This is the final chapter which brings us up to date!
————————————————————————–Lisa was just rushing across the concourse at Victoria Station to get the 5.15 to Tattenham Corner. None of the kids were home that evening so she was looking forward to a quiet dinner with her husband and then putting her feet up and shoving on a DVD. Her job kept her so busy that a quiet night in was bliss. She felt her phone vibrate in her handbag. Settling into a window seat, she checked the message that had just come in. It was from her old school-friend Jo.
‘Hey hon, hope you’re well, we’re coming down next week to visit mum and dad. Fancy a catch up, how about Thursday? Xx’
‘Definitely!’ She messaged back, ‘I’ll take the afternoon off.’ Closing her eyes she was surprised to get another message.
‘Have a look at the link, it’s an Old Palace tour – do you fancy it?’
‘That’ll be a trip down memory lane’, thought Lisa. ‘It’s been nearly thirty years!’ Her mum had worked for the Friends Association but Lisa had never had time to go – too busy building a career, then having a family, but now Jo was suggesting that they went together. Why not!
They met down at the gates, and after a flurry of ‘How are the kids?’ and ‘When did you change your hair?’ and everyone’s favourite …. ‘You’ve lost weight!’ they went in and paid the entrance fee. ‘This has all changed’ said Jo looking around the space now used as a meeting room and museum. ‘Remember when we used to sit on the tables in here and eat our lunch even though it was a lab and we weren’t supposed to have any food? I wonder what else has changed.’
‘What have they done with Stafford?!’ demanded Lisa ‘They’ve gone and moved it!’
‘No they haven’t,’ laughed Jo, ‘you turn left not right – it’s at the other end of the passage where it always has been! Remember having to line up out here ‘til the lesson was ended…’
‘…and then the 5A’s used to barge past and whack us with their bags!’ said Lisa, easily falling into their old habit of finishing each other’s sentences. Jo might have moved to Yorkshire with the boy from Brid that she had met at university, but it didn’t take them long to pick their old friendship up where they had left off.
‘That corridor always creeped me out.’ Remembered Jo. ‘I was convinced someone was watching me – ever since they told us about that blocked off servants’ passageway that ran alongside it.
Pausing for tea and cake in the Banqueting Hall they sat at a table staring up in the air open-mouthed. ‘I’d forgotten how impressive the ceiling was in here.’ Said Jo.
‘Yeah but I bet you’ve forgotten the little bits that used to fall off it and land on your head during assembly!’ smiled Lisa. ‘I was forever trying to get them out of my hair!’
‘You remember Mum used to help with the teas on these tours, she only gave up a couple of years ago? Back then they were down in the dungeons. It must have been freezing! She told me her proudest moment was convincing two women that the story of the Grey Lady was in fact a murder mystery and that someone crept up and pushed her down the stairs!’
‘That’s nothing’ said Jo ‘I managed to convince my class that I had a cupcake belonging to Anne Boleyn last week! People will believe anything if you keep a straight face.’
‘I still can’t believe you became a history teacher – when I think how bored we got in the lessons!
‘I got into it late – but then it helped when I met a certain boy from Yorkshire who sat in the row behind me in my lectures. He was so jealous that I’d been to school with all this Tudor history surrounding me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we spent more time moaning about being in freezing classrooms than admiring the medieval architecture!’
Lisa laughed, ‘Mum’s still friends with Miss Armitage – she told her about the time the three of us tried to get out of lessons because we thought we might have the sweating sickness and didn’t want to infect anyone! …. Jen would have loved all this…’ she began hesitantly.
‘Darling I really don’t want to get into all that again.’ Jo said quietly.
‘I know but it’s a shame to have fallen out like that. Over something so silly.’ Lisa was amazed at how Jo could bear a grudge for all these years when she was so laid back about everything else in life. Not to mention happily married.
‘Tell you what though, if I ever bumped in to that Catherine Mayhew on a flight of stairs I might consider a quick shove! She was really horrible!’
‘Oh…didn’t I tell you?’ Laughed Lisa, ‘She works in the café in Debenhams! I see her most weeks when I have lunch with my Charlotte. We can go in for a coffee when we finish here if you like. I’m sure Catherine will be thrilled to hear that you’re a deputy head now!’
‘Do you remember when Charlie insisted on being called Nemo? It’s hard to believe my god-daughter starts University next year.’
The guide took them up the stairs to QER – it was smaller than either of them remembered. While he was telling the rest of the party about the Queen using that room whenever she was on progress, Jo remembered that she had always wanted to get a key and find out what was behind that little door in the corner. The view out of the window over a beautifully tended garden was a lot better than the huts and Art Room that were there in the eighties. They did a valiant job keeping a straight face while the guide took them through the darkened corridor that was supposed to be haunted and regaled them with the tale of the Grey Lady.
‘Seven years and not a hint of a clammy chill on the back of my neck!’ whispered Lisa as Jo giggled. Then finally they finished off with the Chapel which was as peaceful and beautiful as ever. All too soon the tour was over.
Walking through the iron gates they took one last look behind them. ‘Funny isn’t it?’ said Lisa, ‘I didn’t think I missed it at all, but I feel a bit sad to think those days are gone forever.’ They stood looking back at their old school for several moments, both feeling a bit misty-eyed.
‘We had a lot of good days here, that’s all.’ Said Jo, as they walked up Old Palace Road, just as they had every evening for seven years. ‘Everyone connected to this place has their story, and ours was a happy one.’
‘You dare start singing the School Song and I’m crossing over!’ laughed Lisa as they turned the corner and headed up the hill, leaving The Old Palace behind them.