Many of you will have heard that Carrie Longton, Elmslie Old Girl and Co-Founder of Mumsnet, delivered a wonderful speech at the Centenary Dinner. Read on to see what all the fuss is about.
Thank you Sue for that intro and before I start can I give a quick shout out to Christine Hodgson – nee Pickles - for all the hard work she is doing as Chair of the Pride of Place group to try and help the parts of Blackpool that really need help _ I’m delighted to be working with her on this and we could really do with your help so a quick plug before I start and I may come back to this to remind you… but If there is anyone wants to help - in particular if you’re able to offer work experience for school children or could go in and talk in a local school about careers please let us know…
Ok advert over…
Isn’t this an amazing evening? I know lots of people have been involved in making this happen but I’d like a quick shout out to Sue Humpage, ably and aptly assisted by the lovely Malcolm for making this evening so special. Every time I’ve spoken to her in recent weeks she’s been busy writing out place names or sorting table plans –the royal wedding is nothing compared to this feat of organisation… so please join me in thanking Sue and Malcolm.
Well as well as feeling pretty nervous I’m also incredibly humbled and really honoured to be asked to say a few words in tribute to our dear old school. I am very aware that all of you could probably do this heaps better than me and all of you will have different memories of Elmslie - so apologies in advance if I miss out what you would have said… but I do want this to be a communal remembering and celebration.
To get you in the mood – quick show of hands sure you all recall the forms were split into E G and S
So who was in E
Who can’t remember….not that many
I actually tried to think of doing a 3 part Speech which had an E and a G and an S section because I do like to talk in threes but the muse didn’t flow… so I ditched that idea and went for a collection of rememberings instead so…
just for a minute and feel free to close your eyes if that helps -
picture what you remember about Elmslie the place.
PAUSE Go on think BIzzarely for me the first image I had when I did this, was the back stairs to the library – where the sick room was– I don’t know why but now feels a bit Harry Potter ish all secret staircase - strange and obviously not the most striking thing about Elmslie. What about the fact that as removes we didn’t bat an eyelid that our form room was, effectively, someone’s old front room – or indeed that we were called Removes…which sounded like someone was going to get rid of us and we had only just arrived! Or maybe etched on your memory are the traffic lights outside Miss Oldham or Miss Smithies office – depending on your vintage - that clutch of fear or anticipation in your stomach depending on what you were there for –.
Or the temporary classrooms that somehow became permanent – our form had a cupboard where we all kept our PE kits. Was it just our class or did no one ever take the kit home to be washed unless it was the end of term? Of course as ladies we perspired rather than sweated… NOT but I can still recall the smell..
But on the positive side that same classroom also had a hot water tap we could make tea with …you’d pay a fortune for that now in posh kitchen design but we were just so ahead of our time. And thankfully well in advance of modern health and safety standards.
And that wasn’t the only way we were ahead of the times… there was – for a while - milky coffee at break – I think I probably had my first latte at Elmslie – There was girls’ cricket – which is only just taking off now at my 12 year old daughter’s school - we were playing Leyland ladies - and admittedly losing - 40 years ago with Mr Jones -Remember practising on the field - it was all going well til the caretaker decided to have a bowl at you …
Or who remembers the school trip to Wimbledon … for the DAY. I still entertain London friends with the stories of that trip. I live in N London and even I think twice before making the long trek to the tennis … but hey Elmslie spirit - ELmslie Energy prevailed and I’m convinced those years of begging for tickets outside centre court were good training for me getting my first job in TV
Hockey practice – in our case listening to the top 20 countdown in Miss Rae’s form room – probably illegally - and just about having time to find out who was number one before sprinting to Stanley Park to basically dig hockey balls out of muddy holes while being bashed on the ankles, with the wind whipping your legs. Oh Happy days
And Sports days – the only school I’ve ever known to have an obstacle race for 6th formers – but thank goodness for me they did as I couldn’t then - and still can’t - do athletics – but good old Elmslie allowed me to win something on the day based on sheer grit and determination – surely a great lesson in life.
There was the school skiing holidays we could never afford to go on… my kids again still take the mick out the fact that I have never quite got over that
The distinctive aroma of the chemistry block – which actually used to make me feel a bit sick and which is why, despite the fact that Mrs Spillane was a fine teacher, I chose not to do chemistry. I just didn’t like the smell. Imagine my child or yours being allowed to make their GCSe choices based on the smell of the classroom – but those were the days when you only had to do one science…and certainly in my case my parents left all those choices to me.
Needlework anyone?… my friend Hazel reminded me the other day we might have forgotten Physics despite Mr Eves being a great teacher - but she’s pretty sure she could still do “smocking”.
Being taught French by someone who really did embody the spirit of revolutionary France…
Mrs Carrington - she looked as chic as we believed all the French to be. The French exchanges and the arrival of a swathe of sullen French girls who really didn’t get the Elmslie vibe… at all…
The choice between Latin and domestic science and the mad scramble the night before cookery -in the days before 24 hour supermarkets - when my sister realised that we didn’t have all the ingredients to put in the basket. The realisation for me – mid exam – that Latin wouldn’t just come to me. All - those - exams. Twice a year. Having your name read out if you got over 65% average… or not.. The random bits of knowledge I and I’m sure you - still retain. Can anyone else who did Geography with Miss Smithies still recite
The sea heats up and cools down much more slowly than the land therefore coastal areas are warmer in winter and cooler in summer than inland areas… perhaps so engrained because It never felt particularly warm where I lived in winter…
tripano so my as is… sleeping sickness in cows…Miss swift acting out whole battles ….I want Silesia Back - where even is Silesia ? But inspiring in my sister – who was not a natural lover of school, a life long fascination with history.
What about getting a detention for forgetting your bible from Miss Rae– hands up - anyone else?? But somehow loving her all the same, because deep down we know she really did care for us even if she did a good job of covering that up and perhaps the naughtier we were the more she cared.
And dear Mrs Wheeler – our music teacher and mother of Jo, who struggled for years with ovarian and breast cancer. As someone who has had breast cancer recently – and I’m sure, in fact, I know I’m not the only one here - I think of her often and all the years she battled with illness but remained so cheerful and produced, in my era, a fab production of Oliver as well as daily chapel music. There were Mrs Pemberton’s gym displays and again in my time a rather racy “what’s new pussycat” at the winter gardens’ I think on the day John Lennon died… and all those speech days with real speeches from outside folks and from within from the girls who did speech and drama which in my day we still called elocution lessons…
My parents didn’t really hold with the idea of elocution lessons – but I saved up and paid for my own because I thought it would help me be a Blue Peter Presenter.. …it hasn’t quite worked out but hey there’s still time.
The Uniform. My kids don’t believe that I wore a purple felt bowler hat to school every day…even if I was on the bus…and quite honestly neither do I - but am I the only one who occasionally misses knowing exactly what I’m going to wear every morning and particularly misses that lovely soft washed-a-million-times cotton checked summer dress that was too long in Remove and almost indecently short by 6th form – but heck if you can’t show your legs off at 18 you never will. And the uniform sales. If your parents could afford Orry’s rather than Rawcliffes the other one you may not remember them but they were like Xmas in our household. Bun fights held in the library with hidden gems of second hand uniform.
What about the Chapel and the creed. Every day – the only school to be owned by the diocese you know….Who else still knows the creed by heart? and still tears up a little if they ever hear the Nunc Dimittis. Sung: “Lord now lettust thou thy servant depart in peace.” – anyone ? “according to they word..”
And that hymn – (sung)”Lord dismiss us with thy blessing”… singing it summer by summer and moving slowly backwards in the hall… looking forward to that long summer holiday but still relieved to be singing “those returning, those returning make more faithful than before…” until you weren’t going to be one of those returning and you suddenly realised that no matter how much you had moaned about it, how much you had railed against it - now that you were going to have to leave the old house and the temporary classroom and the smelly chemistry block the playing field and the tennis courts and the teachers… you really were going to miss it all and the security and friendships you had there. And life as you knew it, was never going to be quite the same again.
All of us will have different favourite teachers – it’s been wonderful seeing the names and memories come out on Facebook. I come from a family of teachers and I’ve always thought , I’ve always known, that being a teacher was an amazing vocation and I knew I .didn’t have it. You have to be able to give and keep on giving - generation after generation, caring for those who don’t always care for you or for school and wanting the best for everyone.
Yes the holidays are good… but as the child of teachers - by goodness they need them…. I wonder How many ELmslie teachers are here tonight? In a massive but rather pleasing role reversal – always wanted to do this - can I ask all the old Elmslie teachers to put your hands up. Don’t be shy now….Ok hands down
My sister actually went back to Elmslie to teach for a year and I remember her saying one of the most amazing things was girls standing as she walked into the classroom – so Elmslie girls can I ask you one last time to stand…for the teachers who are here and for those who can’t make it tonight and for all those who have passed away – please stand as if they had just walked into the room and can we give these cornerstones of our childhood and adulthood a huge and sincere round of applause.
I’m Almost done. The truth is, and it’s important to say this, Elmslie wasn’t perfect. No school, no institution ever is. There’s a great saying in the Christian community if you find a perfect church don’t join it you’ll only spoil it – and it’s the same for school – but it was ours and it was different and I think it meant something and still does to be an Elmslie girl and it’s a testament to how many of us are here tonight to celebrate it that it did something right.
I’ve talked about the physical school and the amazing teachers. But what about us. The Emslie Old Girls – some of us older than others. I have three children and my eldest has just left her all girls school. And I loved having her friends round and watching her, re living vicariously some of the fun I had with my best best friends when we were their age.
The funny thing is they are still some of my best best friends. I speak to two of them all the time – like at least once a week, even though we don’t live near each other. Two others I have kept in close touch over the last 30 odd years and reconnected with more recently and they were rocks of support in my recent illness. One of them as I mentioned -Christine - I’m currently working with as she chairs brilliantly the pride of place organisation seeking to revitalise the bits of Blackpool that need most help. Lots of others I check up on and rejoice in their successes and feel for their sadness.
Technology and Facebook, for all its faults, have allowed us to keep in touch in latter years in a way we couldn’t have done when we first left. Whenever I meet any of them it’s as if we re just back from half term. They are still the wonderful women I first met.
A teacher at my children’s school when I asked how on earth I should keep my child alive in scary N London said – Never under estimate the power of your child’s peer group. And I thank God that in my formative years I was surrounded by such amazing friendship, love, encouragement and support and I know that goes for so many of us here.
There’s a line in a song you might know…
“All good things they come from Heaven to be grateful is our rule; “
and as I come into land I’d like to reflect on gratitude
I had a wonderful time at Elmslie. I’m not sure I understood at the time what a huge influence it would have on me throughout my life.
When you are school age, school is something to be got through so you can get on with the rest of your life… I don’t think I realised until I had time to reflect for this speech really just what an amazing foundation I received here, not just in academics but in safety, security, self confidence, being nurtured, allowed to grow, allowed to fail, and mostly being surrounded by the most amazing bunch of girls -now women - who shaped me and supported me and made me so much of who I am today. I think we all have much to be grateful for in our Elmslie experience – not least for the fact that it brought us each other.
Finally having written all this I realised I Did have an E G and an S and I’d like to leave this with you as a challenge – reminder – take it how you will. I know this is a celebration of 100 years past – but I hope it’s all a call to action for the future
I’d think the E for Elmslie Girls stands for Energy and Empathy – we had a school that encouraged us to get up and go – to get things done. I’d like to think we were also taught empathy – not sure I had enough of it or any of us did as teenagers and I’d like to apologise, particularly to those who lost parents when they were pupils with me – I don’t think I understood at all – but empathy I hope is something we all have – it’s arguably the most important thing for any child or adult to learn.
The G I think stands for Gratitude.
Our school gave us an amazing start in life. Through my work with Christine I am realising just how many young people in Blackpool are denied that positive start – 166 out of every 1000 children in Blackpool are in care.. that is a horrific statistic – I’m going to read that again
166 out of every 1000 children in Blackpool are in care. We know that is not the best start in life and these children need extra special help
and I hope our gratitude for all we were given at ELmslie drives us to the S in EGS
S I think stands for for Service and the support that I know so many of you already give to your families and communities, charities and to each other – and I hope as we embrace the E, energy and the G, Gratitude, we can all find a way to give back in S, Service, to those who need it most
“When are school days are behind us and fresh duties we pursue, memories then will crowd upon us and old friendships we’ll renew. “
Never a more apt song for tonight. I know that all of you will be sharing your own memories and renewing those friendships. And though the physical school is no longer there and there will be no more new elmslie girls – I trust – I know - that the amazing Spirit of Elmslie, that spirit of energy and empathy of gratitude and of service and support, lives on in each and every one of us, and in the friendships we’ve kept going or renewed tonight.
Please join me in raising your glasses to Elmslie…