Skeletons in the Cupboard

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SHABBY AND CHIC FRENCH GLASS TAP WATER DECANTER WEDDING/PICNIC/DINING

Augustus Snodbury, Acting Head of St Birinus’ Middle School, was on

his way to a Leadership Course for Heads, which sought to promote

excellence in Independent Education.  Virginia, his PA, thankfully was

driving.

He yawned.  He was going to have to endure lengthy sessions on

curriculum frameworks, public exams, charitable status, oversea

recruitment, admissions and pointers on how to inform parental

decisions.  Scarily, he had just thought that one informed the fee-payers

and then sat back to wait for the fireworks.

You didn’t even get a nice pub lunch any more.  A ‘working lunch

was provided, with curly edged sandwiches and carafes of lukewarm

tap water.  Appetising, not.  He needed something stronger in the

beverage line to face the ordeal.

Why, oh why could he not simply disappear into a chintzy wing armchair

in the staffroom until his lump sum came through?

Vintage Wing Back Chair NC MFG Floral Blue & other colors Chintz fabric see note

As for this Blackberry thing, he could never get the hang of it.  His digits were

too podgy to hit the keys precisely.  What he needed was one of those Cloak

apps that would screen his doings from all and sundry.  Failing that, the Ring

of Gyges would come in handy.

Soon the absent Head would have to make a decision as to whether he

would be returning to duties, or not.

If the Head decided to take early retirement on the grounds of health, that

would mean that Snod’s present temporary position would have to be

advertised.

They’d probably get some idiot like Poskett applying- a man who couldn’t make

his beat clear to a bunch of trebles, let alone stage manage St Birinus with its

daily issues that would have challenged Machiavelli, or a whole family of

Sforzas.

For the honour of the establishment, Snod might have to engage in a duel

with the likes of the inefficient choirmaster.  He could envisage swords drawn

before dawn, with Milford-Haven as his ‘second.’  He nostalgically returned to

his days in the school fencing club.

As a boy, his nickname had been D’Artagnan.  Now he wondered if it should be

amended to Athos.  Nothing to do with Mount Athos, though he did live a rather

monkish life.  No, it was the name of the musketeer who was apparently immune

to romance.  Certainly, he shared some characteristics with him, to wit: only

allowing minions to speak in emergencies.

But there was always a danger in over-extending analogies, especially with the

literally-minded.  It was a fault whose influence could be readily demonstrated

in some exam responses.

No, Poskett should stick to his Stainer Crucifixions and other safe options.

Virginia was now on a clear stretch of dual carriageway, so she tried to initiate

conversation.

How was your Easter break?  Did you manage to have some time off?

Um- yes, we-eh-I mean, Drusilla and I went down to Kent for a couple of

days.

He did not mention his father’s death.

Oh, such a nice part of the world, enthused Virginia.  I love Sissinghurst.  You

know, The White Garden?  Do you like gardening?

Snod thought about this for a minute or two:  I wouldn’t mind pottering

around an allotment, if I had the time.  It would be even better if it had a

shed.

Ha!  Men and their sheds! she laughed.

Snod didn’t really know what she meant, but felt duty-bound to reciprocate

the interest shown.

What did you do, eh, Virginia?  He concentrated very hard on awaiting her

reply, to distract himself from a sheer black nylon knee which was

progressively being shown to advantage as her skirt rode up when she

depressed the clutch.

Oh, I just went to see my sister and the kids.

He hated the colloquialism.  ‘Children‘- he much preferred that collective noun

with its connotations of obedience, innocence and wonder.  He liked those who

were fast bowlers, good at declining Latin verbs and who comprehended

inflections and he was slightly fond of those who respected the model railway

layout and who didn’t knock the carriages off the track.  The rest could..  Mind

you, Dru had been a child once and he had missed out on her childhood.

Whose fault had that been?  Actually, the carpet fitter’s, in all probability.

If only his Valentine card and proposal had not gone between the carpet

and the underlay all those years ago.

But, those old embers had burnt out.  He and Diana were good friends now,

but that was it.  He hadn’t been stirred by a woman until… .That knee- very

provoking!

So, I take it you didn’t go to Sissinghurst then?

Ah, yes.  I mean no.  Not this time.  We are going to take our aunt there next

time we visit her at her nursing home.

Oh, bless. How old is she?

About a hundred.

Wow!  She’ll get a telegram from the Queen.  You’ll probably have the

longevity genes too.

Not necessarily, Snod replied.  You see, she’s not really our aunt.  It’s a

long story.

Oh, do tell. I love stories.  Especially ones about skeletons in people’s family

cupboards.  We’ve all got them.

Really? said Snod, encouraged that he wasn’t the only one.

Virginia slowed down so that she could concentrate and laughed:

Do take them out and let them have a danse macabre.  And then she

patted his knee.  I’m all ears.

No, you’re all woman, he thought.  Well, recently there’s been a lot

happening, especially since Drusilla came out of the woodwork, so to speak..

And though Snod was to learn about leadership, he could certainly have

taken a leaf out of Virginia’s book of management skills.  He was putty in

her hands. And that was even with both of her hands being firmly on his

driving wheel.

He spilled the beans..

 

Smarter than Your Average Bear

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Great Quality 100% 14K White Gold Heart Shaped Diamond Cluster Ring .20ct

Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus’ Middle School, opened

the ring box in his filing cabinet and looked long and hard at the heart-

shaped diamond ring that had lain safely in its hiding place for over thirty

years.  He placed it on the tip of his little finger. The white gold band was

obviously for a digit much slimmer than his own- as slender as the chance

of it ever finding a female finger to ornament.

He sighed, put it back in place, covering it with a pile of obsolete worksheets

and locked the drawers, rattling his key-ring which contained

as wide a selection of redundant keys as the chatelaine of Bluebeard’s

Castle had carried about her waist on a- well- chatelaine.

The bell was late.  Post-prandial indigestion had struck. He opened his

Teachers’ Planner wearily.  Gone were the days when one simply scribbled a

vague lesson plan on the back of an envelope. Then spring-bound aide-

memoires had been unnecessary and the lack thereof led to spontaneous

combustions, Krakatoa-like performances on the apron stage of the classroom

crucible of learning.  These were fervent, tangential and memorable

expositions on (say) the metaphor:

What’s a metaphor for, Boothroyd-Smythe?.

How do you spell ‘simile’? (covering orthography as well as figurative language)

What’s the ‘therefore’ there for?

Such probing, intellectual dissection was eternally branded on impressionable

minds, on students- daft word (at their age they were pupils)- such as

Boothroyd-Smythe who would thereafter reflect on such ingested material for

the rest of their proverbials.  He would ever after be able to decline many a

Latin verb and translate useful phrases such as ‘the farmers will have prepared

tables for the soldiers’. Such was the efficacy of the time-worn, but

time-tested approach and the analogies were more time-resistant than what

they were endeavouring to illustrate.

But now tailoring the module content to individual needs and ticking off

assessment objectives was the order of the day.

No longer were masters to be found puffing away in faded chintzy staff rooms

with saggy seating- and that not restricted to their shiny trousers.  No longer

did they exchange information on crossword clues, cricket scores and barter

seedlings for their allotments.

No longer was a knock at the staffroom door considered to be a vile intrusion

and an impertinent interruption worthy of some kind of suspension from

school, not literal, one hoped.

Shakespeare summed it up as usual:

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world..

Snod looked at the planner again.  Five hours to go- in theory.  Monday. 

Another four whole days-28 hours for the sake of argument. Saturday morning

coaching: three at least.  Sunday- supervising the junior forms on their way to

the service.  Call it another three. Was that 41 hours?   Multiply by how many

weeks in the term?  How many sessions till pensionable retirement?  I didn’t

factor in marking and preparation.  Not that I do much of the latter

nowadays.

Red pen or not?  Out of ten, or A-C?  Add stars, pluses and minuses or not? 

Give bribes, or not?  Take bribes, or not? Efficacy of lines? A learning

experience?  Well, they learn that if they waste my time, I will waste

theirs. Corporal punishment?  ‘Best not to go there’, as the wet-behind-

the-ears brigade would say.

Classroom management?  Tables of six, pairs, rows?  Have the blighters run

all over open plan space with clipboards?  No fear.  Blow that for a game of

sodgers! Free expression?  Hold your tongue, you scallywag!

So, retrospectively-speaking, had he wasted his life?

He had counted out his days in coffee spoons.  He was as good as

anaesthetised upon a table.  And what about the mermaids?  Yes,

what about them?  He hadn’t heard so much as a police siren for

decades.

Here he hummed a few bars from Rusalka’s Song to the Moon.  No time

even for his beloved opera.

Waterhouse a mermaid.jpg

As for a peach!  It wasn’t that he didn’t dare to eat one; it was just that

the staffroom bowl never contained anything other than blackening bananas

and tasteless Granny Smiths.  (The latter also being the moniker of an elderly

French teacher, coincidentally.)

How was it all going to end?   Not with a bang, that was for sure.  More with

a whimper.

O Lord, send my roots rain! he implored.

What did you say, Sir?  Someone passed the open door and stuck his head

round.

It was that effervescent and intensely annoying Milford-Haven, the Junior

Master. A stirrer of the pool, if ever there was one.  And not necessarily an

angelic one at that.  What he failed to recognise was that Senior Masters,

such as Snod, who had paralytically lain for years by the Bethesda pool of the

staff study, had no desire to be moved, out of their comfort zones, by helpful

jejeunes into the maelstrom of extra-curricular activity which took place after

hours, as it were.

Cricket was one thing, but going out of one’s depth and abandoning the gentle

eddies and zephyrs of poolside life for the spas, jacuzzis and whirlpools of

‘extras’ would be merely a revelation of one’s misunderstanding of the

etymology of the abstract noun: ‘revolution.‘  It only required a cursory

knowledge of Orwell-is that ‘George’? they would ask- to enlighten them to

the ultimate futility of trying to introduce anything, novel, or to channel

anything educationally on trend.

Ghastly phrase!  He hadn’t outlived Munn and Dunning to get on that treadmill

again!

No, let them slip over the edge of their infinity pools of speculation.  He was no

believer in a Flat Earth; he did acknowledge far horizons and boundaries, but,

more often than not, what went around had an unerring habit of coming back

and hitting you on the back of the head when you were least expecting it.

That’s why he had never in his entire career, fully turned his back on a class,

having mastered the art of writing on a blackboard in a somewhat oblique

fashion.

But, just look at Milford-Haven! He walks the walk and wears the Harris tweed,

but he will never fit in.  He is a Neanderthal among Cro-Magnons.  The hand

may be Esau’s, but the voice is Jacob’s. (Snod had been teaching RE before

lunch.)

Yes, he felt that he was a Cro-Magnon, mitrochondrially.  He had a nice, solid

body and wasn’t a chinless wonder like that nincompoop of a Junior Master.

He was smarter than your average bear.  More like Yogi than squeaky clean

Boo-Boo.

Yogi Bear Yogi Bear.png

It would explain why he liked I Pagliacci.  Cro-Magnons were associated with

the Paglicci Caves and he assumed there was a link.  He knew some of the

staff thought he was a bit of a clown, but they recognised his talents in

renditions of opera buffa patter songs in the school concerts, so there!

He really must ‘go‘ before the bell.  His prostate was not what it used to be.

Vesti la giubba was ringing in his ears, as he reached for his academic gown

from the hook on the door.

But, if the previous anthropological metaphor could be extended without mixing,

or diversified without confusion, he considered that he might be a woolly

mammoth, frozen for aeons in Permafrost, but only recently thawing out owing

to that debatable global warming the kids were all obsessed with, or with which

they were all obsessed.

(The pedant in him was still very much alive.)  He could predict that those at

the forefront of research would be mesmerised by his exotic vulnerability.

By Jove!  They’d probably stuff him and analyse the contents of his stomach.

And what would they find?

His digestive processes reminded him.  Faggots and Spotted Dick.

His favourites.

No lunchtime coaching was going to deprive him of those. That was why he

had substituted an after-school detention for Boothroyd-Smythe.  He would

waste his time.

And if he, personally, was a woolly mammoth, what was Milford-Haven?

A Synapsid.  The answer came easily.  He had read something even that

day about juvenile transitions from carnivore to herbivore, and, judging by

the tong-fuls of greenery Milford-Haven heaped on his plate, Snod could

easily slot the Junior Master into a taxonomy.

He hated self-service.  Oh, for the days of yore when Mrs Stevens served

you and remembered that you liked seconds.  There was a song about it:

And they called it cupboard love..

Even the music has degenerated, he thought.  Those were the days, my

friend, lalalalalala.  But have I lived the life I chose?

Knock!Knock!

Who’s there?

Can this be Love that’s calling?

Eurovision Song Contest 1970 - Mary Hopkin 1.jpg

No, it was Milford-Haven.

Sir, the bell’s not went.  It’s Period Seven.

‘Gone’, you imbecile, he muttered to himself.

And through the door he took his solitary way.

 

 

Fauxberge

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Karl Gustavovich Faberge.jpg

Faberge: Wikipaedia

Drusilla regretted that she had called Murgatroyd ‘odious and oleaginous‘.

She didn’t regret having said that he was trying to live the life of Grey

Gowrie, or Tam Dalyell, without having the accompanying political acumen.

She didn’t regret saying that because it was true.

She had sent him an Easter card to symbolise a resurrection in their

relationship and hoped to go and visit him in his pele tower at Whitsun.

When are you going to open that present from Aunt Augusta?  her mother

asked.

Yes, do open it.  We are both dying to know what it is, said Sonia.

Again, Dru thought that if Sonia was a competent clairvoyant, then she

should know what was inside the wrapping.

Oh, all right Aunt Augusta said not to get too excited.

She went upstairs to fetch it.

They watched round the kitchen table as she tore off the greying

bubble wrap and gasped as a small egg almost rolled over the edge.

Careful! cautioned Sonia, catching it and thereby revealing a reflex

somewhat quicker than the others’, perhaps indicating foreknowledge.

That’s a surprise, said Diana.  I thought it would be some cheap bauble,

but it looks for all the world like...

a Faberge egg, supplied Sonia.  Maybe it is one of the missing ones.

…worth $20 million, scoffed Dru.  I don’t think so.

No, but if you look at it closely, Sonia persisted, it has a little portrait

on it..

..which looks remarkably like Gus- if he had a beard!  He did grow one

when he was younger and..

What do you think it’s made of? interrupted Dru.  Alabaster?

Some kind of nephrite, perhaps, postulated Sonia.

Let’s Google missing Faberge eggs, said Diana.  One never knows!

Ever the optimist, sighed Dru, picking up her tablet.  She typed in

‘lost Faberge eggs.’

Oh my goodness!  she screeched.  Read this.  She passed the tablet

over to her mother.

Where? What?  What bit do I read?

Look!  ‘The lost Emperor Nephrite egg with its golden base decorated

with diamonds and medallion portrait of Alexander III..’

Let me see!  Let me see! Sonia pushed in.

I’m reading about Alexander III, Dru held her off.  It says that he was

an amateur musician and a patron of ballet.  He lacked refinement, was

gruff and had a straightforward way of expressing himself.

Sounds like your father, Diana nodded.

He had something of the muzhik about him..Dru went on.  Known as

‘The Peacemaker’, he fought no wars, though he had a weighty burden of

responsibilities.

Just like your father in that school, Diana agreed.

‘He could give a look as cold as steel’..I’ve seen him do that in a classroom

situation, continued Dru.  Especially when faced with that Boothroyd-

Smythe boy.  And-wait for it!- he reversed the liberalisation of his

predecessor, saying that the best means of averting war was to be

prepared for it.

Who said that?  Sonia was confused.

Alexander III, Dru clarified.

Hmm, well it’s a pity that NATO is not paying heed to his wisdom, said

Diana.

‘Dithering’ is le mot juste.

So, Sonia wanted to understand the situation, this was picked up by your

grandmother in a souk in Istanbul?

Not my grandmother.  We just thought that she was.

Nevertheless, it was found before 1920?

Apparently.  She must have given it to Augusta.  It’s probably Fauxberge.

What’s the difference? asked Diana.

About $20 million!  Dru was feeling cynical.

So how did it end up in a souk?  Sonia looked puzzled.

It was probably stolen from a Soviet Fine Art Repository, Dru

said in exasperation. How should I know?

Octopussy - UK cinema poster.jpg

You’ve been watching Octopussy, Diana criticised her.  There are fakes,

but there is probably on-line advice as to what to look for.

That’s what I’m searching for, replied Dru.  Yes, here’s a site that

mentions A La Vieille Russie.  A guy called Peter L Schaffer says some

of these finds can be like a curate’s egg- good in parts, presumably.

Who is he? asked Sonia.

A New York business specialist, read Dru.  He says it shouldn’t be too

good to be true.  Tatyana Faberge, the grand-daughter, authenticates

them.  ‘Beware of lasers which can trace real marks onto fake pieces,’

they adviseThere shouldn’t be any rough edges and the diamonds

should be single cut..  The real hot pink is unique.

So, if it is a fake, will it be destroyed like that Chagall painting that was

submitted for authentication in Paris? Diana asked.

They don’t seem to mind so much, Dru read on.  Some can still be worth

$15,000.

Do you know who might have contacts that would help? said Diana

suddenly.

Murgatroyd, replied Dru.

Exactly.  Maybe you should go up and see him and take it with you.

I was going to say that, lied Sonia.

Maybe at Whitsun then? suggested Dru.

Why not?  Whitsun would be a good time. She already had her train ticket.

 

 

 

Balls

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Simnel cake 1.jpg

Great-Aunt Augusta was ready and waiting for them.  She was

ensconced in her usual corner of Snodland Nursing Home for the

Debased Gentry and the tea trolley had been parked beside her little

enclave.

Her gimlet eyes had already detected the Thornton chocolate egg that

Drusilla was bearing.  The old lady smiled broadly and greeted them with

an invitation that could not be refused:  Go on- have some placenta cake.

It’s that time of year.

Snod sat down in one of the institutional high-backed chairs.  What did

you just say, Aunt Augusta?  I need to have my ears syringed.

Placenta cake.  One always has it from Laetare Sunday onwards.

Oh, I see.  You are drawing an analogy with that plakous cake so beloved

of the Greeks?  But I thought that was made with dough, cheese, honey and

was flavoured with bay leaves.  Wasn’t there a recipe for it in Cato’s De Agri

Cultura?

Possibly, replied Aunt Augusta, but people have linked it to our Simnel cake

and Matron has allowed us to have one for afternoon tea.  So, you be

mother, she directed Drusilla.

Dru looked relieved that she was not going to be faced with something

slithery from Call the Midwife.  It looked fairly innocuous, but shop-bought.

Mary Berry BBC Good Food 2011.jpg

It’s to a recipe from that youngster Mary Berry, Augusta informed them.

Ah, simila, meaning ‘fine flour’, Snod pontificated.  It was going to be a

long afternoon.

And you know all about the balls?  Augusta interrogated Dru, distracting

her while she was pouring, so that she slopped some tea into the saucers.

Balls?  Coronets had them and now simnel cakes.  They were ubiquitous. 

Balls? Dru repeated gormlessly.

Gus looked a little red-faced.

They represent the Apostles.  Minus Judas.  But when I baked mine, I

always used to add him in. After all, he did repent.

Hmm, mused Dru.  I’ve been thinking about that during Lent.  I would like to

be inclusive in my attitude too.

You see, Augusta said.  I knew we think alike.  So, assuming that you don’t

have one of those dreadful tramp stamps, I can now give you an Easter

present.  Fair exchange, as I see you have brought me a Thornton’s

chocolate treat.  Just something mother picked up in a souk in Istanbul,

or somewhere.  Don’t get too excited.

Dru looked puzzled as Aunt Augusta opened a kind of Gladstone made

from a Turkish saddle-bag. Or maybe it was Anatolian.  Dru wasn’t an

expert.

This is for you.  Don’t open it here.  I’ve been hiding it ever since I came in

here, in case one of the inmates took a fancy to it.  I was going to give it to

your father, but he has had the proceeds from quite a few of Mother’s kelims

in the past, so now it is your turn.

She picked off a marzipan ball and popped it into her mouth.

Like a hole in one, Snod thought.  Not much evidence of a significant

handicap.

Dru thanked her and together they managed to wrap her up and wheel

her out for the afternoon.  Of course, they went to Wyvern Mote, where,

I am afraid to relate, Aunt Augusta whirled her wheelchair around a

children’s Discovery Trail, as if she was a Paralympian, and bagged

all the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs which had just been secreted by a giant

Easter Bunny in a ridiculous Onesie.

Cadbury-Creme-Eggs-US&UK-Small.jpg

Sugar is very bad for you, she justified herself.  I heard it on the news. 

It doesn’t matter at my age, but I am saving the little ones from future

health problems.

And she stuffed a whole one into her mouth, much as she had done with

the marzipan ball, leaving a trail of slivers of silver paper behind her, like

an orienteering trail, or the shiny slime from a sweet-loving snail.

(I was going to write ‘toothed’ instead of ‘loving‘, but the metaphor didn’t work

for gastropods and molluscs.)  Tant pis, as the escargot race are wont to say.

Once she had been delivered safely and they had driven off, Dru raised a

subject that she had been saving for a private moment.

I had a letter from someone whom I haven’t heard from for quite some time,

she said to Snod, after they had reached a straight section of road.

Oh, who was that? Gus asked, only mildly interested.  Get out of the way,

you plebeian!  It’s 30mph, or can’t you read?  It’s the hare and the tortoise

all over again!

Someone had cut him up and it wasn’t a policeman.  He reserved the

right to use the term, as a long-standing Classics scholar.

Mum doesn’t know, but it was from Murgatroyd.  He wants me to go up and

stay for a couple of days.  To see what he’s achieved in the restoration of his

house in the Borders.  Allegedly.

Indeed, remarked Snod.  This was a useful word which he employed to

good effect in difficult parental interviews.  Why do you say ‘allegedly’?

Because I think he misses me. He was in loco parentis for my first

formative years.

And I wasn’t, I suppose.  The latter was not expressed with any hint of

bitterness.

There was silence for a few minutes.  Then Snod responded.

In the light of our conversation on Judas, I can only say that we might as

well think of Murgatroyd as an extra ball.  He may not be the icing on the

familial cake, but he probably needs to be included.

Father, that’s generous of you.  It makes no difference to how I feel about

our relationship.

What about your mother?  Do you want me to keep the lid on this for the

moment?  She’s moving house and perhaps that is enough stress for her

at present.

I will think about how to tell her, but for now, it’s what I feel I have to do.

Snod dropped her off at Royalist House in High Street.  She was

exhausted.

Here!  You forgot your present! shouted Snod, handing her the parcel out

through the driver’s window.  It was quite heavy for its size.

He wasn’t going to come in.  He had some work to do for the new term

and he was so behind.  Would he change his name, or leave things

as they were? Decisions, decisions..

 

Bunbury, Quincunx and Quatrefoil

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Sitting in the offices of Bunbury, Quincunx and Quatrefoil Solicitors

in Rochester, Dru was digging her metal-tipped heel into the Japanese

oak parquet, which was irritating Mr Bunbury Junior considerably, though

he tried to remain professionally impassive, only occasionally clearing his

throat, like a Pit Bull on a restraint lead.

With his monogrammed handkerchief – BQ&Q- he mopped at

excessive saliva, which her small time act of vandalism was

provoking...so the stirrup cups are endowed to the museum, but

I have some personal papers for you.  He handed over a brown

envelope to Gus.  Can you initial for receipt, please?  He then

reached down and lifted a few school magazines bound with a

perished rubber band from the floor.

Gus immediately recognised back numbers of St

Birinus Middle‘s annual publication, from the 60s.

They seem to cover 1955-62, Mr Bunbury explained.  Your father

apparently treasured your team photos.  He asterisked the year when

you captained the 1st XI.  He has annotated the Prize-giving List for

1961, when you took the Classics Cup for Latin Public Speaking.

Como - Dom - Fassade - Plinius der Jüngere.jpg

I remember that, said Snod, flicking through the yellowed pages.

I had to memorise and deliver some Pliny.  Something along the

lines of Ridebis et licet..

..rideat, supplied Bunbury Junior, who had come second in his prep

school’s Latin Verse Speaking Competition with the very same passage

and had his defeat bitterly imprinted on his memory forever.  Pliny the

Elder.

You will notice a communication from Lady Wivern, your mother,

which outlines the financial arrangements she made with Miss

Snodbury over your welfare and protection, when she released you into

her care.

Mehercule! Snod ejaculated. Deus quem punire uit demerat.

What? said Dru, digging her heel into the floor even more deeply.

Whom God will destroy He first makes mad, supplied Mr Bunbury,

eager to show his linguistic prowess.

Pliny the Younger, Snod stated firmly with an anaphoric reference

which Bunbury was incapable of tracing.

Instead the solicitor cleared his throat, glared at Dru’s foot and

continued, The codicil clarifies her wishes and we have drawn up

instructions as to how you may gain access to the bank vault and its

contents. We will send you further details along with your-ahem!-

(here a further glare at Dru’s heel).. with a note of our charges.

And a bill for repairs to the floor, he wanted to add.

He burbled on in a factual manner for a few more minutes.

Snod and Drusilla retired to The Cafe Moroc- a ‘fusion of Regency

decadence and Moroccan chic’, according to its advertising blurb.

Gus had had enough decadence for one day, so they concentrated

on twelve different meze dishes (to share) and a lamb kofte.

I don’t understand, whispered Dru.  What’s been going on?

Snod was in deep shock, but it didn’t prevent him from demolishing

eight out of the twelve dishes, which Dru thought was somewhat

unfair, especially as he went for her favourites with a vengeance,

adding yet another stain to his, thankfully, polka-dotted tie.

Petra metzes.jpg

Berenice was not his mother; Hugo de Sousa was not his half-brother;

Aunt Augusta was not his aunt, nor Dru’s great-aunt.  The other

Augusta who had run wild in the Bosphorous was not his grandmother,

nor Dru’s great-grandmother, though the sale of the inherited kelims

had paid for his music lessons and ‘extras’..

Dru could see the carrot of being Aunt Augusta’s sole legatee

vanishing as rapidly as the meze.

So, she slowly worked it out, Anthony Revelly, the toy boy tutor, had

an affair with the widowed Lady Wivern.  The Vickers machine gun accident

didn’t knock the balls off his potential coronet then.

Coronet?

Okay, I suppose it was Lord Wivern’s then.  Or was the title in her family?

I don’t know, Snod said wearily.  They clearly did not marry.  Mmm.. I

suppose Lionel and Peregrine were my half-brothers.  I may be entitled to

pre-fix ‘The Honourable’  to my name.

But the boys are both dead, aren’t they?  And they didn’t have any family?

Not as far as I know.  There’s nothing mentioned in the paperwork.  Oh,

really, it’s all too much.

You mentioned your name, Drusilla persisted.  But you may have been

given the Christian name ‘Augustus’ to help to recreate your identity.

She refused to use the PC term ‘forename’.  In that she was her father’s

daughter.

Yes, apparently Lady Wivern called me Arthur Parsifal.  Snod looked

abashed. I’ve never really liked Wagner.  Too narcissistic.

The Honourable Arthur Parsifal Revelly?  Dru choked on a chick pea.

Ah, like Kundry, you are the first to address me by the name my mother

gave me.

Kundry?

In the opera. ‘The wound, the wound, it burns within my heart’

Right.  Dru didn’t know what he was rambling on about. What was Lady

Wivern’s name?

Aurelia Tindall, according to all this bumf.  Of Coquetbrookdale.  Her ancestors

had owned a pele tower in the Borders.

Oh, I’ve always wanted to live in a pele tower, breathed Dru.  Murgatroyd, he

whose name must not be spoken, is renovating one up there, according to

mother.

Well, we won’t be inheriting a domesticated fortification either.  It was in ruins

and so it was unsaleable and couldn’t alleviate her insolvency or  save Wyvern

Mote from being left to the nation.

So, Berenice dumped you after she received payment to take you on as her son?

She tried to foist you off on her mother and then her sister took charge of the

whole sorry mess.   All that in spite of having been paid a fair whack, no doubt.

Enough to cost Aurelia Wyvern Mote; but enough to pave Berenice’s way to

decamping to the land of her hero, Simon Bolivar.

There’s a detail that you’re missing, Dru pointed out, quickly mopping up

some sauce with a torn corner of pita bread.

Only one? Gus sighed.

You are Arthur, King of Camelot.

So, in that case I must forgive Guenevere and Lancelot if life is to go on.

Guenevere?  Lancelot?

Anthony and Aurelia, I suppose, Snod nodded.  Oh, you’ve finished all the

chick peas.

Yes, I have you greedy old.. She checked any outward expression of her

inner turmoil. And Aunt Augusta?  Shall we still take her out?  she asked

instead.

Morgan le Fey!  But at least she didn’t plot against me, so we shouldn’t

punish her, though she’s no water sprite, that’s for sure. No, let the healing

begin!

And he tossed her the envelope and its contents.  Some of this applies to

you.

 

 

Sleeping Dogs

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tastecard

Diana, Dru and Gus sat in that hostelry which was run by a dyslexic

landlord, namely, The Running Sore and digested their two course

meal.

It had been a special midweek offer: a discount if orders were taken

before seven pm.

They had slid into a corner table two minutes before the deadline, only

to be told that it was two minutes past.

Gus summoned mein host, who couldn’t tell the time anyway, but he was

soon persuaded that Mr Snodbury’s watch was regulated every morning by

Big Ben‘s chimes before the Today programme and that the school bell was

synchronised by this ancient timepiece- Snod’s Timex, that is.

Okay, okay, you can have the special offer, he conceded.  There was no

point in arguing with a bunch of teachers, or they who must be obeyed.

They were too used to getting their own way.

He clawed back the reduction by substituting a cheaper bottle of house

red and they didn’t notice.

Well, we’ve missed the funeral, sadly, Gus said.

Yes, but we can go down next week and make an appointment to see

the solicitors.  Also, Aunt Augusta wants to be taken out again, remarked

Dru, somewhat ruefully.

I suppose so.  She never even commented on me going to see him with

Berenice when I was little, Gus said a little bitterly.

She’s old now.  It was a long time ago and she’s forgotten, soothed Diana.

Better let sleeping dogs lie, she advised.

Mum, can you manage your removal on your own?  Have you got storage

arranged?

Bishops Move - EST 1854

I’ve got Bishop’s Move- that removals firm that sounds like a chess

strategy. They do everything for you.  I’m going to put everything into a

secure barn near Suttonford. Don’t worry.  You go with your father.

The Royal School of Church Music, hmmm.  He was musical then.  I must

have taken after him.  Snod looked down.  He looked pensive, but he

had just noticed a soup stain on his tie.

He should have heard you take the lead role in Camelot, said Diana.  ‘If

Ever I should Leave you’-such a moving song.  He would have been so

proud of you.

‘Would’.  ‘Would leave you’. That was Lancelot’s song, Snod corrected her.

Yes, but you would have sung it even better.

He let it go.

It’s a blessing that Berenice is gone in a way, Dru observed.  What she didn’t

know didn’t hurt her.  I don’t suppose he remembered her in his will.

I loved you once in silence, said Diana.  That was anther good one.

And Snod looked down again.  But this time it was a tear that had stained

his tie.

The Lusty Month of May.. Diana began, but Dru signalled to her to shut

up. It was too much information and at completely the wrong time. How to

Handle a Woman didn’t even come into it.  Those were non-PC times and

Snod was still living in them.  He was one of the Old School.

Camelot Original Cast Recording.jpg

Flying Low

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Virginia Fisher-Giles, School Secretary, self-elevated to PA, answered the

telephone.

St Birinus Middle, ranked ‘outstanding’ by Ofstead….I’m afraid he is in a

meeting.

(Snod was in his private loo attached to the Head’s

Office.)

May I ask who’s calling?  His daughter.  I see. (It was that harpist woman.)

I’ll ask him to return your call.  Thank you so much and

goodbye.

‘Daughter!’  This must be one of his emotional scars, she reasoned.

In fact, she seems more like a cicatrice.  Or is it cockatrice? He will need

the equivalent of a course in behavioural Botox, or a Gestalt blowtorch

session to deal with any emotions stirred up by her. 

What was that prayer they had said in Assembly last week?  It was some

Gestalt mantra :

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
She had intoned it to herself over the past few days, but it wasn’t

doing her any favours in the relationship department.  She had thought

of having a calligrapher make a version for her which she

could have framed and could hang it in her office.

She particularly liked the line about not being in the world to live up to

other people’s expectations.  She could hang it as a reminder in Snod’s

study instead…

And that daughter was certainly no oil painting when I saw her at the PTA

event.  Can’t understand Milford-Haven drooling all over her. Disgusting.

No finesse.  Either of them.

Wonder what she wants?

Snod came into her office.  Virginia wanted to inform him that his flies were

undone, and almost resorted to that time-worn cliche: You’re flying low!

but realised that the time was not ripe.

Instead she said, Your daughter phoned and would like you to return her call.

Snod took the post-it note and looked puzzled.  I thought she was teaching

this afternoon.  How odd.

He went back into his study and waited for the cistern to fall silent.  Virginia

held her breath and stood outside the door with a sheaf of papers that could

have waited a week for attention, but which gave her a rationale for

hovering.

Dru, what’s the matter?  No, it’s not a fault on the line, it’s just..Never mind.

Just tell me what’s bothering you.

Time Spent in Reconnaissance

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Sonia brought in a box of Kleenex which she had foreseen they would

need.

Dru unfolded the obituary and passed it over to her mother.

Diana looked over the top of her bifocals:

It’s very comprehensive, she said.  It covers his detective work in the

discovery of The Honourable Peregrine Wivern who was trapped in that

awful priest hole and his war-disrupted degree from Durham University,

not to mention his service with The Royal Fusiliers at Monte Cassino.  He

was sent back to Blighty with some wound from a Vickers machine gun,

but it can’t have been too disabling, given his subsequent fertility.  So young

to have experienced all that by the time he took up tutoring at Wyvern

Mote.

Battle of Monte Cassino

Bet it beat Teacher Training!

How did he pass away? asked Sonia, munching a Garibaldi biscuit a shade

too heartlessly.

Garibaldi biscuit.jpg

It seems to have been linked to a fall which he had a couple of years ago,

which literally precipitated his admission to Snodland Nursing Home for the

Debased Gentry.  He stepped backwards, indicating some special

architectural feature on the roof to some visitors and fell down the ha-ha.

Not funny, sympathised Sonia and then wondered why Diana stifled a

giggle.

I think it was all downhill from then on, stated Dru and then smiled

broadly, before checking herself. I mean, once the connection with

Wyvern was severed, he seemed to lose his marbles.

Did it say where he was from originally? Sonia enquired.

Northumberland, I believe.  Dru was trying to recall the details.  It

mentioned his favourite saying which was: ‘Time spent in reconnaissance

is never wasted.’ His nickname was ‘Iron Sides’, which even his charges

adopted, but it must have come from his military background.

Oh, that’s an old saying, supplied Sonia.  People have attributed it to

everyone from Napoleon to General Custer and Montgomery.

Diana wasn’t listening:  It mentions that his family were forge men,

some of whom went to Virginia.

Ties in with his moniker very neatly, Sonia commented.

Monica? Dru looked puzzled.

Sonia didn’t elaborate.

He has left large bequests to The Royal School of Church Music, whose

patron in HM, the Queen..

Why? Sonia was curious.  She should have known.

Dru broke in to the conversation:  Because he had a very fine baritone voice

and he was a church warden.  He’s left the rest to St Birinus Middle School to

endow a music scholarship and his entire collection of antique silver stirrup

cups will be placed in Wyvern Museum.

Stag Deer jigger Stirrup Cup Collectible Hunting Gift

Yes, clarified Diana, but it says here that if anyone thinks they have a claim,

then they are to contact Bunbury, Quincunx and Quatrefoil, Solicitors

in Rochester, who are administering the estate…  Oh, within six months.

I don’t see the point, said Dru.  The apartment would have been grace-and-

favour for life only.  It will revert to The National Trust.

Sonia took a second Garibaldi and came up with a revolutionary thought:

Suppose there are some papers which should be retained in the family?

Gus had better ring them up.

Dru replied, We can talk business after we have broken the news to him.

It’s all so cataclysmic.  I mean, Dad would have to have a DNA test,

probably.

There’s no point in upsetting Aunt Augusta, as she did not remember him

as being connected to Wyvern in any way.  She just enclosed the cutting

because we had been told of his nocturnal escapade in the home. 

Berenice is dead and Anthony was nothing to do with Hugo de Sousa.

 So, let’s be discreet and break it to Father over a meal, if he can get away

from school for a couple of hours.

You can ring from here, Sonia suggested.  It’s more private than speaking

from the boarding house, or on your mobile.

Thanks, Sonia.  I’ll try him now while I’m feeling brave.

Diana squeezed her hand.

‘Slothified’

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Carrie bounced into Costamuchamoulah must-seen cafe and

grabbed a tabloid from the rack.  I was on my tablet and so we sat

together, but apart, in a new social category, that isn’t really social.

It is incredibly irritating to have things read out to you when you are

immersed in some text of your own, as The Husband is wont to imply

when I enthusiastically regale him with some witty Proustian quote

when he is trying to read the FT in bed.  I really wish he wouldn’t read it

in the bedroom as newsprint and The White Stuff  linen don’t mix.  Mind

you, who am I criticising for not mixing?!

Ha!  This is all about a woman who got slothified, Carrie whooped.

Mmm, I feebly back-channelled, not encouraging her too much, but

being sucked into a conversational Charybdis.  Do you mean sloshed?

No, Carrie laughed.  A woman gave sanctuary, and still does,

presumably, to hundreds of sloths in Paramaribo, wherever that is.

Two or three-toed?  I asked, interest picking up.

Does it matter?  Both, I think.  She is overwhelmed and so tired that she

doesn’t want to get up in the morning.

Deadly sin, that. I observed.  Sloth.  Probably in that book I’ve just been

investigating.

What’s that?

The Traveller’s Guide to Hell – Don’t Leave this World without it, by Dana

Facaros and Michael Pauls.  It seems to be a kind of Lonely Planet for

sinners. Or a dumbed down Inferno…

Anyway, Carrie interrupted, I can relate to a house being filled with creatures

who sleep, on average 9.6 hours, or 16 in captivity and who hang around, or

hang out, in my kitchen.  I’d probably be sheltering 200 of them too if I went

out with Gyles and Tiger-Lily sneaked her friends round.  The females are

worse. 

They call out for attention, even when they are not on heat.  They browse,

rather than eating regular meals, regurgitate their food and have an obsession

with apples.

I typed ‘Sloth‘ into Google Aquinas said sloth is an avoidance

of physical or spiritual work, so that ties in with what you’re

describing.

Then I looked at wildlife sites and came across David Attenborough

outlining how sloths are ‘mobile compost heaps‘ who grow organisms

and who defecate once a week.

That’s more like the boyfriends, Carrie quipped. Monique Pool- I’ve found the

name of the woman-says the toilet habits makes them ideal house guests,

Carrie added.  I know I hate tradesmen and strangers pooing in my house. 

Sloths could be preferable. But maybe they are the same genus.

Or anus, I giggled.  She ignored me.

I’ve noticed Tiger’s friends, though leaf-eaters, don’t eat enough fibre,

so at least constipation is a bit of a bonus.

Not for them, I disagreed, but too much information.

The woman goes on to say that what makes her furry guests so attractive is

the permanent smile on their faces, Carrie continued.  But most of my

week-enders have a sullen look about them and get their emotional claws out

at the slightest provocation.

Emotional apathy.  Carelessness in the performance of their obligations, I

underlined, reading more Aquinas, but still listening..

Actually, sloths are solitary if they have the choice, Carrie read on.  Tiger,

I’d say, is happier when she is just getting down to some revision on her own. 

She’s not really a team player and I haven’t seen a smile on her face for some

time.

I’ve got a vintage Gordon the Gopher, I suddenly remembered.  I’ll bring it

round and give it to her as a mascot for her exams.  Don’t worry, I’ll have it

steam- cleaned first, in case of any organisms.  It might cheer her up.  Failing

that, I’ll get her The Traveller’s Guide to Hell.

GORDON THE GOPHER PLUSH SOFT TOY

I’m going to get that anyway, Carrie said.  Sounds like every mother can

relate to it, because, in spite of all our good intentions, we seem to be deemed

to have paved the way to our progeny’s final destinations.

Look at this. I showed her a cutesy photograph of a baby sloth.  And, sure

enough, it brought a smile to her face. Many of God’s creatures are angels

in disguise, or are Heavenly harbingers, poets, like Vergil, who lead us out

of the gloom.  Or gophers who motivate us or, in soft toy version, relieve

stress and  help us to love the other and to laugh at ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

L’enfer c’est les autres

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GB ER II 1969 QUEEN ELIZABETH 2nd LINER 2 BLOCKS --MINT

Drusilla Fotheringay, Housemistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-

Gifted Girl lifted the post from the entrance hall.  There was a personal letter

addressed to her in spidery writing.  She felt curiously excited, as when she

had anticipated a pound note, or a book token on her birthday, as a youngster.

It was so rare to be sent snail mail.  The stamps were curiously lumpy.

Obviously they been steamed off and re-used.  They depicted the QE2.

Hang on!  They are pre-decimal!  How did she get away with that? Dru

exclaimed.

Fortunately she had a free period before the onslaught, so she sat down in the

office and looked at the postmark.  It was from Rochester, Kent.

Aunt Augusta!  she sighed.  She had been meaning to write to the old bird, but

had been so busy.  No doubt she wanted her to visit, but she was supposed to

be clearing out her things in Bradford-on-Avon before Mum handed over the

cottage to its new owners.  Thank goodness she had already moved her harp

into the boarding house.

There was no pound note, but there was a Thornton’s voucher for a discount

on a second Easter egg, if you bought more than one.

Dru supposed that it was a hint that she should bring some chocolate down

with her on her next visit.  Easter might be a moveable feast, but there wasn’t

going to be too much leeway as far as dutiful attendance went.

A newspaper cutting fell out of the envelope.  It was headed The Rochester

Messenger and dated the 30th March, 2014.

Dru cast her eye over the column and nearly fell off her ergonomic stool.

Wasn’t that a bodily excretion peculiar to vegetarians? No, don’t go there!

The cutting was an obituary for Anthony Revelly, the man whom they had

identified as being her grandfather.  They hadn’t had time to work out a

strategy for revealing the information they had pieced together on their visit

to Wyvern Mote.

Mum!

Yes, dear.  Why are you phoning me now?  Aren’t you at work?  Are you all

right?

Mum, I’ve just had a letter and a cutting from a local penny dreadful from

Aunt Augusta.

You mean Great-Aunt Augusta, don’t you?

Whatever. (This lazy way of speaking was rubbing off on her from her

teenage charges.  It was technically called convergence, according to the

pedantic English teacher) Mum, Anthony Revelly is dead.

The Anthony Revelly from the nursing home?  Your-em-grandfather?

He died at the end of March.  Aunt Augusta has enclosed his obituary.

Did she know..?

No, we hadn’t told anyone, so that’s why we hadn’t been informed.

Why is she sending you the cutting then?

Because…well, it’s a bit awkward.  The truth is..

What?

..that she complained because he was suffering from dementia and wandered

around at night and attempted to get into bed with her.  He obviously thought

that she was her sister, Berenice.  They were so alike.

Tragic, said Diana.  I bet he didn’t get a very good reception.  From what you

said, she seemed to have never really cared for men.

She seemed to have never really cared for anyone, Mum, though she is rather

keen on herself naturally!  To be fair, she cared for Dad practically when he

was at prep school.

Poor old Revelly was lonely, vulnerable and frightened.

It’s so sad and final.  Suddenly Dru brimmed over.  I never got to know him.

Diana felt guilty.  If only she had been honest about Dru’s real father being

Augustus, instead of fabricating her deception which had taken in Murgatroyd

Syylk and led to his honourably, if unwittingly, taking responsibility for Dru as a

daughter.

She had deprived Augustus of paternity rights and kept her daughter from her

grandfather. There must be a special circle in Hell for women such as herself.

(She had just been listening to a Radio 4 adaptation of The Inferno.  She

thought John Hurt was rather good in it; he was rather good in

everything..)

John hurt dinard cropped.jpg

Mea culpa!  Mea maxima culpa, she beat her breast.  Ouch! She might

have to share a gyre, or spiral thingy with Kim Kardashian.  That would be

a just punishment.  Who was that Kardashian woman again? Someone she

knew instinctively that would make her repeat Sartre’s statement: L’enfer

c’est les autres for all eternity.

Mother and daughter sobbed together.

Dru!  Come over to Sonia’s.  We need to sort this out.

But I have to teach at ten o’clock.  How am I going to cope?

You tell them that you have just had notice of a bereavement and the rest is

their problem.  They can double up the little blighters with another group. 

The Gap Year student can make up the extra adult presence, surely?

But she’s got a mental and emotional age of fourteen, Dru protested.

Just do it! She’s got the edge on them by a couple of years and at that age,

it’s a gulf never to be bridged.  Oh no, that sounded like a geophysical

feature of the Underworld again!

Okay, Mum.  I love you.

Sonia’s already worked out what’s happening, Diana soothed.

Well, she is supposed to be a clairvoyant.

Never mind that now.  Just get over here and we will think of how to

tell your father.

Okay, Dru sniffed.  She would just about have time to call into Thornton’s

on the way.

Boy, did she need some chocolate.

 

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