Things I learned from boarding school

Well, hello there! Me again. I hope that you’re all still with me, still reading my little blog, and spend each week waiting eagerly for the newest post to arrive. It’s raining in town at the moment, and since it’s my day off from work (ah, lovely lazy Sunday) I thought I’d spend it lying on my bed, listening to Say Lou Lou and writing you this post about my old schooldays. Even though I’m not yet in my cardigan-wearing, midday-roast meal, lipstick-wearing years of my sixties, I can’t help but feel a tinge on fond nostalgia as I reflect back on my days of boarding at St Margaret’s. Since my parents live in the country and henceforth wanted me to gain some sort of good education, it seemed the only decent option was to bundle me into the car, suitcases and all, and leave me on the doorstep of the boarding house like an orphan from Annie. As a somewhat awkward, introverted thirteen-year old girl with braces and unfortunate acne (thank God for orthodontists and Isotin pills), I wasn’t entirely sure how to behave in this new-found habitat of shouty, cool adolescents. The good news was that at least half of us were from the country, so we could bond over topics such as favourite gumboot brands and how much fun it was to ride around on horses or sheep. Within the first week, I’d found my fellow ‘wolf pack’ members, and to this day I have remained friends with them. I guess that once you go to boarding school and suffer through the same henious experiences altogether, you really do bond for life.

That being said, being at boarding school did teach me a few things. Whether you’re a fresh-faced innocent Year 9 arrived straight from primary school, or a tall, know-all Year 13 with one side of your blazer sagging under the weight of badges showcasing how excellent you are, there’s advice here for everyone. May you read and absorb, and perhaps pass this onto your daughter (or son) if they ever venture through the gates for five years at Boarding School. Thanking you very muchly.

Things I Learned At Boarding School That No Teacher Or Matron Ever Taught Me:

  1. Always hide snacks in your room, because they make everything better. I can remember many happy trips to the local supermarket, coming back laden with packets of chips and Pods for me to nibble on during study sessions or when watching movies. Whenever I had a bad day, I could take some comfort in knowing there was a block of Cadbury’s stashed away in my locked drawer. Even the container of Jelly Tip ice cream I once hid in the kitchen freezer was great for when my friends and I would watch movies and gossip on a weekend. So yeah. Buy snacks, stash them, eat them.

2. At least 75% of facts about boys, dating and sex will come from movies, the rumour mill, and magazines. Yes, we did have Health classes and all that, but to be honest, spending five years at an all-girl’s school didn’t really give us much contact with the opposite sex. Aside from the traditional Year 9 and 10 dances at various schools, where I dressed up in the brightest op shop clothing available and tried in vain to attract the attention of any boy lucky enough to be standing near me (which sadly, never seemed to work for me), we didn’t have a lot to do with boys and remained bewildered about the facts of life. However, my solution to this problem was simple. I would buy Girlfriend magazine religiously every month, then my friends and I would skip straight to the Sex Advice section, reading bits aloud in hushed, awed tones. We’d giggle our way through movies like as American Pie, which elaborated on our findings even more, and occasionally spend a Friday night in our pyjamas, eating snacks and wondering out loud about these finer points in life. (“Can you actually get pregnant in a hot tub like Quinn did in Glee?”) Yes, while occasionally inaccurate and confusing, this provided a satisfying foundation which which to lay the Facts Of Life for a fourteen-year-old me.

3. Disaster may strike at any time, so be prepared. I never thought this rule might actually come in handy, but after the 2011 February earthquake which struck when I was in our school cafeteria, I quickly learned the importance of having a ‘getaway’ bag in my dorm room. Having clothes, an extra pair of socks, snacks and a miniature flashlight stuffed into a small bag gave me peace of mind when I’d be woken up by an aftershock at 2 in the morning.

4. You will learn to get on with people, even if you don’t particularly like them. Spending five years living with only girls was, at times, hellish. When trying to get to sleep after Lights Out, the loud whispers, giggles and lights from phone screens shining onto the ceiling (phones were supposed to be confiscated during bedtime) would silently infuriate me as I pulled my pillow over my head, trying to get to sleep and nearly suffocating in the process. Some girls would chew their cud far too loudly at mealtimes, some would sprint from one end of the dorm to the other for no reason while I was trying to study, some would take far too long in the showers when we only had forty-five minutes left to get ready for bed between Prep Time and Quiet Time. That being said, we all  managed to tolerate each other in one way or another, even if they weren’t part of our different social groups.

5. Weekends can be fun, even if you have to stay at school. I was reasonably lucky, as since my parents were only an hours’ bus ride away, I could visit them on weekends. But when I chose to stay in the boarding house over the weekend, it wasn’t so bad. I’d sometimes get together with my friends and we’d go shopping at the mall. (Or rather, browse in Supre, get a chocolate thickshake at Wendy’s, walk past a group of girls from a rival school and hiss something bitchy under your breath as you pass them, hang around more shops, buy a $5 top from Jay Jays for an upcoming school dance, then get the bus home). We would also watch movies in a friend’s room with a duvet and snacks, put on fashion shows using our dorm as a runway, or in my case, play Sims 3 for eight hours straight with my friend Brooke. Who said boarding school had to be dull?

6. DIY hacks can be a lifesaver. Once you’re mastered learning the basics, like how to sew on a button and how to tie a tie (simply loosen it and pull it over your head so you never have to tie it again) the world is your oyster. You will figure out many little things that make boarding life so much easier, including: how to remove a troublesome sticker off a new purchase (use a hairdryer), how to keep mascara from going dry (drip cold water onto the brush) and how to keep yourself from getting bored during a long and dreary Boarder’s Chapel service (bring a lump of Blu Tack in and make shapes with it = hours of fun).

7. Photo Booth will become your new best friend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Photo Booth, it’s an app on your computer that allows you to take photos and videos with various effects. When I was in the first two years of boarding, this was all the rage. Secretly videoing your unsuspecting friends dancing to Justin Bieber down the hallway, or even dressing up as famous people and pretending to interview each other is comedy gold. Best of all, it gives you great memories which you can look back on in years to come. (I still have a video from Year 10 of Brooke and I pretending to be Kath and Kim. WILD).

As you can see, I learned quite a few things from going boarding, and could go on but you’d be here all night (or day, depending on where you are in the world). But even though life in the boarding house had its quirks and perks and everything in between, I am proud to say I went to a school like St Mag’s. And seriously, the girls I met and my experiences of five years away from home have shaped me as a person to this day. One day when I’m sixty years old and sitting in a rocking chair, grandchildren on my knee, I’ll proudly show them the silver Leaver’s Ring on my right hand and say,”It all started when I was thirteen, and walked through the doors of the St Margarets’ boarding house in a blazer that was too big for me…”

Love always,

Bindy Xxx

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