Wednesday 26 January 2011

Charlie's dead

No, it's ok nobody died.

I just remembered that while we were at school, if your petticoat was showing below your skirt then you would mutter 'Charlie's dead' to the offending person and they would hoik it up. Since most of my teenage years were spent wrapping the waistband of my skirt over and over to make it shorter and shorter and shorter this happened often.

This got me thinking about underwear and what we used to wear.

My mother always used to wear a petticoat - I don't think it was a slip or an underskirt, I think she always called it a petticoat. She had a bra and a girdle - large elastic knickers - and a petticoat over the top and I can't remember if, in the winter, the vest came over or under the petticoat. I also can't remember if there were knickers under the girdle, I guess there must have been.

As children we had cream woollen Chilprufe vests with buttons - like a grandad vest - in the winter and cotton vests in the summer.

As teenagers in an all girls school we used to 'shower' after sports. This involved getting undressed in front of one of rows of pegs, grabbing the towel (mine was pale green with name tag - no games kit was ever washed for the whole half term, just lived screwed up in your locker) and running through a room of showers trying not to get wet - no soap at all - and then getting dressed. All the other girls were doing the same thing. Some of the girls were dressed as copies of their mothers and some were beginning to chose their own clothes.

We all had stockings and suspenders in the winter because tights were only just being invented and were seen as unhygienic by the headmistress. The only tights you could get were plain and the only stockings in the school colours were ribbed so couldn't be substituted. I remember being very envious of one girl (Josephine Hamer) who had tights that looked just like stockings that her mum had got for her and wishing my mum would get some (why couldn't I get them??)

I don't remember being shy of all this nudity although it must have been crippling embarrassing for some girls. Nor critical of the shapes of others, just vaguely interested in the endless variety.

The main emotion is still anger that one of the games mistresses - Miss Thorburn or Miss Rothery - would stand at the exit of the showers and send you back in if you weren't wet. You were excused showers if you had a period and if you were thought to be having too many, they were recorded in a register and something must have happened that I don't remember - letters home? I was much too 'goody two shoes' to dare! We all 'knew' that they were lesbians and got their kicks out of watching us but I wonder if they were. It must have been a thankless task trying to make all these teenage girls do hockey, tennis, netball, rounders, dance, gym.


  1. How the times have changed! I don't know about Charlie, but we always used to say 'Jimmy is out of jail', guess it depends which country you lived in as to who was dead or who was in jail LOL. Diane

  2. I could have written this post! It's almost as if we must have attended the same school! All the details you've described are as I remember my schooldays. Our Games Mistress was also a lesbian...she lived with the Headmistress. I can remember how shocking this was at the time..isn't it strange how attitudes change.

  3. I'm still in two minds about the two ladies living together being lesbians thing. I know I'm still niaive and I certainly was then. It would never, ever have occurred to me that any women living together must be lesbians. At that time there were still so many women whose potential husbands had been killed in the first world war. A lot of our teachers were reaching retirement age in the late 1960s and they were all Miss. They can't all have been lesbians .............. can they?

  4. No of course they couldn't all have been...and yes as I recall the vast majority of our teachers were unmarried. But I did find out about the games mistress and the headmistress years later.

    A funny thing happened when I was in England last time. My friend and I were having coffee in M & S (she and I were in the same class at school) and all of a sudden our old Geography teacher sat at the next table. She must be absolutely ancient now but didn't look any different! What was so funny though was that my friend and I immediately sat up straight and were on our best behaviour! Some old school habits never die!

  5. I remember 'Charlie's dead'!
    No chance of hoicking up the skirt in our Dothegirls Hall...we had skirt inspections...kneeling to make sure the skirt touched the ground.
    The blasted things were made of serge so rigid that I was sure that they were manufactured in the Clyde shipyards.
    Old ladies would complain to the headmistress if girls weren't wearing their hats and gloves on the bus...we always knew as the announcements in assembly would start with
    'It has come to my attention...' and then members of staff would be lurking in the shrubbery for days afterwards to catch offenders coming to school improperly dressed.
    I hated the showers...but then I hated all the games except cricket where, for some reason, we did not shower afterwards but just changed in the pavilion.
    As a small child I remember sporting what was known as a liberty bodice and I definitely remember my mother coming home from one of her sessions helping at a children's clinic to announce with horror that she had just come across a baby that had been smeared with grease and wrapped in brown paper for the winter!

  6. We had skirt inspections too but they were only enforced on the girls that were actually showing their knickers!

    My mother talked of liberty bodices but didn't inflict them on me.

  7. Showing their knickers!
    I think my headmistress would have had a stroke...