Methods of Assimilation

This is an excerpt from a chapter I wrote in collaboration with Assoc. Prof Jenny de Reuck and Dr Sharifa Ahjum. The chapter is published in Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R) Elations. Edited by Alison Bartlett & Gina Mercer. Publ. Peter Lang (2001). I’m blogging it here because it segues into my previous post, “Letters from School”, and gives some background as to why I was at boarding school so young. OK, so here goes:

My Grandmother was Russian. When she spoke English it sounded like Russian— unless you knew her well. “You must speak English without an accent” my Bulgarian Grandfather instructed his children. I only know English for we only spoke English at home. This was one way of assimilating into the British Colonial society that dominated central southern Africa. Thus, when Zimbabwe was Southern Rhodesia, and Harare, Salisbury that’s when and where I was born.

Another way of assimilating was to send me, at six years old, to a Church of England Girls School as a boarder. After the glorious freedom of farm life, after being the fourth child and born to a mother already in her late thirties—and the benign neglect this conferred, boarding school was hell. As an outsider with the ‘wrong’ name (Bulgarian), the ‘wrong’ hair (frizzy) and the ‘wrong’ accent, I discovered my ‘otherness’ within the dominant white minority. In retrospect, poor health brought on by recurring bouts of malaria saved me staying a boarder after the first year, although I remained a pupil at the school. All through school I was a rebellious and disruptive pupil who questioned everything at a time when unquestioning obedience was presumed mandatory. I was perpetually in trouble, sometimes serious but usually for infringing some petty rule like running in the quadrangle. On the strength of my unhappy school experience I vowed never to send any child of mine to boarding school.


Methods of Assimilation

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I’ve managed to migrate my blogspot “Eleanor’s Random Thoughts” from to WordPress. I notice that the comments haven’t made it but that’s ok. Some of the layout has changed but I don’t really mind about that.

I started blogging in March 2009, so I’ve published quite a few – not as many as I could’ve but quite a good number.

If you choose to read some of the older blogs that’s good. I think the older ones are better than some of my more recent offerings.


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Letters from School

I remember, when I was at boarding school in the early 1950s, every Saturday morning we had to sit down and write a letter home. In those days we were only allowed to go home two or three times in a twelve-week term. In retrospect, the strict rules and punitive punishments were dreadful to inflict on any child. My letters generally followed this format:

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

How are you? I am fine.

The film was called Lassie Come Home. It was sad and I cried.

I got detention for running in the corridor. I got a credit for art.

I hate school please can I come home?

Love from Eleanor xxx ooo

The letters were carefully written on Croxley Cambric paper – in pencil until we graduated to ink. Royal Blue Quink Ink was the favourite. Some lucky pupils had fountain pens; otherwise we used a dipping pen. I can’t remember addressing the envelope but I do remember we were not allowed to seal it. This was not a ‘reform’ school but an upper-crust church school (Anglican) and all the correspondence was vetted. Hard to believe in this day and age! I have no idea what was censored – or censorable in an eight-year-old’s letter!

From week to week the only change in my letters would be the name of the film; how many ‘order-marks’ (bad) I got and how many ‘credits’ (good). Three order-marks equalled one detention. The top punishment was being ‘gated’: in other words, not allowed home for one of the Sunday Exeats. Major punishment was not being allowed home for Half-term. I was gated once for pulling a tongue at the matron. The fact that I was terrified of her and licking my lips to moisten them was not a valid excuse! Anyone who has lived through a winter in High-Veld of Africa will know how cold and dry the atmosphere can be.


Letters from School

Nearly Spring?

Sitting here in my study, I watch the misty rain drift across the valley from the estuary. There is no wind today and intermittent sunshine; enough to persuade me to do the laundry. The laundry is now on a rack in the dining room and the rest is hanging in the garage!

Random thought: if I was typing this on a Remington, I would have used about three pieces of paper by now. Perhaps, in those days, we chose our words more carefully before setting them down? I have just inserted commas and that would’ve been a major operation in the old days! But, in those days, nobody else would’ve read my meanderings and now they lie exposed for any eyes that choose to see them.

Last evening for absolutely no reason, I thought of Lena Zavaroni. Do you remember her? She was born in 1963 and died in 1999 – a victim of child stardom. I didn’t know she battled anorexia and that was probably the cause of her early death from bronchial pneumonia. How sad. She had such a loud voice and I can remember people saying she would lose her voice early because she put it under such strain. “Ma, he’s making eyes at me!” was her first big hit. I’ve cut and copied the following from this URL.

“During the late 1990s, living alone in her flat, receiving disability and help from the show business charity “The Water Rats”, Lena was convinced that her last hope was to have neurosurgery to deal with her long time depression and anorexia. In Wales, at a Cardiff hospital, she underwent a psychosurgical operation. The operation involved inserting a probe into the brain to sever nerve pathways that control emotion. Lena was just 4′ 10″ tall and had battled anorexia nervosa since age 13, and felt she could not live with the increasing suffering. She felt depersonalized, with no future. On 7 September 1999, she underwent the surgery, but only three weeks later developed a chest infection and died from bronchial pneumonia. Dr. Lawrence Addicott recorded a verdict of death by “natural causes”.

Lena Zavaroni

Now I feel sad, such a little girl with so much hope in the beginning.

Nearly Spring?

Lessons learned

We learned a lesson today, Roland and I. We set off on our morning walk down to the beach, stopping and chatting to some of our neighbours on the way. Such a beautiful day, the air fresh and clean.

A truck passed us and I noticed that it was a ‘dunny’ truck. For those of you who are not familiar with Australian dialect, a ‘dunny’ is a lavatory – often an outside lavatory. Dunny trucks are used around here to empty out septic tanks and the portable dunnies used on building sites.

Well, this particular truck was heading for a building site on our walking route and as we came over the hill the stench hit. The truck was pumping out the builders dunny on the corner. So much for fresh, clean sea air! We turned tail and headed down another street well away from the action.

Lesson learned? When you’re out walking and a dunny truck goes past, be on the safe side and take another path, you may be glad you did.





Lessons learned

Winter blues and flu

Summer was over in a flash and I never even got a chance to whinge about the heat. For some reason this winter seems to have been colder and continued for longer than I remember last winter. So far this winter I’ve had two colds (one more like ‘flu than a cold) both of which I picked up on the train: “the steaming petri-dish of public transport”. Thanks for that saying Heather! I use it a lot.

To add to the winter blues, I broke a tooth and now have a hefty dentist’s bill for a new crown. Growing older is fine but falling to pieces is a pain.

But I’m still standing! I live in a wonderful place. Spring can’t be far off and soon I’ll be back  swimming and soaking up the sunshine. It is a good life.

So, here are some juicy lemons that my sister gave me. Lemon juice and honey have saved my throat. Salt water gargle has helped too.



Winter blues and flu