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Summer Term - Week 2

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 15 April 2013
"Gentleman and Ladies." The Headmaster claps his hand together and we all fall silent. It is break time and I'd been mid-reach for one of the world's smallest tea cups. I have missed the moment. Andy (PE) puts his biscuit whole into his mouth, smiling at me apologetically as I hastily try to look away.

The Headmaster's PA is huffing as she drags a mannequin into the staffroom behind him. Her arm is hooked over the slender neck of the rigid female figure as she drags her across the Common Room floor. She props her into a standing position, rearranges her necktie and neatly smoothes down her skirt before exiting with muttered words and reddened cheeks.

The staffroom, Senior Common Room or "SCR" as it is known, is full to bursting for Morning Notices. Enormous sofas, well worn, are all occupied, teachers are propped against the walls which are lined with severe-looking portraits of past Wardens of the College. One is pictured seated at an ornate desk, one pointing at the artist. Nearly all have dogs. The Headmaster claps his hands. They are walnut brown from an Easter holidays skiing in Verbier. This morning he has combed his hair backwards into a rather neat quiff.

"I hope you've all had a splendid rest and are ready for the challenge of a new term." He claps his hands together again.

Most people are looking at the mannequin.

I am wondering whether to leg it out of the nearest exit and back to London.

He points to the mannequin, "Meet our new pupil," he begins, then he looks around at us all. There is a rumble of polite laughter. I fix a smile on my face, trying desperately to focus on what he is saying. The mannequin looks as vacant as I feel.

Perhaps realising he has lost his audience already he circles her/it. "This is what I want," he announces, "As you know we have accepted a whole cohort of girls (pronounced 'gals') to the school this year and I want them to look like this."

He gestures to the mannequin who is dressed in a simple knee length navy blue skirt, a rather thin, cheap looking white shirt and an alarming orange necktie that would not have looked out of place on an aeroplane. In the 1980s.

"Note the length of the skirt, note the shirt, tucked in and note the neat knot." And so it continues... for 10 minutes. Tea has gone cold, teachers are fidgeting and Andy is looking longingly back at the remaining tray of biscuits.

It is at the end of all this that the Headmaster turns in my direction and gestures towards me. "And as you have no doubt noticed we have taken on a new member of staff too." If I had tea I would have spilt some.

I try to look confident, glance at the faces turned towards me. "Clare here will be taking over in the History department and will run our rounders teams this term (will I!?!), so do introduce yourself and make her welcome."

A whole horde of men, or as it seems to me a sea of tweed, turns towards me nodding and mumbling a welcome. I can feel my face blending in with the burgundy velvet curtains behind me.

It is my first day at Brockfield House, my old life in London seems a million miles away already. I nod back wondering how I am going to fit in. Then I stare at my navy blue kitten heels, so slender, so feminine, and realise it might take more than a new wardrobe. The headmaster's secretary reappears, rolls up her sleeves, seizes the mannequin once more and drags her out, feet first.

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Summer Term - Week 1

Posted by Lights Out Ladies
Lights Out Ladies
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on Sunday, 07 April 2013
My new Headmaster is standing next to me, wearing a candy-floss pink waistcoat coupled with a startling floral tie, introducing me to the Deputy Head of Co-Curricular, a small bald man holding half a biscuit, a smudge on his glasses. I can't hear what he is saying because I am still trying to work out what his job title actually involves, and whether my Headmaster's tie is worn in irony.

I'm not really sure how I have ended up here.

Last month I was bored and scanning The Lady in the little staffroom of Greycoats Comprehensive in South London. A 1,400 strong secondary school lagging in the league tables, constantly short of money for various building work, so much so that my classroom looked like a large portaloo on stilts.

Keith (IT) was holding court about his girlfriend (imaginary) and I was trying to block him out scanning the page of adverts whilst wondering what to teach Year 9 the period after break. I spilt some drops of coffee on the 'Jobs' Page and I noticed this quaint advert in the corner. A stock photograph of smiling happy, uniformed pupils taken against the most incredible backdrop. Fields of green stretching away, neat fluffs of little white clouds and then a gorgeous honey-coloured manor house, roses trained around the windows. Even the font was romantic, all swirly and enticing. I was transported instantly into the pages of a Mallory Towers novel, expecting a girl to appear in the window holding a pillow from a recent fight, or a group to run out from behind the building holding wooden lacrosse sticks.

"And then she said..."

Keith was still trying to share but with rampant enthusiasm I reached out, tore the corner of the page, hopped up and legged it to the computer in the corner of our ageing, browning staffroom. Post-it notes scattered the screen warning of future inspections, the extension number for the school nurse and a reasonably offensive picture of what I think was meant to be David Beckham. I logged on and started typing.

Three days later I had left the smog of London and was racing though the countryside on a train, feeling my lungs expand with every mile we passed. After a successful interview I handed in my notice and accepted maternity cover here, at Brockfield House to be a teacher/housemistress. A co-educational boarding school in Dorset numbering 450. I'd packed my life into boxes, announced it on Facebook (which made it real - 14 likes) and moved into a cottage in the school next to a meandering little stream.

And now I'm standing in this enormous staffroom being steered round by a man who looks like one quarter of a barber shop quartet. I feel afraid...

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