Saturday, 22 September 2012

Move toTrevelyan School

                                                MOVE TO TREVELYAN SCHOOL

          Two years had passed and in August 1939 my mother and I returned to Brittany to stay at the Abbaye.  It was only four years since I had left there, but it seemed like a world away.  When we passed Mlle Abilly, the Mother Superior, on the stairs, she greeted me kindly but I shrank away from her.  I had become a nervous, very shy child.  My mother reproached me, but I was no longer used to the nuns in their long black robes and Mlle Abilly had always been a rather severe figure, even more so when I saw her then. I did not see Sister Yvonne, who must have been away.  My relationship with the nuns had changed.  I was no longer one of them, but one of the visitors.

Our visit was notable because we were on the brink of war with Germany.  Although one crisis came after another, there was still a carefree atmosphere amongst the holidaymakers and, much to the disapproval of the nuns, they continued to dance  in the hall at the end of the garden in the evenings.

It was the beginning of September when we were all told we had to leave France straight away.  We embarked hastily at St. Malo and arrived back in England to hear that war had already been declared.

With the outbreak of war, Dulcie and Maureen’s father decided it was time for them to return to New Zealand and they left Blackdown.  It was very soon after this that my mother and I also left.   The name of the new School we were going to was Trevelyan.

            Why did my mother decide to move to another school?  We were  happy where we were.  From my point of view it was a disaster.  I think that she probably felt I would be getting a better education, and also that I would be moving into a better social class, both of which meant nothing to me.  My mother was very aware of her own status, and always insisted on being called a Lady Cook-housekeeper.  As had been the case at Blackdown, my board and education were to be apart of her salary.

            I suppose also my mother might have thought of Trevelyan as a 'proper' school, and not just the dreamchild of Mrs. Hastings.  Trevelyan was a small, private school  for girls  in Haywards Heath in Sussex.  There was one large, redbrick building with about two acres of ground and garden. It was run on strict, almost military lines.  The girls all came from upper class, mostly wealthy, families.  It couldn’t have been more different from the relaxed, easygoing style of Blackdown.

            There were any number of rules and regulations which, if broken,  meant being  given an order mark.  If a girl got six order marks in a half term, she had to go and see the headmistress, which I invariably did.  Many of them were for the most trivial misdemeanours.  I was very absentminded and tended to forget things.  When we left our bedrooms after breakfast, we were not supposed to return to them, but I always forgot a handkerchief or my pencil box or some book. I would creep back to my room, hoping that the housemistress, who slept next door, would not be in.  She always was.  She was a large, bosomy Jamaican woman, Miss Jackman, and she towered over me.  I dreaded her.

            I was by no means a naughty child, but every half term I would find myself in the headmistress’s room being scolded for no reasons that I could understand.   The headmistress, Miss Frances, was a severe looking woman with cropped iron grey hair, and thin tight lips.  I did not warm to her.

I made no friends, as I had nothing in common with the other children.   I had lost my best friend Dulcie, with whom I had had fun and who, in many ways, had protected me.  I no longer saw my mother, as it was forbidden for me to go to her room.  Being naturally shy, I withdrew still more into myself.  Occasionally I made remarks which made them all laugh.  I remember being introduced to a new girl with the words “and this is the Fool.”  I wanted to sink into the floor at that point. 

I began to go around in a state of near permanent anxiety.  I missed Blackdown,  dear Mrs. Hastings and Miss Lane, with her snow-white hair and her kindness and encouragement.

            I was supposed to be getting free elocution lessons, normally an extra, as my mother must have sung my praises.  However, I completely failed to live up to my reputation. The elocution mistress, like Miss Frances,  was a rather cold, formal woman and my combination of shyness, nerves and fright meant that I completely dried up, becoming wooden and lifeless.  I never again displayed any talent in that direction.

            I can recall one mistress, Miss Redman, the history mistress, trying to be friendly to me, but I was too shy to respond.  This was the moment, I am sure, when I developed all the problems which would follow me into my adult life.  I retreated into reading books, my school work and writing.  I amused myself by creating a magazine of which I was the Editor and wrote all the articles and stories.  I still remember one phrase which I wrote: “the salt tears ran down her face and into her gaping mouth”!

             I was clearly not getting on too well, and it was decided that I should go from the Middle School down to the Junior School.   I now found myself with girls a year younger than I was.   I was twelve at the time.  In some ways this was better for me as I felt more at ease with the younger girls.

 There were two sisters whom I remember well, Elisabeth and Helen Birdwood:  their father was a general.  Elisabeth, the older one, was very pretty and it was she who had introduced me as “the Fool.”  I now found myself with Helen, the younger sister.  She was not as pretty as her sister, but a much nicer girl  and we became quite friendly.

            Then disaster struck.  One night in the dormitory Helen and I were playing around, we had taken our pyjamas off and were rolling over each other naked.  It was an innocent game:  we thought we were being deliciously naughty, and we were giggling away.  At that moment the door opened and in walked the matron, Miss Harkness, a large woman, with a florid complexion. She was as starchy as her uniform. 

            We sprang apart. She looked at us with shocked surprise.

            “Whatever are you up to?   Daphne!  Put something on and come with me.”

            She hurried me away and I was put in the sick room to sleep, where I stayed for the next few nights.

            I was now in the doghouse.  Being the eldest, I was held responsible, though I do not think it was even my idea.  I remained segregated in the sick room, and was visited a day or so later by a child psychologist.  I remember him as a kindly and approachable man.  We talked and he asked me questions, and he formed the opinion, rightly, that our play had been perfectly innocent.

            Whilst I was being kept in the sick room I had plenty of time to reflect, and I was as puzzled as ever as to why I was being kept apart from the others, as though I had some contagious disease!  I received a worried note from my mother asking me if I had been telling them “SAY stories.”  What she had actually written was “SEX”, but I read it as “SAY” and I had no idea what she meant. In those days we were very ignorant about all sexual matters, and I was probably even more so, having no father and no brothers.

            The psychologist’s visit was, however, to have a profound effect on my life.  He had come to the conclusion that it was not a good thing for me to be in the same school where my mother was the cook-housekeeper.  Cooking at that time was regarded as a menial occupation, and my mother would have been seen as a servant. 

            I was still doing well in my school studies.  It was decided that I should try and get a scholarship to another boarding school.  I took several exams for different schools, and I finally obtained a scholarship to a minor public school in North Wales.  It was called Lowther College.

            This was a very distressing time for me and I remember hardly anything about it, nor how my mother felt.  She must obviously have been very upset.  My mother had been going deaf for some time now;  even at Blackdown she had worn a large, unwieldy deaf aid tucked down her front and this made it much harder to talk to her.  Now, coupled with her own reticence, we hardly seem to have communicated at all.

            The time came for me to leave Trevelyan.  I did not regret it.  I had one or two good memories:  wrestling with Mary Jackson down in the bunkers during the air raids;  writing a poem to Jean Abel-Smith, who was a cousin of the  queen and making her laugh;  telling ghost stories in the dorm, for which I had developed a talent.

  I was about thirteen and a half years old and I was leaving with a strong inferiority complex and a complete lack of confidence in myself.

It was the middle of the war.  My mother left Trevelyan soon after I did and went to work at a school in Malvern called Lawnside, whilst I started my new life at Lowther College.




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