A funny little girl in socks and sandals

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It was strange to see that Sarah Hogg was awarded a New Year's Honour. I can never quite grasp the fact that as John Major's right-hand woman, she was one of the most powerful people in the country. You see, I was at school with her - or rather, w ith Sarah Boyd-Carpenter as she then was - and once you've been to school with someone, you remember them only as they were, not as they are. This is why old headmasters, now tiny, shrivelled, deaf old walnuts, can strike terror into captains of industry - andwhy I can never imagine Sarah Hogg striding the corridors of power. Racing down the stairs in white socks and sandals, yes; sitting in a reeking school dining-room tucking into piles of grisly meat and over-boiled potatoes, yes. A bright character , rather steely even then - but she will always be smaller than me in my mind, an eager-faced, laughing girl from Class Four.

Jane Birkin is another one. Could the person I knew as a sweet, shy, skinny little thing in a small, belted mackintosh, chatting nervously to me, an older pupil, on cold winter mornings at the 49 bus stop in Queen's Gate, really have turned into a superstar who panted orgasmically on a record banned by the BBC? Never.

The last time I met Nicolette Fame, Georgie Fame's wife, who threw herself off Clifton suspension bridge in a fit of depression a couple of years ago, was in the back of the huge limousine when, for a term, her chauffeur picked me up to take me to school. (Because the headmistress of Miss Ironside's Day School was my great-aunt, I went free; I came from an arty, no-car, ice-box and lino type of family. But some of the girls there were extraordinarily grand.)

Nicolette and her best friend, Tracy Reed (the girl who later appeared in a bikini in Dr Strangelove), teased me unmercifully.

"Do you know what `j'ai faim' means?" they asked. No.

"What does `j'ai' mean, then?"

"I have."

"What does `faim' mean?"


"So what does `j'ai faim?' mean?"

Pause. Then, in a tiny little voice I would squeak: "I have hunger." They would scream with laughter and I would burst into tears. Whatever their later respective miseries and successes might have been, they'll always be tormentors to me.

Then there was Rose Dugdale, the girl who dressed up as a man to get into the Oxford Union, trussed up Sir Alfred and Lady Beit and robbed them of several old masters in Ireland and, while involved with the IRA, tried unsuccessfully, the story goes, to throw a bomb out of a helicopter - but it got stuck in the doorway. To me she will always be one of the kindest girls I ever knew at school: strikingly attractive, with a glowing, beaming face, I remember only a highly intelligent, compassionate girl, handing out hymn sheets to us younger ones at assembly.

Last week I met four old schoolfriends for supper. And despite the fact that we were about five times the age since we had last met, we all felt exactly as we did when we were 10 or 11. Wrinkles, grey hair, middle-aged spread, rivers of veins on the hands - they were all invisible. Smothered we all might be with Chanel No 5, but I could still smell the pencil shavings and the whiff of stale milk from break on their skin. We all agreed we felt about 10 years old again, still reminding each other of how frightful it was when Stella actually asked for more geography prep as if she had done it only yesterday. As Fiona wrote down her phone number for me, I was transported back to the classroom. The only thing that was missing was our desks.

There is a peculiar ease about being with people we have known since childhood. We feel strangely comfortable together because old schoolfriends are like family. It is as if our relationships become frozen in time and, as long as we don't see too much ofeach other in later life, will remain fixed and curiously intimate, for ever.

Reading the introduction to a book by Jan Struther, I noticed, to my astonishment, that it was claimed that she attended my school along with the Queen Mother. More in horror than in hope, I wrote to the QM to ask if it was indeed the case and received apatronising letter saying how disappointed I would be to discover that it was not. Actually, I was rather relieved to find I had not been at a school attended by any member of the Royal family.

Or was I? It would have been nice to have been able to dwell on the thought of the Queen Mother screaming over music lessons at a piano that I had later practised on, or crying because someone had squashed her Plasticine model from which I had later created a Roman villa. After all, to someone of a very great age, even the Queen Mother must still be just a funny little girl with socks, sandals and a satchel.