So, from the not very cheesy to the not very chalky, I dial Alison’s number.
‘Alison!’ I say as her youthful voice bounces off the satellite, ‘No, sorry she’s gone out for lunch.’ It is her daughter and I have to remind myself that we are not the 16 year olds anymore.
I call Alison on her mobile, but am breaking my own rule because this really needs to be a house phones experiment, taking us all back to the time when we had to perfect our ‘hellos’ to put our family home in a good light. Her ‘hello’ is a slightly shocked one.
We agree to speak later after I have been asleep for 8 hours straight.
Bang on 9.30pm her time, 6.30 our time, I call her. She is pleased to be the second in line to Adrian. It isn’t the first time in my life that she has been second in line and I come out with the question straight away.
‘Didn’t you date TS straight after me?’
‘Who?’ she said.
‘You know, TS, blonde haired, blue eyed, year above.’
‘No I don’t think so.’
‘Oh. But for all these years I thought you had jumped in, hours after we had broken up because that was what I’d been told… and now I can relax.’
‘Yes, it’s nice to be able to put the record straight. I had wondered what you meant when you said that you would be calling your love rival!’
‘But I think he wanted to go out with you. And you never even knew! Sorry if I glared at you occasionally!’
She can’t even remember who he is.
We list all the people we went out with, or wanted to go out with at school. We had the same taste. We both get flutters when one name is mentioned and a rush of teenage hormones momentarily goes to my head.
‘I don’t know why the whole TS thing stood out for me,’ I say, ‘it’s not as if I ever kissed him, I think I just stood next to him in the corridor!’ That was enough.
As we are dealing with very important and engaging subjects Alison asks me if there is a time limit on my call.
‘No’ I say, ‘it will just come to a natural end.’
‘Bye then’ she laughs.
I begin reminding her of a school history trip we went on to London. When I say ‘school’ it was funny because there were no teachers on this trip, when I say ‘history’ it was funny because we only went to one lecture in the Odeon Marble Arch and couldn’t understand the teacher so walked out and away to Madame Tussaud’s, and when I say ‘trip’ we all just went to Tamworth Station and caught a train together.
The freedom was exhilarating. We ate pizza’s every night and went to see the musical 42nd Street with perhaps Frankie Vaughan in, we walked round all of central London and I said that it was a highlight of my teens, we were left to our own devices.
And then she says ‘But what about Florence.’
She really upped the stakes with that one.
All the most learned teachers and a few art loving members of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch community (including the mother of the aforementioned hormone rusher) got on a bus and drove to Florence, Italy. We passed through Reading University to pick up our translator, Vanessa, who had spent a year in Florence and who immediately recognized me as the sister of one of her university mate’s girlfriends. (Small world.)
In a nutshell, and we need to be brief, 25 girls and 5 boys from a sleepy market town get let loose with all of Vanessa’s boyfriend’s friends, their mopeds, their parties, their cheap wine…I remember waving (with the teachers) to two of our gang as they rode away pillion and helmet-free in different directions. I also remember one friend throwing up red wine into a paper bag, being so pleased with herself for catching it, walking to the bathroom with it smiling and the bottom falling out right next to everyone sitting on cushions.
We said how times have changed. I think we were the last generation to know such abandon and Alison said she would be horrified if her daughters came back from a trip with the stories we had. The thing was, unlike now, we didn’t tell- our freedom was very precious currency, not to be given away!
I tell her that she always had the best perms at school, soft and gently tamed in comparison to my wild up-do.
She reminds me that she would skip lessons on a Friday afternoon (double French with Mr E in the mobiles, you know when teachers weren’t aware that they spat as they spoke and when mobiles weren’t in your pocket), she and two friends would walk to her home in Normanton about 3 miles away, perm her hair in the conservatory then walk back to school to catch the bus home! I ask her how her Mum and Dad didn’t notice a. the smell of the toxic perming solution and b. that she left for school with straight hair and returned all curly.
She says they must have been laughing at her behind her back but I honestly don’t think they’d expect anything untoward. Parents those days had such a poor radar for shenanigans. It was one thing to cavort under vines in a foreign country with a stranger called Sergio during an art history trip but quite another to put a dirty knife in the honey!
We cover pop music, the sixth form common room, hot chocolate, history (ours and European), the system in Leicestershire schools, Bruce, and the Ibstock reunion this September.
I will be over in England next year when I will be the youngest bridesmaid at a great friend’s wedding. So I shall see her then. Goodbye.
My husband walks in and wonders whom I was calling this morning. I tell him it was Alison Chalkley. His eyes soften. ‘If anything ever happens to you,’ he says ‘and she is single…’
Florence 1984, Alison in the blue with the beads and the hair, me in the cream with the earrings and the hair.