Memories of DBL - She was a doughty lady extraordinaire, tiny in stature, vast in personality. She walked like Mrs Thatcher - a forward-leaning stance, as if her high heels pivoted her off balance and she was always trying to keep up. She spoke with clarity and an Oxford accent - the first time I had heard ‘off’ pronounced ‘orff’.
In 1965 when I joined the school aged thirteen, her hair was short, wavy and a faded red, brushed straight back from a sharp widow’s peak which seemed to stop half way down her forehead. She wore an academic gown for assembly - and, rather like the Queen - held us in silence and immovable until she had left the Hall.
Within a few weeks of joining the school I was on her table for lunch - ah, maybe I ought to explain: at lunchtime, every table was presided over by a member of staff - and there was a serving lady who had a bit of a BO problem. She served our table, leaned over a girl to put down a plate of something, and the girl turned away, holding her nose, making a face, making a real thing of it. DBL stood, banged the gong, stopped lunch.
She invited all the serving ladies to leave the room, and when they’d gone, she rounded on the girl who had held her nose. She told her to stand. The words are mine - the meaning is DBL’s -
'Explain yourself. Why did you do that?'
Said girl stuttered and stammered, something about ' the smell putting me off my lunch...' whereupon DBL gave a short speech to us all, the gist of which I've never forgotten.
Us gels, she said, were never to forget - we were no better than anyone else on this planet. We were to remember that everyone lives within their own circumstances, and those may well be out of their control.
‘But remember also,” she said, “No one is better than you. You are below nobody. Nobody. We are all equal, making the most of what we have, and it is those things that may well not be equal. Now get on with your lunch.’