What I remember in most vivid detail about my school trips are the coach journeys.
This may be testimony to the fact that the schools I went to never took me anywhere glamorous, not because they didn’t have the money (our parents were paying enough) but because it wasn’t really thought decent or necessary to take children somewhere exciting in those days.
At St Joseph’s Convent, our most exotic outing was to Birmingham for a recorder festival, aged about six. Picture a coach-load of little girls in maroon blazers, maroon felt hats, maroon A-line skirts and beige gloves — yes gloves. We went everywhere in beige gloves. Maroon felt hats in winter, straw boaters in summer. But always beige gloves. We were young ladies. We did things properly.
On boarding this coach, parked up outside the smart wooden gates and manicured gardens of the red brick nunnery, our first task was to greet Mr Snape, the coach driver. He was the husband of Mrs Snape, the art teacher, and he drove a mean coach.
‘Good morning Mr Snape,’ we had to say as we got on. Actually, I think we all got on and sat down, then Sister Felicity would stand up at the front and tell us to say good morning together. ‘Goooood mooooorning Mr Snaaaaape!’ 30 little girls chanted. My friend Gemma and I had a thing. We would say Snake. It made us laugh. A lot.
That was the best bit of the day. That bit and when we arrived back in the early evening. Before letting us off the bus, Sister Felicity stood by the driver again and said sharply: ‘Girls, what do you say to Mr Snape?’ And we chanted: ‘Thaaaaank youuuuu Mr Snaaaaake!’
I’m not being entirely fair. We did enjoy the recorder festival. Thanks to Sister Felicity, who was one of the few nuns who came anywhere near to favouring any form of frivolity, we were taken to join hundreds of other children from schools in the Midlands to sit in a huge concert hall where we all blew into our descants as a conductor waved his arms on a platform.
I remember that by some miracle of crowd control he got us playing ‘London’s Burning’ in a ‘round’, whereby one group starts the tune and another starts it a few bars later. And so on with hundreds of children. I don’t mean The Clash song, by the way. I mean the old nursery rhyme: ‘London’s burning, London’s burning/ Fetch the engines, fetch the engines/ Fire, fire, fire, fire/ Pour on water, pour on water.’
I can hear the din now, hundreds of infants blowing for all they were worth; me and Gemma blowing while giggling.
What happened on any of the other trips I can’t tell you in any great detail, except for one time, instead of boring us half to death on a nature walk, they did take us to Drayton Manor Park.
They must have felt guilty about feeding us semolina five days in a row. In any case, we got so over-excited that Gemma and I went completely Awol. We managed to give the nuns the slip and got ourselves on to the cable car, alone.
As we flew high above the theme park looking down on the dots that were the other children where we were meant to be, I remember a feeling of utter joy and abandon. It was my first act of rebellion. Still only six, we were so scared we clung to each other holding hands. The strange thing was, when we came back down to earth, no one seemed to have noticed we had been gone. And this was a school where they noticed if you had a speck on your beige gloves, after lining up all the children in the cloakroom and making them hold their hands out to check. I think the Almighty must have decided to give two little girls a few hours off that day.
Years later, at secondary school, an old boys’ grammar that my father went to which had only just started taking girls, things were a lot more academic. They bussed us farther afield in pursuit of achievements, teamwork and character building. But still no glamour.
We were taken to the Burton Dassett Hills for clay pigeon shooting, and to a rickety old cottage on a windswept hillside in Wales, where all the electricity went off as we were trying to study our A-level English novels in seclusion.
And they also drove us to London to watch a full five-hour Hamlet. All I remember about that is my head banging against the back of the seat as I fell asleep in the second half, having been part of a group who ran off during the interval to find strong liquor.