The Last Day of School - Exits

The Last Day of School - Exits

If you follow me on social media then you may have noticed a truly momentous event back in May when I managed a tube journey from Chiswick into town on the District Line. A journey I had not made in decades because of my claustrophobia. My lovely husband was at my side and a modest dose of pharma was on the inside.

What I didn’t mention on social media was that I was going back to school for a few hours. There was a ‘tea and tour’ thing I had heard about and signed up without thinking. So, because London is now pretty much permanently gridlocked, I thought it time to brave the underground and do the same journey that I had managed twice daily as a teenager.

The journey was joyously uneventful and the money and time saved, as well as the triumph I felt has pushed me to keep pushing it. I've now been on the tube 6 times... and counting.

Back to May - I walked from the station to the school that used to take me past New Scotland Yard... (Why is the new location on the river not called 'New New Scotland Yard?'), past the chemist where I'd bought my first sanitary products... boldly but memorably and past the newsagents that only allowed two children in at one time and then I entered through the main front door of my old school and the smell just hit me. Along with the sound of very old dark polished wood underfoot - I was suddenly transformed back to another age.

Wondering what the actual fuck I was doing back there, I had assumed it was simply to check the veracity of my memories - to see that the staff room door was where I remembered it (a hallowed space never entered by a pupil but where we were often made to wait outside for a teacher who would emerge encircled in a fug of fag smoke). It was, indeed, still there (sans gas).

As we were directed to an unfamiliar canteen to eat cake, I felt increasingly unsure of myself and realised that I wasn’t skipping down memory lane at all.  What I was actually doing was performing an exorcism! I didn’t love my school days. I didn’t really like my life much at that time and walking around the areas of the building that hadn’t changed was a lot less cathartic and shockingly more emotional than I had envisioned. Don’t get me wrong, I had some good times in my teens - some amazing friends, but I wasn’t popular, I didn’t excel and I didn’t leave with good grades. 

I'm sure there are myriad reasons for a lack of any real academic achievement.  I actually studied very hard but, in those days, the only special dispensation that I got was that whilst sitting for my A'Levels, if I had to leave the hall because of a panic attack, I would be allowed to do so quietly (but not return). Otherwise, we were to wait in those three hour exams on hot summer days until the bitter end.  What a fucking nonsense.... and don't get me started on my attempts to memorise all of the quotes from all of the English texts as they were not allowed into the room with us.  Interestingly, the only one I can still remember (other than Hamlet's main soliloquy) was Chaucer's And "prively he caughte hire by the queynte". If you don't know it or can't understand it, look it up - it's a doozy 😁

Whilst we're talking queyntes - special shout out to the man who singularly failed to teach both Maths AND Geography to a generation of girls. A truly arrogant, lazy, uninspiring, boring, patronising bully of an individual who's first utterance to our class (when I was 13) was 'one thing I can't stand is giggling little girls'.  His response to 'I don't understand Sir' would be 'well you're clearly not paying enough attention.' He taught me for five shitting useless years and I still hold a grudge.

But then there was my favourite teacher who was head of the 6th form and head of English. She would get a round of drinks in when she took us to the theatre (this was during the GLA years when schools were given budgets for theatre outings!). She even used to sometimes find a spare ticket for my boyfriend (it was an all-girls comp). I really did think the sun shone from her arse - one of those teachers who treated you with respect and who didn't just enjoy her subject, but loved teaching it.

So there I was, in my old school, avoiding eye contact and pushing doors open that felt the same and looked the same and smelled the same and I felt the same: I felt small and vulnerable, and I was suddenly confronted with the knowledge that this old Head of English was in the house! This woman whom I remembered to be past retirement age in my school days (so dead by now) was suddenly standing in front of me.  As a hologram I can only assume - she'd hardly aged and certainly didn't remember me (why would she?!)

I told her she had meant a lot to me at a difficult time and she smiled and then I went to push on some more doors to feel the familiar weight and resistance and to stand in the stairs corridor to what used to be the canteen where the hubbub would be deafening and the heat oppressive. And I took the photos of the wooden stairs up to the stage in the great hall and remembered them as being so much bigger - not a simple set of wooden steps but an ascension to something greater (the stage). It was underwhelmingly overwhelming and I'm not sure I can put it any more succinctly than that.

We were supposed to be on a tour but I had a sudden flash of 'what the fuck are they going to do if I just leave and have a wander? I know my way around, they have no power over me other than to throw me out.' So I did just that, wandering around taking photos and remembering important moments in my personal history and I pretty much sobbed the whole time, pathetic wretch that I'd suddenly become.  I finally made my way back to the library to say goodbye.

For some unknown reason I turned back from the door, saw another old teacher with whom I'd chatted looking at me with a glint in her eye and in a sudden moment of joy and release I shouted 'see ya' and gave her the bird.

We both laughed.

Which I think is the coolest fucking exit ever.  Now I can never go back 😁

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8 comments

Love this. I would love to write about my school days but unfortunately too many family members are on it lol I do wind my school stories into other blogs where appropriate… Although Clarence the cuddly Clarinet got his own blogs. I’ll send you it for a laugh.

I really enjoyed reading this.

Claire Withnall

Hey Sarah. Bravo. Well, I’ll never be able to use the seemingly innocent descriptor ‘quaint’ ever again, even if Constable’s thatches beg me! I never read Chaucer or had his pennings foisted upon me, but whenever I see later Middle English my expression registers pure WTF – even with an English Language O level! This blog has really hit a spot. In my crafting room there’s a carrier bag. Actually, it’s a bottle bag, but that’s my joke. In it are the ashes of a Right Shitty Bastard, AKA my father. Hearing you call up inner powers to conquer your fears and slay your dragons fills me with awe. This year I reach my biblical Use By date: I hit my three score years and ten. To be honest though my Thanatophobia has forever ensured that the Grim Reaper’s fucking shadow photobombs my waking thoughts, my dreams, my laughter, my tears, my hopes and my creativity. If you can get on a plane, ride the underground and shove two fingers up the noses of salaried school bullies – then I can mos def stay alive long enough to chuck my Dad’s mortal remain somewhere just as defiant. And finally loosen his stranglehold…..

Karen Titmus

Loved this. Rang so many bells for me. Thank you for writing it xx

Clare

You have such a way with words. Sometimes I find your blogs entirely relatable, sometimes not so much – but one way or another I always find them entertaining. And I carry one of your pins on my work bag so even on my worst day I am reminded how awesome I am – for that I truly thank you 😊

Marion

Love your blogs 😁👍

Paul

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