When I went to boarding school aged 13 I believed I was going into a story. Well, I did, but not the one I imagined. I reckoned on adventures, midnight feasts and a lot of giggling. I know, now, that my ideas of how life should be lived does not always agree with the plans Life has for me. When I am expecting fish and chips, she serves up gruel and the key to the gruel thingy is to see beyond it. In my imagination I can see whatever I choose to see and even gruel can taste okay with a pinch of salt and a giggle. It’s saying Hey ho to whatever I face, refusing to allow this bowl of tasteless slop to damage my dreams. Needless to say we girls were carefully monitored at the table. Not a drop was to be wasted and it is not possible, as it might be with sprouts, to hide any of it in your knicker pocket. Yes, I know. Who on earth decided the need for knicker pockets? Well, someone did and they were regulation in my forward thinking school.
It thinks me as I listen to the terrible news from Ukraine. All those frightened and damaged people hiding underground. No chance of escape. From my place of extreme privilege I cannot imagine how they feel. I cannot imagine living through a war, the sheer terror inside each and every minute of what might become months or longer. Whatever gruel I may face, it is as nothing to their plight. I can decide my attitude to anything and everything. I am free to roam in safety. I can actually open my fridge door and choose my next meal from many possible options. I can talk to whomsoever I want without fearing for my very life. My one life, my now life. It humbles me and challenges my potential for too much inner study. Look out, I tell myself; look up. Don’t be ladder resistant like my regulations stockings (no pockets thankfully), those hideous orangey beige things that were supposed to remain intact for a whole term but never did. Oh, they didn’t ladder, no. Instead, when climbing fences (forbidden) or when pushing into a dense thicket of brambles in order to reach the fattest blackberries (also forbidden), I would emerge with polka dot legs. These ‘new age’ stockings about which everyone was thoroughly over excited would ‘hole’ not ‘ladder’. It was impossible to hide the truth, not with those white skin holes all the way up to the regulation suspenders, and I was oftentimes in the headmistress’s office being warned once again about how ‘nice gels’ should behave.
What I did then and what I sometimes forget to do now is to choose how I feel about things in my life, to focus on the blackberries, the thrill of climbing a fence, or diverting matron’s attention just long enough to salt the gruel. In other words taking the opportunity for fun, for naughtiness, for adventure. It matters not what comes at us. What matters is how we deal with it – because we who are free and safe have that responsibility, no question; to look up and out as we are able to do for we are not hiding underground in fear. To see the fingernail moon hanging over the sea-loch. To welcome others with a twinkly winkly smile. To hear the birdsong and to be thankful for every moment. I have homework to do.
It took me flipping ages to sew up the holes. In the end one leg was longer than the other and. even with my suspenders pulled down as far as they could go, I had to walk like a duck. Any thought of fence climbing was quashed at the outset and I raised many titters from other girls as I walked from Latin to History. The discomfort was inevitable. However, as I have already said, my imagination can take me anywhere and when I sat to study the dark lines peppering my legs I relocated my giggle. When the ghastly orangey beige things finally exploded open, way beyond repair, I pulled the stocking over my head and gave matron a terrible fright when she came into the dorm for lights out. Although more punishment was inevitable, I had no regrets. I chose to look up and out. I chose not to be ladder resistant and up there at the top the sky is wide open, the salt in my gruel.