I am so not one for reunions.
So when an old schoolfriend emailed me to ask if I was going to one last year, she received a polite ‘no’.
I’ve not heard from her since. But, most oddly I have heard from another one who attended. She actually stopped speaking to me in sixth form so I’m not entirely sure why she has suddenly started emailing me. Except she likes Gibraltar. Hmm.
Half a dozen or so old girls (and let’s face it, we are getting old) from my year attended the annual gathering and enjoyed it so much they have booked a table to sit together again this year. I just don’t get this. At all. If I want to stay in touch with people I do. But a reunion with people I haven’t seen or heard from in nearly 40 years?
Maybe it’s easier if you don’t move away. But as I’ve travelled and worked around the world, and lived in Australia, Gibraltar, Spain and the UK, I have no understanding of the mindset that stays close to home. Neither does my partner. He wanted to escape from those rainy valleys in South Wales as fast as possible. And looking at FB recently, he was stunned to see so many of his old friends still in the same place.
But onto my school which has changed radically. The head teacher smiles and wears informal but smart clothes. The girls go to Costa Rica for trips not the local rhubarb fields, or as a special treat, York and the Castle Museum. The girls, ‘My gels’ as my headmistress referred to us, all look sophisticated and beautiful beyond belief. Unlike in my day.
While I’m not interested in revisiting the past, I do get the emails and newsletters. Back when I left, it cost an astronomical £5 to join the Old Girls’ Association which meant one got a copy of the school magazine for ever. Unless someone notified school, they would probably have kept sending them after my death too.
Unfortunately, some beancounter decided this was not wise, and promptly introduced an annual charge for the mag. I didn’t sign up for that. I hate people changing T&Cs. It’s like the UK government continually reducing pension entitlements.
I’m not sure what else the OGA offered apart from a travel bursary, which to my amazement, I was awarded. It wasn’t much, but it helped towards my trip to Amsterdam and somewhere in southern France. One was a sort of heritage course with lectures, trips around Amsterdam and to nearby Dutch architectural gems (or not, depending on your opinion), and the other was working on rebuilding a medieval village not far from Pont du Gard. It can’t have been far away, because we were taken there on a day off.
There is something about going to visit an old headmistress, with whom I’d had a run-in before she became head, that even in your twenties, leaves you feeling inadequate and vulnerable. But regardless of our past history, I was granted the extravagant sum of £40. And in return I duly wrote about my experiences for the school mag. And, 30 years ago, that was my last actual involvement with school.
One of my good memories was our school library. I could sit there in free periods, read books, chat in low voices, compare and share homework, or even do some proper work. The library had warmth and ambience. Floor to ceiling books, wooden floors, tables and chairs, and deep windows letting in gentle sunlight.
When we walked into the library, run by Mrs Fricker (who I liked), we were met by Galliard. A bronze sculpture by our old girl Barbara Hepworth. We were taught to revere Galliard and all things Hepworth. And so I did. I loved the smooth flowing lines and the warm bronze. It fitted well in the library. I think later it was moved to outside the headmistress’s study. Which was a chill, austere, forbidding (although very elegant) waiting area.
At the end of April, we received an email telling us the governors had decided to sell Galliard. I was, I’ll be honest, gutted. I grew up seeing that beautiful sculpture every schoolday. Yes, it’s a privilege having works of art in your studying environment, but one that I wouldn’t take away from any girl. Art isn’t just to be valued in terms of £s. Or is it?
The insurance costs to keep Galliard on display at school have risen, as have the security costs.
Not only is the school flogging Galliard at Sotheby’s, it’s also selling Quiet Form, which is after my time, and looks very Henry Mooreish.
Galliard is expected to raise £250–300,000 while Quiet Form has a guide price of £500–700,000. Quiet Form is currently on display in New York and will return to London to be displayed before the June sale.
So we are looking at possible prices of £750,000 to £1m.
This is a school which charges nearly £12,000 a year, has around 750 pupils (senior school only, there is also a prep and junior school or whatever they are called now) bringing in an income of around £8m, depending on number of free and assisted places.
There are a lot of buildings and the playing fields which all need upkeep. There are around 80 teachers plus admin staff and governors’ staff. But still.
The idea is to fund more bursaries which is a good thing. Hell, I got a free place, why would I not agree with that? Why not sell Quiet Form to fund the costs for retaining Galliard? Growing up with classical art in any form is priceless. No one can take that away from me. The chance has been lost for future girls to do so at my school.
Galliard was bought for 200 guineas from a fund established by my first headmistress and a predecessor. Hepworth sold it to the school at a reduced price back in the early sixties. Quiet Form was a personal gift from her to my headmistress who later gave it to the school.
I wonder if Miss Knott, who was the main force behind these two sculptures, would have appreciated them being sold. Surely she could have done that herself if she wanted to donate money to the school, not artworks.
Miss Knott died in November 2014, aged 100. She was a great headmistress.
It’s interesting she’s not been dead for two years and these sculptures are suddenly put up for sale.
Art for art’s sake?