10 things I learnt from boarding school

I spent seven years in an all girls boarding school, in Brisbane, Australia.  Sometimes, there’s nothing quite like remembering the quirks of communal living.  Given the vast majority of people have little to no exposure to boarding school, I hope this might be amusing!

1. You always take the plate second from the top in a stack.  The top one is assumed to have been sneezed on or touched or something?!  Maybe it’s just the dust cover?

2. Showers require thongs.  The idea of bathmats – pft, I laugh at a bathmat! (actually, I sorely missed them during term time, and hated the flood of water that resulted from thongs + multiple showers)

3.  (White) Bread is a staple.  And it is delicious 🙂 Plates of 10 slices on every dinner table every night!

4. Loaves of bread are likely to be open at the bottom of the bag.  Liberating the doughy thick crust is heaven for some random people, and if the top of the bag has been taken, there’s always the other end.

They looked *just* like this! source: marquetteturner.com
They looked *just* like this!
source: marquetteturner.com

5. Caramel tarts are worthy of sprints times comparable 100m mens final to get to afternoon tea FIRST!  (However, returns are not guaranteed, it depends if they were all eaten at the dessert the night before).

6. Lights out is multi staged: there’s overhead common lights out, and then there’s lamps out.

7. Privacy is flexible: with partion walls that didn’t go the ceiling, curtains instead of doors…

8. In primary school, it seemed perfectly acceptable to buy a frozen slushie on arriving at the movie cinema, walk around drinking it, and refill the cup prior to watching the movie you came to see.  Actually, we never had any staff even raise an eyebrow at this – that stuff MUST be cheap to supply! Or the staff too young and nervous to bother with tweens?

MMM Blend 43 - the taste of mass produced coffee source: www.centrestatefoods.com.au
MMM Blend 43 – the taste of mass produced coffee
source: www.centrestatefoods.com.au

9. Coffee is a food substitute: We didn’t get a lot of snacks, other than the most mottled, old apples and oranges (ie the cheap stuff).  Therefore, with enough milk and sugar, instant coffee becomes palatable to a young’un.  However, when Dad offers you a coffee at home, it will be nothing like instant coffee, and nothing you can do will make it taste the same.

10. Parcels are enough to brighten a whole week! There was a parcel list posted daily on the noticeboard.  Birthdays were wonderful, as were starts of term, where you awaited ‘forgotten’ items to be sent, hoping Mum would have included a treat or thousand in there!

Oh it’s funny to look back. Some of these points are still true today of boarding schools I’ve worked in, but I think some become the function of a school’s culture!

Which was the ‘weirdest’ to you, and which seems the most normal?  Any quirky school memories or habits for you?

12 Replies to “10 things I learnt from boarding school”

  1. The weirdest to me is people actually wanting the crusts of the bread. In my experience living with lots of other people in volunteer camps, the crusts were always left behind (and also the green icy poles!).

    1. Wow, there you go – I must admit, it has to be the 'toast' bread, not 'sandwich' bread – seems they like the thicker slice (when I did ask!).

      Wonder what's wrong with green icy poles? I don't like the yellow and orange jelly lollies, but then I don't think I like a lot of things that colour 😉

  2. I like that you have good memories around food! I just discovered salted caramel tarts last year & I think they are heaven. My grandmother introduced me to instant coffee with lots of milk and sugar when I was 9! (No wonder I am an addict). Sarah, if something was bothering you, was there an adult you could talk to anytime of the day or night? Or were you expected to "suck it up" and carry on?

    1. Hahah any wonder I'm not MORE addicted though!

      We had supervisors (tutors) with each year group through study time til bed time – they were typically uni students. They also lived in rooms with doors near each set of dorms (dorms were like a long continuous hallway around a huge court yard). Then there were duty adults, I'm not sure their name/title, but they were older, usually married women, and they handled office work, escalated discipline and all the parental side. When I needed support, I tended towards the older ladies, and that way 'normal life' continued with the tutors and all the other kids' routines (bed, study etc). But as far as shooting the breeze and chattering, that's what I turned to tutors for. One 'tutor' is a friend to this day, whom I've visited internationally!

  3. Wow… boarding school… not something I even have a mental picture of except maybe for Harry Potter. The plate thing totally cracks me up – do you suppose that top plate ever got washed?

    One year in college I lived in one of the oldest dorms on campus – like over 100 years old. Anyhow, the plumbing left a bit to be desired. So if you were taking a shower and someone flushed the toilet, all of the cold water would disappear from the shower and scald whoever was in there. It took me a while to train myself out of the habit of yelling "flush!" at the top of my lungs after using the toilet! 🙂

    1. Harry potter is a start – I certainly boarded in old buildings (not THAT old!) and have worked in old buildings too. BUt otherwise…

      I think the top plate got taken by the foolish (or those that thought the rest of us were silly!)

      To this day, I still think of others in the shower when I flush/use a sink. I must have had 'bad' plumbing growing up – whilst not at school, certainly in my childhood home! So funny you learnt to warn others – kind but odd!

  4. I think my comment earlier today might have been 'eaten'? (Or just troubles with my dodgy phone again!)

    I agree with Liz: the 'weirdest' for me is the thought that anyone would actually *want* the crust enough to open the bottom of the bread!

    The thing that most intrigues me about boarding school is what Dar has alluded to. How did the school deal with it if children were not 'settled' at the start of term? Or if parcels from home 'set them off'? Was there much support, or did you just get used to being as independent as possible?

    1. Sorry – I hate eaten comments!!

      Yeah I was surprised people wanted crusts, but it proves there's something for everyone!

      I struggled with depression at stages at school, but not all the time. There was one boarding mistress (the 'older' ones) who is still to this day like a mother to me, and her son, whilst more than 20 years old than me, I also see as a father to me too. So there was that support. There's a lot of sadness in the first weeks of the school year, and the school works hard to manage it with buddies, and very busy schedules (which really does help). Honestly though, most of us cope with our friends and start to get coping strategies – there was always a countdown in a term summary diary page til the end of term!!

  5. Loved this post. Funny, sad and interesting all at once.

    No boarding school, or even private school, here. Normal to pull the lid off a meat pie, scoop out the meat/gravy inside, then eat the pastry. So classy!

    1. Ah yes, I've long wondered how one eats a meat pie, and have attempted your strategy before! I think it just needs to get cool enough to scoff quickly – but alas they are always piping hot, and scoffing is not possible, so you get 3rd degree burns from the meat filling oozing out onto your hand…. ew…

  6. Yes, love this! I have wondered about boarding school. I've never gone more than maybe a month without seeing my family so I don't know if I could've handled boarding school as a kid.

    We call the end pieces of bread heels and my whole family (playfully) argues over who gets to eat it when we have dinner together 🙂

    1. I am (your) resident authority on all things boarding school – not only did I attend one for seven years, I spent two years working in other boarding houses! I'll continue with posts about school as I remember quirky things – this blog is as much for me to reminisce as to share 🙂

      It's weird to think I go so long without seeing my parents, or family. My parents moved to France for four months in the last year – and it sort of just was part of my stride. In the lead up, I worried I'd miss them, but when it came, I was fine! I just went from a phone call to long emails instead. In some ways it is sad that I can adjust to their absence so quickly, but on the other hand, it's a level of emotional self preservation.

      Ah, the heel of the bread, that's a good name. Seems there are people 'crust' lovers even among my readership.

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