If you love Malory Towers you will love St Augustine’s even more!
Tyne O’Connell is the Enid Blyton of our day with her boarding school tales of St Augustine’s, set right by Eton college & Windsor castle, & for a dash of royal glamour, there is the very real possibility that you might be rooming with a princess or better still pulling A Prince!
At St Augustine’s & nearby Eton College, attended by the Royal Princes, O’Connell gives teenagers everywhere the chance to experience the centuries old traditions of English Boarding Schools, with their midnight feasts, dorm raids & illicit trysts with boys along the bluebell pathways of ancient Puller’s Woods.
Best of all, readers get to experience this uniquely exclusive world of royals & privilege from someone whose lived it through her own & her three children’s boarding school adventures.
Talk about random. This was the worst worst-case scenario in my long history of worst-case scenarios. But then, my entire life is a random series of worst-case scenarios.
At fourteen, you start to realise these things.
On the flight back to school after the Easter break, wedged between an enormous professional-mom type and a smelly backpacker, I had weighed up my tactics for turning my life around during the summer term at Saint Augustine’s.
Life at Saint Augustine’s had been hell since Day One, which was why I’d made a decision that I would do everything I could to get the cool crowd to accept – if not respect – me. I mean, OK, so I suppose I knew deep down they were shallow and mean, but . . . well, there is only so long you can spend as the form freak before you actually go mad and start wanting to be part of the cool set.
I knew I had a tough term ahead of me if I was going to finally start fitting in. I knew I was going to have to reinvent myself. That is, become the sort of girl who can pull boys – particularly really fit ones.
So it was sorted; I was on the case.
I knew radical action was needed.
But it was cool – I had a radical plan.
I had even factored in the possibility of things getting worse before they got better.
In short, I was prepared.
But even I, The Queen of the Doomsday Prophesies (my mom’s nickname for me – what can I say, she’s hilarious), hadn’t considered the possibility that I would be forced to share a dorm room with The Honourable Georgina Castle Orpington . . .
The girls, all dressed in the hideously evil Saint Augustine’s uniform – maroon pleated skirt and green ruffled shirt – were all crowded, with their toff parents and toff valets in tow, in the dimly-lit, wood-panelled entrance hall, peering at the noticeboard to find out which dorm they were in and who they’d be sharing a room with that term.
‘Oh great, I’m with the American Freak,’ I heard Georgina whisper sarcastically to Honey O’Hare, a member of her cool pod of friends.
That’s what they called me – American Freak. They do these horrendously bad piss-takes of my accent, which is ironic, really, because when I go back to Los Angeles during the holidays everyone starts talking like Dick Van Dyke, imitating what they perceive to be my proper English accent. You can’t win, really.
Standing at the back of the crowd, waiting for my chance to see the list, I pretended not to have heard Georgina’s lament and tried to think of something really cutting to say in reply. (I rarely actually say the cutting things that I think up in my head, though, because I have discovered that it is better to stay under the radar and keep my witty remarks to myself.)
Both Georgina and Honey were holding their Louis Vuitton pet carrier bags containing matching super-cute pet rabbits, Arabesque and Claudine. They’d have hated it if they’d known, but I was always stopping by the pet shed to cuddle their rabbits; particularly Georgina’s, Arabesque, who was really adorable and had the sweetest pink eyes and the softest, floppiest ears. Honey’s toffee-coloured rabbit, Claudine, was always biting me (no surprises there).
I would have loved a rabbit of my own, but one of the things about being an American freak at an English boarding school is that you don’t get to have a pet because of the totally cruel quarantine laws. My parents probably saw this as character building, like everything that depresses me.
My parents are big on character.
Both my parents are writers in Hollywood. I long to write myself – only not the sort of dreary stuff they write. They think of themselves as really hip and liberal because they say I can call them Sarah and Bob (like I’d ever do that!). Besides, they are so not cool. For a start, they drive a Volvo and say things like ‘swell’ (Dad) and ‘super’ (Mom). My mom is a senior staff writer on a crappy soap that doesn’t even air in the UK, so no kudos there. My dad is writing the Big One (that’s Hollywood-speak for the script that will finally make a name for him, but currently brings in no money).
They didn’t think LA was the place to bring up a teenager. They told all their friends that they were afraid I would become ‘too Hollywood’. They sent me to Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles when I was a kid, which is where I picked up my fencing problem. But the real reason I was in this hell was because my mom’s British and she went to Saint Augustine’s, and she ADORED it.
‘It’ll be super, darling. You’ll make friends for life – just wait and see,’ she promised me on the flight over three years ago.
All I’d come up with in the friend department so far was Star. She’s the daughter of a rock star who was huge in the eighties, and even though he was mega (and is still adored by several million tragic people with bad hair worldwide) and is one of the richest men in Britain, Star was too random and unconventional to be accepted at Saint Augustine’s, or to have any kudos like Antoinette did. Antoinette’s entire family are famous pop stars. Even though Antoinette was in the year below us, she was considered the trendiest girl in school – unlike Star, who was a total goth with a lot of weird habits: 1) wearing only black, 2) fencing, 3) having a freaky extended family, and 4) being friends with me.
Honey pointed one of her long, French-manicured fingers at the list and said, ‘Oh yaah. But, darling, look, it’s not just the American Freak. Guess who else you’ve been roomed with? Only her weird friend, Star!’
Georgina’s eyes almost popped out of their long-lashed sockets. ‘Darling, are you serious? I am so going to get Daddy to complain,’ she declared loudly as she looked despairingly down the list and held her own perfectly manicured hand to her brow.
Honestly, I thought, it’s a wonder these two don’t wear tiaras . . . whoops – they do on occasion!
This was going to be a great term.
My despair at having to share a room with Georgina was somewhat diluted by the thought of Star being in my room too. I had asked to share with Star, but, as Georgina now knew, you don’t always get to share with your first choice.
Star’s my best friend. As I said earlier, she was my only friend on account of us both being the form freaks.
We had bonded the first day of Year Seven (my first year at Saint Augustine’s) in fencing. We spent so many hours alone together in the salle d’armes practising (i.e. escaping from the other girls and, in Star’s case, fancying Professor Sullivan, our fencing master), that we grew pretty close – especially when we both chose sabre as our weapon. The other girls were beginners, so had to start on the foil, but because Star and I had been fencing since we were quite young and were showing so much enthusiasm, Professor Sullivan allowed us to advance to épée and then on to sabre.
Sabre is the most aggressive of the three fencing weapons; it has a really cool full-fist guard and a flat cutting blade, with a folded-off end rather than the tragic-looking bobble that you have on foil. Sabreurs have a bit of a reputation for being a swashbuckling, ruthless lot.
In our ignorance, Star and I thought ruthlessness and swashbuckling would be agonisingly chic qualities to foster. But that was before we realised that being sabreurs would make us stand out – something that wasn’t done at Saint Augustine’s.
Things that make girls stand out (and therefore make them the object of ridicule and derision) at Saint Augustine’s School for Ladies:
1) Not being willowy and not having really long hair (preferably blond).
2) Not having a title or at least a double-barrelled surname (although using your title was considered tragic).
3) Not owning a massive house in the country and a quite big one in a really smart area of London.
4) Having a spot problem (i.e. any spots whatso-ever).
5) Being overweight (i.e. being of average or above-average weight for your height). NB: even bulimia and anorexia were more status-enhancing than being a chubba.
6) Having unusual amounts of body hair (i.e. any).
7) Having a funny accent (i.e. any accent that wasn’t madly posh and English).
8) Not being asked to be a debutante (i.e. be presented to the Royal Court). Perversely, actually agreeing to be a debutante, marked you out as even more uncool than if you hadn’t been asked in the first place.
9) Not being attractive enough to pull fit boys (preferably older ones) who then went on to leave messages on your mobile for other girls to listen to.
10) Not being completely obsessive about sweets and fags.
11) Having clothes that no one else would buy (i.e. non-designer, like mine).
Number 9 was the clincher.
Pulling fit, older boys is vital for all girls, but especially for girls who live in an all-girls school, where the ability to pull fit boys confers status like nothing else can.
I knew this because of what happened to Octavia, a girl in the year above me. Octavia had very little social cachet and stood out like a sore thumb with her short, dykey hair. She also had this body hair problem (i.e. she was covered in the stuff) that had earned her the nickname Pubes.
Like me, Octavia had been one of the girls who hid in the cupboard at lunch-time to avoid being confronted by her total lack of friends. (Who sits next to whom at lunch says everything about your status at Saint Augustine’s.) Then suddenly after the Christmas break, Octavia was transformed into one of the most popular girls in the school and one of Georgina’s best mates – all because she pulled a Lower Sixth boy from Eades. Eades College is the madly posh school where the world’s grandest boys are educated in privilege and the art of effortless charm (well, that was how Star puts it). One exeat (that’s a weekend when you are allowed home) he even came and picked her up on his Ducati motorbike. We never saw her again.
You could fail every other test, but developing a reputation for never pulling boys was the end. Like providing the alcohol at social events, pulling boys was always the girl’s responsibility and consequently we talked of little else. When I say ‘we’, I mean the cool girls – not me, but the girls I wanted to be like.
Failing to share stories about the boys you had pulled was as bad as not sharing your tuck. It was vulgar.
Over Easter, I tried to explain the imperative of pulling a boy by the time I was fifteen, but my parents went totally ballistic about it – as if I’d said I wanted to start having sex. Naïvely imagining that it would calm them down, I explained what pulling actually meant – i.e. kissing and that sort of thing. I mean, hello! They work in Hollywood for goodness’ sake! Kissing is PG-13 there! But instead of saying something sensible like, ‘Oh, yes, darling. Of course we understand. Get on to that pulling business right away! If there’s anything we can do to help, just let us know, dear,’ they delivered this really long dissertation about how you can get mono (glandular fever) from kissing. Until eventually I nodded off into my carb-free meal.
As an American with parents who have virtually impoverished themselves (in Hollywood terms, not real terms, obviously – I mean, they could still afford to pay for the fees, the flights and the tragic uniform; it just meant they had to do without a pool) in order to send me to boarding school in England, I pretty much flunked all eleven tests. I suppose I am tall and thin and my hair is blondish (if I spray myself stupid with Sun-In). But it’s not sleek and straight like the cool girls’ hair, it’s wavy and has little fluffy bits at the front that stick up like horns no matter how much I try to stick them down.
In Year Seven when we were all eleven, the dorm bedrooms had six or more girls in them, but as the years went on, the number of girls per bedroom was getting smaller and smaller, and it became harder and harder to hide what a freak I was compared to all the other girls who were pulling boys left, right and centre.
Years Nine and Ten were housed in shared bedrooms of three per room in a building called Cleathorpes. It was an ancient house with a gabled roof and mullioned windows. In some ways I guess it looked kind of spooky and Addams Family-ish, but I had always longed to be roomed there. It was away from the main building where all the other dorms were.
Cleathorpes had good points and bad points:
Good points: It was away from the main building and meant we could sneak out at night through the bursar’s window, which was conveniently never locked. This meant that IF we could dodge the guard dogs and armed security guards, slip through the electric, barbed-wire fence and sprint through the woods (where it was rumoured flashers and rapists lurked) and take the 23:23 train to London, we could go clubbing at one of the really cool London clubs like Fabric (that is if you knew someone who knew someone who knew the doormen). Not that anyone in my year had done anything as cool as that yet, but all the Lower Sixth girls claimed they had done it all the time when they were in Cleathorpes.
Bad points: The House Mother (or as we referred to her, House Spinster) was the horrible Miss Cribbe. Not only was she bearded and mad and always trying to get all chummy with us like we were her real children or something, but she had a disgusting incontinent springer spaniel called Misty, who was constantly sneaking into the dorms and weeing on our duvets.
All Miss Cribbe ever said was, ‘Oh, Misty, you are a naughty little doggins, aren’t you?’ (Miss Cribbe always spoke to Misty in a baby voice.)
The whole of Cleathorpes smelled of wee, even though we all made a concerted effort to get Misty to run away by spraying her with Febreze.
I lugged my trunk up the narrow, dimly lit, oak-panelled stairwell that wound around the central hall. Each of the cold stone stairs had been hollowed in the centre from about two hundred years of wear. As I struggled alone, behind all the parents, guardians and valets carrying up the other girls’ trunks, I took in the smell of bee’s wax and floor cleaner.
The stained-glass window depicting Saint Theresa doing something miraculous cast a wintry half-light on the stairwell, even when it was fabulously hot and sunny outside. Bent double under the weight of my trunk, the strap of my fencing kit cutting into my shoulder, I looked up at her peaceful features . . . and wished she’d do something miraculous for me, like carry my wretched trunk up these stairs.
My parents lived in LA, so I suppose they couldn’t accompany me every time, but also they claimed lugging a five-thousand-tonne trunk on my back was character-building. Clearly the fact that I was going to end up looking like a hunched-up old woman by the time I was eighteen didn’t concern them in the least.
“Funny exposé of It-girl school life.” ELLE GIRL UK
“It is possible this is the most psychologically acute book about the royal wedding, even though it isn’t actually about the royal wedding” Tanya Gold, 08 Apr 2011 THE TELEGRAPH
“If you have ever wondered what really goes on behind the locked gates of the ancient British Boarding Schools, this series holds the key.” @BookChitChat
“It is sure to have fans of O’Connell’s previous novels rolling on the floor laughing their royal crowns off.” SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, USA
“A Right Royal Read!” MAYFAIR TIMES UK
“Funny exposé of It-girl school life.” ELLE GIRL UK