, I with vague hope in my breast. We positioned ourselves variously according to whether we were teachers' favourites, or kids who attempted to hide from the teacher (me) or trouble makers, or people who encouraged trouble makers (me, sometimes.) As phrases I recognised as being mine were read out to the assembled school, I recall experiencing my first ever feeling of complete disorientation. My head actually went fuzzy! I recall wondering momentarily if I was in trouble. Then wondering if this meant I had to stand up in front of everyone, which I would hate and do almost anything to get out of. At which point, of course, I heard my name and had to actually do it, with my head still buzzing and confused. I had won a bag of Patons Totem, I could choose the colour, and my mum would knit me something with it.

She knitted me an orange cardigan. I'm not sure why I picked orange, because it makes me look like a sick cat. But I do love the colour, its spiciness and heat. Mixed up with reds and pinks, or blues and turquoise. Perhaps that was why I picked it, perhaps I loved it then too. I went on wearing my cardigan until it was far too little for me, and I wish I had it still (that would make it about 35 years old!), or at least a picture of it but, alas, it is no more. I'm still attracted to orange things,although they never get to sit near my face, because they really don't suit me.

It's funny how, as we get older, memories from our childhood seem clearer, more numerous. I take them as a gift, like a perfume recalled from the past and enjoyed. And so the orange cardigan stands in my memory, a pleasant perfume, a speck of my life that is nice to have, and a long lasting liking for all things orange, and for Patons Totem, pure wool. Excellent for the manufacture of clothing to be worn in cold climates...

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