Every so often I was taken for hospital appointments and, as the time approached, the atmosphere at home would change. My mother, who always used to sing as she did her housework, fell silent and she was wee bit less patient when I pestered her with questions. I think she probably worried about what the doctors might be going to tell her. My screaming had become worse with teething and I suffered fits and febrile convulsions. It took a long time for me to learn to walk. I had to undergo all sorts of tests at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, including a lumbar puncture for suspected meningitis and a brain scan for epilepsy.
At that time, the word 'Edinburgh' to me meant a silent journey, dressed in my best clothes, in a car that felt as if it was crammed with words that couldn't be spoken. It always seemed to be raining, and as I peered out through the rivulets running down the window, dark sooty buildings rose like straight-sided crags, so high I couldn't see the sky above, however much I craned my neck.
Inside, the hospital smelled funny, and there were long corridors with squeaky floors.
It was always, 'Be quiet, Susan!', 'Don't do that, Susan!' I didn't like it at all.
Sometimes the doctors would give me toys to play with and watch what I was doing, but then they'd take the toys away. If that was designed to make me scream, it worked.
One day, as a treat afterwards, we went for a walk by the sea in Portobello, one of Edinburgh's coastal suburbs. A salty sea breeze blew the nasty hospital smells from our clothes. My dad bought me a wee teddy bear. I called it Boo Boo and I hung on to it for dear life. I wasn't going to let anyone ever take Boo Boo away from me.
I was diagnosed as hyperactive, and I was slower at learning things than other children because I was easily distracted. Nowadays it would probably be called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but in the sixties they didn't have the knowledge that they have now and if you were hyperactive it was treated as a mental illness. I believe it was wrong to give me that label, because it had a particular resonance for my mum and dad. There was much more stigma attached to learning disability in those days. My mother had a younger brother, Michael, who suffered from learning and emotional problems. He had been sent to a special school and then kept in an institution for most of his life. I think my parents assumed that I would be like him, and that narrowed their expectations for
But I'm not like Uncle Michael—not that he wasn't a very nice man. You'll meet him later on.
Susan Boyle's wild ride