Janet along with Santie are the two main protagonists in our trilogy, A Family Affair by Bernard Preston.
This is chapter nine from Book I, The Bostonians; it's free online. If you're enjoying then Peter's Children and The Return will cost you the princely sum of 99c on your Kindle; now that won't break the bank!
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 30June,2019.
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Miss Celia Falcon looked down imperiously from her perch high above the girls, neatly dressed in their azure blue dresses and bright yellow girdles, having the appearance of an impatient sea flecked with sunlit foam, rather than a tranquil assembly of school girls at an end-of-the-year chapel service. She glared at a junior member of staff who was yawning. For the umpteenth time she noted with pleasure how the girls listened attentively whilst her head-girl was reading the lesson. It was the last day of a long year at St Catherine’s Diocesan School. The girls were mostly fidgety, or in a quiet doze during chapel services, but when Janet Twycross started the New Testament lesson a calm settled over the restless sea. The right choice, definitely the right choice, Miss Falcon thought again. Janet was without a doubt the best head-girl she had chosen in her ten years as principal. The girl’s words rang out, echoing gloriously around the ancient hallowed, dressed limestone walls, where girls had been taught the Faith for more than a century. Some would say indoctrinated.
A Family Affair is Bernard Preston's fourth book; Janet is chapter nine. Enjoy Book I for free.
Every girl was attentive, and a few were even contemplative, as the familiar words sank in. Good words for the beginning of the holidays, thought Miss Falcon. So many of these silly girls seemed to go astray over the long vacation. ‘Peregrine’, as the girls liked to call her (and the staff, though they would never publicly admit to it), yielded to temptation for a half-second, dreaming about her annual indulgence: after the closing service every year she would go to her rooms, turn off the phone and spent an hour or two, with a large pot of strong tea, writing a prospective of the three top girls of the year: the head girl, of course, her deputy, and the dux of the school. She would go through the file of each in turn, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, and make an educated guess of how their careers and personal lives would evolve. She had been doing it for years, and now thought she had refined it down to a skilled art. Crystal ball gazing was how she described it, with a chuckle, to her friends.
Of the prefects she had developed an uncanny way of predicting their futures, but the Dux of the school! That was much more difficult, and some of her predictions had been totally off beam. The very bright, she thought ruefully, so rarely fulfilled their true potential, but of Janet Twycross she had no doubt at all: She would go to the top of her world, but what world would that be? she wondered. The hawkish headmistress refocused on the goings-on far below, checking that her notes were ready for the final sermon and opened her hymnbook in readiness. She sat back and relaxed, thanking the Good Lord for the hundredth time for her head girl. She ran the whole service. The art of good leadership, she patted herself quietly on the back.
Sitting near the back of the old chapel were Janet’s parents, and her twin sister Jenny. Janet and Jenny, absolutely identical except for a small freckle on Jenny’s cheek that only a chosen few were told about, were the honey-blonde envy of all the girls in the neighbourhood. Of course, one was right-handed, the other left, though the girls could disguise that when it suited them. They were so close that, on advice, their parents had decided to separate them at high school. Jenny had gone instead to a school in Swaziland. Jenny too had done well at school, though she hadn’t excelled to quite the degree that Janet did.
Jesus, being found in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in the likeness of man …
Janet was also learning the art of delegation and, once the New Testament lesson and the prayers were over, she could also relax and leave the rest of the service to her deputy. Directly across from Janet, one of her favourite teachers, winked at her. Janet smiled back, thinking of Mrs McCann’s classes. She had to admit that the Life Skills course that Mrs McCann taught had been disturbing and challenged her professed atheism, but also it was the only religious course she had enjoyed since arriving five years earlier at St Catherine’s. Although she read the lessons beautifully, and said the prayers with what appeared to be conviction, privately she had very serious doubts about this Christian God, and certainly didn’t know Him as the friend and saviour that Mrs McCann spoke so enthusiastically about. But the Life Skills course, steeped in Christian doctrine it was true, had been fascinatingly taught by Mrs McCann. She gave the senior girls space, preferring not to lay down the law but rather letting them work things out for themselves. One of her favourite sayings was: “There are many absolute laws in the universe, but the interpretation of them takes wisdom, kindness of heart, experience of life and a willingness to think for yourself.”
So, she let them think. A devout Christian herself, she was not averse to considering other great prophets and teachers. Gandhi’s seven blunders gave them plenty of scope. In particular, pleasure without conscience opened up the whole gamut from how soon a girl can kiss a guy, to premarital sex, romance and marriage, children.
But the missionary’s favourite had been abortion. She had never laid down her opinion, but they had no doubt where she stood on the issue. The discussions had been heated, some girls becoming very angry, shouting and jumped up and down but Mrs McCann had allowed the process to go through to completion; every one of the young women who left St Catherine’s had been fully exposed to the outworking of that Christian doctrine, and left to make her own mind.
But now at the final chapel service Janet was a little sad that she hadn’t come to faith. Why hadn’t things become clear to her, as they had to some of her friends? Just in front of her she could see her good friend Tammy Banks fervently in prayer, and she envied the change that had come about in her life.
But here she was at the end of five years of being steeped in the Faith, frustrated that she had all the outward trappings of the religion but none of the inner workings.
Those closing weeks of their high school careers, Miss Falcon sat on high pondering, were mostly an emotional upheaval. The lasses had been given wings. Everything in their five years at St Catherine’s had been directed towards teaching them to fly; but, now that the moment for the first solo was fast approaching, the senior girls were all on edge.
Tempers were often frayed and occasionally a girl would be slapped or have her hair pulled. Janet’s last match as captain of the tennis team the previous week had been a debacle. She had gone through the whole year without losing a match, but a young upstart from another school had thrashed her.
The gala ball had been a complete disaster too when her date, traditionally the head boy of neighbouring Halstead College, had turned out to be a bore. He had nothing to say for himself that was not self-opinionated, and he seemingly had few thoughts beyond his own little world. Janet couldn’t make head or tail of how he could have been selected head-boy. She spent the last half-hour dancing with her girlfriends while their partners moped. Were they being bad hostesses, or were the boys simply rather dull? Janet couldn’t make up her mind. ‘Probably a bit of both,’ said Gwen. ‘In any case, dancing with you is much more fun.’ The girls had thoroughly enjoyed a pre-ball course of dancing lessons, and when it came to the last cha-cha everybody stopped and clapped as Janet and Gwen whirled and swirled. She forced herself to do the last waltz with her partner but he stood on her toes again, and generally danced with the finesse of an orang-utan. Physically and mentally Janet found him quite unattractive, and wondered if the time had not come for the age-old tradition of being expected to invite the head-boy of the neighbouring school to be quietly dropped. He must have some hidden talents, she said later to Gwen, but she certainly hadn’t managed to unearth them.
And then that last school night, what was she to make of that? She and Gwen had been best friends since their first day at St Catherine’s, doing simply everything together. Their last walk around the darkened school, after lights out, the head girl’s privilege, had been charged with emotion. Walking arm in arm, as all the girls did, over the lawns, down to the swimming pool and back via the chapel, both knew instinctively that they might never see each other again. Gwen came from the distant Kenyan highlands near the little town of Eldoret. She let them into the darkened house with her key. Even the housemistress and the most excited girl were fast asleep. They walked quietly up the stairs, each buried in their own thoughts, knowing it was the last time. When they reached the landing Gwen had called out softly: ‘Janet.’
Janet turned towards her friend who put her arms around her and gave her a long and very sensuous kiss on the lips.
‘I’ll never forget you, Janet. You are the first person after mum and dad that I have ever loved.’ And with that admission Gwen tore herself away and rushed up the stairs, leaving her friend gasping.
The end of their schooling was an anti-climax. The service over, with parents and daughters swarming everywhere saying their goodbyes, she managed a quiet moment with her headmistress.
‘And so Janet, where to now?’
‘A Bachelor of Arts to start with, I think, Miss Falcon.’ Janet was looking forward to escaping from her five years under the imperious headmistress, but managed a fleeting smile. ‘After that I’m really not sure.’ Her parents waited patiently for them to finish, before thanking the respected woman and saying their goodbyes for the last time. Jenny was waiting impatiently for them at the car.
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Once the last parent had left, and the school echoed a hollow emptiness that belied the incredible busyness of the term, ‘Peregrine’ let herself into the quiet of her study and prepared for her annual ritual. Head of school, captain of tennis, captain of the debating team and A’s in her trial matric in English, Afrikaans, History, Mathematics and Add Maths, Accounting and a B for Biology. Record holder for the 100m open butterfly, member of the chess and bridge teams and, lastly, winner of the Comradeship award given to the girl chosen as the most loved and respected by her peers. Miss Falcon sat staring into space for over five minutes and then came abruptly to a decision. She wrote:
Family life: uncertain.
Next comes chapter 10, Santie Veenstra, our quite different second protagonist.
A Family Affair homepage.
Hyde Park Corner is a convenient place to put up a soapbox; you can sprout about whatever you like; it's a long British tradition.
Single sex schools, no doubt about it, produce children with better academic results. They're less distracted... But are girls like Janet equally socially able once they leave school?
I went to a single sex school, beautiful Hilton College in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands of South Africa. Certainly I don't feel socially unable to converse with the opposite sex, and I'll be eternally grateful for a top quality education. Hilton College ranks with the top schools in the world.
But Janet went to St Catherine's Diocesan for Girls. Was it Gwen's first illicit kiss at St Caths that kindled her interest in Santie Veenstra?
I've just watched a BBC countryfile programme on pig farming in the
wild on an island in Loch Earn in Perthshire, Scotland. Now, I know a
little about pig farming. My father was pig farmer! Our used to run
wild in large pens until the finishing stages of their careers, rather
like the Loch Earn pigs; it tasted good but not sure it qualifies as healthy choice food.
I've stopped eating Dutch pork. I find it utterly tasteless. Reared in concrete pig sties, fed heaven knows what, they just don't compete with animals reared in the wild.
Now the mutton in Holland is really pretty good. There aren't any "sheep-sties", they run out in the wild, and we enjoy a lamb stew most weeks.
What am I getting at? The more man messes about with food, be it heating honey (having been a beekeeper for nearly sixty years I consider myself something of an expert), hydrogenating sunflower oil, or rearing pigs in a sty it's little wonder our meals have lost their goodness and flavour.
Healthy choice foods come when we work with nature, not against it. That means caring for the soil to provide the nutrients our vegetables need.
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