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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 16 - Metamorphosis

“It was all very exciting being in the assembly hall for the first time. The Headmaster, Mr Adams, seemed very imposing and his assistant, Mr Body, had a booming voice, and looked very scary…’’ Gayle Woodward becomes a secondary school pupil.

In February 1962 I began attending, as a twelve year old, Glendowie College, the local secondary school. It was co-educational and new and our intake was only the second group to begin. It was exciting to be buying a school uniform for the first time. I felt very grown up getting all kitted out and thought it would be an exciting new start for me.

The summer uniform was a rather dull beige shirtdress, which was worn with a mustard yellow cardigan for warmth and a chocolate brown blazer with the Glendowie ‘Thistle’ on the breast pocket. Accessories included a compulsory white straw hat and gloves.

The winter uniform was a chocolate brown gym tunic with a white blouse, buttoned to the neck, worn with thick fawn stockings and brown lace up shoes. Senior girls were to be a lot luckier as the senior uniform for girls was a brown pleated skirt and white blouse, summer and winter. Uniform was to be strictly adhered to even to the length of the girls’ skirts and regular uniform inspections were a part of school life.
As we moved through the school and entered the seniors, short skirts were becoming fashionable and we all rolled our skirts over at the waistline after we left the school gates in order to make them shorter.

The uniform for Physical Education was another story. A horror story. The philosophy of the day was that girls doing any kind of physical activity should not ‘show off ’ or display their bodies and so we were made to wear a beige one-piece bloomer set, the pants gathered into elastic at the legs. This did nothing to disguise our growing hips and expanding thighs but flattened the blossoming bosoms of which we were proud. The colour made me look insipid and the design of the outfit made me look pear shaped. It was ugly and uncomfortable and “Constantly forgets uniform” became a regular remark beside Physical Education on my report card.

After a brief discussion with a senior staff member and my parents at enrolment evening, I was enrolled in an academic course of study. Other, more practically-talented students would be doing a commercial course for girls or a technical course for the boys. I learned that I would be studying English, French, Latin, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Music, Craft and Sport. I had no idea of what the two-language study would entail. I was curious but certainly gave no input about what I would like to study. Children, after all, “should be seen and not heard”.

I did find out that in the ‘A’ classes, (I was to be in 3A), one would be treated as if one was more special than other pupils. I felt vaguely nervous on the first morning - about what, I would not have been able to say.
It was all very exciting being in the assembly hall for the first time. The Headmaster, Mr Adams, seemed very imposing and his assistant, Mr Body, had a booming voice, and looked very scary. I am sure that some of the boys decided there and then that no strap from Mr Body would ever cross their hands. I found that he would be teaching 3A for Latin. However, he made jokes and was enthusiastic about his subject and it was one of the classes that I liked the best. It was so much a sub code of English and I found the history of Rome to be fascinating. ‘Amo, amas, aman’ is permanently etched in my mind.

Another teacher was Mlle. Shaw, who taught French. I could cope with the vocabulary and grammar but found speaking the language daunting and spoke in a whisper if I had to recite. English lessons were enjoyed, although I spluttered when given class texts to read. I read constantly, but only what I wanted to read and found this compulsion to be rather annoying. At the end of the third form I had won a book prize at Prize giving for an essay competition run by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Physical Education, on the other hand was a nightmare for me and many other girls. One morning, playing volleyball on the grass beside the school hall, which doubled as a gym, I jumped to take a spike and landed on a field mouse, cowering in the rough grass. I squashed the poor animal flat, and my distress and horror was palpable.

I was too long-legged and ‘unko’ to leap over boxes or do compact forward rolls when we had gymnastics. I hated cross country or other long runs and when the whole school had to do a run one afternoon, some of the third form girls, including me, ran only as far as Patsy Perrett’s house, stayed there until the runners came back and joined on at the end of the procession to the finish line. We were never found out although I was very nervous about the whole affair. But we were determined that never would the public see us wobbling along, both top and bottom, in our uniform romper suits.

The only physical activity I had any fondness for was basketball. Here it was a benefit to be tall and gangly. We had to wear beige pleated gym frocks over white blouses, a more flattering outfit than the dreaded bloomers, and I became a specialist goalkeeper. I was nowhere near as aggressive or such a physical presence as young women are today in the goal circle. But I did make the Senior A team in my last two years at college.

As my awkward body prepared itself for puberty, I began to suffer from migraines. It so happened that Mum would go shopping to the Bay on Mondays. There, after doing her shopping, she would buy some goodies at the cake shop, for us to enjoy after school. One regular treat was a Sally Lunn bun, a sticky white bun, iced and sprinkled with coconut. I came to detest these concoctions, because every Monday I would come home from school with a migraine headache. It appeared that these were connected with either weekend stress or Monday school stress, but I began to connect them to the smell of Sally Lunn buns.

I would lie in a darkened room, trying to avoid light, sound or smell, especially the sweet smell of Sally Lunns. Mum would sit beside me on my bed, lightly stroking my left eye socket, where the pain was so bad, with light and warm fingertips. This was such an ease to me that I usually drifted off to sleep. I would wake a few times to vomit, but usually slept again till eight or nine pm. Then I would be hungry and would eat the dinner that had been kept warm for me on top of a pot of boiling water. I always felt bruised and headachy for the next day but the migraine would be gone till the next Monday.

I began to write more often. A series of words would arrive unannounced in my mind and I would have to write a draft as soon as possible. Aged twelve, I wrote a flowery and romantic poem about sunset. I had not yet learned the trick of making up words if nothing suited and always using my own and original phrases. I wrote what I thought poets wrote, instead of what I had to say.


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