Monday, 8 September 2008
Blue blazers & bunsen burners
It was one of those morning this morning, bright and crisp, a definite nip in the air and the smell of Autumn, of seasons changing that brought with it all the excitement and mix of emotions I remember from going to school. My daughters have been back at school for a couple of days now and our heads are full of new routines, teachers and timetables. Such a relief as a "grown up" to know that you don't have to go through all of that again and yet, when I look back on my schooldays, albeit with very rose tinted spectacles, I remember it as a time of fun, good solid friendships, of growing up amongst friends you could trust secrets with and of course the hard work that would often lead to moments of hysteria as we trawled along the corridors with book laden bags trailing beside us.
Yesterday I had my nose buried in this book. ( the pencil case in the photo was mine, I bought it in France when I was sixteen and used it for the last two years at school, it's funny how important buying new pencil cases for school is). Ostensibly about the school songs that were adopted and written by girls' schools, it also brought back so many many memories for me. I went to an all girls school and at times it felt like I was living in an Enid Blyton book. From the age of 11 to nearly 19 I wore my navy blue knickers, knee high white socks, blue uniform and the regulatory airtex PE top and gym skirt. In my first year I learnt to sew my initials onto my blue science overall, have the heels on my shoe measured to make sure they weren't more than 2 inches, learnt the words to our two school songs which I still remember and for the life of me I still don't know what the words to one of them meant (it was in latin) and why the other was the famous Harrow song "Forty Years on" which seemed to be all about a match of football. I remember that we questioned neither of them as we walked around the school buildings (inside and out) on the school birthday singing them.
Big sister has her school photo today and I did half heartedly mouth some words to her this morning (more for my sake) about her uniform looking smart. It made me giggle to think of her having to wear the obligatory tunic that I had to wear until I was 15!
I made friends with my best friend on the very first day of school. It was a sunny day and we were taken outside for our art lesson to sit and draw "something from nature". We sat and chatted and continued to do so for the next seven years. We learnt to light our bunsen burners together and stand in horror as our friend dipped her finger in the mercury(!), we cleaned out the ovens together in Domestic Science, we stood together on the freezing hockey pitch and quickly learnt to get on a good team, volunteer to be in defence and then have a good quarter of an hour to gossip whilst the rest of the team were hurtling around with those very scary hockey sticks.
We got our first Saturday jobs together, travelling up to London at the weekend to earn some money to go out together again in the evenings. We learnt what it meant to be loyal to your friend, to support your friends when things weren't going that well and we learnt that if all the crockery is confiscated by the teacher when you're in the sixth form block, you can still heat up soup in a hidden kettle but that the veggie bits will get stuck in the spout! So we started as little girls with bunches and nerves and we left as we started wearing our blazers and still scared of those bunsen burners - taller and wiser with a love for our school that to this day I haven't lost.
I hope that my daughters will look back on their school days with such fondness. Of course, there seemed to be exam after exam, never ending homework and tears before bedtime at home worrying about the next day's test and I still have those exam anxiety dreams to this day. What I can see now, and couldn't see at the time, was that my school gave me the chance to remain a child for a little longer. It was old fashioned, looking back it seems very old fashioned, but it made us feel safe. At the weekends I might have been clubbing in London but on Monday morning I turned up to school, uniform in tact and no hint of make up. Yes the lure of the boys school up the road grew stronger every term and the rides home on the bus with them grew ever more interesting, but I am so grateful to most of my teachers for filling my head with wonderful things.
I will never forget our wonderful French teacher who had the foresight to timetable extra french lessons in the sixth form that mercifully meant we couldn't do PE, our dotty science teacher who invited us round to tea and showed us all the dead animals in her freezer, the geography teacher that literally filled me with dread as soon as she walked into the room (you could hear the whole class quake) my English teacher's love for the Bronte sisters and her reading us Wuthering Heights in her beautiful Yorkshire accent and our German teacher who had only to walk into the room to reduce us all into a hysterical mass. Yes, that's what I remember most, the constant stifling of giggles, the lowering of eyes to avoid contact with a friend who was laughing so much the tears were rolling from her eyes and standing beside the goalposts on the hockey pitch on mornings like today with our backs to the rest of the match, huddled together to share the weekend's news.