Lights Out Ladies!

Follow one woman's tales from the staffroom of a quaint, newly co-educational, English boarding school in deepest, darkest Dorset. (*all names have been changed.)

Summer Term - Week 10

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 10 June 2013
It's Inter-House Rounders today which has meant most of the girls have taken Period 5 off to "get in the zone." This appears to mostly involve listening to motivational music whilst streaking their cheeks with eyeliner for that warrior-like look. There are only 3 girls houses at the school so I reassure a girl from Boudicca that she will definitely get bronze. Not being the brightest girl in the house (she still pronounces it Boo Dikka) she looks pretty happy with my assurance.

Cricket
There are a few staff milling about as we set up the pitch for the long-awaited games. It's a rather close, cloudy day but the forecast has assured us there will be no rain at least. We spent a miserable day last week huddled under the cricket pavilion as the rain lashed above us and the girls tried to cheer each other up by telling jokes about getting to third base. Now though the pitch is awaiting our She-Warriors and the battle is about to commence.

I am umpiring the second game - when Boudicca will take on Austen - and have been brushing up on my Rounder's rules. There are a lot of them and the game often comes to a halt when we all start to debate whether in fact Felicity was guilty of 'obstruction' or whether Trixie was wrong to knock the Rounders post away with her bat. Half rounders are awarded for getting to second base and this is reasonably easy to do as the largest girl in the year - a dumpling known to her friends as Poppet - has never once broken into a jog during the game and she covers that area. Walking to pick up each ball the person running has not only celebrated their rounder but has also had time to high-five the rest of her team and finish her water bottle.

Today's games are tense and Austen take the lead in their first half. 14 and 1/2 rounders in 30 minutes. One of them claims it's a school record. But then all comes to a grinding halt as Poppet calls for a water break. There are no such things but the girls instantly down bats and head to the pavilion to re-apply their eyeliner and discuss tactics. After twenty minutes I'm wondering what to do when they all charge back out onto the field. Boudicca's first batter - Gems - looks steely in the square. Taking aim she gives the ball an enormous thwack and sets off. At 13 and a 1/2 rounders with 3 minutes left the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. The ball is struck and now Felicity takes off round the field. Incredibly Poppet decides that this is her moment and charges towards the ball. Scooping it up she lobs it to 4th base and the girl there catches it. Felicity is out, Austen have triumphed and Poppet is given a chair lift, which lasts less than 10 seconds when the girls realise they can't manage it.

Felicity is looking non-plussed as all the Austen girls huddle around her. I can just make out one girl saying, "At least we get bronze" before they all troop inside.



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Summer Term - Week 9

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 03 June 2013
It's exam season so a lot of the pupils are off timetable on 'Study Leave'. This means they don't attend lessons so they can work quietly in their rooms in their boarding house. Although some appear to be doing this, a lot are definitely using 'Study Leave' to spend a decent amount of time reducing their handicap on the school's golf course. A mere 18 hole course stretching 6,000 yards.

I visited the girl's boarding house last night to help one AS level group with their history revision. A lot of the girls were in their rooms surrounded by neat colour-coded flashcards, A3 sheets filled with nonsensical mind maps and highlighted words lining the walls. Some of the GCSE students were learning for their French oral the next day,

"Oui Miss, it's like totally difficile yah," whilst others were playing music in their rooms and teaching each other Maths.

The house was quiet around ten o'clock and my housemistress - a formidable woman with a sizeable bust emerged to invite me into her house for a refreshment. Sherry. I sat perched on the edge of her sofa as she moved through her kitchen fetching me a drink. A lazy ginger cat opened one eye to take me in and then returned to shedding her hairs all over the cushy leather sofa. All around the walls there were pictures of men and women rowing, she's been to Oxfooord and had got a blue. Over the mantelpiece clipped into place was a large oar spanning almost the entire length of the room.

"Well old gal," she said tinking my glass, "Thanks for tonight."

"Not at all," I said, taking a tentative sip of my drink.

"I've got you here under slightly false pretences," she barked. I straightened up, on guard.

"You see I'm orf at the end of the academic year and I wanted to sound you out as to whether you would ever consider becoming a Housemistress."

She paused waiting for me to say something.

I laughed nervously, "Oh, well. Um... That's very flattering," I said, looking around the room, "I hadn't really thought about it in all honesty."

"Well frankly we're horribly short on women in the staffroom and the gals seem to like you. You'd do a grand job I'm sure."

"Well I..."

"Have a think about it why don't you?"

"Well um... isn't that kind of job advertised and well..."

"Oh we put a little something on our website but we don't want maddos or nutters applying so we tend to try and keep it in-house so to speak and the Headmaster wondered whether I'd have a word.

Did he, I thought. Oh goodness.

Did he...



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Summer Term - Week 8

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Despite the disgusting weather we held our annual Sports Day at the end of last week. This was an extraordinary spectacle. The Headmaster dressed in full tweed, his dogs - two naughty chocolate Labradors, 'Aurora' and 'Borealis' straining on their leads, marched around the course clutching the starting pistol which he would wave around rather threateningly at any boys lounging around.

The Master in Charge of Athletics, an enormous man who had narrowly escaped being fired last term after flouting several school rules by introducing bare-knuckle boxing to the Year 9 curriculum, had taken to the tannoy system and was announcing the next race in a low rumble. The microphone was then hi-jacked by the Head of Classics who decided to spend the next half an hour spouting random facts about the Olympics to a rather dis-interested cohort of staff and pupils all milling around watching the long-jump, discuss and javelin.

Lights Out Ladies

Most interest was centred around the high-jump mats where Alicia, a leggy, tanned Fifth Former whose main ambition is to appear on 'Made in Chelsea', could be seen limbering up for the Junior Girls Section. I had joined my department on a picnic rug and Roger, Head of History who has kept me sane for most of this term, poured me a glass of champagne.

"Cheers," we clinked.

The sun peeked out from behind a cloud as Alicia started a slow loop towards the pole. It was set, rather alarmingly, at a height of 1m 50cm mostly because the Head of Careers who mans it every year likes to get home early for Half Term. We watched Alicia crash into the jump, pole and girl flying, mats left untouched. A cheer from the crowd, the Head of Careers called 'Second Jump' and Alicia started crying because she'd broken a nail on her descent.

I rested back on the picnic rug, feeling a vague warmth on my skin and feeling the sweet alcohol warm my stomach. I'd survived the first half of term. Just. I wondered what the next would bring...

Summer Term - Week 7

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 20 May 2013
Today members of the staffroom are up in arms due to an overnight ban on dogs in the classroom and Senior Common Room. Apparently there was an "incident" involving one of the bigger dogs and one of the smaller Year 7. From what I could gather the Year 7 had lost.

So a notice has been pinned up, confirmed by an 'All Staff' email, announcing dogs are no longer permitted in these areas. There was grumbling at the end of yesterday but I'd dismissed it. In my old London day school the only dogs in classrooms were some of the teachers - or so said the desks in Classroom 4B. I assumed this archaic rule would have always been under threat from any visit from Ofsted.

Some of the staff this morning however are clearly trying to stage a coup and as I approach the staffroom I see a whole load of teachers sitting cross-legged on the floor in the corridor.  

Lights Out Ladies

It's surreal. Eyes follow me past as I walk slowly by. I'm new enough that either no one knows my name or wants to know what I think about this clear breach of their human rights.

A man, poodle trotting behind him, opens the door for me and I step in thanking him. He turns, seizes a tray full of delicate vintage tea cups and saucers and some rather delicious looking cookies, and realise he is providing provisions for the sit-in.

There is a roar of approval and a cacophony of barking. The door presses shut behind him and I shake my head slowly wondering what I'd just witnessed and, importantly, whether they would win.

Summer Term - Week 6

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 13 May 2013
I've been allotted chapel duty every Wednesday morning. This involves turning up to tick my tutor group in. I've had no problems so far - although eight o'clock in the morning does seem to smack of extremism - and all my pupils have appeared at the correct time (although Gus has written to the Headmaster claiming he is an atheist and chapel is therefore an infringement on his basic human rights as laid out in "damned Europe" - Gus has been told in no uncertain terms that if he does not appear on Wednesday he will be doing "damned detention").

I appear with my tick list and feel relief when I see Gus's sullen face in one of the front pews. I'm expecting the usual routine - hymn, talk, prayers and then escape to breakfast - but realise something is a little different this morning when we are asked to stand and the chaplain doesn't appear.

Just when we are all craning our necks and wondering what is happening a man bursts in and strides up the aisle kicking a football. It's an extraordinary show as he dribbles down the aisle dressed in priestly attire, skirts flapping. He leaps onto the raised platform and seizes the lectern.

"Good morning everybody I'm Andrew," he announces in the same tone as a breakfast presenter, "and Father Paul has kindly invited me here to talk to you today."

We give him nothing. A sea of faces all focusing on the croissants that await us in a few short minutes. It might be waffle day...

"I do a lot of school visits and wanted to," - pause, points to football, "kick it off in a positive way."

He makes a face like a magician saying 'Ta Da' and I try to rouse a laugh. There is an interminably long silence as he looks around the room.

He begins a long, rambling sermon which draws upon a parable about the meek and the need to be nice to them. To be honest I lost the gist a little and started staring at the scenes depicted in the stained glass windows around me. There were a disproportionately high number of very naked men.

Lights Out Ladies!

I clearly missed the moment when it all began but before I had really registered what was going on there was sniggering. A lone prefect - Captain of Rugby I later learnt - had taken it upon himself to save us all. Far from meek he had stood up and started to sing the school hymn. I stared over at his solo rendition, horribly off-key, in surprise. The rest of the year hastily jump to their feet, laughing out the words and join in. The organist, asleep in a slump after one too many wines the night before, jerks awake, panics and starts to play. We all start to sing. Befuddled: slow. Even the Headmaster is seen mouthing the words.

I imagine Andrew might not be visiting us again.


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