Missed or mist? When this word was suggested to me two things came in to my mind at once – the mists of time and great misunderstandings.
I look back on my time at St Augustine’s with great affection. I arrived in September 1964 thinking it was going to be like Fourth Form at St Claire’s or at least like Mallory Towers. I’d been to see the school with my father and all I could remember before I actually started there were the great playing fields stretching out almost to Wembley – or so I thought. The boundaries were beautifully deceptive with hahas dug out at the bottom of the garden! My impression of the fields and the parlour which was small and claustrophobic and had an old fashioned phone (even then) hanging on the wall did not destroy my anticipation.
So September 15th found me in that parlour with my teddy bear, the Complete Works of Shakespeare (I’d just had my birthday) and a suitcase full of bedding and pyjamas. I was nervous, excited and terrified. My mother kissed me goodbye ( what must she have been feeling?) and left. I was introduced to a Madam Caroça who was very, very old. She was English but was the widow of a Spanish gentleman who had died in the Spanish Civil War. She was fierce. She then introduced me to the other two companions of the evening. The first was Mademoiselle Norton – who was even older, and obviously hadn’t been married to anyone. She was tiny, grey hair, no teeth, and didn’t speak much. She just lived in the convent, but not on the cloistered side. The last person was the youngest, and potentially the most interesting, but she was as lost as I was. Fanny Chow. From Hong Kong. I was fascinated by her. She was seventeen and had come over for a year to finish her education. I was just starting mine. I was desperate to talk to her and to find out about her and to learn some Chinese. She just glared at me. Perhaps she was shy. I certainly was. So that evening the four of us sat in the enormous school dining room, and were served cold ham and potatoes by an even more ancient nun, Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus. She at least smiled. We all stared glumly at our plates.
That night I went to bed in what was obviously a nun’s cell. A crucifix. Two beds, two chairs and a chest of drawers. A small dark mirror. Madam Caroça told me to unpack and not to leave anything on display apart from my hairbrush. I didn’t have a hairbrush as my hair was so short. She barked some prayers at me and told me she would wake me the next morning. Fanny slept in another room. So no chatting there. I lay in bed for ages trying to understand why it was all so different from Enid Blyton. That woman has a lot to answer for!