Reflections on life at boarding school in the 1960s

Popocatapetl (with home made maracas)

It is a strange feeling delving back into this fuzzy past. Some images are engrained forever without the need for visual proof but looking at the few DWS photos I have reveals faces that are more than familiar and yet dreamlike.

The diary entries and the letters home help rebuild a picture of the 9 year old who started in Upper 2nd in Glyn Malden in January 1968 but so much went unsaid in those days. Child psychology was not applied in any organised way at the time but a little girl knew which adults she could trust. So although I could not recognise a photo of Mrs Boshell, Miss Fraser or Miss Lightbody if shown one today I know it felt safe to be around them, whereas 'Matron' even now inspires a feeling of all that was cruel and rigid in schools in the 60s where children were seen and not heard. It simply wasn't the done thing to whine. It was another world where grown ups were in charge and in some ways there was less intergenerational confusion, so that children remained children without having their place usurped by immature adults, but where they had to find their own inner resources to deal with everything that life threw at them. What would Miss Lickes make of today's parents where 'that disturbing restlessness' is fuelled everywhere you look? We've swung so far the other way now that it makes you wonder just when we traded stiff upper lips for self obssession. (call me old fashioned - please)

My diary entry of bitter sarcasm - Matron was 'so sweet' is pretty telling. The matron who would shine a torch in your face in the dormy on her nightly rounds to check you were obeying by sleeping (!); her army-like rigour for supervising the turning up of your counterpanes in the morning; the same Matron who got some kind of kick out of watching you retch as you ate your slimey scrambled eggs (made from reconstituted egg powder if my memory serves me), tinned tomatoes on soggy fried bread cooked in lard, crunchy bones form the tinned salmon swimming in brine and salad cream (so many Tuesday diary entries dedicated to salmon!). I used to add a line to my nightly prayers to ask for the scrambled eggs to not be too runny. Thinks: Is this when I stopped believing in God? Glyn was no place for sissies when you had to walk to church and back every Sunday, swim in the freezing natural pool that we had had to clear of weeds and rocks previously, endure corporal punishment (did I dream that?).

But there are also glimpses of lighter moments - the Top Ten on Sundays, gathering round a 'tranny' and singing along, or lying on your back in the gym at main school to let Thunderclap Newman, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell or the Beatles waft over you, feeling all grown up for knowing the words. There were the school plays - 'The Emperor and the Nightingale', 'Alice through the Looking Glass', 'Popocatapetl (with home made maracas)'; and the book therapy (and they think it has just been invented!)- simply devouring books* every week sitting in the window nook downstairs at Glyn - a lifelong lifeline.

*'The Boy and the River' by Henri Bosco, 'Child of China', 'Brogeen follows the Magic Tune', 'The Railway Children', 'The Cricket in Times Square', 'Fell Farm Campers', 'A Little Princess', 'The Little White Horse', 'Maiden's Trip', 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' to name but a few.

There was playing jacks or Jack Straw - what fine motor skills! There was making love chains out of folded chewing gum papers (remember those?) And there was simply the pleasure of learning, of not being abashed by striving for excellence.

The feeling that the past is 'another country' is amplified by my not having returned to Dolgellau for nearly 40 years, to have left Wales in 1970 and to have been living in France for 25 years. Funnily enough the French education system has many throwbacks to the less uplifting aspects of my time at DWS but that's a whole other story...

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  1. Posted by: Jennifer Hutcheson
    Posted on: 13.11.2014 at 10:19

    Think you probably did dream the bit about corporal punishment.Official sanctions that come to mind were 'order marks', 'conduct marks', writing lines and not being allowed out with your parents. The latter only if you had really transgressed as when we 'stole' some of the posh tea in the hall, complete with 'mud balls', to give to those who hadn't been confirmed waiting for it in 'Crush' in 1965.

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