When I was young I was an avid reader and a closet romantic. Growing up with Enid Blyton‘s Famous Five and Secret Seven had me believing that all children had a right to prance around the countryside in the sunshine having real adventures with little or no input or interference from the adult world. And, as for Ms Blyton’s Malory Towers books, based on the boarding school life of Darrell Rivers and her friends, well they set my heart firmly. I became convinced that life could never be as fun, freedom never as close, as that of a young girl’s at boarding school.
As is so often the case, if your focus remains steady for long enough, however bizarre the dream, life will eventually find a way to test your resolve.
A dream come true
When I was just turning 13, my father was offered a professorship in Uppsala and my parents announced the pending transition of our entire family to Sweden within the year, I seized my opportunity. Oddly enough, the idea of moving to a foreign land was less of a draw to me than the idea of putting my foot down and insisting I complete my education in England. In truth, the thought of having to learn a foreign language terrified me. Thus, I stamped my foot mightily and insisted on fair play which somewhat miraculously landed my almost immediate transfer to a boarding school – lest I miss the beginning of my O’ level courses.
St George’s School, Harpenden
St George’s VA School, Harpenden is not your traditional boarding school. My parents were not in a position to consider full fee paying schools. Designed to help families in the forces find some kind of educational stability for their offspring, St George’s was the compromise; a non-private education (how irritating not to be able to simply refer to this as ‘public’ and be understood!) with boarding facilities attached. Pupils’ parents are therefore only required to pay living expenses by term. In my day, the school offered the somewhat unusual concept of a mixed sex school with around 5% boarders with 95% ‘day pupils’. The boys’ and girls’ boarding houses were on opposite sides of the campus. From the current website, it doesn’t appear to be all that different today.
As far as I was concerned, St George’s was the answer to all my romantic aspirations. To my parents it was an affordable solution to the uniterrupted continuance of my education and offered the additional security of being just round the corner from my mother’s sister. Aunty Ronnie could therefore keep an eye on me.
Jolly lacrosse sticks
So, armed with a term’s worth of freshly pressed school uniform, pajamas and a teddy bear neatly packed into a classic travel trunk, I found myself standing on the platform of Dundee train station in a dark green wool coat, clinging onto a lacrosse stick. My parents and siblings were there to see me off and the sun was shining quite perfectly. I was in absolute heaven!
In that moment, my expectations were in total alignment with reality. I had known exactly what I wanted and set out to get it. I had taken my destiny into my own hands and created my own future.
To dream is to dream… destiny must be lived
That was, quite possibly, the very last moment of my true childhood.The joy of naivety was about to be swept away in one of the greatest lessons life would teach me. The difference between dreams and reality. That to dream is to dream, but destiny must be lived through, Every sharp, bumpy, and occasionally painful moment of it.
The next few years taught me to accept that, life will never turn out to be quite what you might expect. And, while destiny may very well begin in your own hands and, yes, you can have an influence, the smart approach is to manage your expectations from the outset. The fact is that, in the end, real life will always be bigger, bolder, more in-your-face, more emotionally charged and – just occasionally – even better than your dreams. However great your imagination – or Enid Blyton’s for that matter – you will never be able to truly conceive life as it will present itself. It will always surprise you.
And thank goodness for that!