Friday, 11 September 2020
Boarding Schools 3
I went to a fee-paying convent school. I'm privileged. Thanks to the Old Girl network, doors opened for me throughout my life – or so people like to think.
We had a dinner monitor I didn't get on with – let's call her Deirdre – who struggled to keep us in line. One day we were playing up and she told me to take my elbow off the table, so I put it on my plate. She must have reported me to higher authority, because I was told my punishment was to eat with the older girls at the top table, for the rest of the term. They were much bigger than me and I was terrified of them. So I didn't turn up to meals - not even tea, where you could sit anywhere. I don't remember even drinking a glass of water. After 24 hours of this I was summoned by the Head Nun.
She turned on the charm and held my hand and persuaded me that I had to sit at the top table - I couldn't go on not eating. It was as horrible as I'd foreseen, and none of the top-tablers spoke a single word to me. (They might have been kind, don't you think? Especially after all that propaganda about the most important virtue being Charity.)
My mother met the parents of some schoolfriends and their immediate response was: "Lucy! Hunger strike!" It was the first she'd heard of it and she was mortified. She was still telling the story in her 80s – but it was always a story about her being embarrassed.
The school hadn't told my parents. And nobody ever said, "Actually, what was she being punished for?" She put her elbow on her plate.
To the nuns, this was disobedience, and nobody in the Catholic Church disobeyed. There was a chain of command right down from the Pope. And so I got a reputation, and eventually was expelled aged 16, mainly for making the Head Nun look a fool. That's another story. It wasn't difficult.
When I didn't turn up to lunch or dinner, nobody came after me. Nobody was sent to find me. One friend smuggled me some food, but I wouldn't eat it. I couldn't explain why. I wish I'd kept it up for longer - they'd have had to do something! Ring my parents, call the doctor, put me in the infirmary.
How did my behaviour appear to them? Just as a direct refusal to obey an order. It didn't matter what they were telling me to do, or why. And they never asked me my reasons or said another word about it. And it wasn't just that I defied them - it was so public. They couldn't be seen to lose, or to give ground.
In the end I ceased to believe in the concept of authority. As Falstaff said, it's just a word.
I rebelled in other ways – after a couple of years I never went to "games". But nobody said anything to me about it. We sometimes used to take off for whole days and our absence must have been noticed. Again, no reaction. And they were supposed to be looking after us.
More here, and links to the rest.