A Bout of Nostalgia

I’m not usually given to bouts of nostalgia, I am too busy living the present, but this week I received a letter that sent me hurtling back into my childhood. The letter came from my local area Girl Guides Association inviting me to a garden party of Queen’s Guides to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee year.
My first reaction was: how did they find me? It is many, many years since I helped to run a Girl Guide company and many, many more since I qualified as a Queen’s Guide and then, of course, I had a different name. The letter asked me to wear my Queen’s Guide badge if I decided to attend. Queen’s Guide badge? When did I last see that? Had I still got it?

Shortly before my mother died, she gave me a large envelope full of documents and scraps of paper, with the words, ‘Here, you’d better have this.’ I had looked at them at the time, but hadn’t touched them since. The letter sent me back to them in the search for the badge. The envelope contained every school report I’d ever had, every receipt for tuition at the grammar school, my school certificate, certificates for guide badges and the badges themselves, taken off the sleeve of my uniform before it was scrapped, and the Queen’s Guide badge in pristine condition.

Memories began to crowd in. The last test to qualify for the award took place at the home of Lady Somerleyton in Norfolk. Three of us were invited for the weekend where we were to be tested, though what form the test was to take we were not told beforehand. It was dark when we were picked up by ladyship in her car and told to navigate her by map to the hall. We somehow managed to take a wrong turning and afterwards she told us that it took all her resolve to go the way we had told her when she was tired and all she wanted to do was get home. We had to sleep on the floor on an upper room that night and, being bony, I could not get comfortable. Nor were we allowed to light a fire so our breakfast next morning was bread and butter and water.

After breakfast we were sent to the local cottage hospital where we had to help look after new born babies, much to the consternation of the mothers who were quite convinced we would drop them. We were strolling back up the drive of the hall, feeling smug, when we saw her ladyship hanging out of an upper window calling for help. We began to run as she shouted, ‘Hurry! Hurry!’ We found her in the bathroom with a badly burned arm. The make-up was so good it was a while before we realised this was all part of the test and we were required to give her first aid. She had some old sheets nearby which we were told we could use. We filled the basin with cold water and plunged her arm into it and then needed to bandage it I knew perfectly well that with burns you are supposed to put the bandage on in strips to make it easier to get them off again, but my guide training of thrift would not let me tear up perfectly good sheets, so I used an ordinary bandage. I remember being told off about this and my excuse that I knew it was play-acting and that in a real situation, I would have done the right thing, didn’t go down too well.

Later in the day, the room we had used was inspected to make sure we had left no evidence of our presence and then we were drawn up on the gravel outside for an inspection of our persons. Only later did I learn I had passed.

That year there was great excitement as Princess Margaret, herself a Girl Guide, was coming to join a rally at Somerleyton Hall and as a Queen’s Guide I was to be part of her escort and was required to attend a rehearsal. I was really excited about this, only to learn when I arrived on the big day that the Princess was not well and would not be there. I can’t remember who came in her place, but I remember being bitterly disappointed.

I put everything back in the envelope, but not before I’d taken a peek at my school reports. I certainly didn’t stand out as a scholar and most of the comments were to the effect that my work was spoilt by carelessness and poor handwriting. I managed to pass my School Certificate (forerunner of ‘O’ levels), the only subject I failed was history. How then did I come to write historical novels and to be so fussy about getting things right? The constant nagging of my parents or perhaps my own motherhood must have had an effect.