I was 16 in November 1955, living in Canada. This was a time of Elvis Presley, rock ’n’ roll, circle skirts, penny loafers, formal school dances with strapless dresses – though I never went that far. In grade 12, it might surprise you to know, along with my partner Sally, I was our school’s entry in the Consumers’ Gas Miss Homemakers contest. We had to make a baked potato in a gas stove. And iron a shirt with a gas iron. We didn’t win but we got some very nice charm bracelets.
One thing I would advise my younger self would be to take secretarial studies to learn touch-typing. I still can’t type. Careers advisers had a short list of possible careers for girls. Primary school teacher, nurse, airline stewardess and home economist, which meant something along the lines of a nutritionist or dressmaker. I didn’t want to do any of those things but looked at all the salaries, being a mercenary child, and home economists made the most. So I took those classes and learned how to fasten a zipper but I never learned to type.
I would tell the 16-year-old Margaret to stop worrying about her hair. It is what it is and there’s nothing you can do. Ever. So just forget it. In reality, I didn’t reach that point of acceptance until I was about 30, after some untoward experiments. Twiggy was a nightmare I have to say.
I read a lot as a teenager but I did a lot of other things too. I made my own clothes. I ran my own puppet show at school. We made the puppets and the stage, and we did all the voices. I was quite entrepreneurial, I made money doing that. We ended up having an agent and putting the shows on for children’s Christmas parties. I also wrote and sang in a home economics-based opera. And I was on the basketball team; you didn’t have to be as tall then. I was very participatory.
I became a more anxious teenager when the serious exams arrived. But not terribly so. I wasn’t that anxious about boys, there always seemed to be a plentiful supply. This was the stage of going steady, serial monogamy, and it was before the pill. So you didn’t have to worry about having sex because you weren’t going to have it. That was understood.
Sixteen was the age at which I started to write. My friend remembers me announcing this in the school cafeteria. She said to me later, you were so brave, saying you were going to be a writer right out loud. That’s because I didn’t know any better, that you weren’t supposed to say that. I don’t know where the inspiration came from. There were no role models. I knew zero about it.