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16th December 2020

Memories of the end of term from 30 years ago!

By David Smith, former Director of Drama. 

It was, if my memory is correct, Friday 14 December 1990. It was the last full day of the Autumn Term and I had been the Housemaster of Rushebrookes for just over three months. I was excited! Not excited because the Christmas break was imminent: excited because I was genuinely looking forward to the next few hours – Carol Service, House Supper and some informal ‘entertainment’ to follow. 

At about 4:00pm I grabbed my gown and hood, slipped through the door into the girls’ accommodation and began to urge the members of the house to start making their way to Chapel. I looked out of the front door as I moved into the Sixth Formers’ bit of the building and saw a couple of snowflakes gently drifting towards the earth. Eventually, Becky, the Resident Tutor, and I managed to get all of the girls out of the house, heading across the footbridge and on towards Chapel. The snow was falling in a rather more determined fashion. Beautiful – the very embodiment of Christmas. 

And so, into Chapel for an hour of blissful, sublime music. The Chapel was dimly lit by candles and the windows, illuminated by the lamps outside clearly showed that it was still snowing – perhaps a little more heavily. The service concluded. We made our way back to Rushebrookes. By now, there was about three inches of snow on the paths and the snowfall continued, even more persistently. 

There was about an hour to go before the House Supper was due to start. The Common Room had been decorated and set up with trestle tables ready for the meal. The plan was for the members of the Middle School to be served their supper by the House Tutors and the Prefects – an idea which I’d borrowed from my time in the RAF. Prior to that, the Tutors and Prefects would have an earlier supper in my bit of the house. A pleasant hour, during which the occasional glance out of the window showed that the snow was still falling. 

At about 7:00pm, the girls took their places at the tables and we, the Tutors and Prefects served them a superb meal, brilliantly prepared by the Catering Staff and transported across to the House in heated containers. It was still snowing. After the meal, we cleared the decks and took our places for the ‘informal entertainment’, which the girls had laid on. It was still snowing! 

Bedtime was a fairly fluid affair, it being the end of term and, after a few turns around the house to make sure no-one was missing, the Tutors and I settled down for a glass of wine before they made their way home and I made my way to bed. 

The next morning, there was about 18” of snow on the campus and it was apparent that the end of term might not go strictly according to plan. For a start, there were no trains running on the Birmingham to Cambridge line, so anyone planning to leave by rail to pick up a London train in Peterborough or to travel to Stansted or Birmingham airport was, for the time being, stuck. 

A few girls who had left very early to travel by taxi to Heathrow and Gatwick had managed to get away, but a couple of taxis travelling to E Midlands Airport were forced to turn back. One taxi got to the airport and the driver very diligently escorted his passenger to the check-in desk for a flight to Paris. They got to the desk just in time for the airport to close. 

My phone was red-hot with anxious parents telling me that, try as hard as they might, they could not get through to Oakham. 

Lunchtime was something of a challenge for Andrew Keenan and the caterers. Having planned for only a limited number of students being around for lunch, the prospect of feeding over half of the student body was something of a challenge. But it was a challenge to which they rose and everyone got something. That wasn’t to be the case after lunch, though, and the solution was to 

feed anyone remaining with take-away pizza, kebabs, curries, Chinese, fish and chips – anything we could get hold of. ‘Just keep the receipts,’ was Andrew’s instruction. 

And the snow continued to fall. The girls got away in dribs and drabs, but about twenty were still in the House on Saturday evening. The evening was spent binge-watching videos (I don’t think we called it that in 1990) in the Common Room, and Sunday breakfast was something of a scratch affair – cereal, croissants and other odds and ends in the House. 

Lunchtime was a bit more of a problem as the take-away joints weren’t open, but the Co-Op was, and we managed to get sufficient rations to provide something. The evening meal, was, of course a little easier – Chinese, curry, kebab etc. ‘Just keep the receipts.’ Also, a bit simpler as a few more girls had managed to get away. 

By Monday morning, only a few were left and they gradually departed as the day progressed. Finally, the last girl got away at 4:00pm and it was with some relief we waved her off home – to Sutton Coldfield!!! 

Then, we could relax and get ready for the holidays; we were going skiing.

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