Many thanks to Ray for this unique insight of the times, not only at the new school, trying to find its' feet, but of the sparse conditions at the time - being not long after the war.
What captured it for me was the mention of 4711 Eau de Cologne.
Alan Bennett, in his various memoirs, talks about this perfume against a similar background to that which Ray describes so I decided to find out about it.
I was intrigued by what I learned.
The original Eau de Cologne was designed not by a German but by an Italian, Giovanni Maria Farina, in 1709. It was primarily a mixture of citrus oils in dilute ethanol and was composed because it was redolent of Giovanni's homeland. He wrote to his brother...
"I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain"
He decided to name it 'Eau de Cologne' in honour of the city which had made him welcome and which was now where he considered 'home'.
So successful was this product that other 'colognes' were marketed and one in particular by a perfumier named Wilhelm Mülhens in 1803. By an incredible twist of fate the license to sell this perfume had been acquired from a 'Carlo Francesco Farina' who had no connection to Giovanni Farina whatsoever. But this didn't stop Mühlens using the name 'Farina' in association with 'Eau de Cologne' in order to pass it off as the original. Objections were raised and Mühlens was ordered to stop using the name 'Farina'.
By now, Mühlens' son was in charge. To get round this ban he cleverly sought out any willing 'Farina' in Italy who was prepared to become a business partner so that the name could be legally used in association with the perfume and off they went again.
Further objections were raised by the authentic 'Farina' family and eventually Ferdinand Mühlens, the grandson of Wilhelm, was ordered by the courts never to use the name 'Farina' in association with their brand of 'cologne' ever again.
Ferdinand threw in the towel at this point and decided, in 1881, to completely re-brand his perfume.
He chose the name '4711' which had been the family's house number on 'Glockengasse' the number having been assigned to the residence on the eve of the French Revolution when French troops occupied the city of Cologne. This was a city-wide numbering system but interestingly the system had already been changed back to per-street numbers at the time of the rebranding - so technically the perfume should have been named '12'.
Far more accurate but much less romantic.
The brand was a winner and is still sold today as '4711' and proclaims itself to be the 'real' (echt) cologne.
Just like Ray, Alan Bennett was on his first trip abroad and was, too, considering what he should buy his mother. He'd already asked her what she would like before he left.
"I'd like some Chanel No 5", she said (not really knowing what it was but knew it represented the height of luxury and elegance) "but if that's too expensive get me Chanel No 4 instead".
Thanks again, Ray, for your invaluable recollection.