THAT summer we were up in Norfolk, staying with my aunt, and there was a fete in the village. I remember it being planned and everybody bustling about, and that we were looking forward to it. And then it was sprung on me. I just remember my mother saying, 'Oh, we want you to do your dance.'

I was seven years old, and I took ballet very seriously in those days. I was enrolled at a ballet school and attended classes every day, and did so for the whole of my childhood. There were other ballet schools which were for silly, soppy, swanky show- offs, but I didn't consider ours to be like that. Ours was for getting you into the Royal Ballet or Sadler's Wells. How could my mother contemplate my doing a dance on grass without my point shoes, not to my own proper music, to a lot of people sitting picnicking?

I remember looking at her and saying, 'I can't because I haven't got anything here,' feeling a tremendous relief. But she said, 'Oh yes, I've brought everything.' She had brought it all and she had never told me. I felt completely betrayed. At ballet school we weren't children. We were doing the same things as Margot Fonteyn, except we didn't do them as well. But we were equals, and I thought my mother took that seriously. Now, all of a sudden, I saw that it was just a game. They had just done it so that they could show off with me.

I said, 'No, I won't' and 'I won't' and 'I won't'. She said, 'Come on, now, don't be silly . . .' But I just went on saying 'No, no, no . . .' Then my father, who I suppose was lurking in the background somewhere, came and said words to the effect of, 'Why am I paying for these dratted classes over and over again if you won't dance when people want you to? And if that's the attitude you're going to take, I'm not going to pay for them any more.' So I had to do it.

It was very hot, and I had to caper about these flowerbeds and lawns to a big gramophone that made a horrible tinny noise. I knew the steps because it was an examination dance, but I couldn't do them properly because the music wasn't right. I had to improvise, and on grass you can't twirl, you can't do anything. You just plod about and feel your feet kind of flat. I couldn't even go on points.

The photograph is so childish, but that just points up the truth that what you look like as a child doesn't have any bearing on the fact that you yourself, inside, are grown up. I felt humiliated beyond belief. I knew that everyone would clap because people do for a child, and I didn't want that. I knew that none of them understood anything about dancing, and it was appalling, and they shouldn't clap.

I don't remember taking a bow. I remember that sort of light sound of applause in the open air, a kind of rustling. I remember running off and coming across my mother round the back. She hadn't been there to watch me. It's a peculiar emotion, and I have often recalled it. It's part of knowing how something should be, and the sense of frustration, anger and contempt for those who are easily pleased at something.

Even now I would feel that. If somebody says, for instance, that they like something I've written, and I know it's something I've not wanted to do because it isn't right, something of those emotions will come up. It is the instant remembrance of the whole person within this silly-looking child photograph, and how I must have looked to others who took me and my feelings very lightly.

It was the one area where I was good and serious and doing something properly. I was so amazed to discover that, secretly, my parents didn't care about that.

Jill Tweedie's book 'Eating Children', an account of her own childhood and first marriage, is published by Viking ( pounds 16.99).

(Photograph omitted)

Comments