When I clicked shut my school trunk to set off for boarding school, I had visions of immaculately maintained dormitories and nuns, tuck shops with pots of home-made jams and butter that would be regularly dispensed to me and a way of life that included a building-full of girls for friends.
A month into boarding life and I realized there was more to it than met an eye so filled with what Enid Blyton, Susan Coolidge and the like doled out in their lady-like accounts. And boy, were the revelations fascinating!
Dormitories filled with endless rows of beds and dressers were always cluttered with girlish riff-raff. Counterpanes were immaculately washed each week, but were untucked nearly all the while if you saw closely. Lights-out at night would not necessarily mean noise-down and it would take more than a few surprise barging-ins from the nun assigned to the senior dorm to completely shut the girls’ bed-time chatter.
Even then, tidbits sneaked out from the tuck shop and suitcase rooms would crackle in the cold night air (boarding schools are nearly always perched on hill-stations dontchyouknow?) and midnight cups of Maggi would be exchanged among chilly hands at the enormous boiler near the bathrooms.
That’s what happened in the dorms though. Out of the dorms, in broad daylight, classroom cupboards and desks would play house to contraband like explicit novels, make-up kits, love letters (okay, they weren’t fancy or curlingly sugary, but more like a what ho, let’s meet up at the next school fete) to the neighboring boy’s schools, more food (how we would ache for junk food!) and even the occasional cigarette.
And then there were the rivalries that rampaged the corridors and gymnasium during every recreation period, the favoritism and pranks on new staff members, the strong urge for the pinafores to get tighter and shorter quicker. I remember most of us seniors folding in the waists of our serge skirts (they were our uniform for special occasions) to make them shorter. They could be easily unfolded if there was a particularly discerning nun around.
But what I want to say is, girls’ boarding schools where daddy’s little girls are brought up prim and ladylike and who then move on to becoming elegant members of their species do not exist. At the very least, the girls inhabiting those ancient, colonial walls do not allow them to exist.
Which is why a boarder would appreciate cartoons like Ronald Searle’s St. Trinian’s series a teeny bit more than the non-boarder. What his charmingly horrific cartoons tell is: There are no fairies and angels hidden in every little girl. What there is, is a hooligan waiting to be let out. In most cases, proper schooling can bring out the best of this hooligan *wink wink*.
Searle’s The Entire Appalling Business is a compendium of all his St. Trinian’s cartoons. From Sports Days where nearly every drawing features the ubiquitous hockey sticks the girls love to brandish, to the femme fatales that throng the 6th Form, girlhood in all its non-conforming and dirty pinafored glory is explored with suitable respect and cunning.
A St. Trinian’s girl would be sadistic, cunning, dissolute, crooked, sordid, lacking morals of any sort and capable of any excess. She would also be well-spoken, even well-mannered and polite. Sardonic, witty and very amusing. She would be good company. In short: typically human and, despite everything, endearing.
There have been films made on this tribe of schoolgirls ever since the ’50s and movies are still being made on the St. Trinian’s girls. The bad schoolgirl still holds a strong appeal (even though on *ahem* several different levels). The film adaptations are immensely fun to watch and if I ever had to recommend a set of movies for a girl’s night, than it would be these.
But if you were ever left to your own devices on a slow summer’s afternoon and found yourself to be missing your days as a uniform-clad brat and a half, pick up a copy of St. Trinian’s and chuckle to yourself at the mistress that never did manage to find out why the girls were giggling at her one cold, winter’s night.
A big, saucy wink at you all, girls of St. Joseph’s! The memories still make the rounds in the most gasp-worthy of ways.