Just hearing the opening notes of the song over the supermarket P.A. system sent shivers down her spine. And that chorus – ‘what’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ – made her physically cringe even after almost fifty years. It was the late sixties, and she must have been about three years old, possibly younger, but definitely no older. The song was still popular, played regularly on the radio. ‘What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa.’
She was a curious child, intelligent and in many ways, older than her years, the result of having much older siblings. She wanted to know how things worked, why things were the way they were. She needed to understand everything. She was a good child, well behaved, conscientious but shy and highly sensitive too. Very different to other family members, and she now realised, all these years later, that they didn’t really know how to deal with her. How to nurture her abilities, her differences. And maybe, coming so late after the other children, her parents didn’t have the desire or energy to even try. And so, she found her questions were often never satisfactorily answered. Her thirst for knowledge and understanding never fully quenched. And her soul, the very core of her being often battered, bruised or even crushed by a harsh word or reaction. ‘What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa.’
She loved music, and the radio was always on in the house. Some days, while her brother was at school, her mother would allow her to sneak into his room and take his little red plastic portable record player into the lounge. She would put on an old dress of mum’s, which on her, was like a long flowing ball gown, play a record and dance and dance. But only if no one was watching, painfully self-conscious, even at that early age. And so, she began to listen to lyrics. ‘Why are so many songs about love?’ she’d asked. And she couldn’t remember the answer, because she didn’t really get one. That question lived on in her head until she was old enough to work out the answer for herself. And then she realised how simple the answer is. ‘Because love is the most important thing in the world.’ Why couldn’t anyone have told her that, something so obvious, when she had first asked? Because that’s the way things went. An unsatisfactory answer, a silly answer, or sometimes, even laughed at for asking in the first place. Before long she had learned not to ask. Just pay attention, make connections and eventually work out the answer for yourself. ‘What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa.’
Her mother loved Tom Jones, and often sang along to the song, looking directly into her daughter’s eyes as though asking her the question. There was an often recited rhyme too, ‘Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the queen.’ Pussycat’s seemed to be everywhere in her tiny mind. In fact, some of her first words had been ‘brow, brow,’ her name for the cat, as to her that’s the noise it made. ‘Brow, brow.’ ‘What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa.’
She had only snippets of memory of the incident, no events before, or after. Just a couple of scenes, in tunnel vision, like in a film or TV show where you see events from one character’s visual perspective. But the feelings were still crystal clear. The embarrassment, humiliation and confusion, all still vivid after all this time. It was at a church working bee, the lady’s committee all getting together to work for the common good. She loved playing on the huge wooden chairs at the back of the alter. To her mind they were royal thrones in some fairy-tale court. She liked playing by herself, with the toys in the Sunday school room too. She remembered she was in a different room from her mother when a young man walked in. She couldn’t remember exactly who he was, but she liked him, he had a nice face and interesting hair and for some reason she ventured to greet him with, ‘what’s new pussycat?’ She doesn’t remember his reaction, or is entirely sure what happened next. Did he complain to her mother? Did her mother over hear? Did one of the other ladies tell tales? All she knows is that she was berated by her mother for speaking to an adult in such a way. Scolded and humiliated in front of everyone, in particular the nice faced young man. And why? What did she do wrong? It was the saying from the song. No one would tell her. No one explained her error and in all honesty, she still didn’t understand it. Perhaps it was a little precocious, but surely it didn’t deserve such a reaction? Was it not in some way cute, especially from one normally so shy? But no, instead she was reprimanded in the worst fashion. Crushed, devastated. ‘What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ Woe.
That was one of the first steps on the path to who she was today. She learned to be wary of people, even ones with nice faces and interesting hair. Of cheerfully greeting people, of straying away from her shyness. A morbid fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, and of not even knowing what the wrong thing was. All her insecurities in general. ‘What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa.’
(C) Jennifer B Goodwomangonetowaste.wordpress.com