As I have said there were two major parties per year where our preparations and creations were counted as part of our course. One such was ‘Dogs’. I spent hours making a kind of carnival big head to wear. It was made from Papier mache and I managed to fit ping pong balls for eyes that lit up. I had fixed batteries inside. Once again I wore my leotard and tights to which I affixed a tail. The familiar problem arose of how to get it from Monks to the Court where the parties were always held. I tried putting it on whilst riding my bike, in spite of the fact that I had included eye holes it was useless. Another long walk pushing my bike and holding the head.
We weren’t allowed to use the front door of the Court, we always entered from the back. I put my bike in the racks and switching on my ping pong eyes prepared to make my entrance, I probably looked pretty hideous. When I got inside I saw to my dismay that all the other girls were wearing pretty little dog outfits, a spotted dress for a dalmatian, an attractive silver head dress for a poodle etc.. a good job I already had my man!
Then some of the teaching staff made their entrance (I never knew who they were) under the costume of a long bodied dachshund, dropping potatoes from it’s behind. I didn’t feel so bad after that, I felt my head was made in the same spirit!
On another occasion, (I can’t remember what I did ), the theme was something like Rubens or Baroque. We were all fairly well oiled on scrumpy and whilst we were dancing in the barn , there was a roll of drums the curtains slowly opened on the stage to reveal a impressive still tableau of a real Rubenesque painting in which two or three of the fatter staff appeared in the nude, holding bunches of grapes, or drapery etc over strategic places.
On these occasions there was always a great feast of some kind. We ate from vine leaves or pieces of wood long before the current trend. There were two French men on our course Albert Horel and Claude Guimamant. Claude was an excellent chef.
The summer party was an outdoor one, which also involved the viewing of the final exhibition of the students that were leaving. It was an occasion when parents and visitors came too. This time it was ‘Circus) Eric was about to leave. He and another wild student Rex Booth (ex RAF I think) decided to do a circus stunt. It was very daring and I was terrified. There was a big audience on the great lawn at the back of the Court.Eric laid on the ground with a large plank across his chest. Rex revved up his motor bike then rode his bike over the plank…it still gives me the shivers thinking about it. Eric assured me it would be alright and that people had performed it before. I’m glad his mother and father weren’t there.
Winter and Summer
Capability Brown had constructed a rather beautiful lake designed to be seen from the windows of the State Rooms. There was a boat house complete with boat. I’m not sure now whether we were allowed to use it or whether we took it illicitly but we spent idyllic summer hours rowing and drifting about on the water. Around the edge were the reeds that we all cut for reed pens.
One of the winters must have been very harsh, there were heavy falls of snow and the lake froze right over. The ice was solid enough for skating and students and villagers spent many happy hours until the daylight faded. It was like something out of a Breughel painting.
Behind the Court there was a small swimming pool belonging to Lord Methuen that we were allowed to use. Somehow someone got hold of two old hip baths that had been in use in the Court years before and there were impromptu contests to see who could paddle the length of the pool without falling out. The life class was held in the barn next to the pool and whilst we were deep in concentration we could hear the howls of laughter and the splashing of the water.
Somewhere behind Beechfield House there was a wood with another large natural pond. It was on private land. To get to it you had to pass the gamekeepers cottage a group of us decided to go ‘wild swimming’. We couldn’t go in the daylight because of the keeper. A night time expedition was planned. One of the more eccentric students, Fanny had gone on holiday to Ireland, fallen in love with a donkey and walked all the way back with him. We were going to have a fire and make tea so the donkey was loaded up with the kettle etc. and we set off. The path led straight past the keepers cottage so we were creeping and not talking. The donkey suddenly broke loose from Fanny and galloped off with the kettle and saucepan clanking on her side. How the keeper didn’t wake up is a mystery. We made it to the pool surrounded by trees, lit our bonfires and swam naked. I can still feel the joy of it, the water reflecting the light and then wet bodies laying around the fire to get dry. It was one of those moments when I felt totally at one with the world.
On the midsummer solstice our aim was to get Stonehenge. Anyone who had a car suddenly became very popular. As many students as possible were crammed in to each car. In those days the Stones were more or less unguarded, you could just pull up the car on the road and cross the field. We sat on the Stones drinking the cider we had taken with us. We were usually joined by troops and airmen from the nearby camps.It was a night of laughing and singing. Before the dawn everybody became silent as we waited for the sun to rise (if it was fine) and shine through the marker stones. Nowadays it seems very institutional then it was mystical and wild.