BOXES IN THE ATTIC: Number 13

By Sallie Lloyd-Jones

After more than four hideous years at boarding school, then one year working in Peter Jones – one of the John Lewis partnership – where I proved to everyone's satisfaction that I was not, as they had originally thought, management material, I went to Art School. This did much to reduce the damage done by school, and at last I was allowed to be who I am.

There it was virtually impossible to be a misfit. The more eccentric your behaviour, the more outrageous your clothing and make-up, the more you were accepted as one of the crowd. But you could also be quite conformist and ordinary, and that was ok, too.

Noreen belonged in the latter category. You would not look at her and say 'Art student'. She was clean and tidy, softly spoken, made no waves but was undoubtedly one of us. She was rumoured to have very wealthy parents who owned a biscuit factory, but this wasn't held against her, either.

In the summer holidays we all expected to get holiday jobs, of which there were many, since this was a popular seaside resort. My mother vetoed my working as a chamber maid, as she was afraid I would be exposed to sights not suitable for an innocent young girl. I was very naive, but not exactly innocent. Unlike at my boarding school, where nothing that occurred between waist and knee was ever mentioned, except by the nursing sister, and then only to the Upper IV upwards, there was no subject that was not discussed at Art School … but I didn't tell my mother that.

At the end of the Summer term we would sit about on the tops of the lockers and discuss what jobs we had obtained: beach photographer, waiter, chambermaid, dishwasher. Noreen didn't join in this discussion, and when someone asked her her plans, she replied gloomily that she couldn't take a job as she would have to go to her grandparents for the duration of the holidays. ‘Where was that?’ someone asked. ‘Seychelles’, replied Noreen miserably. We were all horrified at her apparent lack of appreciation. Many of us had never been on a holiday abroad and would have given our eye teeth to be offered one.

At the beginning of the Autumn term we would all sit about on the lockers again, and report how we had got on. Who had been given an amazing tip, who had been sacked and so on. Noreen, when asked, replied glumly that her visit to her grandparents had been all right. She wasn't forthcoming with any details. This pattern was repeated every year, until our final year, when some were looking for permanent jobs, some were going for Summer jobs first, one or two were progressing to The Royal College of Art in London, and I was marrying Robin as soon as the term ended.

Again Noreen was asked her plans. ‘Your Grandparents again?’ Yes, with the usual lack of enthusiasm. I reprimanded her. ‘I don't think you appreciate how lucky you are, Noreen’ I said. Most people would be over the moon to have an annual holiday in the Seychelles!'

'Not the Seychelles' she replied indignantly, 'South Shields!'