My former school is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. There was a cocktail party ten years ago for its fortieth, which I didn’t go to, and a ball for its something or other. I didn’t go to that either. The only times I’ve been back there since I left (a long time ago) was for a reunion which I was dragged to by one of my friends where I didn’t recognise anyone – literally, I’d expunged my schooldays so successfully from my memory that names didn’t ring a bell let alone faces – and when I visited the school as a putative parent. I got a lot of enjoyment from the amount of fawning over dished out to an Old Girl with three daughters, especially as I’d been distinctly a lower form of pond life in a big pool when I was a school girl.
I wasn’t a success at school. Not all of that was my fault; I was hopelessly ill-equipped to go to boarding school aged 11. I’d been educated at home by a governess – my father didn’t see why girls needed to go to school, I’m the youngest and the only girl in the family so I had a vocabulary of someone much older because I spent so much time with adults, we lived on the edge of a village so I was alone a lot of the time, I didn’t even have someone to share my lessons until I was nine and I didn’t belong to the brownies or the Pony Club so basically I had no idea of what girls en masse were like and no social skills for behaving within groups. And as if I didn’t stand out enough from the crowd already I was also 5 foot 4 inches tall aged just 11, 5 foot 9 1/2 at 13 (luckily I only grew another half inch after that).
If I’d been good at sports I suppose I might have redeemed myself and become one of the marginally popular ones, but I was the one whom in the inter-group netball match didn’t get on the team list at all. There were 7 players, three reserves and a substitute. There were 12 in our group…
It wasn’t all bad, I wasn’t bullied, generally just ignored and considered a bit “odd”. I made a couple of very good friends, both are still close friends, and we spent wonderful long introspective hours discussing ourselves and what we might become or sneaking illegally into the music rooms to play Leonard Cohen and analyse the meaning behind his lyrics. All the same I got out of there as soon as I could and went to a day school in London to do A levels, feeling very content indeed to put boarding school days behind me.
Then the invitation for the 50th turns up. It’s for a sleepover. A sleepover, I kid you not. You get to relive your school days with a night in a dormitory, you can ask to be put in with certain girls like they used to when I was there and we’ve been promised that there’ll even be the cocoa trolley for a hot drink before lights out (admittedly at 11pm rather than 8.30 as we used to have it).
Amazingly enough, quite a few old girls have already signed up for this form of torture. What if no-one wanted you in their dormy and you had to settle for the ignominious shame of a single study bedroom (so desirable at one time)? Or that you found you were the last one in and had been allocated the top bunk in the draughty place by the door which you weren’t even sure you could climb up to any longer? And when I’m in my last hours I can’t imagine I’ll be thinking, ‘If only I could have one more cup of that cocoa from the trolley, it was really nice that they made sure it wasn’t too strong with lots of water and that thick skin was so delicious.’ Then, in the morning there’s going to be a rounders match…
At the beginning of this year I made a resolution to push myself and do things I wouldn’t normally but some things are just too much. Sorry ladies, this is one invitation I find all too easy to refuse.