School Drive

The elegant driveway meanders off to the ochre stately home just visible behind the hedge to the right in the photo, behind the beech trees on the left is the church attached to the mansion. This is the entrance to the building that housed probably the worst girls boarding school ever; to be sent there was seemed like a punishment for the sin of being a girl child. I spent five years in this dismal place.

Fifty years ago the drive was not in such good shape, the surface was grey, drab and un edged; along the sides of the drive were black iron railings, running into thick, old box hedges giving the added feeling that once inside we were shut off from the world, not to be seen or trusted, like nuns or something.

I used to dread this piece of private road, my spirits sank at the thought of it, it was the road back to prison, to being buried in a hive of people that you had nothing in common with but were forced to interact with, 24/7. There were larger beech trees making an avenue through a field nearby that had a lot of small, stick like branches, making a kind of nest about five feet off the ground. Once I had hauled myself up into the safe place against the tree trunk nobody could see me. I used to sit up in that secret place where I could see the drive,and anybody approaching, but they had no idea I was there. To begin with I used to eat chocolate in private, later I smoked cigarettes and then I smoked joints in
my organic hideout.

Sometimes in despair I would take alcohol back to school with me, there was plenty at home so it was never missed. Then I organised midnight feasts; downstairs, in the once elegant old drawing rooms turned into scuffed and miserable class-rooms, some of us braved authority and joined in sad little parties with crisps and biscuits. The only adrenalin involved was in how we evaded the attention of the
disappointed and angry women who ruled over us.

But one night in the summer of 1967 three of us spilt outside into the dark garden with a bottle of gin; we wandered and pranced silently around the lawn near the hedge in our nighties swigging out of the bottle. The gin invoked a feeling of freedom; it was exhilarating to be out in the warm night air, to have escaped the confines of the building and my mind while the dragons were asleep. There is a gap in my memory then as the next thing I remember is crawling up the drive, I was too drunk to stand up or walk the same loathsome drive as the one in the photo. I must have had an awful hangover but it didn’t matter, I’d broken the spell, ripped the cobwebs off, I was ready now and the driveway was just a piece of tarmac.
But I still can’t stomach the smell of gin.

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