At the end of Chapter 50 of St Mallory’s Forever!, there lurks an innocuous reference to just the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in a comic YA mystery set among the hi-jinx of an all-girls boarding school.
Someone got themselves locked in the gardening shed a couple of years back, and there was complete pandemonium until she turned up in the dining hall about an hour later.
Fun fact: that’s not an amusing comic interlude invented purely for a quick giggle and a pleasant sense of irony. It’s a true story.
One of mine, actually. And here’s how it happened.
Back in the Upper Fourth (Year 8 to all you ‘normal’ people out there), someone decided it would be a good idea to have one of our Latin lessons swapped out, bi-weekly, for an hour spent in the greenhouse out the back of the boarding houses. Why this decision was made – and why the first lessons began in the frostiest November since Jack Frost went on a year-long bender – I will never know.
I’ll confess here and now that I’m no great horticulturalist (read: wouldn’t know her geraniums from her marigolds on a good day), but the lessons themselves weren’t so bad. We never actually managed to grow anything, but it was nice to get outside and have a chance to talk about something other than the finer points of Ovid for an hour.
This particular debacle fell in about the fifth week of term. As was my wont, I had been relegated to digging bulbs out of what we hoped would become the tomato patch, and so was rather keen to rid myself of dirt and debris before heading off for lunch.
The sink in the greenhouse stood behind the door. Yes, there was a sink in the greenhouse. Yes, it was strange. Yes, it was bizarrely placed.
Yes, I blame the sink for everything.
Sorry, I digress. I was at the sink, washing my hands and contemplating the prospect of the lasagne waiting for me in the dining room. So engrossed was I in these mouth-watering fantasies, that I did not hear the fateful click. The click, that is, of a key exiting a lock.
By the time I turned back to the door, teacher and class both had vanished, and I was stuck.
What followed was a fairly bizarre thirty minute interlude of jumping up and down in the middle of the greenhouse (hoping to get the attention of the lunchgoers through the window in the boarding house beside the gardening patch), searching in vain for something to use as a lock pick, using anything I could find in the hopes it would make a decent lock pick, discovering that trying to take the lock apart with a screwdriver was no more useful than the previous strategy … and charging the door with a pitchfork.
The last option came to me purely in the hopes that the sound would carry to the grounds staff clipping the hedges off the main road. It didn’t work, but it made me feel a lot better. From what I can tell, the marks were still in the door until the greenhouse was taken down last year.
In the end, I resorted to James Bonding it out of a window – a highly inelegant process, given that I was fairly tall for a 12-year-old and the window was not designed with escape attempts in mind.
The best part of the story? There had not been any debacle whatsoever over my disappearance. On the contrary, no one had even noticed I had gone. I’d been ticked off on the lunch register on the assumption I’d gone to wash my hands – oh the irony – and no one had thought to wonder why the dining room was so oddly quiet.
Suffice to say it was a bit of a surprise for all involved when I came talking in an hour later and declared to the room at large: “I’ve been locked in the garden shed for forty five minutes!”
I did not notice the innaccuracy of my measurement of time. What I did notice, just a moment too late, was that there were three people sitting at my housemistress’ side at the main table. Two parents, and an eight-year-old prospective student.
The fact that I was taken out of the room and sternly told off for upsetting the guests seems reasonable, but I was still rather indignant about it. It wasn’t exactly my fault, after all.
Suffice to say, it was no great surprise to anyone that these gardening lessons were discontinued at the end of that year.
Curse that conniving sink.
* * *
Well, what do you make of that, readers? Reckon any of your stories, from school days or otherwise, can match up to the strangeness factor of The Great Shed Debacle?
There are, of course, plenty more little easter eggs just like this one lurking behind many a line of St Mall’s. Reckon you can spot any more? Suggest them in the comments, and I might just make a little series out of them. Or I might just do that anyway, because I think they’re funny.
~ Charley R