Confessions of a St. Frilly Knickers girl, AKA St Philomena’s Catholic High School

Our vile school uniform was the only form of contraception we knew

Offering “an exceptional education for girls and young women aged 11-18 years”, the 25 acres of parkland that is Saint Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls was undoubtedly the bane of my adolescence. Let me tell you why.

Whether it was the ridiculous “Holy Lawn” which we weren’t allowed near, the Hunger Games-esque showdown for the 127 bus at the end of the day, or rather and most probably, the dementors taking a holiday from J.K Rowling’s Azkaban to masquerade as “staff” and dictate the regime, either way those hellacious hours between 8:25am and 3:15pm were something I’d much rather have done without, thanks.

It was like Mean Girls, only with angst-ridden Catholics

Strictly only girls, so of course as the 3:15pm bell rang, the lavatories were crammed with year 10s frantically applying their Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse and Great Lash mascara, (make-up was a strict no-no), elbowing the peasants, i.e. younger years, out of the way as they tried to use the sinks below the mirrors to actually wash their hands. Such a nurturing community.

Then there were the boys

Ah, boys. So with girls left, right and centre, were a male from a neighbouring school to enter those barbed-wired gates (there was actual barbed wire around one of the gates), he’d be the focal point of all, hot or not. Just different, really. Like a new species within a nature documentary, its grey trousers setting it aside from the masses, peacocking in its blazer which was definitely not brown. Usually blue. Of course, these boys were never approached, just looked at and discussed. A student taking a class as his timetable clashed, a brother meeting his sibling or even, in hushed whispers, a boyfriend? Eww! My Geography studying brother was linked to me on all of those theories. Oh yay. That, and my friends telling me he was hot. Can you not though, please?

The uniforms made us look at least 70 years old

Picture this. A square-cut blouse in a shade which can only be described as jaundice, buttoned to the top in such a modest, conservative manner that were it not so obviously transparent it would have screamed chastity, tucked into the…ahem… loveliest… of tartan kilts. Yes, I said kilt. No, I am not referring to the kawaii Japanese school girl vibe fit to satisfy any kinky, sex-deprived, uniform fetishism, but rather the sort one’s grandmother might look out for at a car-boot sale. Which by the way, we were forced to volunteer at on a Sunday. After church.

It never actually looked like this

There was a spare kilt in reception if yours flashed any shin

I actually offered my school skirt to my grandmother upon graduating (spoiler alert: I made it out alive). The colour of our ankle length skirts, you ask? Brown. Plain brown, you press? Oh no, we’re talking a fetching tartan, the harsh criss-cross of blues and oranges, because brown just isn’t painfully hideous enough on its own.

Did I mention the jarring cream cotton socks which consumed our ankles, relaying the distinct impression of a young hippopotamus, slipped into our black or brown uniform shoes with a heel no higher than 1.5 inches? No? Oh, so sexy.

Our school uniform was the only form of contraception which we knew

Founded by a merry band of nuns in 1893, of course St. Philomena’s strove to uphold a strong Catholic ethos in its everyday functioning. So naturally, my cohort sported the highest pregnancy rate in the borough. Class of ’11, represent.

Though seriously, contraception was a tabooed subject, mentioned perhaps occasionally in the context of “now you all must sign this petition to ban contraception”.

It’s all very well to teach traditional Catholic values in a Catholic High School, obviously. I understand and appreciate that. But if the Pope is willing to see the benefits of a johnny, surely a high school in Surrey can manage it? Controversial? Sign a petition.

You could never sit next to your best friend

Maths was actually my favourite GCSE lesson, perhaps because I found it easy, maybe because my other options included Economics and Religious Studies, or rather that it was a lesson shared with my best friend, whom I sat next to. That is until we were moved to opposite ends of the classroom. Because that would stop us from talking about how fit Alex Gaskarth was, or what lie we were going to tell our parents so we could go to a gig that weekend. Ah, young delinquency. Such good Catholic school girls.

Stepping on the holy lawn

You wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

Swimming was hell on earth

A double block period within our timetable was dedicated to P.E, a time during which we would swap our tartan kilts for shorter, PLAIN brown KILTS, with our names embroidered upon in gold. Snazzy.

Gymnastics, Football, Netball, Lacrosse, the typical topics rotated across the autumn and winter terms, before they were replaced by Athletics and Tennis in the summer. Sounds okay, right? Wrong. Swimming. A half term in which one’s period may coincidentally occur every other week. Strange, that. Were they going to check our knickers? Any alternative than having to rush to your next lesson reeking of chlorine was always kindly welcomed.

IT lessons were basically Tumblr and chill

Information Technology, or ‘Tumblr and chill” as I liked to call it, was that beautiful GCSE option. Although it was supposed to be a “highly demanding two year course for analytic, focused individuals”, it actually took four months to complete and thus left a triple period on a Wednesday morning free to “catch up on our other studies”. I took that as dedicated hottie stalking time.

Although it was all over the place, it brought people together

I realise that I paint a very negative picture of Saint Philomena’s, though there were its highlights, which were great. Memories born from my time at St. Phil’s include participation in the school musicals (my back catalogue includes an orphan, a Nazi and a bohemian punk), various sports days where Mr Hordley would whip out the microphone to rave about Orange house, when everyone knew that Purple house was the best, and our junior prom at the end of year eleven when everyone ditched their kilts for gorgeous dresses, a spray tan, and a good time.

So I guess it couldn’t have been all bad. Unless you stepped on the Holy Lawn; then you were done for.