I look after the social media page of the secondary school I went to in Cambridge, the Cambridgeshire County High School for Girls and a few years ago I made a list of all the members and the years they attended. I realised this was a little out of date, we’ve had lots of new members and I confess I rather forgot to add them to the list! I made an announcement and have had lots of response with additions and corrections. It’s made me think back to being at school, and the friends I made there.
We lived about four miles from school and for the first year I went by bus, after that I went on my bike. I didn’t mind wearing uniform, it was easy – no problems with wondering what to wear,and there was a certain amount of flexibility. The school colours were bottle green and pale blue – was it Cambridge blue? If it wasn’t it should have been! In the winter I wore a straight green skirt, white shirt, green v-necked sweater and the school tie, green with the pale blue stripe. I think when I first went there were green gabardines for cooler wet weather, and a green blazer for summer weather. However, a new item of uniform was introduced, a wonderful green duffle coat with horn toggles! I was very excited and loved mine, so warm, so useful! For indoors PE we had an aertex shirt, mine was white I think, and green knickers – I can’t imagine school girls wearing them now! For outside PE we had the most horrible item of clothing, the divided skirt! It was flared like a skirt, but had material between the legs which rubbed and chafed and was just tortuous! Uncomfortable, impractical, just nasty! A very weird item of uniform was the tunic and knickers we had to wear for dance, in primary colours, and I think mine was blue. Dance was an elderly very grumpy lady thumping away on the piano, while we galumphed around in an embarrassed fashion. Again , girls these days would really not do it, and well done them! It was terrible!
I can’t remember the first day at secondary school, but I can imagine it. Quite a few girls from my primary school were at the County, as it was known, Frances in class 1.1, Julia and me in 1.2, and Jill and Jane in 1.3 – organised according to an alphabetical list of surnames. Although sometimes shy, I was happy and confident, and looked round the thirty odd other girls, wondering who would become friends, and who would remain as just classmates. Amazingly I am still in contact with a couple and have met them fairly recently; my greatest joy however, was meeting a friend who joined the school later, just for a couple of terms. We ‘found’ each other recently and are in regular contact.
We did the subjects we had done at junior school, plus science and French. I was excited to do both. My dad and uncle were both scientists, but it was taught in such a dull fashion, and bore little resemblance to the exciting things my dad did in his lab, and I probably didn’t always concentrate, fixating on unimportant minor things – I remember obsessing over what a flame was. My teacher didn’t understand what I meant, a flame is a flame, and I kept trying to explain what I didn’t understand, puzzled as to why she couldn’t answer me! I was also excited to learn French as we had French friends living in Paris, and although I continued with the language right up to degree level, I wasn’t actually that good – I had a poor ear, and was self-conscious about speaking.
I spent five years at the County, and although many people I’m in contact with didn’t have a happy time, I was fortunate that I did. The headmistress was a really horrible person, nasty, spiteful, mean and a terrific snob, but luckily for me I didn’t come across her that often. I had some dear old teachers who were old enough to have taught two of my aunties, and some amazingly gifted other younger women teachers who had a huge impact on my life – and on my writing, my love of books and history.
My featured image is of the cake we had to celebrate our anniversary – the green outline is of a pair of school knickers!