Stuart, Class of 1942
Cynthia Häfeli-Wells (Wells)
Written in the Claremont School magazine that was published during the school's Jubilee year celebrations in 1972, the late Cynthia recounted her school years at Claremont from 1934-1939. It appears that we still have the back stairs she speaks about in her tales:
The Fun of Remembering
“It’s strange how one forgets the small experiences of a few years ago and remembers with such vivid clarity the day by day details of school life. The general recollection is one of great happiness, but, of course, there were times when I was homesick, times when I was teased; it wasn’t all milk and honey.
My years at Claremont….are long ago in time, but utterly close and tangible in essence. With affection, amusement and respect, I recall those formative years, both the pleasant and the unpleasant things, for it was a time of crystal clear reality, so basically woven into my being, that I still sometimes have dreams about school!
And my dreams are as architecturally accurate as my memories – the windings of corridors, the partitions of bathrooms and loos, spooky attic music rooms, and those corrugated rubber back stairs! With what ease, as thought it were yesterday, do I recall our hurtling progress down these back stairs for “break” or the early morning “walk round the Drive”, and reading the slate at the bottom, telling us what to wear – “Blazers and Goloshes” or “Macs and Gumboots”!
Such hosts of memories come flooding, that, in a second, I am transported to tapestried class-rooms, smelling of ink and chalk, to dormitories with hammock-shaped beds, watchful parental portraits on chests-of-drawers, cubicle bars that we weren’t allowed to swing on, and curtains that we never drew for fear of being thought prudish!
We weren’t supposed to talk after lights were out, but, of course, we did: sometimes collectively, taking it in turns to tell ghost stories; other times in secret whispers to our next-bed neighbour, about boys and things, you know…My best friend and I used to pull out the middle drawer of the chest between us and put our pillows on the wooden edge, so we could lean very close and talk very quietly indeed.
But sometimes, we didn’t feel like talking and I would lie in the dark and dream about my favourite film star. One day we would meet and he would passionately adore me! Downstairs in the common room, locked in my writing case, were film magazines full of his pictures. We weren’t supposed to have such trashy literature, but when you’re fifteen, you’ve got to have a pash on someone, haven’t you? And the only men we ever saw were the gardeners and the man who looked after the central heating and got the lift unstuck. But they weren’t the sort you could get a crush on. So cloistered were we in those days (no visiting boys’ schools as you do now) that were obliged to have crushes on older girls or teachers, and oh, how we blushed if they showed some interest in us!
I have just peeped into my diary of 1940 and read in the entry for Tuesday, January 23rd: “A party of the A.F.S (Auxiliary Fire Service) came and we had great fun watching them. One little man tapped on the window and pretended to squirt the hose at us!” I have no recollection of this exciting experience, but I can imagine what the sight of all those firemen in the grounds must have meant to us!
Another entry on March 26th starts off: “Latin exam – beastly. After break, a very heated council meeting. Nasty business between Up.IV and V.” By the wildest stretch of imagination, I can’t conjecture what that “business” might have been!
A summer entry reads: “Science first thing. I was late as I had to do napkins.” I suppose that means I had to put clean serviettes in everybody’s serviette rings. But I was compensated, later, as the diary continues: “Two piano-tuners were here all morning. They were very nice. After lunch went in garden and saw the two tuners walk round. Jo and Mary were thrilled and tracked them…” Well, what with firemen and piano-tuners, we didn’t do so badly after all, did we?
The following day, Sunday, epitomises for me the warm, drowsy English-school atmosphere of the summer terms: “Lay in garden after lunch, under the big tree by the stage. Got terribly bitten. Read, talked, listened to grammy and ate sweets.”
Incidentally, this is the only diary of my youth that I have kept; but I’m not going to reveal any more of its lushy secrets to you! Suffice it to be known that I dip into it now and again for a quiet little laugh with that long ago self, when problems were so easily ironed out by the soothing routine of lessons and prep, an evening game of tennis, and a heart to heart chummy chat in the dorm after lights.”