The Avenging Angel
I don’t usually see anyone I recognise on my morning commute, so I’m somewhat surprised to hear a once familiar voice calling my name as I wait on platform 1 at the unearthly hour of seven thirty am. “Gemma! How have you been?”
Lucy and I were almost inseparable at secondary school: we sat together in Maths and English for the best part of five years and sent most of our break- and lunch-times together. Then, when we parted ways to go to different sixth forms, we still kept in touch, texting and instant messaging at least several times a week. We even managed to keep the friendship going for the first year of university – me in Hull; her in Warwick – but as time passed and I found myself spending a year in Trieste (one of the perks of an Italian degree), we slowly drifted apart.
She’s grinning at me now as if we met up yesterday. “I can’t believe it!” she says. “It must be, what? Four years since we last saw each other?”
So we do the usual catching up routine: love life, career, where we live now – all that sort of thing. It turns out Lucy’s done well for herself: she’s working for the HSBC bank and has been promoted twice in the last six months – something to do with spotting a fraudulent cheque and saving the bank hundreds, if not thousands, as well as being really good with the customers – and she’s renting one of those pretentious new flats just behind the train station. She’s only just moved in, which is why I haven’t spotted her at the station before now.
The train arrives and we’re still gabbing away. She enquires about my parents; I ask after hers. “What about your grandparents?” I want to know, wondering, after I’ve said it, whether they’re still alive: they must both be in their seventies by now.
Lucy pulls a face. “Gran was arrested the other week. We’re really lucky it didn’t hit the headlines – or end up on social media.”
“What did she do?” I ask, fascinated – my mind already constructing scenarios of her being caught speeding on a mobility scooter or getting embroiled in some sort of granny-brothel.
Lucy sighs. “I suppose it’s funny, really – in a way. It was a bit embarrassing for us all at the time, though.”
By now, I’m desperate to find out what happened, so Lucy enlightens me. “It all started when she found out Prince Charles was visiting St Brigid’s,” she says slowly. “She used to be headmistress there, remember?”
I nod. I didn’t go to St Brigid’s myself – my family aren’t Catholic; but there were plenty of people at secondary school who’d done the full seven years there – eight, if you count the pre-school.
“Well, Granny’s never forgiven Charles for the divorce,” Lucy continues. Noticing that I look puzzled, she elaborates: “She blamed him for the break-up with Princess Di.”
I don’t like to point out that this seems to be a case of taking a grudge too far. After all, Diana died twenty-two years ago – I was three at the time, so obviously I didn’t have a view on the matter, being more interested in Pingu than conspiracy theories and adultery plots.
“Anyway,” Lucy continues, “because she used to be headmistress, she was invited to come along and meet Prince Charles with the teachers who’re currently there, and she was moaning about it at her bridge club, saying she ‘didn’t want anything to do with that dreadful man’, when one of her friends dared her to tell him what she thought of his behaviour.”
“You’re not serious!” I breathe, trying to imagine the scene she would have caused.
“Well, you know Granny …” Lucy shakes her head despairingly. “Once she gets an idea into her head, there’s no stopping her. So, she went home and made a big placard, thinking that she could wear it round her neck and then jump out and flash her sign at Prince Charles.”
“The Scarlet A!” I mutter, secretly rather impressed.
“And you know how terrible her handwriting is …” Lucy carries on.
I do indeed: Lucy’s shown me enough birthday cards from her grandparents over the years for me to remember the ridiculously illegible spikes that masquerade as penmanship. You’d expect someone educated, who’s been a teacher and headmistress, to have a beautiful, spidery copperplate; but Lucy’s gran’s writing is so bad that it resembles those hospital charts with all the peaks and troughs to represent heartrate, breathing, and so on.
“… So if she’d written it herself, it would have been fine,” Lucy explains, “only she asked my grandad to print it for her, and he’s got lovely writing …”
“And did she do it?” The mental image of an old lady leaping out at Prince Charles, telling him exactly what she thought of him, is priceless.
Lucy rolls her eyes. “She put on her ruby red mac – to hide the evidence – and off she went, There was a line of policemen outside the school gates – for security purposes – but Granny was an invited guest and an upstanding member of the community, so nobody thought to stop her.”
I can picture it now: Lucy’s granny, looking for all the world like a sweet, little, old lady; and Prince Charles having no idea what’s about to hit him.
“So she stood in line,” Lucy’s voice slows, as if the telling of it is too painful, “and waited with the rest of the teachers who were all lined up to shake his hand. And then …” Her voice falters. “And then … Granny flashed him!”
That’s when I realise that her voice is trembling with laughter, so I join in and we both snort and giggle at the idea of it all.
“At least she didn’t throw a milk-shake at him,” I gasp, thinking of the recent event with Nigel Farage. “Or her false teeth!”
“Would that count as treason, do you think?” Lucy asks, sounding suddenly serious. “I mean, do teeth count as a weapon? Even artificial ones?”
By now we’re both nearly crying with laughter and it’s a good few minutes before I realise I’ve missed my stop. I’ll just have to be a bit late this morning, though, because I have to find out how this story ends.
“So,” I say, composing myself as best I can, “what happened next?”
“She was cautioned,” Lucy says, with a straight face, “and escorted back home to Grandad. He had to promise the policeman to keep an eye on her in future.”
I’m still chuckling as I alight at the next stop and prepare to travel back to New Street.