Alma Mater

We entered the Parish room.  ‘Here we are M’ I said as we looked around.  A table was laid with china tea cups and there were plates of smoked salmon on brown bread and delicate cucumber sandwiches.  A few ladies of more than a certain age were gathered and I immediately felt at home despite or indeed perhaps because of – the average age being about 75.

Everyone was jolly and over half were wearing red. 

There was reminiscing of school days and I was immediately struck by how I was in the presence of women just like me; everyone had an opinion and was curious to know more about whatever the topic of conversation was.  Overall, a sense of manners, decorum and feistiness prevailed.  These ladies had been to my school alright and I felt proud to be amongst them.

I struck up a conversation with Hettie next to me.  At 87 and having just lost her husband she showed admirable spirit.  He had been in the RAF and she proceeded to tell me about their first home in London and then her children and grandchildren:  ‘The eldest one, well, he’s in an African drumming band, they make such a noise – but he loves it, does other jobs in between to make ends meet’.  ‘Then there’s Lula, she works for a company called Quintessentially – she read PPE at University –  she’d always worked for them in the holidays, and then they offered her a job when she finished. She was delighted!’

I passed her the plate of smoked salmon on brown bread, ‘Oh no thanks’ she said ‘I’ve already had two, I think it would be greedy to have more – I’ll have an egg sandwich now’.  Her good manners touched me especially as I’d been reaching for a fourth myself.

Next to Hettie, Frankie sat, refined in a black poloneck and pearls.  She rummaged in her bag and brought out a packet of tissues:  ‘I forgot my hanky this morning, so I had to buy these at the station!’ She carried on, ‘Well, of course I started in Kindergarden; yes I went all the way!!’    

Cake and scones appeared.  The conversation turned to Will and Kate’s engagement.  ‘Imagine!’ said Hettie, ‘They’re going to live together!’ ‘That would have been unheard of years ago.’ ‘It was better then’ she went on, ‘There’s too much familiarity these days, everyone calls you by your first name as a matter of course!’ 

Hettie’s phone rang.  It was her taxi – half an hour early.  I went out to ask him if he’d mind waiting a bit – that there had been a mistake.  He shouted and hurled a torrent of abuse.  I helped her into the car shocked and dismayed by his response but at the same time knowing it would take more than that to phase this lady.


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