Beyond the School Gate

Monday Memoir BadgeAbout this time I became aware of events taking place in the world.

The girls in Primrose Dorm were agog when Patricia returned from weekend exeat (leave) with the story of Christine Keeler who was, apparently, having ‘affairs’ with British politicians.

‘What is an affair?’ we wanted to know.

‘She had sex with all kinds of men,’ reported Patricia knowingly.  Eleven years old and we were scandalised.

‘Is that bad?  So what happened to her?’

‘Yes of course it’s bad.  It’s what prostitutes do.  She went to jail,’ advised Patricia.

Keeler was imprisoned for perjury, not sex scandals but we weren’t to know and Patricia was frightfully worldly and we weren’t game to question her even if we had known differently. 

The other girls nodded knowingly so I wasn’t  about to ask what a prostitute might be let alone sex.  I had been sheltered from so much hidden up country at Kaptagat where anything to do with one’s private bits and pieces was ‘rude talk’ and certainly not encouraged.  My mother was in for a treat the next time I had weekend leave.

But Patricia was responsible for so much more than wrongfully  imprisoning Christine Keeler.  Patricia introduced us to the Vietnam War.  My parents were diligent to keep the weekly Look and Learn magazines mailed to me at boarding school so I was familiar with the Napoleonic Wars and other intriguing historic events.  My thirst for knowledge covered the War of the Roses, the escapades of William the Conqueror and I knew my dates (facts and figures were always a strength) and of the Battle of Hastings that happened in 1066.  But to learn that the world in which I lived was  rife with killing, destruction, shootings and bombings, was not something I considered beyond the pages of the magazines.  Oh yes, Patricia assured us, it wouldn’t be long before the whole world was at war. She made it sound like Vietnam and its war was marching towards us at speed.

While soldiers were ‘blown to kingdom come’ and innocents died senselessly I was having nightmares, which were terrifying but compounded when I started to sleepwalk.

I’d never liked the dark but now lights out became especially frightening as I lay in  bed waiting to be blown off the face of the earth by ‘the yellow peril’.    Waking up in a different dormitory and in a strange bed was scary but Matron waded into battle – it was time to end my  ‘country antics’.  Mrs Bouwers (Matron’s assistant) was sure the sleepwalking was an attention-seeking exploit.  The next time we lined up for our cod liver oil, Mrs Bouwers muttering in Afrikaans, spooned me out a double dose (vindictive old trout).

Not only was Patricia kept abreast of world events by liberal parents, she was a Jew.  Unabashed by her specialness, she told us the Jews ‘’are God’s chosen people”.  I had a vague idea about who God may have been but raising her eye brows and nodding heaven-ward Patricia confirmed  ‘He was up there’ lavishing specialness on her and her people.  But I had no idea what a Jew might be except that God had chosen them so they had to be a pretty unique bunch.

The other girls were less phased by this declaration of specialness but more inclined to ask how someone – not an Anglican was permitted entry to St Andrew’s Girls School.  Anglican!  When had I become Anglican?

My father took care of the Vietnam War, suitably simplified for an eleven year old.  In a neat side-step from any explanation about ‘the yellow peril’ I learned instead about the construction of the Suez Canal, also in the news at the time although my father did not extrapolate the reason.  It was enough to listen to him describe the building and process of the large and important waterway.  His attention to detail made it easy to focus on, rather than the frightening events of the Vietnam War; and no we were not going to be absorbed in to the Vietnam War.

While my mother decided I needed no more information about Christine Keeler, she was willing to talk about what it meant to be Jewish.  I returned to school with a new respect for Patricia and her people.  The following week, rolled inside the Look and Learn magazine, was the children’s edition of Path of Light that had a series of short stories about kindness and gratitude.

I was having difficulty interpreting the heavy South African accent by which I was now surrounded as well as having to wear the teasing from others for my ‘posh’ accent.  Awakening to a world beyond family was bound to happen.  I just wished it didn’t happen all at once.  Goodness me, sex and prostitutes, being ‘posh’ and wars.  The things that happened outside the pages of history books – had I learned nothing at Kaptagat!

That Sunday when I returned to boarding school my father said:

‘Next time Patricia has news after weekend exeat,  hop in to bed and go to sleep.’

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4 thoughts on “Beyond the School Gate

    • Some are so vivid they could have happened yesterday while others are about the feelings evoked. Being so sheltered from the world and not listening to the radio with my parents because of being at school, just about everything I heard that wasn’t school-related was a big wow for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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