“We know not whether laws be right
Or whether laws be wrong
All we know who lie in gaol
Is that the walls are strong
And each day is like a year
A year whose days are long.”
This is an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Goal, which I was reminded of the other day when I had a call from Bea’s school to say she was being ‘internally suspended’.
“That sounds dreadful,” I said. I imagined Bea being hung by her arms from the beams in chapel by a bungee rope. Actually being internally suspended entails being taken to a room in fifth-form square (where the fifth form live) and left there, alone, for two days. You are let out only for meals. Sadly for Bea her sentence coincided with the hottest day of the year.
Meanwhile Olivia, having finished her GCSEs was camping on the Norfolk coast. While Bea was in bed staring at the ceiling for the 705th time that minute, Olivia was enjoying the view. “It’s so beautiful,” she wrote to me in a text message. “We are looking at the stars.”
Which of course brings me to another Oscar Wilde quote. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
In Bea’s defence, that is probably what she was trying to do when she was caught committing her crime of climbing onto the school roof. Incidentally my mother-in-law, who was here when the call came through, admitted that she was an appalling roof climber at school and constantly in trouble. “But I gave it all up by the age of 12,” she added. Very wise.
At the end of this term the girls, for the first time ever, are going to be in separate schools. Olivia will leave boarding school to do her A Levels at a day school in Oxford. We have rented a place I have affectionately named “the little house” and during term time this is where you will find us. It is little, but it’s charming, and now stuffed full of furniture from Peter Jones and crockery from Emma Bridgewater. It is also a five-minute walk from M&S, so frankly it can be as little as it likes. Olivia will be studying French, Spanish, English Literature and Religious Studies. We have the first three sorted; a French neighbour to the left, a Spanish one to the right and I can help with the English Lit. We have yet to find an expert in RS but this being Oxford I’m sure it won’t be difficult.
But Bea’s internal suspension did get me thinking about how best to punish Olivia if she misbehaves. There isn’t much room to suspend her in the little house. I suppose I could ground her, but then again no one seems to go out any more anyway, they just talk to people online. Punishing the children for bad behaviour is something I have never been very good at, and I was extremely relieved to leave it to the professionals at boarding school. I’m not sure I’d be capable of incarcerating Bea in a room for more than five minutes. When we lived in Abu Dhabi I was always threatening to take away their phones or stop their pocket money but I never did. I blame my mother, she was far too nice to me. But I suppose if the worst comes to the worst and Olivia behaves truly appallingly, Reading jail is not far away…