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Week 14 - School's Out!

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Tuesday, 09 July 2013
The Summer Term is drawing to a close and the Headmaster has been seen pacing his office mouthing what we assume to be his Commemoration Speech to the portraits of our past glorious leaders in their frames. The gardeners have been working into the night to prep and preen the borders around "quad" and chase any wannabe croquet players off with a steely glare (and rumour has it a rather sharp pitching fork). The 1st Cricket XI are lined up for an Exhibition match against the Old Boys and everyone is in high spirits at the prospect of a leisurely month and a half off. One of my Removes attempted to greet me today with a high-five so it has been confirmed that morale is solid. Lights Out Ladies

There are also nerves about, the end of year apparently brings the customary end of year pranks by the school leavers and staff are second-guessing what treats they might be in store for this year. The Head of Religious Studies told me that last year Mr Taylor, the College organist, had been hospitalised for a week after a "minor myocardial infarction" on discovering the pupils had wrapped his organ in cling film and graffitied the outside of it. Everyone seems on tenter-hooks.

All of this was far from my mind as I raced down for a late breakfast in the Dining Room on the last day of term. Turning the corner sharply and reaching for a tray I looked up. I'd missed breakfast. The whole hall, practically two tennis courts in length and width, was empty. And not just of people and food but of tables and chairs. I checked my watch, panic rising that I was in fact late for Period 1. At the same moment I heard a babble of voices and, realising it was coming from outside in Quad walked to the double doors at the opposite side of the hall. It seemed the whole College had reconvened. Staff and pupils were talking through mouths of croissant as the dining staff looked on in bewilderment. Every table and chair had been placed outside in the exact same layout as inside.

Across the quad I could just make out Ian, the Head Gardener, standing stock still staring at the scene, a large pitch fork in his left hand and a menacing look in his eye...

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Summer term - Week 13

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 01 July 2013
I have been reliably informed by most of the Staff Common Room that this week is the most important week of the year. I wrinkled my nose on hearing this for the third time. Lights Out Ladies

A levels are over, GCSE's are done and dusted. Are we being inspected?

Oh no. It is the annual election of the JSGB.

Every year the school waits with bated breath for the announcement of the new members of the JSGB - the Junior School Governing Body. Pupils have to apply, by hand, for a position on the governing body. They are then selected for interview with the Headmaster and Second Master. The shortlisted candidates for President of the JSGB (or the prospective 'PJSGB's') are then invited to write a speech to deliver to the other pupils. A vote is held, the Headmaster and Second Master confer and then the entire body of twelve pupils is announced and the PJSGB is crowned (literally - the school decided against a badge when they discovered a C15th pewter crown acting as a bookend in the Geography department).

This year the contest has been heavily contested and the staffroom have been split. Felix and Gerald - two excellent candidates, both classists and both on the Cricket 1st XI. Both complete chinless wonders in my opinion.

Gerald wins through the day after his Father's Rolls was seen outside the Headmaster's house. His position is confirmed in the same breath as the news that the school has finally found the money needed to resurface the astro pitch.

Felix is seen smashing out his frustration in the nets and Gerald spends the rest of the week bossing people about in a special striped waistcoat and telling them all that as PJSGB he can lie in on Saturdays, marry Matron and keep a goat on school grounds.

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Summer Term - Week 11

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Sunday, 16 June 2013
I was summoned to an interview at the end of last week. Well, actually, I was just summoned. I wasn't aware it was an interview until I walked into the Headmaster's Office and found him sitting there, in the middle of a panel of the Senior Management team (or 'SMT') all staring at me. Well, actually, I wasn't aware even then that it was an interview. The clue came when the Headmaster stood up from the middle of the panel, beckoned me to a forbidding lone leather chair opposite them and stated, "Thank you for coming into interview."
Befuddled I sat quickly in the chair wondering what exactly I was being interviewed for, I was fairly sure I had a job. At the school. They'd employed me a little over two months ago. Had it all been a dream?

"Well Clare, you've made a positive start at the school and we have been vry vry impressed by you."

"Oh good," I said shifting in the leather seat so that an inelegant squeak echoed round the room. I coughed, feeling a blush creep up my neck, "Well it's a lovely school," I said.

The Head of Co-Curricular dabbed at his bald patch with a spotted handkerchief whilst nodding in agreement. The Second Master gave me a crooked smile, no teeth. I made the squeaking sound again.

"Well we wanted to get you in and talk to you about picking up the reins of our gals house next year," the Headmaster explained. Mesmerised by his choice of attire today (a twin striped red Oxford University tie coupled with a duck egg blue waistcoat - quite the combo) it was a moment before his words sunk in.

"Oh," I spluttered, "Yes this has been mentioned to me, but, well I'm not sure I have adequate experience running a gal, I mean a girl's, house," I said.
"Piffle," came his reply as he stood up, "You have 29 years of ample experience and we will support you all the way."

"Right well I, you see, the thing is..."

"So that's decided then," he smiled at me, holding out a large hand for me to take.

"Sor... Is it?" I said getting slowly to my feet and shaking the hand proferred automatically. He stepped around the panel, "Yes we thing you'd be very good. Marvellous, marvellous, well we best get on," he said opening his office door for me and calling to his PA, "Get the contracts put together will you Angela, Housemistress."

Without looking at the rest of the panel I stumbled towards the door and then I was out, standing mouthing at the air as Angela bustled about her office smiling at me sympathetically.

"You'll be fine," she said. She sounded so unsure.

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Summer Term - Week 9

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 03 June 2013
It's exam season so a lot of the pupils are off timetable on 'Study Leave'. This means they don't attend lessons so they can work quietly in their rooms in their boarding house. Although some appear to be doing this, a lot are definitely using 'Study Leave' to spend a decent amount of time reducing their handicap on the school's golf course. A mere 18 hole course stretching 6,000 yards.

I visited the girl's boarding house last night to help one AS level group with their history revision. A lot of the girls were in their rooms surrounded by neat colour-coded flashcards, A3 sheets filled with nonsensical mind maps and highlighted words lining the walls. Some of the GCSE students were learning for their French oral the next day,

"Oui Miss, it's like totally difficile yah," whilst others were playing music in their rooms and teaching each other Maths.

The house was quiet around ten o'clock and my housemistress - a formidable woman with a sizeable bust emerged to invite me into her house for a refreshment. Sherry. I sat perched on the edge of her sofa as she moved through her kitchen fetching me a drink. A lazy ginger cat opened one eye to take me in and then returned to shedding her hairs all over the cushy leather sofa. All around the walls there were pictures of men and women rowing, she's been to Oxfooord and had got a blue. Over the mantelpiece clipped into place was a large oar spanning almost the entire length of the room.

"Well old gal," she said tinking my glass, "Thanks for tonight."

"Not at all," I said, taking a tentative sip of my drink.

"I've got you here under slightly false pretences," she barked. I straightened up, on guard.

"You see I'm orf at the end of the academic year and I wanted to sound you out as to whether you would ever consider becoming a Housemistress."

She paused waiting for me to say something.

I laughed nervously, "Oh, well. Um... That's very flattering," I said, looking around the room, "I hadn't really thought about it in all honesty."

"Well frankly we're horribly short on women in the staffroom and the gals seem to like you. You'd do a grand job I'm sure."

"Well I..."

"Have a think about it why don't you?"

"Well um... isn't that kind of job advertised and well..."

"Oh we put a little something on our website but we don't want maddos or nutters applying so we tend to try and keep it in-house so to speak and the Headmaster wondered whether I'd have a word.

Did he, I thought. Oh goodness.

Did he...

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Summer Term - Week 6

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 13 May 2013
I've been allotted chapel duty every Wednesday morning. This involves turning up to tick my tutor group in. I've had no problems so far - although eight o'clock in the morning does seem to smack of extremism - and all my pupils have appeared at the correct time (although Gus has written to the Headmaster claiming he is an atheist and chapel is therefore an infringement on his basic human rights as laid out in "damned Europe" - Gus has been told in no uncertain terms that if he does not appear on Wednesday he will be doing "damned detention").

I appear with my tick list and feel relief when I see Gus's sullen face in one of the front pews. I'm expecting the usual routine - hymn, talk, prayers and then escape to breakfast - but realise something is a little different this morning when we are asked to stand and the chaplain doesn't appear.

Just when we are all craning our necks and wondering what is happening a man bursts in and strides up the aisle kicking a football. It's an extraordinary show as he dribbles down the aisle dressed in priestly attire, skirts flapping. He leaps onto the raised platform and seizes the lectern.

"Good morning everybody I'm Andrew," he announces in the same tone as a breakfast presenter, "and Father Paul has kindly invited me here to talk to you today."

We give him nothing. A sea of faces all focusing on the croissants that await us in a few short minutes. It might be waffle day...

"I do a lot of school visits and wanted to," - pause, points to football, "kick it off in a positive way."

He makes a face like a magician saying 'Ta Da' and I try to rouse a laugh. There is an interminably long silence as he looks around the room.

He begins a long, rambling sermon which draws upon a parable about the meek and the need to be nice to them. To be honest I lost the gist a little and started staring at the scenes depicted in the stained glass windows around me. There were a disproportionately high number of very naked men.

Lights Out Ladies!

I clearly missed the moment when it all began but before I had really registered what was going on there was sniggering. A lone prefect - Captain of Rugby I later learnt - had taken it upon himself to save us all. Far from meek he had stood up and started to sing the school hymn. I stared over at his solo rendition, horribly off-key, in surprise. The rest of the year hastily jump to their feet, laughing out the words and join in. The organist, asleep in a slump after one too many wines the night before, jerks awake, panics and starts to play. We all start to sing. Befuddled: slow. Even the Headmaster is seen mouthing the words.

I imagine Andrew might not be visiting us again.

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Summer Term - Week 3

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Saturday, 20 April 2013
I have been at Brockfield House for less than 48 hours and have already been signed up for First Aid Training, Fire Training and a Minibus Driving Test. I am standing outside the office of the Second Master who needs to sign a green form for me that gives me permission for being out of school the following week. It's called a 'greenie' which I think is hilarious but have no friends yet to laugh with about that.

He appears in the little window of the doorway which makes me jump back and yelp. He opens the door and beckons me in. His office is like a cell in a monastery. A desk, a sofa, a bookshelf with philosophical tomes and little else. It is cold and I instantly hope he can sign my greenie and I can be on my way.

"And how are you finding things?" he asks.

"I am enjoying it, it's very new, I am well." I babble this quickly, like a shopping list, practically able to see my breath in the air.

"I am drawing up a Risk Assessment for a trip to the cinema," he chuckles inexplicably and points to his desk.


"The Hobbit." He laughs again.

I smile sympathetically and explain the greenie.

"The Headmaster will need to sign that," he says handing it back.

"I'm not sure he's here today."

"He's not."


I wait for a solution. I get:

"He's at the opera this evening."

Silence. I turn to leave.

"La Boheme."

"That's nice."

"He prefers Madame Butterfly."

"Who doesn't!" (I have never been to the opera and this is NOT the right response.)

I have to sit on the sofa, I have to be educated. I learn about opera. For the next half an hour.

I wonder when I should tell him I'm meant to be teaching Year 10 in 5 minutes for the first time.

I wonder, again, how I got here.

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Summer Term - Week 2

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 15 April 2013
"Gentleman and Ladies." The Headmaster claps his hand together and we all fall silent. It is break time and I'd been mid-reach for one of the world's smallest tea cups. I have missed the moment. Andy (PE) puts his biscuit whole into his mouth, smiling at me apologetically as I hastily try to look away.

The Headmaster's PA is huffing as she drags a mannequin into the staffroom behind him. Her arm is hooked over the slender neck of the rigid female figure as she drags her across the Common Room floor. She props her into a standing position, rearranges her necktie and neatly smoothes down her skirt before exiting with muttered words and reddened cheeks.

The staffroom, Senior Common Room or "SCR" as it is known, is full to bursting for Morning Notices. Enormous sofas, well worn, are all occupied, teachers are propped against the walls which are lined with severe-looking portraits of past Wardens of the College. One is pictured seated at an ornate desk, one pointing at the artist. Nearly all have dogs. The Headmaster claps his hands. They are walnut brown from an Easter holidays skiing in Verbier. This morning he has combed his hair backwards into a rather neat quiff.

"I hope you've all had a splendid rest and are ready for the challenge of a new term." He claps his hands together again.

Most people are looking at the mannequin.

I am wondering whether to leg it out of the nearest exit and back to London.

He points to the mannequin, "Meet our new pupil," he begins, then he looks around at us all. There is a rumble of polite laughter. I fix a smile on my face, trying desperately to focus on what he is saying. The mannequin looks as vacant as I feel.

Perhaps realising he has lost his audience already he circles her/it. "This is what I want," he announces, "As you know we have accepted a whole cohort of girls (pronounced 'gals') to the school this year and I want them to look like this."

He gestures to the mannequin who is dressed in a simple knee length navy blue skirt, a rather thin, cheap looking white shirt and an alarming orange necktie that would not have looked out of place on an aeroplane. In the 1980s.

"Note the length of the skirt, note the shirt, tucked in and note the neat knot." And so it continues... for 10 minutes. Tea has gone cold, teachers are fidgeting and Andy is looking longingly back at the remaining tray of biscuits.

It is at the end of all this that the Headmaster turns in my direction and gestures towards me. "And as you have no doubt noticed we have taken on a new member of staff too." If I had tea I would have spilt some.

I try to look confident, glance at the faces turned towards me. "Clare here will be taking over in the History department and will run our rounders teams this term (will I!?!), so do introduce yourself and make her welcome."

A whole horde of men, or as it seems to me a sea of tweed, turns towards me nodding and mumbling a welcome. I can feel my face blending in with the burgundy velvet curtains behind me.

It is my first day at Brockfield House, my old life in London seems a million miles away already. I nod back wondering how I am going to fit in. Then I stare at my navy blue kitten heels, so slender, so feminine, and realise it might take more than a new wardrobe. The headmaster's secretary reappears, rolls up her sleeves, seizes the mannequin once more and drags her out, feet first.

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Summer Term - Week 1

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Sunday, 07 April 2013
My new Headmaster is standing next to me, wearing a candy-floss pink waistcoat coupled with a startling floral tie, introducing me to the Deputy Head of Co-Curricular, a small bald man holding half a biscuit, a smudge on his glasses. I can't hear what he is saying because I am still trying to work out what his job title actually involves, and whether my Headmaster's tie is worn in irony.

I'm not really sure how I have ended up here.

Last month I was bored and scanning The Lady in the little staffroom of Greycoats Comprehensive in South London. A 1,400 strong secondary school lagging in the league tables, constantly short of money for various building work, so much so that my classroom looked like a large portaloo on stilts.

Keith (IT) was holding court about his girlfriend (imaginary) and I was trying to block him out scanning the page of adverts whilst wondering what to teach Year 9 the period after break. I spilt some drops of coffee on the 'Jobs' Page and I noticed this quaint advert in the corner. A stock photograph of smiling happy, uniformed pupils taken against the most incredible backdrop. Fields of green stretching away, neat fluffs of little white clouds and then a gorgeous honey-coloured manor house, roses trained around the windows. Even the font was romantic, all swirly and enticing. I was transported instantly into the pages of a Mallory Towers novel, expecting a girl to appear in the window holding a pillow from a recent fight, or a group to run out from behind the building holding wooden lacrosse sticks.

"And then she said..."

Keith was still trying to share but with rampant enthusiasm I reached out, tore the corner of the page, hopped up and legged it to the computer in the corner of our ageing, browning staffroom. Post-it notes scattered the screen warning of future inspections, the extension number for the school nurse and a reasonably offensive picture of what I think was meant to be David Beckham. I logged on and started typing.

Three days later I had left the smog of London and was racing though the countryside on a train, feeling my lungs expand with every mile we passed. After a successful interview I handed in my notice and accepted maternity cover here, at Brockfield House to be a teacher/housemistress. A co-educational boarding school in Dorset numbering 450. I'd packed my life into boxes, announced it on Facebook (which made it real - 14 likes) and moved into a cottage in the school next to a meandering little stream.

And now I'm standing in this enormous staffroom being steered round by a man who looks like one quarter of a barber shop quartet. I feel afraid...

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