Facebook is an amazing thing – people you have not heard from in years “friend” you out of the blue, and the whole process takes you down memory lane to places you haven’t even thought of visiting in years. This weekend, I was “friended” by someone from my now very long ago school days in Bombay, India. Our old school, it appears, has a Facebook page, and she thought I should join.
All of this made me remember my years, very happy years, at Walsingham House School. One of the most unforgettable things about Walsingham was that it was housed in an actual factual palace, this one, as a matter of fact:
Every morning, we’d be driven down a stately driveway, past beautifully planted flower beds, and deposited in the portico. I can close my eyes now, all these years later, and picture myself climbing up the eighteen steps to the huge wooden front door. I can still hear the clatter of our shoes going up those stairs, pigtails and satchels flying, determined not to be late for morning assembly. There were a lot of clattering shoes – all the stairs and floors were of various shades of white, grey and black marble, and the ceilings were enormously tall. This lent a grand, echoey quality to our assemblies – voices would reverberate and sound awfully important, even if it was just the school roll call and morning announcements. Our classrooms seemed grand, too, come to think of it. Many of the royal fixtures had been left in place when the palace had been first converted into our school, so our classrooms had chandeliers and our bathrooms housed elegant claw-footed tubs!
The best part of Walsingham was the fact that it sat oceanside – our playing fields overlooked the Arabian Sea, and we could hear the waves crashing against giant boulders below all through our school day. The princely family who had built and lived in this lovely place for at least a hundred years, had three telescopes stationed at vantage points along the sea wall. These provided great entertainment for us at recess, when we’d race out and try to nab a ‘scope before anyone else could. There was a great deal of building going on up and down the coast in those days, so there was always something or someone to spy on or invent stories about.
It was always a challenge to tear ourselves away and get back into our classrooms in time for the second, recess is over, bell. Once, we were so wrapped up in our storytelling that we did not get our timing right. The second bell rang, the doors were firmly closed by our formidable headmistress, and there we were … still outside. Luckily, our classroom was on the ground floor, so we crept up to the window to survey the scene and figure out a plan. I must have been in sixth grade then, and I must have been terrified – you simply did not break rules lightly, and the idea of detention with the headmistress was something that made our blood run cold. Luck was with us again, our teacher had not yet appeared in the classroom – so we began climbing into the window. I was the last one in, and, being the shortest, had the hardest time – it must have taken every ounce of fear and will in me to make it up the wall and through the window…just in time.
I haven’t been back to visit Bombay in over thirty years, but I can still picture myself at a wooden desk; I am writing with ink spattered fingers, listening to the scratch of the brass nib against paper, and hearing the sounds of the ocean calling me to dare the second bell just one more time…