Fellow History Girl Caroline Lawrence appeared at Roedean School as part of their Classics Week a couple of days before I was there, and led the way. The girls and staff were still talking about her when I arrived, so she was a hard act to follow. But follow her I did, at the invitation of Sue Blood, the librarian. I stayed in Brighton the night before with some good friends in a splendid flat on the front at Hove, and on the morning before setting off for the school, we walked around town. I love Brighton. I love the literary associations, I love the slightly faded glamour of a resort out of season, and I love the Royal Pavilion, which is very beautiful and in the words of Sally Prue, also "BONKERS." I would have put up a photo of it, but then I saw a knitted version, which adds a whole new level of bonkers to the story, so I'm showing you that instead. You can, of course, always Google the Royal Pavilion.
I went up to Roedean just before lunch and the taxi was early so I walked around a bit beforehand, outside. The first thing I noticed was that the colour of the whole place had changed. It used to be grey and forbidding, stony, rather dark against the skyline but now all had been painted butter-yellow, which looked much more welcoming. When I arrived here in January 1955, just short of my 11th birthday and expecting Malory Towers, it was snowing and the lights shining from all the windows dotted the darkness. It was cold and I can't remember being scared except in retrospect. I can now imagine the scene from the point of view of my mother and understand how she must have been feeling. Nearly sixty years later, here I was again and the sun was shining and the place looked terrific.
I was very happy at school. I am naturally gregarious and enjoyed living in company all the time. I took this picture standing outside House Three, which was my house. Miss Ratcliffe, my House Mistress, saw more of me in those years and knew me better than my own mother. She was also my wonderful Latin teacher and I remember her with enormous affection and respect.
I felt like a kind of living historical relic. It was really wonderful to be back. Everything felt completely familiar even though so many things had changed since my day. In a way, it was like going home, mostly because during most of my childhood, I didn't have a "home" to go to in the holidays but visited relatives, friends most of the time. My parents were abroad, and I saw them in the summer holidays, though my mother did visit as often as she could, taking a small flat in London on several occasions. But there was nowhere that you could rely on to be the same day in and day out, except for Roedean. I made lots of friends there and apart from maths and anything sporty, loved my lessons and got on with the staff. It occurred to me that the main thing Roedean instilled in us without even trying was the idea that women were the equals of men. The women who taught us and looked after us simply assumed that the whole world was available for us to live in on exactly the same terms as if we'd been men, and that we could follow whatever path we chose. I'm closing this nostalgic post with a picture of thing I loved most in the whole school: an Art Nouveau-ish carved stone inset into the space above the fireplace in the House Mistress's drawing room. I always thought when I was at school that it represented Sleep and I used to think it was most beautiful. I still do.