The Visit – Chapter Four – 1985

This story picks up on the lives of the three girls from chapter one as they join with the local boys’ school for a drama production. ————————–

‘As long as it doesn’t affect your school-work Jennifer, I don’t see why not.  I’m a bit concerned about you travelling back in the evening though – will Jo and Lisa be going?’

One of the good things about being in the lower sixth at Old Palace, apart from lack of important exams of course; was that we got invited to perform in plays and musicals at Whitgift School for Boys.  It was an invaluable experience for us, the opportunity to enjoy superior music and performing arts facilities and to meet up with other young people.  The fact that they were teenage boys was an inconvenience that we were prepared to put up with!

Our choir teacher had told us that we needed to audition if we wanted to be included.  It was a bit scary being expected to sing in front of others.  All you had to do to get into the choir at Old Palace was to ask nicely.  If you couldn’t read music it didn’t matter – you just had to sing soprano and mime all the high notes.  If you couldn’t sing at all it didn’t matter either– you just had to sing alto and mime all the notes.

My friend Lisa and I got through the auditions and we persuaded Jo – the third in our trio – to join us.  She hated singing but we were inseparable in those days and couldn’t have her getting left out.  Besides there was a boy she liked who sang bass in their choir so she was hopeful that the six months of gazing at him without blinking might finally result in something happening!  We just had to convince our parents that we would be able to fit in rehearsals twice a week and still get our homework done.

Mum had agreed I could go – it was only for three and a bit months until Christmas, the performance was just before we broke up in December – as long as the others were going so we could travel back together on the bus.  Otherwise Dad would have to come and collect me; so obviously I was desperate to hear from the other two.

‘Can I phone Jo and Lisa to check they can go?’ I asked.  It was a relief to hear that they were allowed to go too – it was going to be excellent.

Twice a week we got the bus and walked past the carefully mown lawns in their massive grounds.   They had so much more space than we did and it was always comforting to know as we were being watched by hundreds of male eyes that we’d already done our make-up on the bus – and at least as six-formers we didn’t have to wear uniform any more.  The main school was an impressive size compared to the narrow corridors and creaky floors of Old Palace, and we all sat together in the hall to learn the songs.

The good thing about being alto was that we could learn our part quite quickly – you only ever had to learn three notes; so that gave me plenty of time to check out the magnificence of the surroundings …there were fifteen tenors sitting behind us – let’s see now… the fat one who had to keep his blazer on because he’d sweated nervous patches under the arms on his shirt; the one with the shaved head who kept coming out with daft comments sat next to him, trying to catch Lisa’s eye; and  the blond one at the end wasn’t bad, not too many spots.

Then there were the basses – I had to lean back in my chair and squint to the left to see any of them.  There was the sweet little one who didn’t even look like his voice had broken yet – let alone be able to sing bass; and next to him trying not to catch my eye, was my boyfriend Patrick MacDonald – known inevitably as ‘Pacmac’ to his mates.   Tall, long legs, devastating smile – and adored by Jo.

Yeah that was the slight problem.  After the incident in 4A when the boy with the green eyes had asked me out instead of her, we had made a pact that we’d never go after the same boy again.  Then she met Patrick at a party – it hadn’t got beyond a few awkward conversations but she was convinced that he was the one. She was sure he was going to ask her out.  He was a friend of my brother’s so I often saw him – he even came to our house.  But my friend liked him so he was off limits; best friends don’t do that to each other.  So … Patrick and I had been dating in secret for the past three months.   I had every intention of telling her.  I was hoping she’d take a shine to one of his friends during rehearsals and then we could all have a good laugh about it; but the longer it went on, the harder it got to say anything.

I’d never do anything to hurt Jo’s feelings – she’s my best friend.  I’ve been friends with her and Lisa since the first day when we were all stood by the hut nearest the gates.  None of us had been to the prep school so we didn’t know anyone.  We got the bus home together every day and met up in Croydon on Saturday mornings.  We’d wander round the shops and then buy a drink in the new coffee bar that had just opened up in Debenhams.  We loved grabbing the sofa and sitting looking down on the people through the big windows.  We were proud of being able to make a drink last all afternoon.  We had to; we couldn’t afford two drinks and still have our bus fare home.  Then we’d get back indoors in the afternoon, wait til the evening and call each other again.  My mum could never understand how we could spend all morning together and still run up huge phone bills talking to each other in the evening!

Still, it’ll all blow over soon enough.  I’ll tell her, she’ll shout then sulk a bit, and it’ll all be sorted and we can forget about it.  We’re best friends – it’ll all be fine.

We all sat together at lunch on Tuesday trying to keep warm.  It was always freezing in the dining room in November.  It always made me laugh that Jo had a tiny lunchbox big enough to just squeeze a sandwich inside and then had crisps, a chocolate bar and a juice box attached to the outside by elastic bands; while Lisa had a huge Tupperware box with half a sandwich and an apple rattling around inside.

‘I’m not going to be able to make the rehearsal tonight, can you let them know?’ said Jo as she sat next to me at the long bench with Lisa sitting opposite us.

‘How come?’ I asked.  She loved rehearsals at Whitgift and normally we talked about nothing else on Tuesdays and Fridays when we were going in the evening.

‘You know Miss Armitage asked a couple of us to help her with her research into the people who worked here…’

‘Not that again!’ we both groaned.  Jo had really got into history these days, and her and three other girls seemed to spend all their spare time in the library searching through old records.  Neither Lisa nor I were interested, and to be honest we thought it was boring: why would Jo want to do extra schoolwork rather than hang out with us?

‘Yeah, but I don’t get why that means you can’t come to the practice.’ I said.  ‘We don’t need to be there til half past four.  Can’t you come over afterwards…?

‘…What happens if it’s tonight that they start blocking out where we’re standing for the opening song and you miss out on the chance to stand near Patrick?’ interrupted Lisa.  ‘What happens if he ends up being paired off with Catherine Mayhew – she’ll be all over him!  Supposing they try and pair you up with the sweaty one with the dirty fingernails and you end up getting stuck with him at the cast party, then what will you do hmm?  Hmmm?’  We both smiled at Lisa’s mock scandalized expression.

But Jo shook her head.  ‘No I really can’t, this is the only night Miss can make.  We’re trying to arrange a trip to Hatfield House one Saturday afternoon so we need to decide what we want to find out when we get there.  Besides it’s only tonight, I’ll be there on Friday.  I want to help her, it’s really interesting work and it’s nice being given responsibility by a teacher like this.  Jen I’m trusting you to keep Catherine away from Patrick, and Lisa thank you for the image I now have in my heady of sweaty Nigel!’

I thought she was an idiot, but she wanted to go into teaching after her A- levels so I suppose she was thinking of the future.  Plus it meant I could relax and talk to Patrick and his friends at practice that night.  Lisa would never notice, she was too interested in chatting up the one with the shaved head and the skull ear-ring; that girl always did have a weird taste in boys.

During the tea break we sat in the common room enjoying the tea and doughnuts that were left out for us, and Patrick and I were chatting with Lisa and Frog.  Frog?  What kind of name’s that?  When we’d finished everyone went back upstairs.  Patrick and I were the last ones out of the room – as soon as everyone was out of sight he grabbed my arm and pushed me up against the wall.  It felt so daring kissing him, when anyone – especially a teacher – could come back in and see us.

I probably could have done with knowing that Jo had finished early and Miss had dropped her off on the way home.  She probably was gasping for a drink and hoped that there might still be some tea in the pot.  It probably did upset her as she came bounding down the stairs to see me wrapped round the boy she fancies, but honestly, she hasn’t spoken to me since.

Lisa has tried to get us talking again, but Jo’s being so immature.   She kept up the silent treatment right into December.  We’d all signed up to be on a stall together at the Christmas Fair.  It had always been good fun looking round the stalls together, getting some lunch, then doing our slot on the rota, and at least toiletries always sold well just before Christmas, so we didn’t expect to have much to do.  Imagine how ridiculous it looked with Jo ignoring everything I said to her.  ‘Can you give me some change for a pound out the tin please… ok I’ll get it myself.’  ‘Lisa could you get Jo to pass me a bag?’

Jo says what if I always go after the boys she likes?   She says maybe it’s better if we stay away from each other.  I can’t help it that he likes me best – does she expect me to keep hanging around waiting for her to find someone who fancies her back?  Thank God she’s planning to go to Ripon to do her degree – if I stay down here then hopefully she won’t accuse me of going after every boy in Yorkshire.

The cast party is going to be a nightmare – I mean it’s bad enough that the play is over and we’re all going to miss each other so much; but there’s no fun finally being able to show off that I’ve got a fit boyfriend if I can’t spend the follow day talking about it to my two best friends!  Still like I said, we’ve been friends for years.  You don’t fall out over something like this – it’ll all be fine.

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