St Andrew’s Prep School (1)

Monday Memoir BadgeBoarding School Part 1 and Part 2 are precursors to this third post relating to my boarding school years and form part of my life story.

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The road trip from Kaptagat Prep School to the Nairobi airport was memorable for the speed at which we travelled. My father held his foot firmly on the accelerator and counted up the miles per hour as the speedometer moved with increasing speed towards the red triangle – 100 miles per hour.

I shan’t comment on the sensibility of his actions as I am uncertain what condition the roads were in or what make of car he was driving although I can be certain it would have been well maintained. I do know it was exciting and the faster we moved the quicker we left Kaptagat boarding school behind.

I have no memories of the flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg but understood our family would be reunited and that I would not be returning to Kaptagat.

While my parents looked for a house we stayed at the Casa Mia Hotel, 37 Soper Road, Berea a suburb near to the Johannesburg CBD. The hotel was built in 1940s and well maintained as a short term accommodation alternative for expats, new arrivals and those returning to South Africa. My parents became friends with a family from England, the Sprostons and their two children; David and Jenny. Jenny became my first ‘best’ friend and we kept in touch throughout school until we each left South Africa to travel.

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I failed the entrance examination to one of the most prestigious girls’ schools in Johannesburg, Roedean – whose mission statement remains: Inspiring a Life of Significance. However, I was accepted in to St Andrew’s Prep School whose boast was, Skills for Life. I feel I would have been as content at Roedean as I became at St Andrew’s simply because neither was Kaptagat Prep School.

St Andrew’s was founded in 1902 and unlike Kapatagat where there were no formal playing grounds bar the African grasslands, my new school was set in parklike grounds nestled against Gilhooly’s Hill in Bedfordview. The land, originally owned by George Farrar a mining magnate, bequeathed the property to the school.

He is buried outside the school’s perimeter but remains alive in the memories of students as they earn the right of passage, into high school, as an attendee at midnight feasts that marked the end of each school year. His ghost was as present in the locker room, where the feasts were held, as were the packets of Simba crisps, Romany Creams, chocolates and homemade treats smuggled in by boarders on the on their last weekend exit. George Farrar’s ghost was mainstage at the end of year midnight feasts as stories were retold of him wandering the corridors knocking on dormitory doors (which was nonesense because the dormitory doors were never closed) and moving furniture from one dormitory to another (more nonesense as there were no moveable pieces of furniture in any dorm in which I slept).

The British education system ensured the perpetuation of old school traditions such as the practice of ‘fagging’, amongst other awful traditons, but also the team-building establishment of ‘houses’, whereby students from every grade where placed in teams that competed for a variety of trophies each year. Once assigned to a house students remained loyal throughout their time at the school.

St Andrews had four houses: Athlone (green), Farrar (red), Milner (yellow) and Selbourne (blue); my house was Milner. Each year our parents paid for a new tee-shirt in our house colour on which the house name and year were embroidered.

High school and primary school had team leaders for each house and house meetings were held regularly to keep track of scores. Personal academic and sporting achievements were recognised at class level and points awarded to the student’s house. When a St Andrew’s team beat another school at any activity points were awarded to each student’s house in the team. Good behaviour and thoughtfulness attracted house points too.

The first week of the school year was set aside for house activities one of which was to come up with a ‘war cry’ to be sung or chanted at every major house event. Nights were devoted to making team paraphernalia: hats (the wackier the better), streamers on rulers rattling with team colours. At sporting events house cheer leaders fronted each tiered stand at sporting events and the senior house leaders did whatever it took to encourage as much noise and foot-stomping from respective houses.

Within weeks at my new boarding school it was hard to think about having left Kaptagat with anything other than thankfulness. Although I doubt a ten year old has the capacity to make such an observation, I was less anxious and able to enjoy boarding school, being with other children and the idea of inclusion.

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