Let’s sing of our tradition
We of the Girls’ High School
Of pioneering courage, of loyalty and zeal
That’s something like the first few lines of the school song. The School. 4 years spent absorbing learning in that bit between Moffat Street and Thing Street was, the one where Forsyth and Beit House tipped out. An interesting melting pot; day scholars and boarders, at that time it appeared that “ne’er the twain shall meet” such was the presumed auto-superiority of each group. Not so now…
Like most curate’s eggs there were good parts and bad. Teachers, that is – the deeply terrifying doyenne of Room 5, who despised anything below the top 5% of the ‘A’ stream and would have preferred to spend all her teaching time with the 6th Form. A year of studying The Amazon and Australia – an peculiar paring, left me with a cold shudder every time a buttress root or The Great Desert is mentioned. Even cathedral flying buttresses conjour up the unutterable misery of those lessons. The sure knowledge that whatever you did, would be unsatisfactory, in the extreme. Later one understood that said teacher had a deeply miserable home existence, but the rank unfairness still, rankles, rankly. The science teacher, another “teach by humiliation” proponent. The chickens did rather come home to roost here. The lovely experiment involving vacuum pumps and old paraffin cans was run. impressed we were. Then for reasons best known to Seth, Anubis and Horus, the repeat experiment was varied by dint of swopping paraffin can for laboratory flask. Glass. For the use of. The inevitable implosion of glass flask (exhibit A) giving way to the decrease in pressure from pump (exhibit B) was entertaining, for one split second. Then all hell broke loose – screaming, ululating teenage girls threw themselves in all the four directions. The (merciful) one injury – a lacerated ear lobe bled like an eviscerated porcine, fountains of claret….and the operatics reached greater and greater pitched of hysteria. Teacher, gathered all her wisdom, knowledge and experience and Bellowed for Silence. The noise and movement ceased, brushes were fetched, injured ear dispatched for attention in the Sick Bay and the lesson went on. Clearly the ‘Elf and Safety Elf was not released from its’ genie-like bottle until decades later, when such a slip-up would have made headlines in someone’s later chipwrappings.
In contrast – another teacher of geography, in later, happier years, made her lessons come to life with slides which she carefully gathered every time she set foot outside the home country. Switzerland! Alps with marvelous upthrust intrusions and folds of rocks and terminal morraines. Wonderful words which made the mystique of “overseas” all the more tempting. More locally, patient explanation of the geology beneath our brown, lace-up school shoes. Flecks of mica, raw asbestos, pyrites, igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic …a litany of terms which delighted the ear. For the minority, I fear. I hung upon every word and listened like an owl. The class divided into the swots, the middle and the tailend. This uneven and out-of-step chongololo meandered along, the front end listening, the centre: half an ear open, hoping that osmosis would make up the difference and the tail frisked flirtatiously in the van, discussing whatever the latest scuttlebutt had come there way and Boys. Not a co-educational establishment, these Y chromosome-enriched beings were geographically distant, forbidden and therefore utterly fascinating. The osmotic-reliant centre portion, I imagine were also absorbing scurrilous details sniggered upon from the rear ranks, which might explain their distraction from all things geological.
And then there was Games. What possessed the school to apply that light-hearted term of description to double periods of grimness? In summer – tennis and swimming. Winter, hockey and netball. Apart from the addition of a series of periods in the Gym, that was it. Nowt else. Aziko. Of the 5 potential methods of suffering, the lowest spot was assuredly occupied by that armed combat sport of hockey. Here we go, tra la! there are rules and sides and positions and Marking Your Opposite Number. which makes not a haggis of a difference whatsover when you are faced with brawny 5’8″ (cubed) Amazon bearing down at remarkable speed, brandishing a curved wooden weapon, with which she is propelling a hard, white ball apparently at your Head, as if her virtue depended upon it. The only option to ensure that your amygdala stayed put in your skull and did not go flying (wheeee!) like some airborne offal, was to sidestep, briskly. And then absorb the wails of dismay from your team members’ frantically retreating rumps, as they pursued said silly white sphere and tried to get it back. Again. The sight of those bristly (mottled by exertion and excessive hormones) thunder thighs between the short green pleated gym skirt and long white socks was enough to unman Atilla the Hun, should he have found himself facing the U13 A team. Netball occupied 4th position, it was crowd controlled on a nasty hard court painted with arcane symbols, lines , semi-circles and probably, curcubites and ankhs. Same blether about rules and stuff, no weapons of the hand, just a large brown ball, which was required to be put into a daft string net which lived up a pole. Much leaping about and passing of said ball was to happen, dribbling (not with fear, this time-much) but No Running With the Ball (well, why in Hades name not? It happened some time ago and a whole new bloodsport emerged. Rugby) So the Amazons (again) had height upon their sides and worse, much worse than the jostling and shoving when like a sardine, caught between opposing whales, was the eau de Mum Roll-on and sweaty armpits. At nose level. Lovely. All good, clean (clean? CLEAN?) fun. Tennis hovers in position 3. Which was more than the balls did. Untaught, ignored and overheated in the blaze of the sun my partner(in crime) and I whacked balls inaccurately and enthusiastically into the hedge of conifers beyond the wire netting , the footpath from Thing Street and against the school perimeter. There, in the lovely resinous shade we would (apparently) be seeking energetically for the ball (see sanctions). In truth we poked about half-heartedly with the racquet head and nattered. The Games teacher did not seem to mind, she had other more sporty fish to fry….
Position 2 – swimming. Sounds wonderful – loved mucking about in the lovely cool water, nearly every suburban garden had either a pool or a neighbour with one. Happiness was an inflated tractor tyre inner tube. At school, one had to swim Lengths and Train for the annual Watery WetFest. The School Gala. Five houses pitted against one another for individual prizes, team cups, team spirit and on and on it went. The first and only gala – I nearly met my maker in the hideous traditional “Crocodile Race”. Picture this , a long line of green bathing costume and rubberhat girls. Top end, some aquatic Amazon with shoulders as wide as the Limpopo, honed by years of hurtling up and down the length of the pool doing butterfly. Then a diminishing selection along the years and abilities until the Tail-end Charlie, Form one lightweight cannon-fodder. Qui s’appelle, Moi. When I was not being heftily booted by the tummy by the legs in front I was submerged beneath the chlorine as Belinda Butterfly launched herself UP towards the finish line, dragging her madly clinging to the waist of the girl in front and breaststroke legs (no screw-kicks girls!) in her not inconsiderable wake. So the tail, outswum,outweighted and outgunned on all flanks sank, spluttered and clutched. A bit like an animated drogue. Adding nothing to forward progress. Henceforth, I became a non-swimmer. Interestingly, this reverse evolution went unnoticed. So finally – gymnastics. Occurred in the gym – so no sun to roast one, required defying gravity and becoming airborne in various manners. The enjoyment was solely due to my diminutive size, horse-vaulting and bar-walking and scrambling up those ladder things on the wall was relatively easy. At last, the hockey and netball heffalumps and supershoulder swimmers were reduced to size…They sweated and heaved and landed “plop” on the top of the horse, fell off the bar and wept at the bottom of the ladder things. Demonstrating due empathy I sniggered (quietly) and made encouraging “Oh do try again, Sh………., I’m sure you can!” noises (loudly) . Quid pro quo.