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Monday, October 01, 2007

50 years ago

Granny is back on Lanzarote, looking out at sun and sea. Her feet last week barely touched ground, what with visits to/meetings with family, friends, shopping for unobtainable food here (large amounts of dark fairtrade (of course) chocolate...not just she's a chocoholic, she is, but there are chocolate cakes to make for Beloved's workshop) shopping for the odd garment, going to the theatre (twice) etc etc etc. Back here everything is gearing up for Beloved's scientific workshop, scheduled to start next week. To begin with Granny is trying to locate necessary tools, clothes etc, secreted away by her Beloved who calls it tidying. (Actually she does just the same to him when left on her own; it's called living with someone. So she can't complain, really.)

But the main purpose of her visit to ever colder London (wonderfully hot and sunny here: good) was to go to a reunion of her old school; something she has never done, nor ever wanted to do before. To find out what has happened to people since she saw them last - 50 years ago - even to uncongenial people - was/is fascinating; some had changed utterly; some have become what you could see they would become even when they were little girls. Weird that. As was some of the gossip she acquired about a few of them, about a few of their past teachers. (Granny would love to put that up here, but as some of it was pretty libelous and she is no longer anonymous, better not, probably.)

But this wasn't the only reason, she went. Granny had better explain about her school. It was a small boarding-school and posh. Very posh. Its ex-pupils distinctively so, in many cases - standing on Charing X station on Saturday morning, Granny saw a small group of middle-aged women waiting on the platform with her. She headed towards them: 'Are you?...' she asked. They were, albeit about 20 years younger than she was. Unmistakeable, like she said.

(The school was also, in Granny's day, the fifties, largely staffed by some of the two million or so women left husbandless because of the First World War; two maths mistresses, a geography teacher, a French teacher among others. Even then, Granny thought it was unfair how such middle-aged women were looked down on: as 'spinsters', as 'teachers' - 'don't become a teacher,' Granny's father begged her - what were the poor women supposed to do in the circumstances? Knit?)

But that was normal enough for schools in mid- twentieth century. What became much more distinctive about this school, later, was/ is that it was the school Princess Diana went to. The ghost of Diana, of course, did not attend the reunion - nor did her sisters. But her headmistress was there -she was the Latin mistress in Granny's day and a splendid woman now living in sin - as she put it herself, with the widowed father of an ex-pupil - 'you and I' both she said giggling, when Granny explained about her own Beloved. Wonderful how the dialogue between pupil and teacher evolves over the years. After this headmistress retired the school couldn't cope with the publicity dumped on it by the Diana phenomenon and folded the same year as the People's Princess died. It is now owned by Mohammed al Fayed and sorts out problem/abused/mentally ill/physically disabled children; the kind of children who, not given chances like this would end up in places like Oak View. It is a wonderful place.

Granny is rather more in favour of this school than she was of the old one, inverted snob as she is. Not, herself, one of its typical alumni, she sent her children to comprehensive state schools, didn't she? Another a-typical product was/is that very interesting actress, Tilda Swinton, White Witch of the North, and currently appearing in Michael Clayton, who once spent a week sleeping in a glass case at the Serpentine Gallery, as part of an art exhibition: this was not a common career move for anyone from Granny's old school.

There's another aspect to this school, though, which might interest some of you more - in an another uncommon career move, Granny stole it and some of its pupils besides, moved them lock, stock and barrel to the banks of the Thames at Isleworth and put them all into Charlotte Sometimes. Several of these characters turned up at the school reunion. Granny did NOT tell them she had used them so rudely. She did however take pictures of the cedar tree, an important feature of the book, of the front door, also featured, and of the glass verandah she crawled out onto and BROKE (an incident which went into the book straight, pretty much.) She forgot to take her camera, alas, so had to borrow Beloved Son's. He will email the pictures to her, when he has time. She will put them up here, she promises.

Nostalgia fest, all round. Here was the classroom in which Granny wrote her first published stories, here the one where the school inspector sat down next to her, and thereafter insisted to her headmistress she had to go to university (an event, which, via the headmistress and her mother finally bore down on her father - who did not believe in university education for women - and got her into Oxford, thereby transforming her life.) Here, too, was the oak-panelled room in which Charlotte sat down for breakfast - here the passages she heard footsteps running down - all carpeted now - so on and so forth. Here this, here that, part of Charlotte's life, part of Granny's life and imagination, still to be seen, all these years later. (And looking much smaller. Of course.)

Life is short, isn't it? Well that's Granny's cliche for the day. She will be very busy for the next two weeks; she will attend to this place as she can, but not very fully and not very often. To work, to work. 'Sta luego.'

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