Friday, 6 February 2015

Getting to Know me - My arrival at boarding school


Let us start at the very beginning (for it's a very good place to start). Cast your mind back, if you will to September 2003. Little Charlotte arrived, fresh faced and very over-excited at the prospect of actually attending a boarding school like she had wanted to for so many years.

And then noticed her first grave error. Everyone else was carting multiple pieces of luggage upstairs, while I only had my one reasonably large but still singular suitcase. The older girls who were helping us newbies settle in, registered surprise but at the moment were too polite to say anything. They were not so polite when all the parents had gone home and instead asked me bluntly where all my clothes were. My parents and I had embraced the list a little too whole-heartedly. So had taken it literally when they said you only needed a few changes of clothes. There was no way I had brought enough civies (own clothes) with me, as we had assumed that you would be in uniform the majority of the time. How wrong we were. As soon as I headed home on my first leave weekend, I fixed this mistake, bringing the majority of my wardrobe back with me as all the other girls did. But for those first three weeks it was a little embarrassing, and I took to pretending I was on Civvie-Ban (a punishment for untidy uniform) to save myself from being 'uncool.'

That afternoon was when I met Jo, my best friend of 11 years, for the first time as well. It's scary to think I have known her half my life and she literally knows every single thing about me. More than my parents even. But during that initial meeting, I thought she was such a baby. She was sitting in our massive common room, known as the Day Room, absolutely bawling her eyes out about the fact she was missing her parents. For goodness sake, they'd only just left.

Lots of my memories are accompanied with this crazy girl. We got into quite a lot of mischief together particularly when we started sharing a 'cubie' in the second term. We constantly got into trouble for talking and not being in bed on time. And once for doing yoga on our beds after lights out - don't even ask. We scrapped, argued and we fought, sometimes physically. Once she pushed me so hard that I fell into a fire extinguisher and knocked it off the wall (Matron was not pleased). And once we had a literal punch up through a curtain.

Now would probably be a good time to describe what our rooms looked like when we were at school. Because they weren't normal rooms and didn't have proper walls. The best way to imagine them is like a row of large toilet cubicles - each 'cubie' was separated with a  metal partition which didn't quite reach the ceiling (like you find in a toilet cubicle) and the entrance was covered with a curtain. And that curtain was as infallible as a door. If the curtain was shut, you were NOT ALLOWED IN ON PAIN OF DEATH.

Even though this all sounds a bit weird, it was awesome for us. The fact it was all open, meant that we could (and did) chat from our beds after lights out causing the older girls and teachers to constantly threaten us with various punishments. We would play games like trying to get from one end of the dorm to the other without touch the floor, by jumping on beds, clambering up on to the wardrobes, along the top of partitions and any other way besides. All a little bit dangerous now I think about it, but so fun when you are 11 and 12 years old. Another game we would often play was to sit on the wardrobe and stare down at the person in the adjoining cubicle to see how long it would take until they noticed you. Again - hilarious to 12 year old girls.

In our first couple of weeks we were subjected to two initiations into our boarding house (which was the best house on the Avenue, called Coleridge A, after Samuel Taylor Coleridge who attended the school). The first was a dorm raid. Now for us, this was essentially a midnight pillow fight. The older girls came screeching upstairs and hit us awake, chucked a few water balloons at us and we whacked back with all our might. Every single house has them but they differ hugely in intensity depending on the cruelty of the older pupils. If you were in a boys' house, they would often put football boots in the pillow cases, causing actual injury. And even in the other girls' houses, I heard stories of the older girls stealing duvets, putting them in the bath and turning the taps on (it would take weeks for that to dry out properly). As well as slightly more sinister pranks like putting hair removal cream in shampoo bottles. So we got off reasonably lightly.

Our other initiation was called The Innocence Test. This involved the older girls asking the new 'squits' as we were known, a series of questions to do with sex - from 'pull' to 'teabagging' and everything inbetween. Obviously, being 11, we didn't know the answers to many of them so they enlightened us. And that was effectively our birds-and-the-bees talk. Saved my mother the embarrassment anyway.

So there's my brief little insight into a few memories of boarding school. Obviously as I grew, the freedoms and privileges did as well. So I will update you in another blogpost at another time, all about Charlotte the Teenager's experiences of boarding school. To be continued...

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