Tombola van Hoyden was and is an enthusiastic young person with more ideals than worldly wisdom. She has been chucked out of so many boarding schools that her guardian, exasperated, has despatched her to finishing school, Darling's Academy for Young Ladies, in the forlorn hope of turning Tombola into a lady. He hoped that the famous and very strict methods of that celebrated Scottish establishment would somehow transform her behaviour.
And it seemed as if he might be right...almost as soon as Tombola and her schoolfriends EJ, Jemima and Cate arrived at the airport, the lady who met them appeared a mistress of total grimness! Unsmiling, holding up the identifying placard, she greeted each pupil by name and swept them off to the waiting vehicle where a grave uniformed manservant efficiently stowed the luggage. The girls all sat nervously as near the back as they could, while the Deputy Head and the driver occupied front seats. The girls tried to keep their spirits up by singing comic songs and playing word games, but their play-acting grew strained as the long dark roads lengthened into blackness.
Finally they were there and after the fairly scary Induction they were offered a warm welcome and the company of friends beside a warm fire.
Next morning was Assembly and oh, dear! Tombola's antics in the minibus had not escaped the notice of the deputy head - spankings all around and what are these?
Er, only the Little Miss Trouble knickers that everyone had on!! Oh well then, everyone got smacked!!
Favourite thing – really - baking in the kitchen with Zillah and Violet and Sara and Catherine and darling Mrs Darling. It was warm, and atmospheric with the snow outside, and making biscuits is my top favourite thing to do, and everyone was so friendly.
Biggest surprise: a sudden and complete melt-down on the Sunday morning. I found myself blubbering hopelessly, out of the blue! Missing MasterRetep, (i had never been at a play event without him) and i sat on someone's bed sobbing and got hugged and patted during some morning interval, then dried my eyes and back in role again. (thank you, kind and comforting schoolmates!)
Best fun: a naughty escapade when Tombola and Violet were sitting side by side on a sofa watching a gentleman, a visiting Laird, in Highland dress, as he leant to poke a fire. It occurred to us that this was our chance to solve one of the world's great sartorial mysteries: viz., what does a Scotsman wear under the kilt? So she sat on the floor, leaning comfortably back against the sofa and squinting: while i pretended to come over all faint, and actually lay down, head towards the fireplace, for a pefect worm's eye view. Mystery solved! This particular Laird was wearing ...only the family jewels that the Creator endowed him with. Commendable fortitude given the chilly climate and the snow outdoors!
Alas, we had been spotted – nothing escaped the eagle eye of Miss Amelia Hatchet-Grabbe: we were scooped to our feet and draped along the edge of a table and caned in less time than it takes to say, "Highland Fling!"
Not only that, but the offended gentleman himself decided to avenge the modesty of the Highlands...and so did one of the visiting gentlemen guests – so our bottoms were well and truly warmed up in consequence, snow or no snow!!
Funniest comment; a young lady who bore upon her throat the mark of an amorous encounter, attempting the hopeless claim that she had been attacked by a fruitbat. She is certainly sweet enough, but the false alibi did not save her from yet more spankings!!
Most informative lesson: makeup by Mrs Darling. What an education. And learning how to fit on a Fully Fashioned Stocking, goodness, i felt quite illiterate, not knowing all this stuff! Not sure how useful it will be in my chosen career as an explorer, but no knowledge is wasted.
Disappointment: having to leave early because of the snow blocking roads: still feel quite thwarted to have missed final Assembly, where Tombola did not come quite bottom of the class! - apparently spankings were awarded pro rata.
There was lots more – some of it has been described by others and some of it was just small stuff. But i loved the whole Finishing School weekend – the other girls were all lovely: some i'd met before and some i'd only heard of but we all got on really well, there was a great atmosphere of warmth and cheerful cooperation, ably led by our superlatively good Head Girl Catherine.
Tombola emerged a little better educated than she had set out – still eager to complete her studies so that she can go and be an explorer in the Amazon Delta – she had to research the Missionary Position with this aim in view! But she may also have to appear in Society to represent the noble and ancient house of Van Hoyden and so the social polishing of the Darling Staff will not be wasted. She looks forward eagerly to the next term!