“It’s a hell of a long way from Leeds Miss Lee!” my father informed Lotty on the day after our Confirmation.
The punishment that prompted his outburst was having to return me and other ‘guilty’ pupils to school at 4pm instead of 7.15pm on that Saturday, we were to have only three and a half hours out of school instead of nearly seven.
The Crime? We had ‘stolen’ cakes from the Confirmation tea to share with the non-confirmed girls from our form, a china plate had been discovered in the form-room by the teacher on duty.
This seemed incredibly harsh, even the Rector was cross about it when we told him! (Diary entry ‘We were all crying and the Rector was sweet!’) We all had parents, godparents and other relatives staying, many of whom had driven a long way to celebrate our Confirmation weekend.
Fifty years on I still believe there could have been a fairer way of punishing us in school time without impacting on our families. But I suppose it was good preparation for helping us to realise that very often life is NOT fair!
It seems incredible to me now that meal times had such complicated arrangements. A different lunch place for each day which we kept for the term, set breakfast places that I think we kept for half a term and all because we were not to sit next to anyone in our year group and definitely not to talk across the table. You moved round one place each time, resulting in two sessions next to the member of staff or senior pupil at the head of the table. “Are your people coming at the weekend?” Lotty would always ask, (probably hoping that mine would never come again!)
Supper was more relaxed with one partner from your own form allowed to sit with you. Lists of places had to be referred to in your rough book in case you turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time, though we seemed to master it quite quickly. If all that failed and you forgot, had an extra Music lesson or missed the first week of term when places were allocated there was always SPARES which meant you ate a little later in the small dining-room probably feeling rather like an after thought, but having a more relaxed time than in the main dining-room.
Once you had found the correct place to sit there was a minefield of protocol to manoeuvre around before you could eat your meal. The head of the table would offer you ‘a small or an ordinary’ of whatever the main course comprised- usually something on a piece of fried bread if it was breakfast. This could become quite complicated if rice pudding was on offer and I can still hear Miss Lickes booming out, “Thick or thin? (milky or glutinous) With or without?” (skin on the pudding!) I dreaded serving out syrup at breakfast to other girls, as it was easy to flood the plate with the sticky solution!
You must never help yourself or ask for things to be passed to you unless you were going to offer them to your neighbour first. Even when your plate was full and you were ready to eat you had to wait to hear your partner say the magic words “Do begin!” Again Miss Lickes’ voice still comes to mind telling someone halfway down the table not to hold their knife like a pen! Meryl told me that a teacher who had noted from across the room that she had put her pudding fork in her mouth told her off for it! (When were we ever told that rule!?)
The quietest of all was probably the French table presided over in our day by the lovely Giggly T. All conversation was to be conducted in French. I think it was held in the Reading Room. I can’t remember if there was a German Table too but pretty certain the Latin Table never existed! (Visions of reclining girls and Miss Lloyd (Latin) in a toga!)
Birthday Tables were certainly my culinary highlight. Lizzy Chapman, Sue Crowther and I always had a treble one at the beginning of the school year and the whole form was invited. I can still taste the Twiglets and Cheese Footballs. Birthday plates with a small sample of the delicious fare, were often taken to Gone-ons in the dining room during the meal.
Pen for Tea gets special mentions in my diary and apparently we always had ‘piles to eat’ there. It was probably the closest we got to normal home life. There was something comforting about eating a meal whilst wearing your slippers and surrounded by your friends. And probably all the sweeter for being a rare treat.
Meal times, certainly when we were younger, took us well out of our comfort zone but that was no bad thing. Other Old Girls agree that this has given us the ability to talk to anyone in most circumstances and it has been natural for us to make sure others are looked after and put at their ease in a variety of situations. As regards food, as my waistline shows, I like and happily eat most things and occasionally even produce a sneaky cheese and potato pie which my husband loves! That’s not such a compliment though, because he was brought up on boarding school food too!