Boarding 2

Geoff Barnard: I joined in the second form and remember spending my first year of so trying to be invisible. Mrs Granville was the scourge of Gibson House, and Nick Dakin gave me the touching nickname of ‘boot room Barnard’ because of my house job scrubbing polish of the work top in the boot room (not the worst nickname around – there were some pretty brutal ones I recall).

My biggest shock was the first evening when a gang of what looked like 6 foot tall glamour models swished into the boys’ common room and sat down on the laps of my 4 foot tall classmates and started necking. I must have encountered you in classes earlier, but you didn’t look anything like as intimidating in your school uniforms.

My confidence gradually grew and I guess I was one other those who flourished at the school. Getting taller helped – I remember the moment when I realised I was looking down on the games teacher, Brian Capel. I think he realised it at the same time, and treated me much more respectfully afterwards.

Girlfriends took a bit of a while to get the hang of. Who remembers the valentines day (?) blind date lottery in the 3rd form? A big group of us put our names in the had and got paired up. But the draw had to be done again because of a technicality (i.e. Nick Hunt, or was it Giles, got the wrong pairing) so the names went back in the hat. By a remarkable fluke, the pairing were identical the next time except for half a dozen people who had miraculously switched around. I seem to remember being paired with Jo Atkins but don’t recall the details of our regulation walk around the field (do you?)

Up in the main school I remember the trauma of the deafening fire alarm being going off in the middle of the night directly above my bed – and of raids which involved your bed being up-ended with you in it. And getting your hair cut in the washroom. And throwing super balls down the corridor towards the yard bogs and having them come back at 500 miles an hour and break the window behind you.

The yard bogs are worth a mention in their own right. No doors on the stalls and a strict rule that 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc formers could only occupy certain stalls. Going down there to bunk off during prep was a social event. What would they make of that now I wonder?

Prep during the 4th form turned into quite a contest sometimes – I remember the ‘sport’ of Dobbin baiting. Mr Benson the Physics teacher was easily riled and a fairly soft target, and thus the subject of a lot of grief from us. Reading Giles‘ comments I can share a sense of shame about colluding with, if not instigating, some of the very mean – but at the time hilarious – psychological battery meted out to teachers and classmates. I don’t know if we were any different from any other school group, but it was certainly a feature of our time at school which in retrospect I’m not proud.
Steve Pitcher

But it wasn’t all bad.  Do you remember those epic games of “squash” at break with dozens of people playing – whacking a tennis ball against the wall as hard as you could so it went onto the biology lab roof, or up the steps to the changing rooms, so the next person had to perform a conjuring trick to get it back.

Steve Pitcher playing ‘squash’.

Lounging on a beaten up sofa in the 5th form common room listening to King Crimson wasn’t that bad either.  Or the novelty of being able to make your own toast in 6i – now that was luxury.  I remember a lot of time being spent sneaking off across the field, and wishing we could have just a little bit more privacy for our teenage explorations.

Fiona Wood [Adler]: First few thoughts on why we were there …  I never thought to question going to boarding school, partly because that was the decision made by my parents; also I wanted to go because Helen was there (did you feel the same about your siblings being there?) but also because I thought it would be like the Enid Blyton books of boarding (all ‘jolly hockey sticks’) and it would have to be better than the weekly boarding I did up in Northumberland when Caroline was due and Mother couldn’t drive to school every day! Now that’s a whole different story for another web-site… that was bad!

I remember being desperately home-sick for about three days at the beginning when it was dark in the evenings and we sat in the girls’ common room being given the low-down on the routine/regime… e.g. bath rotas etc. I felt very low then. After a few days someone (possibly Miss Marriage) must have asked Helen to have a word with me. As my big sister she was obviously not keen on being seen talking to me and just told me to look out of the window, spot someone in my form and go and make friends with her! The girl concerned was Kate Fuller (her name has just come back to me). I did as bade and I think never looked back after that! I thought we were all very independent, maybe having come from a pretty disciplined home life. I now see that our independence was quite limited but it didn’t seem that way for the times!

Just had a sudden thought about the “initiation ceremony” when we first formers were taken up in the roof for a tour and to write our names on the water tank(s) up there in the middle of the night! I seem to remember a story about Jonathan Bell ending up descending into Kenneth Nicholson’s study after such a sojourn or is that just apocryphal?!

Michele Wilson [Underwood]: Collect for Sunday evening meeting was annoyingly ten minutes before the end of the Top Twenty on the radio, so we always missed the top three, and one occasion I was sent up to my bedroom to take down the hem of my dress!  I borrowed other people’s clothes (well, we were so restricted) even to the point of sewing my name tape over the existing one, but it didn’t fool one particular teacher. She taught German – does anyone remember her?

Two boring Sunday afternoons were spent on a trip up the water tower and rambling through the rafters of the school accessed by a bed plus chair (very wobbly).  One trap door we checked out was immediately outside the Matron’s room……………………

Mid-night feasts – one in Croydon house with Fiona.  We’d got masses of food and forced ourselves awake to indulge!  One birthday in Hillcroft with chocolate cake and a bottle of Noilly Prat!  Another on the school field and the best of all at Joy’s with baked beans on toast and loads of cider.  For the last two, boys, I forget who, brought a ladder round to the back of Hillcroft and we climbed out the window all dressed in black!!!!!

Fiona Wood [Adler]: Following on from other peoples’ thoughts I remember the ritual packing of the trunk to go back to school with the rug in the bottom so everything could be unpacked onto the bed for “inspection”. Probably a girlie thing but once we had got the hang of the uniform list and were a bit older we used to sneak lots of extra clothes in and hide them under the mattress until after it had all been checked by Miss Marriage or Miss Miller or whoever in later years. Jo talked about clothes’ sharing… I remember it well as it would expand your wardrobe immensely! Not that we had much room in the early years. Later on I remember the first evening back at school would be spent changing into your new clothes and going down the “Boys End”(!) to look casual and pretend not to be trying to make an impression. I think that the boys were far more attentive in the mini skirt years (bet you chaps remember Helen Eltis‘ micro skirts!) than in the later midi and maxi eras. Then came the great coats which many of the boys wore and which were quite warm I seem to remember!

Still on the theme of boarding I remember that we were not allowed to go into town on a Wednesday or Saturday before we had done any mending from the returned laundry (my how they shrank those school Braemars!). Was this just the girls? If so I shall complain now! We used to get out of mending the holes in the socks by producing the other one as evidence of a job well done! This went hand-in-hand with queuing up for pocket money and finding good reasons for getting more than the allotted sixpence or whatever…Granny had a lot of birthdays requiring cards and extra stamps! Sixpence went a long way when you could share friends’ sweets, comics etc. and as already mentioned you could ger a lovely frozen Arctic Roll from your fruit account! I also remember someone discovering Archimedes’ Principle with a box of Maltesers in the wooden soap dish on the side of the bath…v. soggy sweets. We spent the afternoons in those old baths swopping comics (progressing to the rather risque “Jackie” when older) and sweets and causing many a flood….

I remember in the first form being pretty cold at night but keeping warm by leaping around the room especially in Dorm 1 where you could hide on top of the door leading to Miss Miller’s room and hoping you didn’t get caught. Also in Dorm 2 where there was a little bathroom which I think was only used by the prefects along there… we thought it most unfair until we got to the dizzy heights of prefect ourselves! Talking of which, my sister Helen was my dorm prefect for a while…we are both still scarred by that experience! I think that may have been in the days of sojourns in the night which she probably tried to ignore. She does recall finding a small boy in one of the wardrobes once… I don’t know who was the most surprised!

Girls and Boys- Geoff talked about the practice of walking up and down the Avenue (remembering to kick the Kicking Stone of course!) and I shudder to think of the damage done to some poor lads (and no doubt lasses) when you went once up and down then got your mate to “chuck” them for you or, worse still, write them a note on the back of some scrap paper! Perhaps the impact wasn’t so great as I imagine and we were thicker skinned then? The notion of the Girls’ End and Boys’ End is funny now… but why did we have form photos by the pool taken separately?

Fred Sessa
Fred Sessa auctioning lost property
Photo by Simon Colbeck
Richard Mongar
Richard Mongar
Photo by Simon Colbeck

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