For unruly behaviour, I was delivered to boarding school at the age of 4, after enjoying wonderful times on a Devon farm. I was taken to the Convent by my parents in an Austin 7. I remember crying and staring at the red and yellow floor tiles while Mother Superior Sister Agnes Francis and my future form mistress, Sister Anne, promised punishment if I didn't stop. For high spirits, this turned out to be a long punishment, lasting until 1953.
The nuns ruled the boys with discipline that today would result in prosecution and school closure. After Mass, breakfast in winter was a sordid affair starting with a tablespoonful of Cod Liver Oil. If it made you vomit, you were very lucky if you didn't receive a thrashing with the cane. The taste was taken away with a bowl of lumpy porridge. Talking was strictly forbidden and disproportionate punishment did the trick. Time was allocated after breakfast for use of an outside row of toilet cubicles, which had to be used even in freezing conditions, before lessons.
Considering food was still on ration, they did their best with delights like black sausage, butter beans or swede with mash potato. Fish was guaranteed on Fridays. Regular desserts were lumpy Rice Pudding or Semolina.
Education was by intimidation. If you were slow on the uptake, it was assumed a hit round the ear or a sharp ruler over the knuckles would lead to understanding. When I reached the age of 7, Sister Mary Edith took over my education in Religious Knowledge, Arithmetic, English Language, French, History, Geography, Nature Study and spelling. There were fortnightly reports on conduct, politeness, application, discipline and order.
In spite of the harsh discipline, we did get the occasional treat. The weekly walks to West Bay taught me to hate wet weather. I enjoyed outings such as to USS Missouri off Portland Bill, Gundry's rope factory, Glastonbury and the Bridport Royal Charter Pageant. Even got to cheer the Princess Elizabeth and Margaret on their vist to Bridport. Rin Tin Tin and Micky Mouse were treats with rare film shows shown with a religious film.
Coronation Day turned life upside down. There were no lessons and a TV was hired for the day. The pupils' and nuns' eyes were glued on a small screen with little contrast, but enjoyed a shared national event. The Coronation was seen in colour at the Bridport Cinema at a later date.
There were two dorms for above or below 7 year olds. In hindsight bath night once a week was a rum do with the nuns bathing you in nice hot water, not allowing the cast of an eye to others being bathed. The dorms always seemed warm and the beds always had clean sheets.
In 1994 I took an American writer friend to see where I had been made a social inadequate. To our surprise, there was an old people's care home. In 2008 I took my mother, and was shocked to find it no longer there. New houses were where I remembered the Convent to be. Not even a plaque to commemorate the devotion of all those nuns. It seems the place has no history and no pupils who became famous, other than the writer Douglas Duff.
A memory shared byon Oct 3rd, 2008.
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