For two years of my dainty teenage development I went to an English boarding school in Taunton. A mixed one, yes, with BOYS and GIRLS living together on the same campus. All hormones and no sense. Bloody recipe for disaster.
The first day before term started, sitting on my bed next to my red mug and a saucepan after my parents had left, the thought crossed my mind like one of those aero banners, “well fuck, here I am then.”
You’re probably wondering why I had a mug and WTF, a saucepan? This will be hard for you people of the millennium to believe, but these were the days before microwaves, and even more surprisingly we used to boil the milk for our cocoa in a saucepan.
Cocoa, seriously, what were they thinking? There was more wishful thinking on the official issue what-to-bring-to-boarding-school list than you’d find on a teen boy’s fantasy lover team.
This is the list I would have provided:
- Maxi pack of condoms
- Map and redeemable voucher to the local Family Planning Clinic in town
- Vodka shot glass with refillable bottle of Smirnoff Blue
- Teddy Bear, because sometimes it all gets so messed up you need someone to cuddle who isn’t a teen boy on heat.
Anyway, cocoa, mug and saucepan it was. The rest I took care of.
On the first day of sport, I came face to face with Mrs Wickham. Archetypal sports mistress, grey hair slashed with a pair of blunt garden shears, calves like elephant knees (yes elephants have knees, did you know?) and a voice like the Lyme Regis foghorn. One of the official issue list items was a hockey stick and there I found myself, face to face with Mrs Wickham, hockey stick in hand, navy shorts and a T-Shirt, shivering in the autumn rain with no-clue-what-to-do.
Most of the girls in my year had come through the prep school and been playing hockey for at least four years already. Fresh out of the expat and London state school systems, I could belt out a decent rounders innings and had made it into the netball A’s a few times, but hockey?
“On the wing, you, there,” bellowed Mrs Wickham across the field at our straggled, gaggle of shivering schoolgirls. I spun around frantically to see who she was yelling at, until I realised in perfect synchronicity with the bottom falling out of my stomach, the Gorgon was yelling at me.
The wing, is that like the wing in netball? I launched myself across the field, faking certainty and landed on roughly where I think Wing Attack would stand on the netball court. My stomach was in my mouth, my heart thumping, still shivering as the Somerset sky dropped its best dairy cow rain bucket on my head. Ever wondered why England is so green? Ask a million hockey playing schoolgirls.
She blew the whistle, I started to run brandishing my brand new Gunn and Moore hockey stick, in my head I’m flying, until suddenly I realise, I’m running the wrong way.
“YOOOOOU” she yells, “off the field, don’t you know what you’re DOING, THIS IS HOCKEY?”
“No” I shiver, I’ve never played hockey before.”
“I’ve never played hockey before, MRS WICKHAM,” she thunders. “You’re useless on the field. Get off.”
Some of the jock girls started to snigger and point.
Suddenly she had an idea, I could see it forming in her head.
“Get over there and pad up, you can play in goal.”
Which is how I spent two cold, wet English winters running up and down the length of the sports field, in thigh length pads, clogs, sweaty gloves, and a helmet while the jock girls laughed and lobbed balls at me.
This is the first of many stories, shall we keep going?
What are some of your worst school memories?