Fire practises were termly, I think. It was the only time that we were officially allowed out onto the ladders outside the windows. The important thing to remember was to put on our navy knickers before alighting down the ladder. The reason given was that the fire men would not be able to see anything interesting as we descended. We got up to one bell and had to wash at our wash stands in cold water. In the winter time it would be necessary to unbend your stiff flannel before it could be of any use, and sometimes crack the ice as well. The next bell was 15 minutes later when you really had to get out of bed if you had refused to jump before, then the next two bells where 5 minutes apart when we could have our Quiet Time. I wonder if that is still encouraged today? It set a good pattern for many of us in our later years.
Blanket shaking had to be done once termly. I wonder if they told us about bed bugs, I know we all thought the operation was a total waste of time. My friend Davina was a real rebel and we were thrilled when a mysterious flying loo roll came hurtling out of the first floor toilet window, and caught Miss Winter sharply on the back of her head. It was a good thing it was near the end of term.
Polly always had a little tray of a squeezed orange to which she added a small jug of water, I was so envious of her luxury food and would have so loved to have some too. We were not allowed to ask for anything for ourselves at the table. So if you wanted the salt it was the form to say “would YOU like some salt?” and you hoped your neighbour would take the hint. There was a special rhythm which Miss Winter asked for the marmalade which used to make us all giggle. It sounded like da-di-da with the emphasis on the lade. French table with Mademoiselle O’Connor was always a challenge for me, especially if you got the chair beside her. We all wondered what was the cause of the scar in the middle of her forehead. The rumour was that it was a bullet wound from some exciting encounter in her youth.
Sunday evenings would be a pleasant time. Polly would read us chapters of books which were suitably vetted and of sound moral code. We used to do our mending, usually of the dreaded lisle stockings, or knitted our termly Mission garment. These garments were sent up to the poor and needy in Peckham, London. I sometimes wonder how many of them got to their destination. The weird shapes and dropped stitches must have looked a sad sight. I used to take my grubby half side of a matinee jacket back at half term, where my grandmother would put in 12 hours of devoted service, and then return with the job mysteriously near completion. Stocking inspections were the dread of our lives. Not only were they meant to be mended with no holes or ladders, but you were also meant to have 6 pairs. As I got bolder I used to have a cunning way of placing the inspected stocking behind me and bring it back for a second recycled tour a few minutes later. I felt very guilty for being dishonest but desperate measures were called for. Polly had a special stool onto which you had to sit, at her feet when you had done something wrong. She had a commanding position over you, and the session would usually include the words “what would your Mother and Father think about this?” It seemed the only way to bring the session to an end was by weeping bitterly, which would bring the interview to a close. However one continued to live under a cloud of disapproval for weeks afterwards. I think it would have been better to have had a beating and get it sorted and convicted and then forgotten.
Miss Winter had a small dog called Mickey, a Yorkshire terrier. I think. Whenever she came into the Common room this little rat would follow her. The lino was quite difficult for the poor thing to get a quick start when she was leaving. The big aim for us all was to shut the door with Mickey our side after she had left. We would gather round him and give him quite a difficult time. Knitting needles were useful weapons of torture, no wonder he was so nervous. On one occasion my friend Davina came rushing into the Common room and dived under the table. “Don’t tell them I’m here.” she gasped, just as the door opened. “Has anyone seen Davina?” asked Miss Winter. A hand on my ankle pulled me in two directions. “I saw her this morning” I said truthfully. Mickey had meanwhile sniffed out the trembling child under the table. Would he spill the beans? On reflection Mickey wasn’t such a bad dog after all. We were quite nice to him after that.
In the winter term, my hot water bottle unfortunately burst one night. It totally soaked the mattress and bedding. Fearing that it would look as if I had wet myself I resolved to stick it out and not tell anyone. I remember the weeks of discomfort as I lay with my legs either side of the damp patch. I then remember Polly having me into her sitting room.
“Do you know anything about a large watermark which we found on a mattress cover at the end of term?” “We have asked the whole House if they know anything about it, you are the last one we are asking” and later, “Janice we know it must be something to do with you because there is a water stain on the lino underneath your bed.” At last I was cornered. I had to admit it was me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Polly. I think the story shows how terrified I was of her wrath, and how often I lied, hoping to not get caught.
Another time we had a House outing to Wilton House. We were privileged to be taken through the private apartments. As we walked through the dining room, we passed a large bowl of strawberries on the sideboard. The temptation was too much for me, and I helped myself to one of them. Of course I was spotted by some honest prefect and it was back to the discipline of Polly’s penance stool.