Monday, 23 July 2007

Having been at boarding school from 11 until I was 16 - I was ready to cut loose when I continued my A levels at the local grammar school. My mother tried to imposed a "bedtime" of 9 pm with lights out at 10 pm. I was totally horrified and protested loudly. At this stage, my sisters were off studying elsewhere and my brother was at school in Edinburgh so I didn't feel I had any allies. It was strange being back home permanently and I rebelled against the home-imposed discipline with a vengeance - I had a few boyfriends, much to my parents' consternation and then fell madly in love. By this stage, I was totally flouting the bedtime and often not returning from a night out on a weekend until 3 am or later. Relations between my parents and I were frosty.

School work was fine and despite my extra curricular activities I enjoyed my studying - the only problem was I had been used in my previous school to having very vocal, opinionated fellow pupils, whereas in Berwick, you were considered a "creep" if you answered anything a teacher asked in a class discussion - even if you were challenging their views - which I was usually doing. It was considered seriously uncool amongst my peers even to engage to that depth in a lesson.

I had always been one of those infuriating people who could get away with doing very little during the term time, and then could madly swot up and learn enough to pass exams very quickly. The down side of all this was that within a fortnight of an exam, I'd usually forgotten everything again - but it did get me good exam results and into university. My French teacher suggested I tried for Oxbridge but that sounded like serious hard work to me so I politely declined. I worked reasonably hard for my A Levels, but my mind was on other things - I ended up with 2 As (English and French) and a D (German). Looking back if I'd pulled out the stops I could probably have managed an A in German too - but I didn't really work very hard at it, and our teacher had suffered some type of breakdown half way through the course and had been absent for a lot of the time. I wasn't really bothered though. Looking back (which is always far too easy) I had quite a destructive attitude to life. My own daughters (22 and 20 - elder at Leeds studying medicine, younger at Oxford studying Spanish) are lively, stroppy and feisty but somehow don't seem to have that totally rebellious, arrogant attitude that I think I probably had.

I had a Saturday job in a cafe - I loved it - zooming about with plates and dishes and pouring coffee and chatting and seeing friends. Because I was doing French A level - I was trying desperately to get to France in the summer when I was 17. The previous year, I'd been to Germany with a youth exchange (when I was 16). My father had tried to organise an exchange to France with a French client but it all fell through at the last minute - so I organised an ill-fated trip myself. It was to stay with a french girl called Marie Noelle (christoned Merry Christmas by my family). I travelled down to London by train - and then got another train to Dover where I boarded a hovercraft to Calais, a train to Paris, and then another train to Blois where I arrived at 1 am in the morning. There was no one to meet me there, so I wandered around the town until around 3 am on my own (I can't remember what I was wearing but it was probably provocative). I was enjoying meeting people and trying out my speaking French skills, until to my total surprise, I was picked up by the Gendarmerie and taken to the police station for my own safety. They were very kind and let me help them sort out lots of car registrations for them. They contacted the family I was supposed to be staying with and they eventually collected me at around 5.30 am. As a mother of two daughters, the thought of them doing something similar at 17 makes me shivver. Marie Noelle was very very grumpy, aggressive and smelly. I had to share a double bed with her and her equally grumpy sister slept in the same room. They would bicker and shout at each other all night (arrete ronfler!) and refused to open the window to let a little air in because of the "moustiques" . Worse was to come because Marie Noelle then expected to come home with me and stay for 2 weeks - but I had a summer job looking after some children so unfortunately it fell to my mother and brother to entertain her - without success.

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