Posts Tagged ‘boarding school’

Pigeon Pie.

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

Those of us with children will be used to the school calendar. You know the drill; term dates, sports fixtures, open assemblies, Choral Day, Maths Challenge week – that sort of thing. So, it came as a little surprise to me when I spied ‘Survival Training’ scheduled on ours at the beginning of the Autumn term. Survival Training? Surviving what, exactly? But it’s part of an Outdoor Challenge award and I reasoned that it couldn’t be worse than the trip she did last term as part of it, which was a brief sojourn to the Brecon Beacons. This was cheerily sold to us as two nights of camping and a just a small 20k – or so – walk. Enjoyable, no? Smaller daughter arrived back from that one soaked through, muddy, exhausted and with a high temperature. That was the low point with this Award, we reasoned.

Initially, daughter was reasonably excited about the survival training. It was only an overnight camp in the school grounds with all of her friends. What fun! What’s not to like? Well actually, possibly this:

“We have to gut and eat a pigeon, Mummy. And build our own shelters.” Gourmet and luxury indeed.

“Really?” I took this with a pinch of salt, sure that it had been Chinese-whispered into existence. I mean, honestly, getting twelve year olds to gut a pigeon and build shelters? What could possibly go wrong? Well, the potential certainly begins with my daughter who has never constructed anything in her life, much less something she has to bed down in for the night.

But, she was excited as she packed up her kit the night before. The kit list was fairly extensive, and we had to plunder the camping equipment of my partner to get everything together. The only trouble with that is my partner is a huge wild camping aficionado, and most of his camping belongings come into the ‘a ridiculous amount to spend on a tent, we could afford a luxury holiday with that’ bracket. So obviously we couldn’t tell him that we were borrowing stuff. My poor partner. Before he met me and we moved in together, he slept easily and peacefully at night, knowing that his possessions were solely his possessions and in the morning they would be where he left them. Enter me and two daughters. I mean, we don’t TRY to appropriate his belongings, but it’s just that he has the best stuff. It’s good quality and he has lots of it. He does feebly protest when one or the other of us borrow a tent, a bike, a surfboard, some jumpers, phone chargers, but three years down the line I think he’s more or less accepted that his norm has – well – disappeared. We do give it back, obviously. Unfortunately, smaller daughter has a habit of obsessively labelling everything she takes to school so what he doesn’t know is that much of his precious camping equipment has glittery pink name stickers on it. As long as he doesn’t take it out for the first time in front of anyone, it’ll be fine.

Anyway, back to the pigeons. So, she went off for this overnight camping, keen to learn the skills they need to survive, should they ever become dangerously lost in the grounds of a very nice private school. There are two patches of woodland within the grounds and they were to camp in the further away one, which must be, oh, I don’t know, 500 yards from the school building, if that? But frankly, they could have been deposited in the deepest, darkest wilderness somewhere in Wales with poo shovels, so they lucked out staying in the grounds.

“Goodbye darling!” I waved her off cheerily, “Have a good time! Enjoy the building and eating, I’m sure you’ll love it.” I say this to her with all the confidence of someone who has an actual bricks-and-mortar house to go to, with a well-stocked fridge, cosy beds and central heating.

“I will. Love you.” Car door slams and off she goes. And off I go to my well-nourished warmth.

And then of course, it’s radio silence because they aren’t allowed their phones at school. My warm day drifted into my cosy night, and my cosy night drifted into my warm morning, and I woke up pleased that it hadn’t seemed to rain much. I was looking forward to collecting her and hearing about the camping tales, but the camping was Friday night and they have Saturday school, so I had to wait until lunchtime to do this. On this particular Saturday they had to conduct tours of the school which requires them to be in their very smartest uniform, with their very neatest appearance. Quite why they chose a motley crew of white-faced, wood-smoke-smelling and generally damp children with dark black circles under their eyes and bits of twig in their hair to represent the school is beyond me. They must have looked like something out of a zombie-apocalypse-meets-Addams-family spectacle to the visitors.

We parents were all waiting, keen to see our offspring after their adventure, laughing and chatting away, and then I spot a child out of the corner of my eye, who is moving very slowly and looking very sad. Yup, you’ve guessed it, that’s my one. The minute she set her eyes on us, she flung herself into my arms and burst into tears, “I’m just sooooo tired!” she wailed (oh dear, she does need her sleep).

“Oh no, but did you enjoy it?”

“Nooo!” (Oh dear)

“What did you sleep in?”

“A thing we made out of sticks.” (Good grief…..)

“What did you actually eat?”

“There was nothing but pigeon, so I starved.” (See above)

“How many pigeons were there?”

“I don’t know, loads. They were caught for us before though.”

“There you go! It wasn’t all bad then.” (Thank heaven for small mercies…………)

She got home and then proceeded to sleep for 16 of the next 24 hours. And though I am loath to say it, and only do so through gritted teeth – I was *whispers* wrong. Wales was not the low point.


Survival training – 1

Daughter – 0


PS. I do have to add that the Outdoor Challenge Award they do is a very worthwhile and important endeavour, and the school do a jolly good job of giving the children the best experiences that they can to prepare them for the challenges of the outdoors. It is simply that my child is not really up for the challenges of the outdoors; she’s perfectly happy in her warm, lamp-lit bedroom with plenty of cushions and soft blankets. There were lots of braver children that loved the camping!


And the girl goes to boarding school…..

Friday, October 30th, 2015

So the eldest girl has gone to boarding school. This was decided about three minutes after she was conceived. Well, when I say ‘decided’, what I really mean is that her father decreed she would go.

He had been to boarding school!

He hated it for a year but it was the best thing for him!

Therefore, his child would board from 12!


The poor thing didn’t stand a chance. Anyway, my point is that it wasn’t a surprise that she was going. I managed to reduce her sentence by leaving her at her Prep school until she was 13, but that was it, after that she was BOARDING. I didn’t realise until the summer term was coming to a close exactly how much I hated the idea. I had more cold feet about this educational decision than I did about my wedding. Which, in divorce-coloured hindsight, is ironic.

We prepared her for departure carefully. We kitted her out for the school; at an eye-watering expense. I won’t say how much exactly but there are small countries which have less debt than the sum we spent on clothing her for this educational institution. And because she was boarding, the lady who was sorting out her uniform in the shop kept gaily increasing the number of things she would need: “Oh, she’s boarding? Right, well, she’ll need three sets of games kit then….” And before we could murmur a protest, the pile in the basket would grow ever larger. And then more glorious news: “Things go missing at school. Everything and anything will go missing. You must make sure that there are name labels sewed onto absolutely every item of clothing. Even shoes.” Shoes?? If I didn’t already feel faint at the thought of sewing on what were probably about 40 labels, the idea of becoming adept at stitching leather in five days did it. This, I firmly believe, is what outsourcing is for. I can’t sew a stitch, but my friend’s mother, Granny Ann, is a wonderful Scottish woman who can sew beautifully. I think she should get a medal for services to clothes. So lovely Granny Ann sewed on all the labels for me to thwart the boarding school thieves (I’m not going to tell you who she really is because I want to make sure that she always has time for my labels).

The week before eldest child went I was having serious doubts. She wasn’t, but her old mother was desperately questioning whether this was the right decision. Thankfully, a calm friend whose son had gone to boarding school the year before settled me down before I whipped her out for home schooling. On the actual day of her departure, all parents were invited to a dinner at the school. Drinks and nibbles beforehand and then a sit down meal. Her father and I aren’t together (by mutual consent) but we make a good show of being co-parents. Especially in public.

So in we filed for the pre-dinner drinks and it was very impressive. Held in a large lecture theatre, there were long, table-clothed tables with platters of indian snacks, and black and white outfitted girls floating around with trays of champagne. I thought they were hired staff but it turned out to be just the sixth formers. We played the game of pretending we’d only eaten a few snacks and going back for more and by this point, I was confused. Was this dinner?? There was so much food and champagne it seemed unlikely that a lot more would be provided. A quick discussion with my not-partner revealed that there was indeed a separate dinner. What would it be like I wondered? If this was only the pre-dinner affair? I was going to find out soon enough.

We all filed through to where we were having dinner – which turned out to be the school dining room. With not a tablecloth in sight. Oh no, we were having the full pupil experience by queueing up to receive our food, which came from huge metal dishes and then collecting a soft drink from the machine before we set out to find a table. We were forbidden from sitting with our offspring so my not-partner and I settled for the table next to her. We were quickly joined by some Asian parents. Who were keen to talk. It turned out that they were from Malaysia. My not-partner had just married someone from Malaysia! Thrilled to have this in common, I delightedly repeated this, whereupon she looked at my not-partner, nodded sagely and said “Oh, so you have two wives.”

You could have cut the silence with a knife.

To his absolute credit my not-partner went slightly red but then confirmed the situation. Which is that he has only the one wife. Happily, the children were coming in by this point and our fellow guests cried out as their daughter came past, “That’s our granddaughter! See, there. The one with all the spots!” I physically jumped, aghast at their indiscretion. But the three of them seemed fine with this, nodding and smiling with each other. Granddaughter? I smiled feebly and finished my – food. I’m still not sure what it was.

The next thing after that was to say goodbye. So we escorted our daughter to her boarding house and left her joining in with an activity. We didn’t make a fuss, kissed her quickly, said “Goodbye darling, we love you, see you on Friday.” And left. As we walked back to the cars I suddenly realised that we hadn’t left her with any money.

“Oh God,” I said. “Do you think she’ll need money?” The activity for the following day was a trip to Winchester.

“I don’t know,” said not-partner. Just then, we happened to see the Headmistress of this vast, prestigious girls school walking towards us. “Excuse me,” I said, “will the girls need money tomorrow? For their trip to Winchester?” She looked taken aback.

“I wouldn’t have thought so,” she replied. “It’s a familiarisation trip. They won’t be going to Primark or anything.” Tinkly laugh. Phew! Crisis averted. We thanked her and went on our way.

When the child came home for the weekend, I learned two things. One, that the grandparents of the spotty girl who advocated having multiple wives are actually the King and Queen of Malaysia. And her uncle is the Prime Minister, which means I’ve ruined my chance of becoming a high flier in Malaysian politics (not that there was much danger of that before, if I’m honest).  And two, I asked what she’d done in Winchester.

“Oh,” she said happily. “We just went to Primark.”

And that, my friends, is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.