Now I know I have got this on separate posts but I have put it all together on a page to make the reading of it better and I dont want to lose the comments. so forgive me , because to be honest I am not sure what I am doing!! If you have read the first couple of bits there is a new section further down, I will shut up now! Enjoy….
I thought I would share with you my experience of secondary school because I think I’m safe to say that my adventure was different to most people. Just imagine a place that was a mixture of the fun and excitement of St Trinians, the mystery of Hogwarts, and the incarceration of prison, that was the place where I was sent. I say sent, I went willingly, but I think it was not what it said on the tin, or the picture that was sold to me. I went because I was told that I would have to give up my dancing when I go to secondary, bearing in mind I was dancing every single day, it was my life, so yes I would have done anything to continue. It sounded like heaven dancing, singing, music and drama all day and weekends, even better, all of this and with no parents. What more could a ten year old want?
The process to get into the school was rigorous, even to get an interview at the school, photos, and letters needed to be completed before you set a toe on the grounds. The audition day was jam packed with, a singing, dancing, drama, and academic tests. There seemed to me that there was hundreds of hopefuls going for a place at this prestigious school, that I did not think there was a hope in hell that a young naive farmer girl like me would never be good enough for a place like this. The only thing that I thought had going for me was when the head teacher was interviewing me in front if a panel of five, and a room full of peers, worst than the x factor, was she asked what my father did for a living, I said a farmer, her eyes lit up. Maybe she thought oh this one will be alright because her dad owns land, he will be able to pay the fees. And so the day came and went and we played the waiting game for the letter to arrive to give us the verdict, is she in or is she out? Well she was in and the excitement of this new adventure was just great at the time. I could boost to children of where I was going, which I relished in because up till now I had just been there in the background not really good at anything no one really noticing me, but oh they took noticed now, especially my dancing chums, because some of them had tried to get into a school like this and couldn’t or their parents could not afford the fees. I was in the local paper, which was not hard I suppose, because I would only have to sniff and mother put it in the newspapers. But all in all I was enjoying this new found celebrity statues. Just getting the uniform or should I say uniforms was an adventure in its self. The never ending list arrived for the paraphernalia we needed to have, there was five sets of different uniforms, daily wear, summer uniform, winter uniform, Sunday best uniform and dance uniform, all of this to be purchased from a huge department store in London. So with all this you can imagine my eagerness to get to this magical place was at fever pitch. Little did I know how quickly this would fizzle away.
First day had arrived and after travelling seven hours with large full red trunk in tow, we finally arrived and drove up the gravel driveway. The only way I can describe it is something out of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Bearing in mind I was looking at this through the eyes of an eleven year old everything looked enormous, the building was majestic, an original Rothschild mansion. The main entrance was over towered by two stone pillars which looked like they were guarding the wooden doors and what was beyond. I was in ore and feeling apprehensive to even getting out of the car. There was what seemed like, hundreds of cars with little wide eyed faces peering out of their car windows, being guided were to park, I had arrived. Were to go now? Walking between the stone guards we went up the staircase and into the lobby area which was floor to ceiling covered in photos of people past, royalty, cups and certificates. Gave them my name and was pointed towards a door. When I walked through the door what I saw to me was just this mystical place, a grand stairway going up, doors, pillars, marble floor, and a huge glass window which the height of the hall looking into a room which was the first dance studio I saw, but this studio was no ordinary dance studio that I had seen before. It was panelled with oak, had gargoyles glaring down at you, two fire places that you could stand in, barres, mirrors, and a grand piano situated in the large bay windows. We were told to put my trunk in the ballet room, which was one of the doors off the hallway. Yet another studio, this one was decorated in pale blue, again had a fire place, barres, mirrors and another grand piano. The room was jammed with trunks all sizes and colours, in joined my red one. What next? We wondered around aimlessly taking in the surroundings found two more studios off the main hallway. One a red room which looked out to the back gardens, where there was tennis courts. A room, which was a ballroom, the grandest room yet. It had a fireplace that had two marble angels either side hovering, glaring over you. The scent of the whole place was dust. There were many clusters of parents with their offspring all doing the same as us, wondering around not quite know what was going to happen next. Then it was indicated that the parents had to leave their blossoms. Now as far as I can remember I could not wait for my parents to leave, not even watching them go it was kind of a ‘ya right then bye’, then they were gone. I wish in hindsight that I had savoured their leaving because this was the last time I was to see them or speak to them for seven weeks. A bit like the doors in ‘porridge’, bang our sentence began.
That was it I was on my own, a new everything. I don’t really remember how I got there but I was shown to my dormitory. It was in another building so walking to it gave me opportunity to get a glimpse at more of my new home. I was taken down a staircase beyond the hallway which brought us to a basement. This looked dark and grey, a contrast to the grandeur of upstairs, the walls concrete and tiled, a rabbit warren of corridors. This must have been where the servants lived and worked when the mansion was owned by the Rothschild’s. We went through and then out a back door into a courtyard. Across and beyond was a building they called the Clockhouse, probably because of the great big clock on top of the building. To the left of the Clockhouse was a conservatory kind of building, which inside has potters wheels, art work, benches, and sculptures. I was taken in through the front door of the Clockhouse and up a sweeping staircase, along a rickety corridor, with many doors along, to a door that was last but one to the end, numbered seven. Here we were my cell, or should I say room. I do not know what I was expecting, you have visions in your head of boarding school dormitories, don’t you, of these large long rooms, with rows of beds either side, a bit hospital like. Well this was not what I was thinking at all, I walked through the door and I saw four beds, four chairs, four chests of drawers and three hard looking pairs of eyes staring at me, in a room smaller than my lounge now. The other three beds had been taken there was one left, I guessed this must be mine then. It was in the corner, behind the door. Just as was just thinking what next, the strangest looking person flung the door open. She was, I would say in her seventies, but I bet she was younger than she looked. She had a humped back, dragon like features and the brightest purple hair I had ever seen. She introduced herself as Mrs Veal in her crackly voice and she was the matron, scary, this was my part time mother, help. She spoke about rules, regulations and I don’t know what. In time I was to learn her catch phrase, ‘I just don’t want to know’, she would say this after she had asked what you were doing, and before you had chance to get your sentence out she without fail would come out with her catch phase. Seriously why did she ask then?
I cannot remember much of the details next but the dormitory I ended up in was on a floor of fifth years, so I was at a disadvantage before I started because two of the girl in my dormitory of four, where four years older than me, with four years more experience of this life and what I later found out to my peril where the years bitches. The third girl was in the same boat as me, she was new and in my year, so you would think that she would have been a tad more sympathetic, oh no far from it. I found out that the rest of my year group dormitories were over in the main building, which they called Mansion. So this did not help to the bonding process between me and the other girls. Why did I end up over there I hear you ask, well it was purely down to the alphabet, they had ran out of room over in the main building so I ended up over in the Clockhouse. And because of this I was intently ousted from my peers and was instantly targeted as different. It hindered me in so many ways, things as simple as knowing what was on the timetable for the next day, too having that time in the evening where all the girls would get together and get to know each other. All I had was the two bulldogs, who made it their mission to make this ‘wet behind the ears’ country girls life a misery and a peer that, barring in mind she was four years the junior of the bulldogs, and probably only doing this to survive herself, was the most evil and twisted person at this god forsaken place, and all I had to separate myself to her was a chair.
In all the million of things that were on the list to pack for this place, I remember the first and simplest thing that had been forgotten was a school bag. So for the first 2 weeks or so I went around with my new books, pens, pencils etc in a carrier bag. I was so embarrassed. It’s amazing how the simplest things, to us as adults don’t seem a big deal but to children are huge. I always think of that feeling when I am dealing with children at school now and how the smallest thing can really upset them and that I am to take that seriously.
So my daily routine consisted of, a fire alarm screaming to wake us up at about 7, we had to be out of bed instantly or we would get screeched at by the purple dragon, take wash bag with us to bathroom, wash etc, dress for breakfast. Queue for breakfast….now food, well that’s a subject all of its own, me and my relationship with food. We go back a long way, hehe, Starting with the lack of it when I was a child and having to fight over food with five other grown men at the table, I was definitely on the bottom of that food chain, to the point where, I was so hungry that I ate the dog biscuits and cow cake on the farm just to ease my hunger pains. So that wasn’t a good start in the old food relationship and now I was in a situation where I was in a ballet school, we were weighed and measured every Saturday to make sure we were not putting on to much weight compared to our growth. I was always growing too tall for their liking and I was classed as over weight in their eyes. I was told weekly for five years that I was fat, you do begin to believe it. We were all on strict diets, our food intake was monitored, we were never allowed any sweets of any kind, so here I was again, hungry, I was a girl growing, changes in the body etc and I was starved, we all were. Food was our main subject at any part of the day, I think if this happened now the school would be shut down. I always remembered meeting up with a old nurse from the school, one of the nice ones, at a big reunion in London Covent Garden years after leaving and she said to me, she was always worried about us girls, she said we were starved and that she wanted to report the school, and then she conveniently lost her job. It was quite comforting to hear someone say that, that it was noticed and wasn’t all in our heads.