“So,” said a well-meaning, upper class Italian friend of the Doctor’s family to me recently, “You’ll be sending them to boarding school, then?”
I laughed back gently. “Oh no,” I said. “That is one decision we will never have to deliberate over.”
Because, even if they succumb to the ‘Harry Potter’ effect and beg to go, even if we could ever afford it, even if we lived on the moon, I will never, ever send my Littleboys to boarding school.
Reluctant Memsahib, out in the bush, has been reflecting beautifully on how empty her house feels now that her children have gone back to school. And it made me think: how lonely my own parents must have felt, but how strongly they must have felt they were doing the right thing.
We lived in
What I didn’t expect was the reality; the rules, such as only being allowed to speak to your parents on the phone once a week because too often ‘might upset you’; the hateful rotas of bath and hairwashing; the sadistic housemistress who had no sympathy for homesickness; the ghastly food.
Then there was the total lack of privacy, which, coupled with the bitchiness of adolescent girls, meant that you reached puberty in the full public glare of thirty two commentators, scrutinising everything from bra size to starting your periods. If anything awful happened, my parents were two airmail letters away (there and back) so I wouldn’t hear back from them for about a week. Friendships become ultra important in this environment, so the usual cliques of teenage girl-ery are intensified and bullying is rife. My school was littered with privileged, snobbish girls who took delight in picking out anyone who didn’t quite belong. (I qualified in two areas – coming from Abroad and doing well academically.) And when you’re a boarder, bullying doesn’t stop at 4pm when you go home.
I can still conjure up the sick, nervous feeling in my stomach that lingered throughout the second half of the holidays, knowing that I would have to go back. And the envy I felt for anyone, anywhere in the country that wasn’t at boarding school – I remember looking into the cosy lighted windows of people’s homes in the local town and thinking miserably of the harsh strip lighting and hospital beds in my badly-heated ‘dorm’.
When I had to go into hospital for a month before the birth of Littleboy 2, everyone asked me how I could possibly endure living on a hellish maternity ward in such proximity to total strangers? Only my friend from Boarding School understood. Rather as Old Etonians say they adjust well to prison life, it was a grim experience, but one that reminded me that I had been here before.
Were my parents really doing the right thing? When I ended up at the same University with several friends from
Now, I know that boarding schools have probably improved immeasurably since the 1980s. And I know that some people have a wonderful time at boarding school. I know it’s not all bad.
But, looking down at my innocent blond Littleboys, the answer to the question about boarding school is one I don’t even have to think about.