Sunday 4 October 2020

Boarding Schools 5: Why I Was Expelled

A school, organisation or religion has a few completely pointless rules. But they are markers: if the children, flock, workers obey the pointless rules, they will obey all the others. Because “a school must have rules”, and “to break one is to break them all”. And “if you doubt one item of Catholic doctrine you are not a Catholic any more and will go to hell and burn for all eternity”. Some of the flock adore the pointless rules and really enjoy forcing the others to follow them “because it’s the way we do it”. Result: most people follow the rules in public, break them if they can avoid being found out, impose them on others, tell everybody how important they are; while accepting the “hell” element as “metaphorical” – ie “imaginary”. But I didn’t know all that at the time (the mid-60s).

I was told not to think about what other people were thinking about me, so I didn’t – until recently. It’s like suddenly acquiring a sixth sense. I never wondered what the nuns were thinking about me, but they must have added up all my odd, or “bad”, behaviour, and I acquired a reputation. I had to be rigidly controlled. When I was told to get out of the swimming pool, and swam to the opposite ladder instead of taking the nearest, I was banned from swimming for the two hottest weeks of the year.

There were hockey, netball and tennis matches against other schools. I never watched them. Winners were announced at an interminable ceremony, with a lot of cheering, at which the whole school were present. I used to bunk off. During one of these farragos, I went for a walk up to the hockey pitches, and came home through a rainstorm, singing at the top of my voice. I was happy. But then I was hauled in to see the Head Nun again, and underwent more hand-patting as she smilingly explained I couldn’t just “follow my bent” but must fit in with society. That was after she’d told me off for getting my clothes soaking wet and making the laundry room nun dry them. I wasn't aware this had happened – I probably changed into my never-worn games clothes.

We had a rather ineffective drama teacher who never managed to put on a play. We read a historical drama which she wanted us to act. She thought it would be a big joke to cast me as the Archbishop of Canterbury. I thought this would be utterly humiliating and begged not to have to do it but she giggled a lot and insisted. I went alone to our classroom and lay face-down on the rug and sobbed. Eventually the school nurse came in (an elderly nun devoid of bedside manner). She made me get up and go to bed, and gave me a sleeping pill. The incident wasn’t mentioned again, and the play was never put on. I was rather too old for toddler tantrums – but it was the only way I knew of getting out of doing anything I simply couldn’t face.

So, how did I get expelled? Let me explain the layout. The school was housed in a Victorian Gothic stately home, with much oak panelling and carving. There was a large room with a fake Tudor fireplace, a minstrels’ gallery, mullioned windows with seats, a TV and a grand piano. Three doors led off it: one to another Gothic hall with a magnificent staircase (pictured), one to the new-built “cloisters” and one to a classroom. It was 9pm in the summer term, and still light. I was in the large room when the Head Nun appeared like a vision in the minstrels' gallery and told me to go to bed. Instead of going through the door into the cloisters (that led to my bedroom), I went into the classroom, which had no other exit. Some younger girls (who’d been playing in the big room) came in and told me that the Head Nun had ordered them to tell me to go to bed immediately. I sent them back to tell her that I wouldn’t. This happened several times.

Eventually I climbed out of the window, and walked round to the building that housed my dormitory. You have to understand that we weren’t allowed outside after a certain time and what I did was simply unthinkable. No more was said about the incident.

Then my mother rang the Head Nun to ask if she could take me out at the weekend. The Head Nun replied: “Take her away and I don’t care if you never bring her back!” My mother, again, was mortified. So I had to leave school, and have my education – academic and social – severely disrupted.

And what had I done? I suppose over the years I’d clocked up a record of “difficult” behaviour. These days wouldn’t somebody send me to a psychologist? Wouldn’t my parents appeal – or ask for reasons? All they knew about our school lives was a report at the end of term. My maths report always read “Must try harder”. I sat in the O Level class with an entirely blank mind for two years, and then was quietly withdrawn from the exam. Nothing was said about it. My ability to do maths (completely absent) was never tested.

And people think I’ve been taught how to do everything – the “proper” way – and don’t need to be told what to do or how to do it. But we had all the advantages and privileges.

From the Head Nun's obituary in the school magazine: Things of which she disapproved were stamped on immediately, but on those which she either thought unimportant or harmless fun, a blind eye was turned, provided of course one was not actually caught – a most valuable lesson for life of the importance of observing the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not be found out.

More here, and links to the rest.

When Sister April O'Leary contacted me for a contribution to the history of the school she was compiling, I wrote back that the most important lesson the school taught was hypocrisy. She used everybody's offerings without editing or much editorialising. It's a brilliant book. Did I learn the lesson? You decide.

On reflection, I'd obeyed the Head Nun while appearing to disobey her, so she could do nothing about it.

Convents, digested.

Friday 2 October 2020

Decor Crimes: Get the Look

country kitchen:
wood units

Shaker kitchen: wood-effect units with fake tongue-and-groove panelling (Genuine Shaker furniture is pictured.)

It’s really, really dated. The kitchen’s from the 80s! (Your House Made Perfect)

I’d like to contemporize this kitchen. Those tiles aren’t really me.
(Escape to the Country)

We want a contemporary country kitchen. (My Dream Derelict Home. It’s the same old island plus bright white units.)

I think what we’re looking for is "period modern", if that makes any sense. (Man on Escape to the Country. Alastair Appleton translated it as “period property with open-plan kitchen”.)

Modernish but not too modern, because this 60s bungalow has got a bit of a cottagey feel.
(Homes under the Hammer)

I’m all about colour. (Contestant on The Great Interior Design Challenge. She painted everything grey.)

Martin Roberts: What are your plans for this house?
Buyer: To put back as many original features as possible.
(He probably means “Put in an inappropriate wooden regency-style fire surround and a wood-burning stove”. Does nobody know what the word "original" means? Homes under the Hammer)

Another Homes under the Hammer buyer thinks he’s “restored” his terraced house by stripping all the woodwork. The Girls’ Own Annual 1920 moans that if you buy an olde-worlde cottage the beams will be covered in layers of whitewash. And all the doors, window-sills etc will be painted cream. GOA advises you to strip it all.

“Victorian” restoration with fitted carpet, walls and wood painted navy, and a faux-Tudor fireplace.

So many people buy period homes and ‘love the character’, and then run scared and find it easier to buy everything new from a shop and decide period features are not ‘practical for modern life.’
(Via FB)

Why do so many people make a grand house look like a cottage? (Via FB)

Apparently big renovation projects get you lots of followers on Instagram. And I suppose a "restoration show" would not sell the furniture, fabric, wallpaper and paint colours that are currently on the market.

More here, and links to the rest.

Decor Crimes of 2020

Metro tiles – enough already!
White UPVC windows
– they come in other colours, and you can paint them.
Chair cosies for your high-backed dining chairs.
An inglenook – in a bedroom. In a terraced house.
An inglenook with a faux chimney – for your Aga.

Olde oake beames
that don’t support anything – above the fireplace, above windows, across the ceiling.
Flagstone floor in a Victorian house – on the first floor.
Every single piece of furniture, panelling or fitted cupboard made of “distressed” wood.
Exposed stone wall
as an “original feature” in a Victorian farmhouse.
Sticking a repro Phoenix fire insurance plaque on your wall.

Multicoloured plastic cocktail sticks in the shape of sabres.
Carpet on any vertical surface.
Whole wall stick-on murals of autumnal woods. (Actually these are rather lovely.)
"Marriages" combining an old speaker and a spotlight.
Panelled door with fanlight on a 60s council flat.

“Library shelves” wallpaper.
Plug-in heated pot-pourri pot.
UPVC Greek portico on your ex-council house.
"Louis" furniture
in a Cotswold cottage.
Faux hanging box balls.

A house that looks like a hotel.
Unusable fireplace with logs that are never lit.
Sliding doors.

Painting of a sad clown playing the violin.
Dyed quartz of the type found in beach gift shops.
Colourful postmodern buildings painted dark grey.

An Irish cottage has been “metamorphosized” as follows:

Black Impala Polished Granite counter tops
Limestone finish to boundary walls and sills
Polished stainless steel staircase with Impala polished granite treads
Italian Carrara marble flooring to main area
Italian Creme Marfic Marble Bathroom finish
Timber double glazed Sash Windows
New Spanish Slate Roof
Wood burning stove
Limestone Feature wall
Original Oak Flooring

Shabby non-chic: dog hairs, grimy cushion covers, grimy loose covers that are always out of place and  adorned with biscuit crumbs.

Carol Midgley in the Times June 2018 reacts to a recent list. Crimes include "beaded curtains, living-room bars, TV cupboards, avocado bathrooms, Artex walls, toilet rugs, wicker furniture indoors and water beds. Have these judges stepped from a time machine?” She adds that the only up-to-date crimes were tribal carvings and inspirational quotations.

The Times has a long list, August 2018: Whatever the oldies have in their kitchens will be snubbed and dismissed. Young people like open-plan kitchens and one-room living. Get rid of the wine rack and pan stand. In the bathroom, Opt for metro-style tiling over mosaic to appeal to the Instagram generation.  Mottled terracotta wallpaper, any form of border, rag-rolling and nautical themes don’t impress the under-50s. “Modernised” houses with every original feature ripped out don’t appeal, but don’t try to put back the character with cheap imitations and mock fireplaces. In the garden, get rid of “water features, ponds and garden gnomes. Anything fussy, dangerous or easy to break is a turn-off.” Decks, too, are now terribly “noughties”, and tend to be slippery when wet. Rip them out!

On home makeover shows, there’s nothing more damning than “It reminds me of my nana”. Bone china mugs are a “nan thing”, as is eating dinner at 6pm.

Old house surrounded by a sea of tarmac or gravel with parking for 30 cars, separated from paddocks by Kentucky wooden palings.

Efforts in the 60s to modernise anything classical, with suspended ceilings, or mint/taupe colour schemes.

Helterskelters, minigolf, giant moons, kitsch sculptures, flights of paper birds cluttering up cathedrals – and the jargon-ridden justifications that go with them.

Wallpaper with a large bright pattern makes a room look smaller. (From a Victorian book of household tips)

Carving up a stately home into small flats and creating absurdly tall, narrow rooms with a kitchen stuck in a dark corner, or making a pokey layout even more cramped and dark by lowering the ceiling to hide chopped-up mouldings.

“Playful” buildings – usually plain shapes covered in brightly coloured graffiti-inspired murals. @CheapoCrappy calls them “bizarre and ugly”.

Street art consisting of trompe l’oeil paintings that take up the entire wall.

Building houses without coat cupboards. Hanging coats in a tiny hall. (It took the Brits years to get utility rooms.)

It’s quite dark because of the wraparound conservatory. (Escape to the Country)

All that's missing is an Audrey Hepburn stencil and some union jack cushions. (SC on a house with grey walls and floor, a mural of London, and tiger-print sofas in a knocked-through lounge.)

A custom-made blonde wood unit for your flat-screen TV on the end wall of your sitting room, with slots for ornaments, photos and books. The TV has at last become the wall-mounted “visiscreen” of George Orwell's 1984.

To Americans, the epitome of naff taste is not wall-mounted flying china ducks, but a goose with a ribbon round its neck on a blue background. Known as “Ribbon Geese”, the pattern was all over Walmart in the 80s on oven gloves and toasters, and “popular with people who liked country d├ęcor”, say American correspondents.

A buyer on Homes under the Hammer spends three weeks scraping woodchip wallpaper off the ceiling. The presenters always say “And there’s woodchip on all the walls! Of course you’d have to get rid of that!” Woodchip was standard in refurbishments of the 70s and 80s, and went with dull blue carpeting throughout. It's not so bad, really.

Open plan: turning the interior of a 30s semi into a huge white cave. Solution: Put back the walls separating the living/dining room, and between living/dining rooms and hall. Reinstall oak panelling. Paint the smaller rooms pale green with a dado rail under the ceiling, or a shelf for your china plates.

“Knocking through” while leaving parts of supporting walls, so that the ground floor resembles a maze with arches leading to other arches and you can just about work out where the hall/passage/dining room/sitting room once were.

Instagram has had a tremendous influence on interior design, creating a landscape of minimalist nowhere spaces. ( Sometimes these interiors are dressed up with anonymous "touches": a plant in an ethnic pot, a modern oak sideboard, colourful cushions.)

The upmarket beach hut look – all faded navy canvas, white tongue-and-groove, shells and pebbles everywhere – is hugely fashionable on social media as “cottagecore”. You create a still life of seersucker tablecloth, tasteful picnic-ware and food, in a picturesque orchard, snap it and put it on Instagram. Boden-wearers have dropped the style (and the bunting) – of course they have now it has clearly slid down the class ladder.

A common mistake people make with an open concept space is thinking that all the furniture should be against the walls.
(Alyssa Kapito, Alyssa Kapito Interiors) suggests turning an entrance hall back into an entrance hall with different lighting and wall colours and a contrasting rug, plus a table as a “barrier”.

Create intimate nooks, like a reading corner or small workspace. (Anjie Cho)

More here, and links to the rest.

Decor Crimes in Quotes


Why do all regenerated harbourside spaces, anywhere in the world, feel and look exactly the same? Same paving, same glass office blocks, same bit of street art... same preserved crane, same selection of chain bars. (Guy Moore via Facebook)

Architects and planners the world over have bought the same "regenerated harbourside spaces" kit.
(Tom Bourgeois)

My wife has painted a "feature wall" in our kitchen, using a cheery bright orange. My older son says that he now feels as if he's in a children's home, waiting to be fostered. (@Lord_Steerforth)

Victorian furniture, grave and heavy, appeared at variance with rose-coloured Axminster on the floor and rose-coloured damask at the windows... There was some kind of flowered paper on the walls, but almost every inch of it was covered by innumerable sketches, photographs, and engravings of famous pictures... the furniture vied with the walls in supporting photographs of every relation and friend she had ever had. (Patricia Wentworth’s The Chinese Shawl, 1941)

If ‘St Just’ had been pebble-dashed, with a circular recess for the door and an enormous gable... ‘St Anthony’ must be purple brick, with a portico supported on pillars like Tudor chimneys. (Mary Renault The Friendly Young Ladies)

The sort of man whose taste might run to a cocktail bar in the living-room. (Judge at the trial of a nightclub owner and fruit machine salesman)

Urban motorway philosophy. Knock down half the city to be able to drive in quicker but then have no city worth visiting. See Birmingham. (Martin Battle via Facebook)

McMansions... are thrown together from a mishmash of signifier features (ie “Palladian” windows, “impressive” facades, fake stone, fake brick, fake stucco, columns, multi-storey foyers, at least two garage bays, multiple surface materials, “cook’s” kitchens - read as oversized, master suites - read as oversized, master baths as part of master suites - read as oversized, etc.) (Zach Woods on FB)

The Art Journal in the mid-19th century deprecated “landscapes and pictures” on pottery, 3D naturalistic patterns on 2D surfaces (especially cabbage roses on your carpet), and they loathed the imitation of ribbons on fabrics. They moaned about a “perspective representation of a railway station” as a repeating pattern on wallpaper. They were not keen on cut-glass tableware. They were horrified by a popular blue jug in the form of a tree trunk. There was a special Chamber of Horrors at the nascent V&A to display these solecisms. Dickens wrote about an unhappy Mr Crumpet who realises he is living among these “horrors”. “The paper in my parlour contains four kinds of bird of paradise, besides bridges and pagodas.” So what were we supposed to have on our walls? “Sober, conventional treatments of foliage, exhibiting considerable skill in design and arrangement,” wrote The Builder in 1855.

Candid snaps ... show how the couple have transformed the crumbling period property into a polished country pile complete with marble floors, indoor pool and a walk-in wardrobe to house the designer clothing collection... Personal touches - including an antique chandelier that once hung in a Northampton theatre, and a giant family portrait hung in the bathroom - lend the home a classical feel... The boys' bedrooms are decked out like a castle and an airport. (Daily Mail. The ground floor is marble-tiled throughout, with waist-height panelling in a dark colour and “metro tile” shaped panels. There's a fireplace with logs but no fire irons, and stone surround so narrow that you could never safely light a fire in it.

Usually what happens is that buildings usually get a wildly unsuccessful makeover as they go out of fashion and are then left in such a bastardised state that they aren't worth preserving. You used to see a lot of weak attempts to postmodernise modernist buildings in the 80s. Now we see attempts to modernise postmodern buildings. (Austen Redman via FB)

More here, and links to the rest.