It was a sunny September day, in the last week of the school holidays. I was aged 7 and I walked with two friends the short distance to the local park to play. There I saw a large unaccompanied dog. I loved all animals and had always longed for a pet of any sort but had never been allowed to have one. I approached the dog and patted his head. I still remember the murderous look in his eyes the second before he lunged at me and tried to have my face for lunch, scarring me for life.
As I walked home, the blood pouring from my wounds, I tried hard not to cry in front of my horrified friends. I had recently joined the Brownies and I recall desperately trying to give “the Brownie smile” which, together with sock-darning and cupcake-making, was a big part of the Brownie organisation’s contribution to the socialisation of girls of my generation.
At the hospital, the medical staff who cared for me and stitched my face back together, marvelled at how brave I was as I lay there quietly, clenching my teeth determined not to utter a sound or allow the tears to flow.
The following week, my mother – who was arguably more traumatised than I was about what had happened and who, for cultural reasons, attributed the incident to what she called the “Evil Eye” – got me my first kitten to make herself feel better.
And that is the story of how I became a life-long cat lady.
It’s also a story intended to illustrate how I’ve always tended to deal with shock, pain and other negative emotions in front of everyone bar those I am closest to. Putting on a brave face, being facetious – anything to hide how I’m actually feeling.