I hated being eight. To this day, eight holds the record as being the worst age of my life. Things were going swimmingly until one day my school said to itself, “This kid’s got it waayyy too easy. We should fuck things up a bit.” And so they did.
It was the first day of the school year, everything was brand new and full of promise. I had just taken my brand new seat next to my best friend in my brand new ‘Year 4’ classroom. This was the year that we were big enough to write in pen and I had arrived with a new pen set: one fountain pen, one ball pen, both decorated with bears, packed in a cute carry case complete with extra ink cartridges. Even the teacher was new to the school. She introduced herself as Mrs. Vandermeer and began to call the register. She got to ‘D’ and went straight past without calling my name. But this was okay because I’m one of those lucky people blessed with a first name as a surname so I was used to answering to Miranda. (What I still can’t get used to, however, is when people question my knowledge of my own surname. You know when someone is taking your details and they say, ‘What’s your surname?’ and you say, ‘Miranda’ and they smirk impatiently and say, ‘No dear, your surname,’ and you think, ‘That is my surname, dear, do I look like a complete idiot to you?’ but you just smile and repeat, ‘Miranda’ and secretly wish you were called Smith like everybody else.) So, back to the register, Mrs Vandermeer approaches ‘M’ but again she goes right past without calling my name. I wait until she has finished and then I raise my hand and say in my most self-assured eight-year-old way, ‘I’m sorry. Mrs Vandermeer, is it?’ I then press my palm against my chest and continue, ‘I’m afraid you neglected to call my name’. ‘Oh really?’ she replied, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I (long emphasis on the ‘I’) am Dominique Miranda, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.’ ‘Oh, you’re not on the register. Are you sure you’re in the right class.’ I laugh, and my classmates join me. ‘I’m fairly sure I’m in the right class. I’ve been in this class for the last three years,’ I reply smugly. ‘Okay, wait a minute, I’ll go and check.’ So Mrs Vandermeer leaves the classroom to investigate and when she returns a few minutes later she says, ‘Dominique, could you step outside with me please?’ I get up to follow her out of the room but she stops me and says, ‘Bring your things with you.’ I return to my desk and begin to pack up my brand new bear pens and the rest of my belongings into my back pack, acutely aware of the 30 pairs of eyes fixed intently upon me. When we get outside she speaks to me very gently, ‘Dominique, you’re not going to be in this class this year. You’ve been moved up into Year 5. Did nobody tell you?’ Of course nobody fucking told me! Do you think I’d have chosen to humiliate myself completely by sitting in the wrong fucking classroom for ten minutes until I was unceremoniously hauled out in front of all my friends? ‘No,’ I replied meekly.
The bottom had just fallen out of my world but I tried desperately to keep my shit together as I was led into the Year 5 classroom across the hall. As I made my way to my seat, I felt 30 new pairs of eyes following me across the room. But they weren’t entirely new eyes. You see, the school had fucked my life up once before, three years earlier. My mother had managed to get me into school a year early, at the tender age of three. It was another of her child-care solutions, and as I was considered a ‘gifted’ child, the school didn’t hesitate to take me. But when it was time to go into junior school, they decided that I was too young to move up and they kept me back. I watched my friends leave for their new school, but I didn’t mind so much, partially because I was too young to understand but also because, at that age, friendships haven’t been solidified yet so I was able to make new friends really quickly. But this time around, things were different. I had a stable group of friends, a stable position within that group, and they had both just been snatched away from me. But I hadn’t hit rock bottom… yet. I unpacked my belongings quietly, repeating to myself, ‘Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Whatever you do. Don’t cry.’ I was almost composed and I was doing my best to zone in on what the teacher was saying when there was a knock on the door. ‘They’ve come to take me back,’ I hoped silently. They hadn’t. A head poked around the door and said, ‘Dominique? You’re not supposed to be in there. You’re supposed to be out here with me.’ The ‘me’ in question was Mrs Arthur, the teacher in charge of tutoring a small group of children from each year who were considered to be ‘advanced’. Great. Not only had I been moved up a year, I’d been thrown straight into the ‘boffin group’. My life was over. I managed to hold back the tears only until the classroom door had closed firmly behind me.
As horrific as it was at the time, I did survive being eight. And I survived the rest of school. (Although skipping year 4 meant that up until very recently I had a great deal of trouble reading an analog clock and I know next to nothing about the Victorians). I suspect that I was always ‘the girl that got moved up’ but I had friends and overall I got by. That was how I knew, when I walked into the the vast expanse of Olympia, the venue for our second trade show Top Drawer, that I would survive this too. Our first trade show was small and comforting, just like junior school. They held our hands and put us on a little balcony, away from the giants below, with other publishers who were exhibiting for the first time. We were given our lunch for free and lots of tea and coffee throughout the day. We were hoping for more of the same at Top Drawer so you can imagine our terror when we found ourselves surrounded by the giants, and not just the giants of the greeting card industry, giants from the gift industry, homeware, jewellery and clothes, and there’s nothing like a giant to make you feel really, really small. I was eight years old again; I’d been moved up a year and nobody had warned me.
We set off across the hall and tried to find our stand. We’d booked a little 2 metre by 2 metre plot in row Q and as soon as we saw it we realised what a terrible mistake we’d made. A 2x2 would have been fine amongst other 2x2s but sandwiched between the giants, we may as well have been invisible. Our stand was number 12 Grimmauld Place. We later found out that our stand was known in the industry as a ‘coffin stand’ and it was not difficult to see why. We’d been buried alive and left to die, and we even had to buy our own lunch.
I realise that I usually paint Jack out to be the nuisance of the two of us, and when we’re at home, this is often true. As soon as we leave the house, however, I come into my own. Jack tried his best to keep me away from the stand whilst he was decorating it but there are only so many jobs that require me to be as far away as possible. Eventually he handed me a paintbrush and instructed me to paint the wall. Within 5 minutes I had stepped in the paint tray and dipped my entire hand into the can. Still, I soldiered on and when I had finished I sat down proudly and awaited praise. Jack took one look at the wall and turned to me in disbelief, ‘You haven’t painted the edges.’ ‘What edges?’ I replied. Jack was struggling to remain calm, ‘You see at the edge of everywhere you’ve painted, you’ve left an area without any paint? You need to paint those.’ ‘Oh,’ I said as it all started to make sense, ‘but I can’t reach those.’ ‘YOU’RE SITTING ON A STEPLADDER!!!!’ ‘Alright, calm down,’ I said, ‘I didn’t mean to push you over the edge.’ He didn’t laugh. Tough crowd.
Eventually, and in spite of me, we made our coffin look presentable. We even bought some flowers because, let’s face it, every good funeral needs flowers. When the doors finally opened, we held our breaths. We soon resumed normal breathing however when we remembered that we were in row Q and it was going to take a while for the crowds to reach us.
I’d love to be able to tell you that we had the best show ever and that we took a billion orders and that I’m currently writing this from my yacht that’s floating somewhere in the middle of the Indian ocean. In reality, I’m in my dining room and it’s pissing it down outside. The first day of the show was so depressing that I think I would have actually had more fun at a funeral. We took a few orders but it was a far cry from what we’d been expecting. We’d had such an exciting entry into the industry and I guess we thought that our growth would continue exponentially. It wasn’t that we’d been complacent, we’d been working really hard, but we’d been focusing our efforts in all the wrong directions. Our stand looked the same as it had done on our first show, our work looked the same, even our brochures were the same. With the exception of a few new designs, we hadn’t evolved at all. In an industry that constantly wants more, this wasn’t good enough. The rest of the show did improve for us and by the time the doors closed we’d taken a reasonable amount of orders, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d turned up for modern warfare armed with a club.
We returned home feeling downtrodden, but not defeated. We knew that we wouldn’t be defined by one bad show; what really mattered was what we did next. We had a hell of a lot of work to do and square one seemed as good a place as any to begin.