An all-girls education


There was period in my own personal history when I had happily already discovered the joys of enthusiasm, but was unfortunately still neither legally entitled, nor financially able to demonstrate this enthusiasm with anything like the flare it deserved.

I was not alone in my plight, and every Saturday night (among others, if I am to be honest) this tension presented a willing assortment of cohorts and me with a dilemma. And for better or for worse, our dilemma was, in fact, enhanced by the fact that we were trapped.

A 17-year-old girl pursuing a career in enthusiasm from within the confines of a Dorset boarding school, while attempting to pass an A-level or two has something of an uphill struggle ahead of her … trust me.  (Oops—there it is; a confession as to my true heritage from across the pond.)

To my friends and I, however, the painfully early Victorian bedtimes, screwdriver-immune window blocks, random room searches, and complicated, extended web of dos and don’ts (to be adhered to at all times, on or off the school premises, including during the holidays!) served mainly to whet our appetite for a challenge.

One of our number happened to be an enthusiastic biologist … a potentially very useful combination of interests. Potentially.

On one very average Sunday, after a routine Saturday night involving stealth missions, decoys, and random, nonchalant suspicions cast on anyone who looked too drunk to throw them off, our EB (enthusiastic biologist) called a meeting. She had the perfect solution to solve all our purchase, concealment, and disposal problems—we were going to build a brewery.

Well, obviously not a REAL brewery. We were quite limited in our choice of venues: my room, which was approximately 8’ square and most of it was already occupied by the bed, desk and wardrobe, or her [the EB’s] room, which was twice the size, as she had conned the authorities into offering her prefects’ privileges. One of these would have to do as the birthplace of our own unique brand of beer.

So, her room it was … and we set to work. According to a diagram in the UK Department of Education issue biology curriculum textbook, we lovingly constructed an admirably complex labyrinth of straws, bottles, tape, more straws and the odd piece of equipment borrowed from the unsuspecting science lab. We had yeast, we had water, we did whatever else the book told us to do … and within three days—we had an almighty, putrid stench on our hands.

The textbook had lied! We were the victims of a conspiracy! But there was still a shimmering, glimmering hint of hope (and I won’t rule out a touch of desperation), that perhaps all we were missing was a little bit of patience and maybe a location within less aggressive proximity to a radiator…

We knew the perfect spot—the piano practice rooms tucked away in an abandoned cottage on the edge of the school estate (infinitely more suitable for clandestine liaisons with the adjacent boys’ school than for music practice). The move would have to happen under cover of night … but the issue was that the doors of our house were locked and alarmed at 9pm, and even in England there are long evenings. A ridiculously elaborate scheme to distract, divert and straight-faced lie about having to look outside for some essential item afforded two of our number permission to leave our house within a five minute window, run (with the brewery) to our new factory location and make it back without arousing suspicion.

Unhappily, we were much better smugglers than we were illicit brewers. Within a day, our hidden lair got blown wide open and accountability was being sought with vehemence.

But an Enthusiast should never betray her kin … and through tight-lipped camaraderie we all emerged from this ordeal unscathed, with our squeaky clean reputations intact—but, rather sadly, our throats dry.