Welcome to a new monthly feature in which Sallie Lloyd-Jones shares some of her memories with us.
I was born in January 1939, the last of three sisters. We lived with our mother in Bermuda until after the war was over. At age ten I was sent to a girls’ boarding school where I spent the worst five years of my life. After leaving, I went to Art School, which was very healing. At seventeen I met Robin and we married when I was twenty. We moved to Scotland after a year, and have three wonderful children who gave us three lovely children- in- law, and three amazing grandchildren. We always have cats.
At forty-two I trained as a nurse, a job I loved until I retired in 1998. At age sixty-four, to celebrate the diagnosis of Coeliac disease, from which I had suffered for sixty years, I began jogging 5 – and 10ks, which made me fitter than I had ever been before. My keenest interest is Opera, and I have gone to every production of Scottish Opera since 1978. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky in having a loving husband, my wonderful family, fabulous friends and good health.
Boxes in the attic
I used to imagine my brain as an attic containing carefully labelled boxes, which I could open when I wished to retrieve a memory. Now the labels have come off and been reattached to the wrong box, or become smudged and illegible. When looking for a word that I know well, but have temporarily mislaid, I rummage in the wrong box and find a quite different memory from the one I was seeking. This is one of them: -
Boxes in the attic 3: Tennis Balls
I spent the worst nearly five years of my life at a prestigious boarding school. There were few alleviating factors. One was that at age 13 I passed an audition to join the school choir as an alto. I looked forward to every morning and evening service eagerly, and was distraught when the chosen hymn was required to be sung in unison. I liked nothing better than those times when the school was quarantined because of some infection going around, and Sunday services, both morning and evening, had to be held in the school hall, rather than our trooping the two miles downhill to the local church, and then the exhausting two miles back up. Otherwise, my main occupation was trying to escape.
The routine was so rigid that, at the few times when we were ‘free’ we had to be doing something sedentary and quiet in either the ‘house room’ crowded with other members of the same house, or in the form-room, at one’s desk. I soon found release in requesting the use of a ‘practicing cell’, one of various small spaces each containing a piano for the use of those of us who had piano or violin lessons. If one cell was not designated for the use of a particular person to practice their scales, arpeggios and compositions, then I could ask to shut myself in it and play the piano in peace and welcome solitude to my heart’s content.
And, failing that, there was also the hope of permission to practice tennis shots alone in the gym. This was a separate building away from the main building, and it was permanently cold and damp, even in mid-summer, and smelt horridly of rust and leaking gas from the supposed heaters, which seemed to make little impression on the cold atmosphere. Practicing tennis shots in here was not easy, as the walls were lined with wall-bars as well as the heaters, so you had to land your shot between the bars, or it bounced off in any direction, sometimes without ever reappearing.
In one corner of the gym stood an imposing organ with all its array of pipes nearly reaching the ceiling. In another was a box of old tennis balls.
In summer we had 8 tennis courts. Two of them were hard courts, for the use of the serious players and for matches between schools. The remaining six were grass courts placed in a row in a sloping field. As this field was used in winter as a lacrosse pitch, muddy or frozen, in summer it was lumpy and the balls could bounce in any direction, or not at all, sinking dully into a hole. At the beginning of every summer each court was provided with a net bag of six new balls, and all six had to be returned at the end of each day’s play. At the end of the summer these forty-eight worn balls were placed in the box in the gym. To me, the mystery was what happened to these balls? Unlike the ones in play on the courts, these balls couldn’t escape, yet at the beginning of every summer term there were only a few balls left. I doubted that anyone would steal them.
The mystery was solved in my last term. A new-girl’s mother requested that her daughter be given organ lessons, and a tuner was brought in to attend to the ancient organ, not played for decades. So bad was it that the tuner failed to get a single squeak out of it.
At least, not until he had cleared every pipe of the accumulation of tennis balls in it.