...St Philomena's, my old school, will sing at this year's Towards Advent Festival (Sat Nov 23rd) and this morning, in searing heat, I went to talk to the headmistress, Miss Maria Noone, about it all and to make arrangements. I have been back to St Ph's a good many times since I left, but it is still always a strangely moving experience. Today, the girls were evidently having a celebratory end-of-term activities day: wearing their own clothes instead of uniforms, they were enjoying various games and cycle rides around the grounds, and as I sat in the beautiful old mansion planning the November festival, a lively group on the upper lawn was engaging in a tumbling race, apparently oblivious to the heat.
The school is evidently thriving, and has a bustling and cheerful feel. Everyone is polite and friendly. I slipped into the chapel - virtually unchanged since my own days. The only real difference was a notice reminding everyone to genuflect on entering, some cards with the Apostles Creed - all linked with the Year of Faith - and a strange device near the door which looked like a sort of beaded curtain draped over a hanger. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a long row of many rosaries, all ready and waiting for girls sort pick them up and use them. Rather touching.
The grounds were scorching in the sun, and the lake and causeway, the island and and the grotto and all the surrounding area, are now one great mass of brambles and thick tangled undergrowth. It's inevitable really, because the local water-table has gone down and there just isn't the water there now. But it seems pity: I remember when there was water in the lake, and back before my time, the girls took out boats...back in the mansion, a set of photographs in the staffroom shows girls from the 1920s - even their faces look utterly different from today, and one could just imagine their tight-vowelled voices - gathered self-consciously round the sundial for an "informal scene".
It will be good having the choir to sing at Towards Advent. And if you go to the old swimming bath building in the grounds, you will still find my name, as I carved it into the brickwork long, long ago...