Friday, 31 January 2014

Schools for Young Ladies

I wonder how many MTF women think about how it might have been if they had actually lived the life of a young girl, including attending school as one. By all accounts, it would have been an interesting but not necessarily stress-free experience!

In my own case, I am talking about the years 1957 (when I was five) to 1970 (when I was eighteen), with particular emphasis on the grammar school years from 1963 to 1970. Forget how modern schools now are. Forget fantasy schools like Hogwarts. My real-life grammar school was a chalk-and-talk world controlled by bossy and fussy teachers in gowns who mostly inspired fear, and could freely inflict punishments on erring pupils. If you ever saw the film Dead Poets Society (1989), then you'll understand the ethos relentlessly imposed in any kind of 'good school' in those days.

My own grammar school in Southampton was not quite as strict and conservative as that. But I had nevertheless been terrified at the thought of going there, having unwisely seen the film Tom Brown's Schooldays (1951). I feared that I would be bullied by sadists, with some kind of monstrous Flashman as their leader, and quickly end up being roasted in front of an open fire with the full approval of the masters. The reality was, thank goodness, much more reasonable, although it was always a paternal, no-nonsense institution that tolerated no dissent or rebellion, certainly no individuality or difference, and only barely placed academic success above gung-ho prowess at games. I never came to change my views on 'school life' one whit. It was an open prison, a soul destroyer, and nothing else.

Obviously I can't say first-hand how it was at the equivalent girls' grammar school on the other side of Southampton Common. One could only speculate! But M--- had many dire tales of how it was for her at the Surrey County High School for Girls at Reigate, which I would jokingly refer to as 'Reigate High', with herself as one of the 'Class of 1955'. It seems that the sweet old dears who limply taught The Girls in gentle traditional subjects likely to be of use in the home were outnumbered by sharp severe spinsters with a taste for torture. M--- did mention that she and her special friends would giggle their way through every class, but even so, the sanctions imposed sounded very repressive. It seemed little different from what my Mum said of her own school in Newport, back in the 1930s, when for instance a strict keep-to-the-left-side system was in force on staircases, and she got slapped hard for having to step around two chatting teachers and thus being forced to break the Rule. Staggering unfairness! I sincerely hope that in 2014 no school in the land employs teachers who think they can behave like capricious tyrants. Indeed, I hope that nowadays both teachers and students know how to conduct themselves as adults.

Which brings me on to posh schools for Young Ladies. We have a very well-known one in Brighton: Roedean. It may have been the very model for The Girls of St Trinians in the past, but surely not now. Check out their website at The set-up looks fabulous. It might (were I now in my teens) transform my ideas on what a school is, and what it can do for me. There are a few preliminary considerations of course, the chief one being Daddy's income, with each term (as a day girl) costing around £6,000, or (as a boarder) £10,000. Naturally, the school uniform, extra-curricular activities, outings, trips, and so on are all extra. I doubt whether, if boarding, and participating fully in the opportunities provided by the school, it would cost much less than £40,000 each year. But let's dream on, and assume that the parental budget can cope. And that one would emerge as a perfectly-polished and confident person, fitted absolutely for Uni, a great career, and possibly a society marriage!

I'm assuming that the school is well-protected and beyond the reach of local drug dealers, and the sort of cynical young men who would corrupt a sweet girl of poise and sensibility. Indeed, for many years, one got the impression that Roedean was a fortress, a kind of Colditz Castle. Here's a photo I took in 2001, and even though it is a sunny day, the school looks grey and forbidding:

No escape possible! Doubtless the grounds were patrolled at night by guards with radios and dogs. At some point in more recent years the exterior got a makeover, and is now cream-coloured - much nicer. Roedean stands in an isolated position on the east edge of Brighton, with a sweeping sea view. These shots, taken the other day, show how it is:

Let's say 42 Commando plan to attack the school. Tide permitting, and on a moonless night, they paddle towards the shore at 3.00am in an inflatable launched from a submarine. Naturally, soaked in testosterone as they are, the vertical chalk cliffs are no obstacle, just a quick leap up really, and within minutes they are in close formation on the turf and moving stealthily towards the perimeter fence. The dogs are quickly dealt with. Skilfully stepping over the trip wires and ducking under the infra-red beams, they noiselessly enter the courtyard and prepare to tackle the front door with grenades and smoke bombs... Yes, it would be so simple. And how thrilling for the girls! Rescued by armed frogmen!

Nothing so exciting happened when I was at school. You too?


  1. No need to scale the cliffs, just use the not so secret tunnel from the beach;

  2. My old neighbour went to Roedean where he was taught to behave in a manner befitting a flying officer... I think the girls must have been decanted for the duration of the war incase the frogmen were Germans intent on no good.

    We must have gone to similar prison camps, not a place for a delicate soul like me. Interestingly in searching for the one person from that past I wanted to be in touch with I started at the school site and not knowing my "year" got the one prior to mine and there was a picture of a very glamorous woman who attended an all boys school, who would have thought? We clearly both hid it fairly well.

    I to had heard of possible bullies and could not understand how something like that could be tolerated in a school which had already had 666 years to work out education. One day it happened and I was hit from behind and took a while to get my breath back, I was so incensed I walked into the group of thugs and hit the ringleader once as hard as I could and walked away as he fell to the ground, I never got bothered again. I must have been incensed because any form of fighting is abhorrent to me and that was the only time I have ever been involved in such a situation.

    My sister's schools did not have teachers from Oxford and Cambridge but they actually enjoyed their school days.

    1. 666 years? That's interesting........

      Shirley Anne x


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford