went to boarding school in the 80s. My brothers and sisters also went, and my parents attended in their era; they thought it would be a great experience for us, so my family made considerable sacrifices for it to happen (cos cheap it ain’t!). But I bloody hated it, and I think it’s effects on the formulation of my personality, attitudes and my ability to express emotion have been detrimental – let me explain.
OK, I was lucky and didn’t start too young (some begin their career at 8) but those are tender, formative years to be standing alone, dealing with: study difficulties, personal interaction, homesickness and health/hygiene to name a few of the challenges. Sure I learned to cope, but it made me internalise a lot, I hardened up, built a wall. Back then, phone calls were limited, 2 incoming a week and no privacy to talk (the phone was in a foyer), and not everybody is a letter writer (I love it, my blog is probably the modern version of it!)
Please ditch the idea that boarding school reflects the fun & capers in Enid Blyton’s books (Mallory Towers) or the adventures to be had at Hogwarts – although in the HP vein I’d like to warn you that there are always ‘Draco Malfoy’ types at a private school, sneering from a position of money and privilege, enjoying the humiliation of those less fortunate than themselves. Many of those who attend boarding school cope by bullying, I experienced this but only, mildly, my strategy was to stay under the radar. I know all schools are populated with cool kids, jocks, brainiacs, attention seekers, the rich and some just-scraping-by pupils (that’d be me) bottom of the pile with handed-down uniform like a true ‘Weasley’. Luckily my school was a bit messed up – there was kudos in having old style uniform (I had my sister’s) – at my school anything new or too ‘try hard’ was frowned on. However, even in the relatively label free era of the 80s people would ask me snidely where I bought my clothes. They shopped at Selfridges, Harvey Nicks, Harrods, I trawled market stalls as I didn’t even live near a town with big stores!
So basically I didn’t really ‘fit’ – I wasn’t sporty but I was quite bright (yeah – that brought troubles of its own!) I scraped by to conform with clothes and posessions, I avoided conversations about vacations, but on the plus side my family was nearby and I could go home, which I did as many weekends as I could, sometimes taking a friend out of school.
Fast forward to me no longer at school but in a job locally (I didn’t have the nerve to apply for work in London) and once again I didn’t fit! I have a plummy accent, I didn’t go to the same school (or pubs or football matches) as my colleagues. Nobody knew what to make of me but I sensed my boss liked to show me off, taking dictation or serving coffee to his visitors. I probably should have aimed higher but boarding school had left me with low self-confidence, meeting new people made me blush and feel tongue-tied (boarding school is a small community, only a few new faces each term).
For a long time I didn’t want to date boys who’d been educated similarly to me, Hooray Henrys made me feel inferior, anyway I was attracted to ‘a bit of rough’. The drawback was that after a while with them I’d act like a brat, getting all superior. Their families didn’t understand me either, I suspect they found me standoffish.
Even my OH (we’ve been married for 25 years) sometimes finds me cold and detached, although we’ve talked about my boarding school experience and he believes it’s the way I learned to deal with things: not caring about anything too much, showing a poker face rather than emotion. I fiercely adore him and my children, and I hope I’ve shown them all the love, pride, hope and appreciation I have buried inside me.
Two friends told me recently that I give off a very ‘calm’ vibe, so maybe there’s an up-side to all these buttoned up feelings! Often people don’t realise they’ve pressed my ‘angry’ buttons until they go too far and I flip out! Getting angry, akin to crying, is something I am ashamed to do in public. [Fellow blogger Biblious1 & I have discussed this – read his post here]. I am also polite – so polite – and obedient! which can sometimes be a hindrance to honesty. I’m a people pleaser, born of my deep desire to fit and not be rejected.
It is hard to separate nurture from nature, but I think there are some clear ‘footprints’ that spending formative years away from my family, fending for myself, out of my comfort zone financially and socially, have left on my personality.
I’ve attended 2 school reunions, the first in a hotel in London where it was fascinating to see how little my cohort had changed on a surface level. The condescending girls hadn’t felt the need to change and the friendly, interesting ones were still that – friendly and interesting. Last summer we met again, this time at school, so were able to look around the buildings, which pulled things into perspective and put some demons to rest. It looked an underwhelming establishment to me, on the decline, most girls don’t board nowadays and the facilities weren’t keeping up with modern schooling requirements. (My children’s state school was better equipped).
One girl (still vapid and arrogant) sidled up to me “Do you remember those dirty stories you used to write?” she asked me, giggling, “we used to pass them round the dormitory at night.”
“Yes I do.” I took a deep breath, I hadn’t yet decided if I’d share this or not. “I write erotica now.”
“Ooo you didn’t tell me that!” said an interesting girl I’d been chatting to over lunch.
“I hadn’t got round to it!” I laughed as vapid girl moved off, taking her new piece of gossip back to the vultures at her table.
What I learned from a day spent with old classmates is that, despite being a grown-up and trying not to bear decade old grudges, I still had no inclination to get to know the girls who I hadn’t enjoyed conversing with back then. I also learned that during our time at boarding school we’d all been wrestling with our own problems, while imagining that everyone was ‘dealing’ better than we were – all boarding school ‘survivors’ to varying extents.