I'm looking at a photograph of me, aged eight, with my mother and sisters. Dad had died three years earlier, leaving us to live on in genteel poverty. When I was seven Mum moved us to Wallasey Village, where a line of her family had lived for hundreds of years, and we made our home there.
My parents had taught me to read before I started school, and after Dad died during my first frozen winter term I immersed myself in books. My infant school teacher was Mrs Woods, a wonderful woman who cared for the clever little boy who'd suffered such a terrible blow. I loved her. It was a good school where I was cocooned emotionally and stretched mentally. I was safe within a small group of warm friends in real life, and a big group of adventurous friends in the worlds of my books. It was the best place I could have been for those first two years.
Not so the school I moved to at seven. Wallasey Village was a snobby little place in those days, and St George's Primary School was run accordingly. They ignored my glowing report from the infant school, refusing to believe that establishment could possibly meet their high standards, and they ignored my mother because she was a penniless young widow with zero social clout. Classes in St George's were streamed in four levels of ability, from A to D, and they placed me in the D class to observe me and decide for themselves exactly how able this supposedly clever boy actually was.
I made friends in that class. It was almost like a holiday for me, unaware as I was of the small town snobbery shaping my life and my mother's seething fury about it. We played a lot, and painted. I read, of course. Mrs Williams was a pleasant teacher and I was happy with my new friends.
For four weeks. That's how long it took whoever made those decisions to pluck me from my new cocoon and drop me into the cold, hostile, alien atmosphere of Mrs Midgely's class in the B stream. Not the A stream. I had an A stream brain, but a poor boy from a scruffy infant school in another town didn't belong in St George's A stream. So Mrs Midgely's class it was. And she was a monster.
Four weeks earlier, at the very beginning of their junior school careers, my new classmates had started learning the times tables. I hadn't. D stream classes didn't do them. I didn't know what they were and before Mum had a chance to start teaching me quickly, Mrs Midgely seized upon my inability in order to prove to everyone concerned that I didn't belong in her class. She humiliated me every day, in public, at the front of the class. Times tables were chalked on a big rolling board and she made me spend my lunchtimes alone in there, standing right up against the board to learn those tables while everyone else was playing right outside the classroom windows.
I learned my tables fast, but she'd marked my card and the rest of that school year was a hell of verbal assaults and public humiliations, as befitting the scum she'd decided I was.
The other kids were already cowed by her. No moral support there for me. They were only little children. I remember kind, sympathetic smiles from a girl named Fiona, who I think I sat next to for a while, but most of that year's schooling was a traumatised blur for me.
I retreated into my books. Mum was worried sick about me. I don't remember her using the word depression, but if I'd have been one of my kids that's what I'd have been thinking. There was a narrow space in the living room between our upright piano and a warm air heating vent in the wall. I used to squeeze into that space with a book and a jam sandwich, and go somewhere else for hours of every day. Anywhere else. And then somewhere else again.
I got through it. We do, don't we? I never recovered academically to the point Mum had dreamed of for me, and my teenage years were as troubled and underachieving as you'd expect. English language and literature and art were easy. Everything else, not so much. But in my 20s, several years after I'd kicked the dust of Wallasey Village from my heels forever, I discovered the joy of numbers for myself and my mathematical studies enabled me to find pleasure in the sciences too. More importantly, I fell in love with a wonderful woman and we built a warm loving family together.
My books are for anyone who enjoys them. Including that sad, private, quiet, watchful little boy jammed in-between the piano and the wall with his head stuck in yet another story.
David Bridger's two recent YA releases are A Flight of Thieves & Damage Control.