All the newspapers in Aberdeen were full of speculation. For weeks they'd been asking the same question, "Who is Little Miss X?". Little Miss X or Little Miss Anonymous were the names they gave to the young child chosen in secrecy who would switch on the Christmas lights in the city. This had never happened before and as it was a 'first' it was big news. But they never knew her name because it couldn't legally be disclosed. But that didn't stop the stories or members of the public trying to guess who she might be. All everyone knew for certain was Little Miss X lived in one of the local orphanages.
I didn't know it then but Little Miss X turned out to be me. And I never knew who she was right up until the night before the event. I had been praying for a miracle for weeks, for something special to happen in my life. Little did I know how spectacularly my prayers would be answered. I was to have my 15 minutes of fame but no one would ever know my name.
The first hint or clue that something special was about to happen to me sailed over the top of my head. It just seemed impossible so I didn't take it seriously. I was sitting in the school dinerhall next to a boy called Jack. He had short blonde cropped hair with a snotty nose and never looked very clean, his clothes barely having seen a wash for some time. I didn't like him very much after he freaked us all out one lunchtime when sitting next to some kid who upset him and he errupted.
We all heard an almighty thud from further down the hall making us all turn around to see what was happening. He was like a madman, throwing chairs and upsetting tables and screaming at the top of his voice. Teachers and dinnerladies rushed over to take control of the situation which lasted for a good half hour. Eventually they managed to calm him down. Now, a few days later, he was sitting beside me as good as gold but I was still rather wary of him.
We were eating soup when Jack paused a moment between noisy slurps and blurted out, "You're putting on the Christmas lights!"
I looked at him a bit shocked, unsure of what he meant. But he had my full attention.
"What do you mean?"
"My dad's a councillor and he told me you're putting the lights on," he said with absolute certainty in his voice.
"Right," I said, not believing a word of it in my mind and wondering what he was talking about. There was no mention of Christmas lights happening anywhere that I knew about.
"You are, you are," he repeated in response to the disbelieving look and lack of enthusiasm in my face.
The Christmas holidays were only a matter of a few weeks away when the house mother told me one morning to tell the teacher I had to go to the dentist and needed to be let out early from school. So I did what I was asked and later that afternoon found myself looking around the shops in the city centre with the house mother, never going anywhere near a dentist. The next morning I was told to tell the teacher I had another dental appointment but this time she was a little bit suspicious, not quite believing me.
"Are you telling me lies?" she asked.
"No. You can phone the house mother if you don't believe me."
Since she couldn't prove otherwise, the teacher had to let me leave school early again. So once more I was looking around the shops with the house mother but this time trying on shoes and clothes. I couldn't help wondering why she had me telling lies to the teacher.
The following Saturday, the house mother said I was to go out with her eldest daughter but she wouldn't say to where. Naturally, I didn't question the order but just did as I was told. Her daughter took me to a hairdresser's shop in a rather posh part of the city which catered for only the best clientelle. She told me to take a seat on one of the plush red leather chairs because she needed to talk to the stylist on her own. Minutes passed and there was no sign of the house mother's daughter and I grew quickly bored and started to fidget. When at last she appeared we caught the bus back to the home.
I still didn't realise anything unusual was going on even when later that evening I was unexpectedly summoned into the house mother's private sitting room, something that just never ever happened. I thought at first I must be in trouble but the house mother was rather nice to me and told me to sit down on the carpet.
"Look at me carefully," the house mother said, waving her lower arm slowly and gracefully back and forward through the air. "I want you to learn to wave like The Queen."
So I sat there for half an hour waving my arm slowly back and forward, following the house mother's movements precisely, until she was satisfied in her mind I had got the wave perfect. We did this every night for four nights in a row. On the last night, the house mother said she had something to tell me. I suddenly felt nervous.
"Tomorrow night, you are going to be switching on the Christmas lights," she said.
I looked at her with a blank expression, having no idea what she meant. I could see she was excited about something but I wasn't. After all, I hadn't a clue about all the speculation or build-up that had been going on for weeks because I never got to read any newspapers. Nobody had told me anything, or at least anything I believed.
Next day I was back at the posh hairdresser's shop I'd been to a few days before but this time my hair was being cut and styled and I was the centre of attention. I lapped it all up like a sponge. I especially loved the silver dust sprinkled through my hair.
Back at the home, I went upstairs to find a pretty party frock and matching shoes waiting for me, all laid out neatly in my bedroom. A few minutes later I was dressed and the house mother took me through to the kitchen where my brother Billy was standing.
"Doesn't Patsy look pretty?" the house mother asked Billy.
He looked at me with a grudging smile, but it was plain to see he was jealous and also rather annoyed to be going to the Christmas lights ceremony in a double decker bus instead of going there with me. The bus would be one of several buses filled with children from other children's homes in the city and would form part of a large procession of highly decorated floats and pipe bands and displays of all kinds.
Before I knew it the bus arrived and all the kids piled on and then they were gone, making the home feel rather lonely and empty. The house mother told me to wait in the kitchen and a minute or two later appeared there carrying a beautiful deep red velvet cloak with a white fur-trimmed hood which she told me to put around me. Then she took out a white fluffy muffler from out of a box and placed it around my neck and I felt very pretty. I looked a bit like Little Red Riding Hood.
Shortly after, the front door bell rang and I was led by a uniformed chauffeur to a gleaming Rolls Royce parked in the driveway. As he opened the door to let me in, the Lord and Lady Provost of Aberdeen were already sitting in the back seat. The Provost, who gave me a warm friendly smile which immediately put me at ease, looked very important and dignified with his gold chains of office around his neck. His wife dressed all posh in a fancy hat which matched the colour of her expensive coat was much more aloof.
The Rolls Royce left the home and glided through the streets of Aberdeen heading towards the city centre. As we slowly drove through King Street and then George Street, crowds were gathering on either side of the road.
"Wave to the people!" the Lady Provost said suddenly, in a rather sharp tone.
Then it dawned on me, like some puzzle falling into place. Now I understood why I'd spent so many hours learning to wave like The Queen. Up until that moment, sitting in the back seat of the Rolls Royce with its plush ivory-white leather seats and mahogany panels and staring out the window, I had simply been watching and not taking part. The crowds lining the road had come out on a bitterly cold night just to see me.
As we drove slowly along Aberdeen's famous Union Street, the main thoroughfare running through the heart of the city, which had been emptied of all traffic except for our Rolls Royce, the crowds on each side swelled from a few hundred people to thousands upon thousands, all waving and cheering madly. With every passing yard, the noise increased, merging into one continuous deafening roar by the time we came to a halt in front of the Music Hall, our final destination.
I stepped out of the Rolls Royce and walked up the steps into the Music Hall flanked by the Lord and Lady Provost. They led me through to a large room where there were lots of sandwiches, finger foods and cakes of all descriptions laid out on long tables covered with white starched table cloths. Milling around were smartly dressed people I didn't know huddled together in small groups engaged in deep conversations.
I felt a little uncomfortable as my eyes wandered around the room. It was a beautiful room with a high ornamental ceiling and large windows draped in rich red velvet curtains which broke the white of the walls. I was relieved to see the house mother's eldest daughter enter the room and make her way towards me.
"I'm your lady in waiting," she said.
I had no idea what she meant but I was very glad to see a familiar face. I noticed how pretty she looked. Small blue flowers had been placed into her jet-black hair which was swept high off her face. She normally dressed in a blouse and mini skirt and I'd never seen her before in a smart two-piece Tweed suit. She didn't look out of place as she chatted happily away with the toffs and dignitaries of Aberdeen.
It was getting nearer the moment for me to switch on the lights and a lady's voice broke through the chatter in the room.
"Come with me," she said. "It's time to go. Just follow me".
The room fell silent and dozens of pairs of eyes followed my every movement as I was led through a door and out on to the balcony. Suddenly, I was blinded by dozens of flash bulbs going off from every direction and deafened by the wall of sound coming up to greet me from the crowds standing in the darkeness behind barriers on the opposite side of the street. I was followed on to the balcony by the Lord Provost and by other important dignitaries, including the Lord Mayor of London. A small raised platform had been specially built for me otherwise the balcony wall would have hidden me from the crowds. A rostrum was positioned at the front of the platform and on top was a simple toggle switch with a microphone nearby.
Without a trace of nervousness, I stepped up on to the platform with the Lord Provost at my side.
"Say a few words," said the Lord Provost, unexpectedly.
No one had told me I was to speak to the crowds. Now, for the first time, I felt some butterflies in my stomach as I moved my face towards the microphone. The Lord Provost looked at me intently, his eyes telling me to get a move on, but under the pressure I found it hard to think of anything to say.
"I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year."
I said the words without realising what I'd said but they were perfect for the occassion. The Lord Provost beckoned me to flick the switch down, which I did, lighting up the whole of Union Street in a blaze of glorious colour. As flash bulbs popped once more and the crowd roared out their approval, I heard the sound of pipes in the distance. The procession was starting.
The sound of the pipes grew louder and louder amid the growing buzz and excitement. Small flakes of snow began to fall gently as I gazed up at the lights shining high above me, hypnotised by the beauty of it all. The large fluffy flakes drifted slowly downwards in the cold night air, glistening and sparkling in a rainbow of colours, each reflecting for a moment the lights behind, before melting into the pavement. I wanted to remember this magical fairy tale scene forever.
The pipe major, dressed in full Highland regalia and swinging his mace proudly at the head of a long column of pipers and drummers, was now almost level with the balcony. With kilts swishing and dozens of pairs of brogues marking perfect time to the beat of the music, the pipe band marched swiftly past and disappeared out of view.
Behind them followed an array of brightly decorated floats, each one carrying anything up to a dozen people, all waving happily to the crowds. Every float represented a different organisation, charity or business well known in the city. I happily returned the enthusiastic waves as each slowly passed in front of the balcony.
The tail-end of the procession was made up of half-a-dozen double decker buses filled with kids from Aberdeen's childrens' homes. I tried hard to spot which one contained the kids from my home but I couldn't make out any familiar faces through the windows. Before I had any real time to register anything, each bus had slipped past and out of sight. I felt a bit disappointed.
When the last bus passed the balcony the procession was over and the spectators, many of whom had been standing behind the barriers for more than an hour, started to make their way homewards. But some of them darted across the empty street to get a better look at me. As they got nearer, I recognised some of them were kids from my school.
"What was it like, what was it like?" they shouted up at me.
I never got the chance to reply because I was whisked back into the Music Hall to the large room where the dignitaries were already sitting down enjoying the start of a slap-up meal. I felt too uncomfortable to join them. Instead, I went over to the tables where the food I'd seen earlier was laid out and although starving, I stopped myself from diving in because I was acutely aware of the house mother's daughter watching my every move. So I made sure my manners were beyond reproach as I daintily filled a plate with a selection of sandwiches and cakes.
Before I knew it, the evening was over for me and it was time to take my leave of the Music Hall. Following the Lord and Lady Provost down the steps, the chaffeur was already waiting beside the open doors of the Rolls Royce and I climbed aboard. The Rolls Royce once more glided down Union Street which was now quiet and deserted with litter strewn across the pavements on either side.
The Lord Provost pulled out a small red box and handed it to me. I opened it to see a gold necklace with a small crystal lantern in the middle, given to me by the City of Aberdeen to mark the occassion. I took it out of the box, held it up and watched the light through the crystal lantern change into many different colours.
"Stop!" said the Lord Provost, as he quickly rolled down the window and shouted over to a man on the other side of the street.
The old man, a cripple, had been a spectator watching in the crowd and was now struggling through the snow on his own, the last straggler to make his way home.
"Get in," said the Lord Provost, opening the door.
With a bit of an effort and a helping hand from the Lord Provost, the elderly man got in and sat down in the seat opposite, glad to get out of the cold. The Lord Provost seemed to know him and they both chatted away easily to each other as we left Union Street far behind us. They seemed to be old friends although it appeared to me the man had fallen on hard times. The Lord Provost's wife in contrast didn't look very amused by it all and sat quietly, refusing to take part in the conversation. I wasn't much interested either, being too busy admiring my new necklace.
The Rolls Royce pulled quietly into the driveway of the home and the chaffeur opened the door for me and I stepped out. After ringing the door bell, I turned around and thanked the Lord Provost before going inside. The house mother never asked whether I enjoyed the evening and after shutting the front door told me in a matter-of-fact way to go through and up to bed. But first, I had to hand over the box containing the necklace which I never saw again for more than six years. She only returned it to me after I'd left the home and telephoned her asking for it back. She sent it to me by post without even a note or anything. A few years afterwards the necklace sadly disappeared and I'm not sure to this day whether it was actually stolen.
My beautiful cloak and muffler were placed in a large box and kept in the house mother's bedrooom on top of a wardrobe gathering dust for years. I never saw either of them again. Nor did I ever wear the party frock or the shoes which were later given to another girl in the home while I struggled to walk about in ill-fitting second-hand shoes.
I was the centre of attention the following day at school with all my classmates who had seen me up on the balcony now dying to know what it was like. I know my teacher was very proud of me and she even pinned a newspaper cutting up on the classroom wall for all to see. Later on that night, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the event on the ITN television news program News At Ten. I couldn't believe I was really looking at myself. It all felt very wierd.
My appearance on television ignited the whole hullabaloo all over again at school the next day. Eventually, after telling and then re-telling the story yet again, the attention started getting a bit tiresome. Eventually, I was completely fed up of with it all and refused to answer any more questions. I was glad when the weeks turned to months and my 15 minutes of fame faded quietly into the background to be forgotten.
More than 25 years later I was to be reminded of the whole evening again in a quite unexpected way while living in London. My eldest daughter had a school essay to do about parents and although I'd only ever mentioned me switching on the lights once or twice in passing, nevertheless she decided to write about it and asked me for more details. The next day she returned home from school rather excited.
"Mum," she said. "You'll never guess what but my teacher remembers you switching on the lights! He always wondered who the little girl was. Now he knows and he's delighted."
I couldn't believe it myself someone would remember me after all those years. We live in a strange world indeed. I suppose I had been served up as the perfect Christmas image, unforgettable, pure and white as the snow falling on Union Street that evening, and no one would ever look much beyond that. I was glad he at least had an answer, but as for me, even now I barely know who the little 10-year-old girl of long ago really was. Little Miss X will always remain a mystery.
Of all the little girls who might have been chosen to switch on the lights, fate chose me. Was it just a co-incidence and nothing else, or was there some unseen hand guiding my life somewhere in the background? When I look back over the many incidents I've experienced, I now tend to favour the latter more and more. Maybe I was meant to see the Lord Provost's act of kindness in helping the crippled man. A man in his lofty position could have just driven by in his Rolls Royce and no one would have known. But he didn't and it's something I've always remembered. Maybe that was the real lesson I had to learn.