When I got back from school, Grandma was busy seeing out another old girl. They'd obviously had a convivial tea together: the teapot and cups and remains of a fruitcake were still on the dining room table. Grandma was chuckling and beaming as she closed the door after her guest left.
"Who was that, Grandma?" I asked.
"Oh, that was Dorothea. She's a very old and dear friend. We've had a wonderful afternoon reminiscing together."
"What sort of things were you talking about?"
"Well, dear, we started with our school days. We were inseparable friends, but unfortunately, we were rather naughty."
"Naughty, Grandma?" I asked, astonished. It was difficult to imagine this dignified old lady being naughty.
"Oh yes," Grandma almost giggled. It was rather charming.
"If I make you another pot of tea, will you tell me about it?" I loved listening to Grandma's stories.
"You know I'm easily bribed with a nice cup of tea. Now, let me see. Well, you won't believe it, but we got into terrible trouble for attending a suffragettes' meeting."
"Who were they, Grandma?"
"Oh, my dear, they were pioneers in their time. They thought women should have votes."
"You mean women weren't allowed to vote?" I asked in astonishment.
"No, in those days we were very much second-class citizens. So when the suffragettes started agitating for the vote, the 'establishment' got very annoyed. We found that made it even more exciting. So one day, Dorothea and I crept off secretly and went to one of their meetings. Unfortunately, a photgrapher from the local paper took a picture of us as we came out. It appeared in The Bulletin that same week. Of course, when the Headmistress saw it, she...what's that expression you use?...ah, yes, she 'went ballistic'."
"But she was a woman, too. Surely she sympathised with the whats-their-names?"
"Good heavens, no. She was part of establishment. She knew her place. The day after the newspaper appeared, Dorothea and I were summoned to her study. She gave us the most terrible ticking off, then she produced this horrid birch."
"Birch, Grandma? Surely they didn't birch you for such things?"
"Oh yes they did. She made us bare our bottoms and bend over her desk, side by side. Then she gave us each twelve whacks with this bunch of prickly birch twigs. Dorothea and I yelled the place down, but I think it really cemented our friendship."
"Gosh, Grandma, and I suppose you never went to another of those meetings?"
"Of course we did, my dear. Only we made jolly sure we weren't photographed."