This piece continues the story of my primary school days at St Andrew’s Junior School.
At St Andrews the boarders arrived the day before the first day of each school term that allowing us to unpack, be oriented to our surroundings and timetables and have the rules of the boarding school read and explained.
The parquet flooring throughout the boarding school was kept so highly polished it was the bane of matron’s day as we slid up and down the corridors in our socks. At either end of the dormitories were swinging doors; at one end a landing, where the tuck boxes were kept in a locked cupboard; through the other swing doors were the living quarters for the headmistress of the junior school.
There were four dormitories -my dormitory was called Primrose, yellow, which made remembering my house colour easy – Milner. Rows of beds lined two long sides of the dormitories and were separated by a bank of adjoining dressing tables; each girl’s dressing table directly in front of her bed. The dressing tables had a small hanging cupboard for uniforms and shoe storage, a set of five drawers and a mirror. The cleanliness, order and the smell of fresh paint was a stark contrast to Kaptagat with its arthritic buildings and concrete floors.
The large purpose built bathroom at my new school had toilets down one side and along the second wall were small bathrooms with doors that had latches. Oi Wei, the toilet cubicles had latches too. Separating the toilet cubicles and individual bathrooms down the centre of the large amenities two rows hand basins stood back to back, separated by a mirror that ran the length of the basins.
At Kaptagat the two bath tubs were filled once and we had stood in naked lines and waited our turn to be scrubbed down by matron. All fifteen girl boarders used the same water. Modesty was not highly regarded at Kaptagat and being naked in front of other girls seemed natural.
The school ran to stringent rosters with minimal fuss, boarders and staff adhered to the rosters with no assistance from school bells to which I was used. Until I learned to tell the time I was in Matron’s, Mrs Murphy, bad books as I missed bath time on more than a few occasions.
Mrs Murphy came to find me and told me that if I hurried I had time for a bath before dinner. Eager to redeem my dignity at having been reprimanded on my first day I stripped down, gathered my towel and wash bag and pelted down the long airy corridor, naked. Mrs Murphy was aghast. While the incident put me in Matron’s bad books for the remainder of term, it solidified my place amongst the girls in Primrose.
That night when the other girls were in bed reading before lights out, I was summonsed.
‘Well, Roberts, what have you to say for yourself?’
‘Nothing, what did I do?’
‘You ran naked, from the dormitory to the bathroom and then back again. That’s what you did.’
‘That isn’t good?’
‘No, it’s not good and you call me Matron when you’re speaking to me, do you hear.’
‘You are in South Africa now and we won’t tolerate that kind of bush behaviour here. Do you hear me, Roberts?’
‘That’s good, now back to bed and don’t let me have to speak to you again this week.’
‘This is not a good start, Roberts, you need to pull your socks up and behave. You’re not in the country here. You understand?’
‘Yes, may I go now?’
‘May I go now please, Matron.’
‘Yes Matron, can I go now?
‘You keep your clothes on. That way we can be sure you have at least a modicum of modesty about you.’ I had no idea what she was talking about. On weekend leave I asked my mother what Matron had meant and Mum said:
‘No more bare bums.’