All alone with the Romans

In my last blog, I was telling you about the Chorleywood College ‘flu epidemic of 1976 and how I ended up in the school sick bay.

On that occasion, I was in the nicer of the two two-bed rooms, and one of my form-mates was in there too, so at least I had someone to talk to. It could have been worse, and on other occasions it was. Sick bay could be a very lonely place.

I remember being by myself in there one time and hearing my friends talking as they walked along the form-room corridor. In reality, they were only a few feet away from where I lay, but my isolation made it feel more like a million miles.

Being in sick bay was always a bit of a mixed experience. If you were really poorly, of course, you were just grateful to be in bed. When you were feeling a little better, however, you could lie there in blissful idleness while imagining everyone else grinding away at their lessons. You had to enjoy this fleeting pleasure while you could, however, because once you were fit again you were expected to work twice as hard in order to catch up on everything that you had missed.

All the dormitories at my school were named after ships and boats and the rooms in sick bay followed the same pattern. I think the reason behind this ludicrously inappropriate nautical theme was that the school originally started at a barn in a village called Jordans, which was supposed to have some of the wood from the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship the Mayflower incorporated into its structure. This tenuous historical maritime link was sufficient to engender a constant obsession with comparing the school to a ship, a symbolism particularly noticeable in the school song. This was entitled “Our ship” and had music by Albert E. Bevan and words by Gwen Upcott. It contained the memorable line, “Once aboard the Cedars, (i.e. the school) you’re never going back” (see Memory 80 on this page for the full lyrics). We found these words darkly ominous and all hated the school song with a vengeance.

Anyway, the first two-bed room in the sick bay was called Firefly. It had a radio in it, which helped to while away the hours and was one of the reasons I thought it was the better room. The middle room, Bluebird, had no such amenity. I remember being confined there once with an infectious illness, so that I was not allowed any visitors. I had no company apart from my book, Wallace Breem’s Eagle in the Snow, which was about the Romans trying to invade Germany.

Much as I enjoyed historical fiction, I did get bored. I certainly got fed up with my own company.

What made it worse was that there were two girls in Firefly and I could hear them talking through the wall. One day, one of the care staff came in and remarked that Liz and Elaine next door were feeling bored. I nearly screamed, “How dare they say that they’re bored! They have each other and a radio!”

When I felt well enough, I explored all the lockers in the room and found a pack of Lexicon cards with which I tried to amuse myself by dealing hands and making as many words as I could.

Not scintillating fun, but needs must!


As you see, I dealt with the loneliness and boredom as well as I could. But being scared stiff was another thing altogether. I’ll tell you all about that next week.