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Dusk in the balmy garden and church bells

ring changes from a mellow brick belfry,

clappers half-muffled by tumbling mill-race foam,

pealing the death toll we have heard tonight:

curious calm before the lightning strikes.



A century ago, lazy summer

solarised racquet-wielding Edwardians

in tolled moments, before magnesium fizzed,

immortalising ghosts on negatives,

preserving transient smiles, like forced rhubarb,

cloched; stiff attitudes in aspic.


Mud stained British soldiers at rest


Within a month, or so, haunted faces

would grin among stacked sandbags, before shells

shattered poppy fields and the bloom of youth.

This sky is roseate- shepherd’s delight.

Heat radiates from my garden wall and

the old house sighs.  Swifts swoop, prelude to bats.



I go indoors to watch the latest news.

It shows some ravaged sunflower fields- a toy,

torn pages which a child has coloured in;

pixellated shapes amid fuselage.

Scavengers in balaclavas rifle

through a Pandemonium of small fires,

like unshocked devils, not so sick of sin.


Markers, like clouds of bog cotton, white flags,

or stars in a galaxy of hatred,

parody a kind of sky burial.


Abandon hope‘, I think, until I note

telegraph poles, like crosses standing firm

amid Man’s carnage, still Somme Calvaries.


A century, and yet we have not learned.

Midge Repellent


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Murgatroyd? Hi, it’s Dru.

Lovely to hear from you.  Still coming on the 18th?

Yes, Nigel too.  Emm, you know you said Mum..

I thought you said she was going on a cruise?

She was.  They were.  I’ll explain later.  She and


Bring her-eh, them.  They’re welcome.  I’ve had

confirmation from Gus and Virginia too.

Listen, mum and Sonia are going to stay at The

Tibetan Centre and will come over for the concert.  Is

that okay?

At Samye Ling?  Brilliant.  I’ve printed the tickets and

wanted to make some flyers and posters.  Let me know

when you have finalised the programme.  After all, I know

nothing about the musical side of things, in spite of sharing

a name with the eight ghosts in ‘Ruddigore’, or ‘Ruddy Bore’ as

we always called it.

Don’t be unfair to G&S, Murgatroyd.

I wouldn’t dream of it.

Nigel wasn’t confident about pronouncing Gaelic, so we

concentrated on boat songs in the first half.  A lot of them seem

to have a Jacobite flavour.-the Skye Boat Song, the Arran one

and a Loch Tay version about unrequited love for a red-haired girl.

There’s even a Seedboat one which tells of a young man who sails

to Co. Down to buy whiskey for his wedding in the Hebrides.

Ha!  A kind of booze cruise!

Then we though about ‘It was a’ for our rightfu’ king’ as a finale.

It might attract the Salmond groupies.

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland.jpg

I’m not sure we want those, faltered Murgatroyd.  What about ‘Ye

Banks and Braes?’

Maybe. ‘The Eriskay Love Lilt’ is a good one and ‘Jamie Come Try Me’

is popular too.

Isn’t that a girl’s song?

No.  It’s about loyalty and a commitment to take up arms on behalf of

James II.  We have drawn shamelessly on Maggie MacInnes’ albums for


Hmm…Well, I’ll leave it to your discretion.

You might raise enough to fix the roof!

Good news.  I might be well on the way already.

Really?  How?

Portrait of Joseph Mallord William Turner

I’ve just taken in a little sketch of the pele tower, which everyone thought

was of Borthwick Castle.  It bears a striking resemblance to the one in The

Abbotsford Sketchbook in the Tate.  Bendor Grosvenor said he’d get one

of his contacts to take a look.  It could be by Joseph..

Mallard Turner, shrieked Dru.  How exciting.  I hope it is The Real Deal.

Murgatroyd winced.  He hated that programme.  And he wasn’t a big fan

of David Dickinson either.  Don’t forget the William.  And it is Mallord.  He

wasn’t a duck, or, indeed a drake.  The point is, we’ll just have to wait and

see, he replied.  Anyway, great that you are all coming.  Remember to

bring some..

..midge repellent, concluded Dru.  Yeah, I heard they were bad this year.

Every year, sighed Murgatroyd.  Anyway, ciao!


‘No’ to Norovirus


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So we just took a taxi back here from Southampton, explained Sonia

I had a premonition that we would catch something nasty.  We didn’t

fancy cruising round The Med in the company of heavers afflicted with

salmonella or suchlike.

Diana chipped in: They claimed the ship had been undergoing enhanced

cleaning, but we didn’t want to take the risk.

Oh, said Dru.  But will you get insurance compensation?

Not b ***-likely, as Eliza Doolittle would have said. If you opt out

because of fear of illness, it’s not the same thing as contracting an

actual malaise, admitted Sonia.  You might be offered a re-scheduled

voyage, but I doubt it would be one we’d be interested in.

So, what are your plans for the rest of the summer?

Dru queried.  Have you got your luggage, or was it


It’s in the sitting room, supplied Sonia.  But we

haven’t thought that far ahead.  What are you up to?

Nigel and I are driving the hired van with the harp up

to Murgatroyd’s at the weekend.  The poor soul insisted

in going to Cornwall and placating his mother by painting

her skirting boards.  She’s never happy, though.  She’s like

the horse leech’s daughter, the Biblical one that continually

cried, ‘Give, give.’


How did he manage to escape? asked Diana.

By telling a white lie about having to help in the

transportation of some school equipment. 

Changing the subject, you do know that Gus is

coming up for a week or so with a friend, to support

the concert?  Dru looked directly at her mother.

Murgatroyd generously invited him.  He’s so laid back,

Mum.  You’d hardly recognise him.


No, Murgatroyd.  I think he found the renovation

project isolating and has an idea of the pele tower

developing into some kind of spiritual sanctuary. 

He envisages it becoming a retreat from..

..cattle thieves, laughed Diana.

More like the pressures of modern life, corrected Dru.

He has an aura about him now- a kind of new-found peace.

He has been going to Kagyu Samye Ling rather a lot.

What is that? Sonia’s interest was aroused.

Oh, it’s a Tibetan centre in the Esk valley.  You can do all

sorts of courses there, such as Mindfulness,or Shedra Studies.

a ginormous muckle stupa in bonny Scotland with a wee Buddha in front

Now Sonia was really interested.

Murgatroyd says their principle is to be everyone’s friend.  They

encourage you to attempt the impossible, which is what he was

trying to do in his building scheme.  They talk  about bringing benefit

to others and say you should experience freedom within yourself.

If you learn to take time you can become non-judgemental.

Sounds basic life skills, Diana commented. You don’t need to be a

lama with one or two ‘l’ s to agree with those principles. It would be

interesting to see if he has implemented any of them.

Don’t be cynical, mum.  He did actually say that you would be welcome

to come and stay.  He has plenty of room and I know he wants a full

barmkin for the concert.

Barmkin? I’ll explain later.  Look, he obviously needs to have a confab

with you in a spirit of compassionate understanding about what happened

at the start of your marriage.  He’s entitled to that, I think. But he is

accepting of the whole situation and still regards me as his daughter,

if not his biological one.

I suppose one’s enemy can be one’s best teacher, conceded Diana.

Mum, he is not antagonistic, I assure you.  Sonia would be welcome too.

I’ve got a better idea, reflected Sonia.  Why don’t we stay at this Samye

Ling place?  They’re bound to have a guest- house.  Then we could take a

taxi over for the concert, since it’s not far from the pele tower.

Dru was already Googling away. Yes!  There’s a women only house. 

You book 24 hours in advance.  Vegetarian meals..  Take midge repellent. 

Sounds off-putting, but they don’t have dengue up there.

Do they offer any courses? asked Diana.

Thirty Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva is one.  Oh, you can fly to

Edinburgh from Southampton and take a train to Lockerbie..

..isn’t that where the dreadful Pan Am disaster took place? Sonia’s

expression darkened.

Yes, but that was a long time ago.  Or you could take the train

to Lockerbie from Euston. If the monastery’s full, there’s always

The Eskdale Hotel in Langholm.

Sorted, agreed Diana.

What’s a Bodhisattva again? asked Sonia.

I think we’re about to find out, replied Diana.



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Candia: You think it would be useful?

Brassica: Well, a lot of people have come in on the action

mid-plot, so-yes- why not offer them a synopsis?

Candia:  Okay- they can skip it if they have been following

since Snod’s story took off.

Here it is, folks:

SYNOPSIS: Snod’s Law

Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master and Acting Head of St Birinus’ Middle School

is ripe for retirement. He loves comfort food, the Model Railway Club and Latin.

He is a role model for Junior Masters, but a bête noire for other staff.

For his entire life, he has taken for granted that he was the product of a liaison

between socialite and erstwhile Land Girl, Berenice Snodbury, and an itinerant

rug seller from the Bosphorous. Berenice’s sister, Augusta, took on

responsibility for the child when her sister ran off to Venezuela, following

romantic dreams inspired by her hero, Simon Bolivar.

Rug Bargins!

His lonely, institutionalised existence is interrupted by a climactic revelation

that an affair which he conducted with the ‘lax’ (lacrosse) mistress of a

sister establishment many moons ago engendered a child. That ‘child’ is now

a Housemistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-Gifted Girl, the school

in which her mother originally taught. (In fact, Gus has unwittingly met his

daughter on a number of occasions, at joint educational functions.)

The reason that his relationship broke down was owing to a Hardyean

twist of fate. A missing communication which contained his marriage

proposal now re-surfaces during re-furbishment for a school let. Diana,

the retired lax mistress, is exposed as having been deceitful.

She married ‘on the re-bound’, foisting her child on Murgatroyd-Syylk,

picture dealer and restorer. The pair subsequently divorced and now

Syylk is completing a restoration project of a Pele Tower in the Borders.

UNC Lacrosse.jpg

Drusilla, the Housemistress, attempts to encourage her parents to meet.

Will their romance re-ignite? Initially, it is a damp squib.

On Berenice’s death, a mysterious package arrives at school. It contains

a signet ring which Augustus’ apparent half-brother was asked to send

over to England. It bears an insignia associated with Wyvern Mote, now a

National Trust property.

Drusilla and Gus visit Great-Aunt Augusta and take her out of Snodland

Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry for the day, partly to introduce her

to her great-niece, and partly to investigate Wyvern Mote. There they see

a photograph in the schoolroom of two of the original heirs, with their tutor,

Anthony Revelly. The facial resemblance is clear: Gus is his offspring; Revelly

his father, rather than Lord Wyvern.

Lady Wyvern had had the child by her sons’ tutor on the death of her

husband. The tutor was permitted to live in a grace-and-favour apartment

in the stable block, for life, when the property was handed over to The

National Trust.

Berenice, who had been a Land Girl in the vicinity, had been paid an

undisclosed sum to acknowledge the child as being her own. A good time

girl, Berenice had tired of the responsibility, eventually absconding and

leaving her sister to arrange his schooling at St Birinus. Augusta had

once been Head Girl of St Vitus’, so knew of the boys’ prep school

establishment and its reputation.

Now Hugo, in Venezuela, has to be disabused of his belief in his

relationship to Gus.  They decide to leave Aunt Augusta in the dark.

Danish Jubilee Egg.jpg

The latter gave her ‘great-niece’ a present of what resembles one

of the famous missing Faberge eggs.  It turns out to be a fake and

yet, Dru’s visit to her step-father in the Pele Tower makes up for her

disappointment, as she is promised a communion chalice which Bonnie

Prince Charlie used before his fateful final ride south, on Syylk’s decease.

(The Pele Tower turns out to have been in Lady Wyvern’s family in the

past, so there is a neat circularity about Drusilla’s future inheritance of

the restored property, as Murgatroyd’s sole heiress.

The Head Teacher of St Birinus’ had an unfortunate ‘turn’ at the Christmas

Eve Midnight Service and was diagnosed with hypogonadism. His mid-life

crisis leads to him taking time off in order to make a motorcycle trip across

The Sahara, much to his wife’s relief. Unfortunately, Gus has to ‘stand in’,

but when his previous boss decides to abdicate, he does not apply for the

permanent post. Nevertheless, a position of Deputy Head is created for him,

in order to boost his pension. Poskett, Milford-Haven and Drusilla Fotheringay-

Syylk apply for the Headship, but are unsuccessful. Will the latter two decide

to throw over their careers and try to make a musical success of their lives


Drusilla has shone in various musical concerts, by playing her harp for both

schools. She has been the focus of attention from Nigel Milford-Haven, the

rather wimpish Junior Master who is beginning to sing solo tenor in some

school productions and Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster. She seems to favour

Nigel, since she has asked him to come to the Borders with her in the school

holidays, to stage a concert for clarsach and voice.

She hopes to raise money for Murgatroyd’s roof repairs. Nigel is nervous, as

his mother usually draws on his decorating expertise in the school holidays

and she is not going to be too pleased at his bid for independence.

Meanwhile ‘Snod’ has settled into a friendly relationship with Diana, the mother

of his child, who has sold her cottage and moved back to the Suttonford area,

in which both schools are situated. However, his attention has been attracted

to Virginia Fisher-Giles, the widowed seamed-stocking-wearing PA. An invitation

for coffee chez elle after she has run him to a Head Teachers’ Conference turns

out to be more intimate than either anticipated.

Beileisi Nude Stockings With Contrasting Black Seam, Cuban Heels And Lace Top

Will he succumb to a projection of future domesticity with Virginia? Will he

resurrect the corpse of his relationship with Diana, or will he continue his

Inkling’ existence of bachelor bliss?

The lure of retirement is like an ever-receding pot of gold. He has a year

or two to serve as Deputy Head under the new regime. Will he be able to

preserve the old ways, or will the introduction of a new system create a

tsunami of bureaucracy that will threaten to engulf him?

What is best?


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Chandler strawberries.jpg

Drusilla said: Fire away!  She felt like John Milton’s daughter- the one who

was his amanuensis for Paradise Lost.  Was this going to be as epic?

Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, Governors, Stakeholders, Staff and boys,

including Old Boys…. Have I left anyone out?

Maybe just ‘girls’.  There are bound to be a few sisters in the marquee.

Okay.  In addressing you all on this auspicious day, I feel rather like Suarez-

pause for effect- who might have felt that he had bitten off more than he

could chew.

Luis Suárez vs. Netherlands (cropped).jpg

Dru raised her eyebrows, but continued to type.

Conscious of my-ah-rhetorical failings, the expression of such an

awareness being a trope I admit, I sought a framework for my

observations on The Metaphysics of Quality and, being in the

moment, recalled that excellent manual for life: ‘Zen and the

Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’

Philosophical investigation and being confronted with bad writing can,

as Phaedrus knew, make you insane.  I should have paid more

attention to this.

I have always had complete confidence in St Birinus’ Middle as an

institution, as much as I never doubted that the sun would rise

on the morrow.

Dru interrupted: Do people still say ‘morrow?’

They would if they read John Donne.  That was supposed to be an


With the advantage of the oblique insight of the dyslexic, I declare that

I am not so much going into retiral as into a re-trial, assuming the post

and concomitant responsibilities of Deputy Head.  My mistakes will be

part of my education.  One never stops learning.

However, one mistake I have never made is to believe that schools exist

to teach children to imitate their teachers.  Our assessment systems often

caution against originality.  Value rigidity- what a pernicious trap!  Surely the

good is to re-evaluate what one can see through the perception of one’s past

commitment to certain values?

The question, my dear fellow travellers, is not ‘What is new?’ but rather

‘What is best?’

Our institutions should not exist for the perpetuation of their own ends

and for control, but for the objective search for Truth.

And, as Pilate said: What is Truth?

Dru looked up from the computer, expecting an Existential Revelation,

but Gus neatly side-stepped the nub of the matter and continued:

I am reminded of the servant who buried his talent in the ground

because he was too afraid to make it grow.

Reviewing my own career, I find that I am well-equipped to write my

own epitaph.  I was ‘ever the outsider’; ever the one attacking what

was being taught, rather than learning from it.  I have been an

educational anarchist.

In days gone by, there were others in our staffroom who may have been

deemed to have also lived in the shadow of insanity, or anarchy.  To share

a mug of builders’ tea with such as those, around a three day old crossword

and to sense minds that thought as you thought and to listen to voices

that spoke as you did was as close to an epiphany of the sacred as any

mere human could anticipate this side of eternity.

A tear rolled off the tip of Dru’s nose.

Modern Head Teachers may expound and expand on the destiny of mankind.

We, we just wanted to run a school.  The Future will judge whose approach

had most value.

Constant activity based on restlessness may drive one to conquer mountains,

but it can be exhausting and debilitating.  My mind strays to the example of

the tortoise who outstripped the hare.

Leave that out, Father.  It’s too tangential.

Should I mention the noumenal sherpas?


There are many archers who seek to hit targets, but pricking the bulls’ eye

may distract one from gazing at a ray of sunlight as it touches a leaf.

Those ghostly voices of the past sing to us, conveying a sense of purpose:

I know where I’m going

And I know who’s going with me.

Dru’s made a typo as she thought: But the dear knows who he’ll marry.

What voices are you on about? she asked.

I had in mind a kind of Brahmsian ‘Ja, der Geist Spricht.’

Well, don’t blame me if the reference goes right over their heads.

I’m used to it!  Most of my lessons did the same, but there is always

one who hears the message.  They receive the chautauqua.

Blimey! How do you spell that?

Never mind. I’ll edit it later.

We may have difficulty in mapping where we are at any given moment,

but, with hindsight, we will see, as Robert M Pirsig said: ‘a pattern…


What does the ‘M’ stand for? Metaphysical?

Very funny.  Leave it there.  I will add to it later.


Well, you haven’t left much time for the presentation of prizes, Dru

said.  You do realise that everyone will be anxious to escape and have

their strawberries and cream and no one will listen to a word in that

humid tent?

The world was ever thus, agreed Snod.  But one cannot cease to be an


Bucket List


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Querido amigo,

Apologies, Hugo, for not having written for a while.  It is the end of term

and I have had to compose my speech and report for Prize-


I will send you a transcript and maybe you can subject it to Babelfish.

So sorry that I had to disillusion you as to our kinship, but am glad

that you understand.  Your mother, Berenice, was a great old girl and

such a ‘goer‘! Her sister, Augusta, is very much of a similar cast.  In fact,

you could say that they broke the mould once those two came on the


The news from Caracas is fairly dire, so we hope that you are safe amid

all the violence and mayhem.  Having cheap petrol is no substitute for a

peaceful existence and, unless one is a boy racer, it can’t

be much fun.

How I would have liked to have invited you over here to meet Aunt Augusta

and to have taken a trip to Wyvern Mote with you.  Alas, it is not possible

at this juncture, but perhaps one day, when your political situation has

thawed, calmed and resolved itself into a dew, your dreams can be realised.

I expect that I will not be able to visit The Angel Falls with you any time soon,

though in retirement, it was on my -ghastly phrase!- ‘bucket list’.  I always

empathised and identified with Father Gabriel in The Mission, who could calm

the Guarani by playing his oboe, like a latter day Orpheus.  Sadly, in school,

discipline is very much more difficult and madness is not so easily subdued by

creating recorder groups.  Believe me.  The natives are very much revolting

and I don’t need to tell you what that is like! We need Robert de Niro types

to come and work some Mendoza magic.  I suppose Teach-it won’t

necessarily attract such heroes, not even for shedloads of golden


Robert De Niro TFF 2011 Shankbone.JPG

Maybe the power of the closing words from the film could be applied

universally, to our present global woes: The light shines in the darkness

and the darkness does not overcome it.  (I prefer ‘comprehendeth it not’,

but nowadays no one comprehendeth thatI blame their education.)

Se muy valiente my amigo!  Forgive my Spanglish. Whatever the language,

the sentiment is the same.






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What to buy for a PA when she has kindly typed up your oration’s

transcript for Speech Day?

Augustus Snodbury was somewhat lost in the aisles of Suttonford Garden

Centre when he suddenly bumped into The Previous Headmaster’s Wife.

He couldn’t remember her name and couldn’t very well call her ‘darling’.

Oh, what are you doing here? she asked, giving him a suspicious look,

which being interpreted read: Shouldn’t you be at your post of duty?

I’m- ah- looking for a present, he appealed to her.  Something floral.

Well, you’re in the right place.  I always say a rose goes down well.  There

are some lovely David Austin ones on offer.  And she pointed to the

signature green tubs.

Ah. Yes.  Benjamin Britten.  A climber? he asked.

No, he was a composer.  She looked at him as if he was stupid.

Nice colour.  Yes, I’ll take it.  No point in explaining.

And how is your dear husband? He attempted some small talk, which

didn’t come easily to him.  He had forgotten the name of his

predecessor in the unexpectedness of the encounter.

Ewan mcgregor cropped.jpg

His Moto Guzzi broke down.  Sand in the engine when he was on the last

leg, or wheel, to Erfoud.  Luckily he had a satellite phone, so he and his

side-kick contacted a mechanic near some kasbahs and had some goat

stew while the chap took three days to fix it.  I blame that Ewan

McGregor for encouraging all those oldies to mobilise themselves.  And,

everyone knows that you should never let an engine run rich.

Quite.  Ah- see you at Prize-giving.

As he put the rose on the back seat of his trusty vehicle, Boudicca,

he punctured his forefinger with a thorn.  Ouch!

He nearly swooned at the sight of his own blood.  Where was

San Sister when you needed her?  When had he last had a Tetnus jab?

Then, as he tried to suck out the thorn, as if it was venom, he had an

epiphany, right there in the car park.

He was going to abandon that contrived speech which he had struggled to

produce.  Ideas were streaming into his mind and he drove back to school as

quickly as he could, without making the earth move in the plastic tub.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance!  He still had the book somewhere

and he was sure that it would yield a series of chautauquas which would

illuminate, yea irradiate his audience.  The boys would think his field of

reference cool and, while delivering his peroration, he could wear the silk

leather jacket that he had bought in Turkey, if it would stretch over his

burgeoning tum after a winter of too many Spotted Dicks and suet puddings.

Virginia might not like it if he asked her to type a new transcript, but he

would phone Drusilla; she would help him.

Stumped for Something to Say


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Pollock to Hussey.jpg

Augustus Snodbury was trying to compose his Acting Head’s Report

for Speech Day.  He was endeavouring, in vain, to find a string of lexical

chains to give rhetorical cohesion to his oration.

When I first came to the crease, I felt a bit of a Nightwatchman, but I

determined that I would never be a mankad who left before the bowler

released the red cherry.

But would everyone latch onto his cricketing references?  They were

probably anticipating him making allusions to standing on the shoulders

of previous giants, acknowledging colleagues who would be off to

pastures new and so on.  Nevertheless, he decided to be true to his own

field of interest and continued to unearth parables from the sphere of the

Test Match.

When I was invited to assume Captaincy, I was hoping that I wouldn’t

be on to a sticky wicket.  Speaking as a ferret, I feel that I have played a

cameo of an innings and, if I have been a bit of a stodger, at least no one

could accuse me of having been a stonewaller.

Hmmm, maybe too much damning of himself with faint praise…

We- ah, the first person plural always lends a bit of authority!-have never

been a school which encourages cow shots.  We have dealt firmly with pie

chuckers. (Here he found his thoughts straying to Boothroyd-Smythe)

We have survived sledging, marilliers, dibbly dobblies, dinks and

haven’t got off our duck yet.

I may hear the death rattle and realise that I am bowled, but I- eh,

we haven’t reached the Devil’s Number yet and refuse to offer tea towel

explanations of policy to those who are little better than Zoota flippers,

or who have the Yips.  Trundlers need to be faced down and what we

need in this day and age- a cliche or two could be allowed to slip in- is

all-rounders and future generations who do not expect a featherbed.

He was beginning to enjoy himself.

We can offer our incoming Batsman a belter of a pitch.  He is, we know,

no hack and has a proven glovemanship in other series, so we wish him

a good knock.

We are happy to demote to match referee, so long as we are able to

uphold the spirit of the game.  We gladly bequeath him the snickometer

of a 2015 Ofstead Inspection.  May power hit his sweet spot every time.

Oh!  He’d better mention his predecessor.

The educational de-toxification of our previous Head Teacher has already

commenced.  Even now, he is indulging in a catharsis of his delayed mid-life

crisis and is kicking up a sandstorm with his Harley-Davidson, somewhere in

the Sahara, a trip which his wife understands has little to do with Zen.

Zen motorcycle.jpg

He is clearly in touch with the Zeitgeist as other Heads have recently

been in the news for absconding- granted on unpaid leave- to follow

their dreams, or delusions regarding national success in the World Cup.

But here we award trophies to more achievable victories gained by our

future global citizens- attaboy, Snod!-to young people of distinction. 

Now he  was sounding like that Educating Essex chap.

Oh, maybe the whole thing was too dense.  He’d better start again.

Every school is unique and St Birinus is unique in its own way.

Useless!  Complete tautology.

In the family community which is St Birinus, we try to support each other

with tolerance and humility…

He could hear inner heckling and felt as though he was a character in a

Medieval Morality play, or a pantomime dame subjected to shouts of Oh

no, we don’t!   He heard the piping voice of John Boothroyd-Smythe shouting,

It’s behind you!, presumably referring to his career.

Okay, this was enough for tonight.

Mr Poskett’s marvellous Christingle concert illustrated the benefits of PTA

involvement and co-operation with staff, and pupils from our-hah! sister

establishment, as well as funding from our beloved stakeholders.

Oh, what was the use?  He couldn’t sound enthused.  He would just

have to purloin some cribbed sycophantic drivel and motivational psycho-

babble from the internet and hope for the best.  No one would be listening,


He had drawn stumps and so he could only hope that he’d be remembered

as the tail that briefly wagged the dog.  The best bit would be when the twelfth

man- that Milford-Haven twit brought the drinks to the pavilion.



And Straightway Loved an Ass


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There had been such a fuss about the joint outdoor dramatic performance

to be produced by St Birinus Middle and St Vitus’ School for the Academically-

Gifted Girl, in the ruins of Suttonford Abbey.

Several parents had made complaints about Mr Poskett’s choice of A

Midsummer Night’s Dream.  One misguided harridan had given the Music

Master such a hard time that he commented after the event that it had

been tempting to commit a Midsomer Murder.

Brobdingnagia Worthington’s mother was furious that her daughter, who

should never have been put on any stage, had not been selected for the

role of Titania. Brob, as she was known by her peers, had a ‘hissy fit’


Another mother, who was in her final MA year of a Gender Studies degree,

complained that ‘every Jack shall have his Jill‘ was an offensive line.  She

wanted it re-written as : every Jill shall have their Jack, or Jill.

Mrs Whelks threatened to contact the Board of Governors of both

establishments over the perceived bestiality content.  I mean, someone

bonks a donkey!

Drugs- Lysander’s pupils are said to dilate; accusations of sizeism:

inappropriate references to human maypoles and dwarves.  It was

considered potentially injurious to the psyche of St Birinus‘ most solid

rugby prop to be selected for the part of Snout, or ‘Wall’.

Criticisms by those who had lost funds in the Credit Crunch included-so

sorrow’s heaviness doth heavier grow/ For debt that bankrout sleep doth

sorrow owe- this line and expression was deemed politically incorrect,

particularly by those who were now struggling to pay the raised school


The colour police pounced on Lysander’s reference to a ‘tawny tyrant’ and

would- be nutritionists disliked Demetrius’ admission: like a sickness, did I

loathe this food’, claiming that it might make anorexia and eating disorders


Moonshine, they insisted, should be cut as the name Starveling was immoral.

The anti-hunting lobby were outraged by Theseus’ references to his hounds

and those opposed to arranged marriages were disgusted by Egeus.  Titania

and Oberon were supposedly engaged in child slavery and pimping; Helena in

stalking, provoking Demetrius to exclaim: Do not haunt me thus.  Oberon

hacked into other people’s conversations.

So-called sociologists felt that Helena was colluding in domestic violence by

saying: The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.  As for rude mechanicalls,

this term was only protected by Mr Snodbury pointing out the etymological

ignorance of those who did not know that rude referred to their ruddy

complexions and had nothing whatsoever to do with the working class’

sense of decorum, or lack thereof. (He said ‘ruddy’ rather vehemently, so

that the force of his opinion won the day and the argument, as most

cowards tend to retreat in the face of expletive force.

So, pejorative title, or not, the rustic thespians remained in the cast.

Those fixated on disability discrimination thought parts of Act 5 needed

to be removed- namely:

Never mole, harelip, nor scar,

Nor mark prodigious such as are

Despised in nativity,

Shall upon their children be..

A philosopher-father who had read one of Richard Dawkins’ books berated

the underlying mythology and downright superstition of The Fairy Queen’s

idea that the catalyst of the whole train of sorry events was her tawdry

quarrel with her spouse over a little Indian boy. Shakespeare seemed to

be totally unaware of Chaos Theory.  One flap of a fairy’s wing might have

caused global chaos, the Biology teacher responded vigorously.

And so it was a much Bowdlerised version that emerged.  Mr Snodbury,

echoing Hippolyta, pronounced it the silliest stuff that ever I heard.

No one paid much attention to the histrionics anyway.  The parents who

had insisted on the Junior Recorder Group being retained, even though

there was a derogatory comment in the play about inept playing of reed

instruments by juveniles, were proud when the moment came for their

ensemble, conducted by a slightly inebriated Mr Poskett.  However,

everyone else was scrutinising the labels on the contents of the picnic

baskets and calculating the cost of various outfits.

Dru managed a furtive five minute conversation with Nigel in the interval,

during which she arranged their trip to the Borders.

My mother will have an apopleptic fit, sighed Nigel.  She’s already cleared the

kitchen and sugar soaped the skirting boards in preparation for its  re-

decoration.  She depends on me.

But we agreed that you need a holiday, didn’t we? encouraged Dru.

She saw, out of the corner of an experienced eye, two Juniors crossing


Excuse me, she said.  I’ve got a Health and Safety issue.

Nigel watched her consummate skill in separating the duellists and then

applying an ice cube to an adult’s throbbing digit which had been trapped

in a folding chair.

Nigel watched Mr Poskett receiving parental plaudits and then found himself

being addressed in a hiss by the drama technician.

Can you come to Wardrobe?  We can’t get Bottom’s head off.  Maybe you can help.

Nigel’s confidence was at a low ebb.  What if Dru was to waken to his

inadequacies? What if the wretched boy asphyxiated?  What if Dru woke and

found that straightway she had loved an ass?

He hadn’t even had anything to eat.  Mr Snodbury had wolfed

all the mustard-coated Hippolytas, or was it chipolatas?  Nigel was

beginning to suffer from confusion.  Probably hypoglaecemia. And, no, the

papier mache head was well and truly wedged, in spite of the boy’s neck

being greased by somebody’s foie gras.  They’d have to put on the

understudy and he, Nigel, would have to spend the evening in Casualty.



Appearance versus Reality


, , , , , , ,


There’s always something! grouched Augustus Snodbury, as his trouser

button ricocheted across the study.  He had just finished lunch and knew

that his reflux would be problematic after a rather large portion of Spotted

Dick and custard, or ‘cow’s turd’ as the boys always called it.

Usually he would just have thrown the trousers away.  How a grown man

with a respectable degree could claim to be unable to sew on a button had

been beyond Diana, his erstwhile lover.

Now he was skulking in his personal loo while his PA, Virginia Fisher-Giles,

took out her emergency repair kit  to achieve closure.  She had already

repulsed several anxious members of staff, who had thought there was a

window of opportunity for them to bend the Acting Head’s proverbial before

afternoon lessons commenced.  She referred them to a important meeting

that would be taking place with the new Head and used all the duplicitous

skills and terminal inexactitudes that she had practised over the years.

The coast is clear! she hissed and draped the mended garment over the

back of his desk chair.  However, just at that moment, an enthusiastic Nigel

Milford-Haven, having checked the timing on the appointments sheet Sello-

taped to the study door, barged in with a proposition.  He had knocked on

the PA’s door, but she hadn’t answered.

Nigel was treated to a vision of Mr Snodbury, in his Gieves and Hawkes boxer

shorts, trying to insert a pale and rather hairy limb into a trouser leg, looking

for all the world like a heron. Gus almost lost his balance, along with his temper.

Nigel was also observant enough to note a slim ankle encased in a seamed

stocking as it disappeared round the door, into the adjoining office.

Women's Missi® CUBAN HEEL SEAMED STOCKINGS Sexy 1940's Contrast Seamer Fashion

Sorry! the Junior master stammered and scarpered.

He had been going to invite Snod to a House barbecue which was supposed to

show staff gratitude for the old boy’s having stood in the gap, taken the helm,

or having put his thumb in the dyke.  Nigel’s fatal mistake had been

improvisation; Snod’s had been that he hadn’t pulled out a plum.

It had suddenly occurred to Nigel that he could include the New Head, creating

an opportunity to kill two birds with one invitation, as it were.  It would be an

informal chance for everyone to get to know each other.

Nigel should have realised that initiative was one of the features that was

definitely contraindicated at any level in a school.  It might have been one of

the reasons that his application had been rejected.  Loose cannons not

appreciated, he could hear the panel agree, but still he did not learn: a

worrying trait in any teacher.

Now a bucketful of tact and mature reflection was needed to help him deal

with the overwhelming moral confusion which threatened to de-stabilise his

afternoon lessons and, indeed, the rest of his life.

Mr Snodbury had toppled from his pedestal and, like Humpty Dumpty, had had a

great fall. At least in Nigel’s estimation.  He might never be re-constructed and

so Nigel tiptoed down the corridor, as if walking on eggshells, his world


Shell-shocked, he gazed at a framed 1978 whole school photo, with a relatively

youthful and considerably lighter Mr Snodbury sitting on the front row, legs

splayed.  How have the Mighty fallen! Nigel said to himself.  Or is it ‘has’?

Suddenly he felt a hand being slapped on his shoulder and he turned round,

jolted him from his reverie.

So, you’re the favourite to win the end of term Teacher Talent Competition, I


Crivvens! as the comic book characters of Nigel’s youth used to exclaim.  It

was the new Head, who had arrived slightly early for the meeting.

Take me to your leader! he quipped, revealing his future management style.

Yes, sir! Nigel buckled, feeling like one of the pupils.  He hadn’t the heart to

challenge He Who Must Henceforth Be Obeyed for his lack of a visible Visitor’s

Pass. The owner of the voice didn’t look very like the public perception of a

mass murderer.  And surely anyone intent on entry would just shoot out

the locks and would laugh to scorn any man of woman born?  Wearing a

plastic card on a string for defence purposes was a bit like hoping Birnam

Wood would never come to Dunsinane, or that a condom was foolproof.

But it had been agreed at the last Friday meeting that one could never be

too careful and any member of staff could, and should, ask for ID.  He

thought about calling in at the office to collect a laminated ‘approved

stranger‘ pass, but then thought better of it.

If there was any sign of danger Nigel would sacrifice himself to save his

students- at least most of them.  But maybe not John Boothroyd-Smythe.

No, maybe not him.  He had that look of having been untimely ripped from

his mother’s womb.

He was just the sort of child who would be behind a moving grove.

Lay on, Macduff! the newly-appointed quasi-jovial Head encouraged.  And

so, Nigel re-traced his steps up the corridor and knocked on Virginia’s door,

which was very ostensibly ajar.




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