gall and gumption

Monday, August 23, 2010

Really Old School

I feel old. This was the room that I shared with Clanger, Danda, Mary, Joyce, and Pippi. About halfway through the year Pippi moved out and Kendall moved in. Kendall, who I actually re-connected with recently (I still owe her a phone call) was the first genius I ever met. There still haven't been that many.

Incredibly, the big mirror on the landing is still intact.

Clanger (that was her nickname) was from Malawi--I mean when English people were from Malawi. She may still be there. Many of the English girls had come from Africa--and they had been sent to boarding school from a very early age and it was like boarding school was normal life for them. Clanger was like that. But oh what a good friend she was.

Pippi was part French I think and about 80 percent loony. Mary was Greek-American, Joyce was a math and physics nerd from Hong Kong who had lived a very sheltered life, Kendall was English, and Danda was a member of Swaziland's aristocracy. Not the British one, the Swazi one. She was constantly homesick, and she kept a photo of herself on some ceremonial occasion in which she was wearing little more than beads. There were photos of the rest of the clan, dancing and generally having a thoroughly good time, these great formal events. Her last name had a click! in it and it got more massacred in mispronunciation than anyone else's--more even than the Persian girls. The Persian girls (and they were by far the largest foreign contingent) were fearless and full of spirit and fun, except for that one girl who was very quiet, wore glasses that made her look like a hobgoblin, and was so rich it just sort of staggered the mind. They were part of all the oil money that was pouring into England, when it was Kuwaitis and Persians and Saudis coming to London, not Russian oligarchs. You really couldn't intimidate any of them. There was one named Lilli who got in trouble for swearing nearly every week, and she always wore kohl eyeliner, even though it was prohibited. The daughters of Iran's oilocracy, like the daughters of African government officials and Indian tycoons, were there to learn culture perhaps even more than to learn algebra or biology or Scripture, to become Britishized, Europeanized. They were already a good way there, except for Danda and Joyce and this one girl named Audrey who gave everybody the creeps.

From the outside, my room's the second floor (British first floor) on the left. It occupied two buildings, this one which was Lillesden House, and the one across the street, a perfect specimen of Georgian country-house architecture, Collingwood House, which had been the home of the astronomer Herschel, whose ghost was suspected of lurking about the place. Lillesden house was also haunted. Of course now it really looks haunted. It seems to have been used as a Doctor Who location, if you are into that kind of thing.

I remember on the days of school events, this driveway lined with luxury cars. There were several diplomats' daughters there. One of them left school as soon as she finished her O levels. She was a horrible person, loud and common in her manners in a way that was utterly without any redeeming charm, just a big vulgar bully. On her last night at school, while everyone else was at prep, she finished off her packing by going from room to room at Collingwood House, helping herself to anything she had ever fancied among the possessions of all the other girls. It was so blatant, so opportunistic and so shameless that when she was expelled on the day she should have left with good wishes and hugs, the whole school was against her. And usually among the students there was always some sympathy for a girl who ran afoul of the administration, for whatever reason. But this was too much.

My first memory of it is walking past the building down to the classroom in the back (one of a couple of temporary buildings that probably isn't there now), the last classroom of the three or four that were down a slight slope from the back of the main building. There was a tall tree there, immensely tall, some sort of cypress or pine, and rooks lived in the very top of it, and were constantly cawing and barking and chattering, flying in and away.

Update: Hello visitors from alicublog! I finally fixed the broken link to the site that tells you who actually took those pictures. It wasn't me, I hope you all didn't think so. Apparently there are little groups of people who go about the UK photographing beautiful old derelict buildings like my old school. I found them because I was looking for a web site for the school. But this is all there was--a derelict building. A few touches have also been added. I meant to do them earlier but the time got away from me.


At 5:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. that's a beautiful shot of the building, driveway and sky.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger roy edroso said...

I can't believe I know someone who went to school at Tunbridge Wells. Or who writes so well.

At 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Claude Rains misses it, too...


Prince Feisal: You, I suspect, are chief architect of this compromise. What do you think?
Mr. Dryden: Me, your Highness? On the whole, I wish I'd stayed in Tunbridge Wells.

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous chuckling said...

Yo Kia, a little off topic, but last year my son was doing poorly in English composition. He goes to a very progressive school that eschews teaching such old fashioned nonsense as grammar and sentence structure. Year after year I'd been shocked at how bad his writing was but the teachers always reassured me that he was doing fine and politely, with a hint of condescension, declined my offer to help him at home and let me know I could be secure in my knowledge that they ha it all under control; that is until one day late in fifth grade I'm called to the headmaster's office for a conference with his two English teachers in which I learn that they are shocked, shocked I tell you, that his writing is horrible, that he has no concept of punctuation and can't write a coherent sentence. So simultaneously I realize that all the other parents have been hiring tutors and/or teaching their kids the basics themselves and that I would now be forced to teach a fifth grader how to write. Long story short, I looked around for a good workbook that combined grammar and sentence structure and, being unable to find anything worthwhile, and being insane, eventually decided to skip over grade school, and middle school, and high school, and undergrad and get him a master's level class on how to write sentences. Perhaps now you see where this is going? I got one of those courses from the teaching company, this one by a writing instructor from the University of Iowa. It's been going great and today we finished the first DVD. I wasn't really paying attention, but as the credits rolled, the name "Kia Penso" jumped right off the screen. It did. Is that you? What's the story?

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Kia said...


Too funny. It is a hell of a story, the most horrible job I have ever had in my life, unforgettable. Yes that's me. For more of the story you can write to kpenso at gmail dot com

I worked there for about seven months and saw that course from start to finish, and then I got the hell out of there, even though it meant taking a significant pay cut and not having benefits and going back to the freelance roller-coaster. When I left everyone there treated the course (which had not yet shipped) as if it was a disaster that in spite of my efforts to avert it would probably have resulted in my being canned. A few months after I left I learned that it was their best-selling course ever.

I think it might actually help your son, as it has a lot of exercises and practice and really connects writing to the ear. Having some background in writing instruction myself -- and familiarity with that "profession"'s ten thousand flavors of bullshit, I was very skeptical but I was won over long before we even finished production. And the guy who teaches the course is a really really good man. So that's as good a place for your son to start as any. Also, I recommend comic books and encouraging him to read whatever he likes to read. Basically the profession of writing instruction is run by the sorriest set of crazy people you will ever meet. The kid is well out of their clutches.

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous chuckling said...

Sent the email. Let me know if you didn't get it (chuckling at verizon dot net). And I should have edited it better. When I wrote that "anime" is the new word for comic books, by "anime" I meant "manga."

Also of note, after the meeting with the head of middle school and the English teachers, when I was trying to figure out what to do, I gave serious thought to seeing if Roy would want to tutor. I know he's done a lot of it and is seriously into sentence diagramming, and I figured I could low ball him with an offer of some Mad Dog or other cheap hooch, but he up and moved to Texas before I could make the offer.

And yea, don't management suck? It's amazing that anything gets done, or at least done well, with those idiots in charge.

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