Topic: Humiliation Confirmed by Sue England

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

As the weeks inexorably slipped away my sense of dread and foreboding increased to the point of desperation, but there was no means of escape.  I had willingly raised my hand all those months ago to be party to what my parents - and friends - thought was an appropriate and sensible course of action for girls of our ilk.  And they were still excited at the prospect.

For me I could only anticipate the looming shame and humiliation; a future amongst my peers blighted forever by a single Sunday in March, the Sunday of my confirmation.

The church itself held no fear.  The ancient stones and the cool, incense-laden air had always soothed in timeless solidity.  But today the spell was broken by an undercurrent of whispered anticipation that travelled from ear to ear, pew to pew with ever-increasing gusto.  Family members filled the hallowed space to overflowing. 

Father Lott was busy with his ministerial preparations at the altar whilst the Bishop, ferried in from his episcopal see, nodded and smiled benignly in his seat at the head of the choir stalls.  It was all too awful.

We were fully prepared.  Compulsory confirmation classes in preceding weeks introduced us to the body and blood of Christ.  Father Lott instilled a deep understanding of the path we were about to follow and we nodded enthusiastically whilst shivering uncontrollably in the freezing, dusty vicarage parlour.  There was no Mrs Lott, just Father Danvers sliding silently from a distant gloom bearing trays of orange squash and digestive biscuits. 

I emerged from spiritual training with the warm glow of Jesus in my soul and fully confident that I could recite the life-changing words when the Bishop laid his holy hands on my head.

Where others might have floundered in the awesome presence of God, the Bishop and a colourful collection of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, my anxiety was altogether shallower.  Boys were being confirmed; I can't remember them or how they dressed, but the girls - ah! Yes, the girls.  My peer group, girls from school with whom I shared secrets, adolescent girls of the '60s when the Beatles reigned supreme.  I was in love with Paul McCartney for goodness sake, what was my mother thinking?

On this our special day, we had to wear white.  It was not explained why (some sort of virginal connotations?) but my dreams were filled with muslin-clad beauties, floating and ethereal.  Sadly my vision was completely at odds with that of my mother.  How I envied my girlfriends that Sunday morning as they arrived at the church in their pretty dresses, frilly, fussy and totally frivolous.  And dinky shoes with tiny little heels.  And stockings.  And that meant suspender belts, white, too, They were ravishing, radiant swans. 

I was the ugly duckling in an outfit decreed by Mother as being practical and wear-again.   Instead of following the stream of teenagers into the heady and cheap aisles of C&A Modes, newly-opened in Hounslow High Street, my confirmation garb was bought in Whitton, a shop for women of a certain age and little daring, but, thank goodness, with quality guaranteed. 

My long, pleated, off-white skirt skimmed the top of long, nylon socks and my feet looked enormous trapped in flat, white sandals. (Please, Paul, don't look at me now).  No ruched broderie anglaise blouse that would have diverted attention from my below-waist drama, no chance.  Instead a jumper, plain and lumpy, perfectly completed my sartorial humiliation.

We paraded two at a time towards the open arms of the Bishop at the altar, Father Lott standing adjacent his face creased with pride and encouragement.  Tall and awkward, cheeks burning with shame, though no doubt my parent’s pride and joy, I knelt beside my angelic partner to utter parrot-fashion the words that would earn the Bishop’s blessing and a welcome into the House of God. 

If only God could have mentioned to my mother that adolescent girls just want to be identical, sisters of uniformity.  But He welcomed me anyway.

The traipse into the utilitarian church hall, temporarily transformed for the post-conformation party, only served to prolong my agony.  As the guests and clergy nibbled on sandwiches and iced fancies and the boys let off steam racing around outside we girls gathered in a flock as only young girls can.  Notes were compared, height of heels assessed, buttons and bows admired. 

There was no competing; all I could do was coo at their beauty and fake indifference whilst urgently wishing the ground would open up beneath my white-sandalled feet. 

The saving grace of the ecclesiastical event was that my parents were not good minglers.  My father was soon itching to be away, his allotment beckoned and fortunately the rhubarb prevailed.  We left with no looking back.

The laughter that rang in my ears on the walk home may be pure embellishment, a false memory adding another dimension to the horror of the day.  But what I do remember with absolute clarity is that outfit. And I never did wear it again … ever.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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