We were visited at the weekend by Youngest’s friend who has just started at boarding school. Her parents had moved to yet another foreign posting and the international school she was attending there for the last year was proving unsuitable. She is happy to be at the boarding school, settling in well and loving being with her big sister who’s been there a couple of years – to do GCSEs and now A levels. The food is only OK, the work stimulating, the children friendly and the pace pretty relentless… while they’re there. They work longer days than my girls in their comprehensive school, Monday to Saturday lunchtime, but have much longer holidays.
We enjoyed a lively discussion driving home on Friday evening about how much boarding had changed, and how much had stayed the same. Although hers is a mixed school the boys and girls live in separate houses. They sleep 3 to a room in bunk-style with their own colourful sheets and duvets, use the washing machines and tumble dryers in house, choose from a buffet style selection of food in a whole school dining-room and do oodles of sport. They can be full boarders or part-time, and they can be away from school every weekend – assuming they have somewhere to go. (Last weekend her Mum was still here so she was out with her, this weekend to us, next one to Granny, the one after on a French trip and then half-term when she and her sister will fly home for a fortnight.) Eldersister has only visited us once in three years, she prefers to stay in school with the other children who live abroad. I wonder if this is her way of coping?
At my boarding school we slept in dormitories on iron beds with hospital-cornered, crisp, white sheets and blankets. Our laundry went to a laundrette once a week in a little box tied with string: mending and sewing on nametapes were an important Saturday morning activity if you wanted to see your stuff again. School meals were not chosen but served at the table and we ate what we were given. I learnt to drink tea and eat pretty much anything because otherwise you went hungry (and famously got into trouble for not eating cold pilchards and coleslaw, a Sunday night delight.) It was largely traditional fare, but curry in the early 1970s was a revelation, and kippers a shock! (Apparently I had to eat all the bones; I like kippers now, but as an 11 year-old...) We had the half-term break plus two weekends, one in each half term, and a couple of days. When my parents were in the UK I went to them, if not to my Granny, usually taking a friend who lived abroad.
I rescued Friendabroad, and mother of Youngest’s friend, last Monday. She rang in bits having said good-bye to her girls the night before. Together we finished the tasks she needed to complete before she flew home, and then I cosseted her here and took her to the airport on Tuesday. She and her daughter had a long phone call yesterday. They text one another too. And e-mail, and skype. Mother and I wrote once a week without fail.
They are a demonstrative family: emotion is expressed in word and hug. With them we do the same. And we have other friends with whom likewise. But not with them all! Schoolfriend and I have to make a real decision to hug: it just wasn’t what we did when we were 14. Ditto with Mother. She and I developed, from the word go, the walk-away-and-get-on-with-it mode of parting. (I tease her to this day about the promised cream tea in town with her on my first evening in boarding school that turned into beans on bread and margarine with the other girls!)
It is lovely to show you care, but there are times when it is much easier to cope if you don’t.