“I’m very proud of you, Monica, well done. You’ve done the Matthews family proud,” Father had spoken severely but Mon could tell he was not cross with her, in fact he was very pleased with her. Mother had smiled lovingly at her, her warm expression said it all.
“Jolly well done, Mon, I wish you were coming to the County with me, but jolly well done getting into the Perse, what a brain-box you are!” Beryl was beaming. The family, father in particular had been so pleased when Beryl passed the exam to get to the County, the Cambridgeshire County High School for Girls, but now for Monica to pass the entrance exam for the Perse, golly!! as Beryl had said.
Now the excitement and thrill, had been shadowed by the anxiety and nerves of actually going to the Perse, the best school in the County, one of the best in the country, Father had said, and she had a scholarship too! Somehow Mother had found the money to acquire the uniform, it was second hand but Mother had altered it so it fitted perfectly. Mon could hardly believe it really was her own reflection looking back out of the mirror on the wardrobe door. She felt so grown up, but then she began to feel nervous, supposing she wasn’t really clever, supposing all the other girls knew more than she did, they would have been to posh junior schools, she had just been to little Pavenham village school…
“Don’t worry, Mon,” Beryl had said. “I was jolly nervous too, but so were all the new girls in my class. You’ll do Latin and French, and hard sums but they call that Mathematics, you’ll be a whizz at that, you’re so brainy!”
And now it was the day. Monica and Mother had left Harston early, catching the bus in the village.
“Young Monica off to the Perse, is she?” asked the conductress as she gave them their bus tickets. “Good luck, Monica, you’re a bright girl, you’ll be top of the class!”
Monica managed to say ‘thank you‘ politely but she was a bundle of nerves, felt sick with the anxiety of going to a new place where she didn’t know anyone, terrified of being lonely and friendless. Were the teachers very fierce? Mother said they wore gowns and Monica had supposed she meant ballgowns for some reason, but no, they were like black cloaks, Beryl said.
Monica barely remembered getting off the bus, walking on shaky legs to the huge school with the big fence all around it, and the massive iron gates. They walked up the drive, and up the steps and Mother enquired at the office where she would go.
A very tall, very fierce woman led them down long, high corridors with wooden doors on either side. There was a strange smell of disinfectant and old boiled cabbage and floor polish. The woman suddenly stopped at a door and flung it open.
“Wait in there, Mrs Matthews and Phyllis,” she commanded.
That was another thing; supposing she had to be called by her first name, Phyllis? Monica would hate that.
Inside the small room which was lined with chairs, was a slim dark-haired woman and a tiny girl in a Perse uniform which was too big for her.
Mother said good morning to the other woman, who replied in a pleasant voice. They sat down and the mothers began one of those general conversations grown-ups have about the weather. The little girl looked at Monica with her big brown eyes and Monica looked back. Monica realised that although she was so small she must be the same age and would be starting school at the same time. Maybe this little girl would become her friend.
Monica gave a little smile and the little girl smiled back. Monica wished she could think of something to say, she couldn’t talk about the weather. The little girl gave a tiny giggle, and Monica felt a giggle about to emerge, tried to suppress it, but it escaped with a squeak. The two girls both giggled more at that.
“My name is Monica Matthews Phyllis,” she whispered.
“Monica Matthews Phyllis? That’s a funny name. My name’s Daphne Helen Randolph.”
“My name’s really Phyllis, but everyone calls me Monica, that’s my middle name.”
“Can I call you Monica?”
“Yes – ”
“Phyllis and Daphne? Mrs Matthews and Mrs Randolph? Will you come this way and meet the headmistress? Come this way please!”
The two mothers rose and gathered their handbags, adjusted their hats, and the two little girls followed them into the big school.
This is an imagined version of how my mum and her best friend Daphne met; the essence of it is absolutely true, and they continued to giggle their way through school together, and through their lives. Daphne became my god-mother, and my mum was god-mother to her son. My featured image is of my mum’s wedding, with Daphne as bridesmaid.