Lessons in laughter and how to bend the rules at school

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2009, 12:00am

My schooldays were totally great. I went to an all-girls convent and I just remember us all being extremely silly and laughing a lot at the completely stupid things we did.

There were lots of rules so we became extremely creative and were masters at creating totally believable excuses to manoeuvre our way through the system.

Actually, thinking about it I've never laughed like we did at school. But it was nice laughter and we never hurt anyone.

My happiest memory was winning a dancing competition.

I'd never won anything in my life before.

My worst memory was sewing the same apron for two years. I had to keep unpicking it and doing it again because it was always so bad. Even today just trying to thread a needle can reduce me to tears.

I went to Lacey Green Primary School in Wilmslow, near Manchester in England.

Well-off children and very poor children were mixed together and I felt very sad for some of them but sometimes made up nasty songs about them with the others.

It's so easy to be a total sponge when you're small.

In Form Four, I left for Mount Carmel, a convent school in Alderley Edge, which was squishy soft in comparison.

There, I remember Sister Gerald saying to me in her Irish accent when she caught me breaking rules: 'Jennifer Quinton, you will go to hell if you don't wear your hat.'

The nuns said that sort of thing. They also had assembly checks to see if we had brown knickers on - massive thick granny ones that nearly reached up to our necks.

One day we all did the can-can dance at the bus stop and flashed those sexy knickers at the bus drivers. I think we all had to spend every lunchtime in the chapel for a week after that.

I always remember our history teacher, Mrs Hutton, at Mount Carmel.

Something terrible had happened and I was furiously writing down every single swear word I knew to vent my anger.

Mrs Hutton became cross with me for not listening and picked up my book and read what I'd written.

Her face went bright red and I knew what people meant when they said they wanted the Earth to swallow them up. I was so worried about what she'd say at parents' evening a month later that I decided I'd better work very hard and be top of the class.

So I did become top of the class - in history, geography and English, and was always first or second in class right up until I left.

In retrospect, that anger did me some good.

I should've stayed at school but I wanted to do Spanish and hang out with boys so I went to South Trafford College, where I met lots of great new people and continued to be silly.

I scraped enough A-levels to get into Newcastle University, which was another great adventure.

Life is so wonderful if you trust where it's going.

At Newcastle, I was supposed to study Spanish and English, and something else which I forget.

Two weeks before the start, I was on a plane and sat next to a Korean politician.

By the time I got off, he'd made me promise to do politics.

So I told my parents and they were incredulous but that's what ended up being my final degree and I loved it.

I've learned that nothing you ever do is wasted. You just sort of store it up and suddenly there's a time when all those things stored away start coming out.

Ark Eden on Lantau was just like that. First, you cannot live on an island that you're totally in love with for years and just watch it go down without a fight.

So I fought for years with the Green Lantau Association and Living Islands Movement. And we continue to fight.

Ark Eden was about finding a vision - a garden island for China and Hong Kong - and working for that. It's a green vision for Lantau and an integrated conservation strategy that has at its heart a mission to repair, restore and enrich the biodiversity of the island's damaged and endangered landscape.

It also aims to create a new vision through environmental education programmes and community-based tourism.

Eden means everything to me. It's a model of sustainability and a hope for the future.

I think this is the most crucial time we've ever faced in history.

My advice is: don't wait for anyone to be ready, for the time is now. Create your own reality, and show with your own life what's possible.

Jenny Quinton is the director of Ark Eden. She was talking to David Phair.