Thursday 10 April 2008

Dreaming about schoolgirls in mini-skirts, just for a change

13st 11lb; zero alcohol; 1,394; North Jesmond.

Late last night I finally got around to reading the morning papers, and happened upon a letter in the one to which I am a contributor, written by a husband and wife from Hexham (or perhaps, on reflection, a brother and sister living together in the manner made famous by Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques in their 1960s sitcom personae). This urged the editor to ditch “two of the worst columnists ever”, causing me almost to choke on my mug of low calorie hot chocolate, but amazingly enough they weren’t talking about me. Even more satisfyingly, one of the people in their sights was my old rival Wife in the North “who just wants to make fun of us”. Clearly they don’t read my column or don’t understand it, though I do like to think that I put at least as much effort into making fun of myself as I do into taking the proverbial out of my fellow North Easterners. Or perhaps I’m excused because I’m not perceived as one of those hated and feared outsiders. In which case they clearly don’t read the other columnist they’re complaining about, either. He may be a terrible celebrity name-dropper, but at least he’s our terrible celebrity name-dropper. I know this for a fact because I went to school with him, or at any rate attended the same school at approximately the same time. He is about three years older than I am, but was only one year ahead of me because I was in a stream for very bright pupils who skipped a year of their secondary education so that they could use the time for … er, er … well, usually having a massive nervous breakdown after they had got into Oxbridge a year before they were ready for it, as things turned out. Come to think of it, that only accounts for one third of the age difference between us. Maybe he was also in a special stream for particularly thick pupils who took a year longer than everyone else.

In our day, it was a boys’ school famous for high academic standards and nude swimming lessons. (With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve never really understood why some of our parents didn’t raise with the authorities the thought that this practice was just a little bit odd.) Latterly it has gone “fully co-educational”, which would of course have added massively to the interest and appeal of the nude swimming lessons, if only they hadn’t been abandoned shortly after I left.

A couple of weeks ago falling demand as a result of this change in the competitive climate (going co-educational, that is, not donning swimming costumes) was cited as one of the reasons for the impending closure of a school just up the road called La Sagesse. Though admittedly it got slightly less prominence in the resulting publicity than the decision of the founding order of nuns to triple its rent. “Greedy old hags” was one of the few comments from aggrieved parents that the local newspaper felt able to print. It all sparked off many fond memories of 1960s schoolgirls in mini-skirts, which I’m sure it must be all right for me to fantasize about as I was a schoolboy myself at the time. (And that, M’Lud, concludes the case for the defence.)

Opposite my school was the Central High, whose girls were much the brainiest and, as one would expect, the least poutingly gorgeous and the least provocatively dressed. The more enterprising of them gathered in a room on the top floor at lunchtimes to peer into the Sutherland Swimming Baths across the road, where one of the naked pupils of my school might be spotted practising on the high diving board. I recall one lad with an absolute whopper; like a fireman’s hose, it was, or the proverbial roll of saturated wallpaper. He spent an unusual amount of time jumping up and down on that board and I remember thinking that (a) he was in real danger of lashing himself to death with it, and (b) he must be raising expectations among the giggling troupe of watching schoolgirls which could only lead on, in most cases, to a lifetime of the most savage disappointment. But I digress.

A little further north the Church High was associated with lower academic aspirations, prettier faces and much shorter skirts. When I was about 16 I used to get on the number 68 bus every day with a Church High sixth former who wore something that might genuinely have been mistaken for a belt. What were her parents thinking of? I know what I was thinking of as I made a point of following her up the stairs. I once tried walking backwards as I preceded her down the stairs to get off, but seem to remember that she took rather violent exception to that, so I did not make a habit of it.

Then further north again was La Sagesse, which surely had the prettiest girls of all. Or did it? Because I was deeply, head over heels in love with a nice Catholic girl (not that I ever got round to telling her that) and have spent years reminiscing fondly about the fact that she went to La Sagesse. Only now I have finally come to write about it, I realize that she must have gone to a completely different school in the West End of the city because she used to come home on the number 61 bus, and I often walked a mile or more out of my way to catch it in the hope of running into her, so that I could gawp at her and not have the courage to express any of my feelings.

It’s remarkable that, in the best part of 40 years, I have not progressed one little bit in my ability to tell women how I feel about them.

It remains true that the La Sagesse scarf was absolutely identical to that of my Cambridge college, and that my credibility perhaps increased by a fraction when I came back during vacations and people mistakenly concluded that I must be going out with one of their sixth formers. But now that I’ve worked out that one of the many lost loves to whom I never revealed my feelings did not actually go there, I don’t feel sufficiently moved start campaigning to save the place. I mean, 12 acres of prime land in the most expensive suburb in Newcastle, just crying out for residential redevelopment. You’d have to be very unmaterialistic indeed not to be tempted, wouldn’t you? And if the adult films I’ve watched over the years are anything to go by, nuns and temptation seem to go together like the proverbial horse and … Tsarina.


Oofy said...

If you're referring to Cathy the Great and the horse, sadly that's one historical "fact" that isn't. Nor is it true she died on the bog. All very disappointing, really. Appears to have had a very healthy appetite for men, but no inclination for four-legged beasts at all.

Mind you, I'm sure I learnt at school that President Gabriel Fauré of France died in the midst of congress (sexual, not political) and that he was so fat the poor girl couldn't get out from under him, while the President's minions chose to believe her screams were those of intense satisfaction.

Keith Hann said...

How likely is it that a man who frets about the authenticity of his Churchill quotes would deliberately post an apocryphal story about a Russian Empress who is dead and therefore Unable To Answer Back?

No, I confess that I did it in the hope that some smart-arse would post a comment which would allow me to respond by pointing out that I have a first class honours degree in history from Cambridge (awarded in the days when they didn't hand out anything like as many firsts as they do now). A fact which it is otherwise very difficult to find an excuse to drop casually into the conversation.

I had never heard any suggestion that Catherine the Great died on the lavatory (though it seems to be an accepted fact that King George II of Great Britain did).

As for Gabriel Faure, he was a composer not a politician, and your history teacher would be turning in his grave but for the inconvenient fact that he isn't dead. There was a French President called Felix Faure who did indeed die in his office in 1899, at the age of 58, while having sexual relations (there are suggestions that it may have been activity of a Clintonesque nature rather than full intercourse) with a 30-year-old actress called Marguerite Steinheil (according to Wikipedia, but the name sounds a bit too much like a Nazi beer hall salute to me, so maybe someone made it up).

At any event, the lucky bastard. That's the way to go.

Any insights into Newcastle girls' schools of the 1960s and 70s, with special reference to relative looks and skirt lengths?