Graduate of TV University

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Tigress at Jim Corbett National Park.jpg

(Photo by Sumeet Moghe)

You went to China, didn’t you? Brassica reminded me.

Oh, ages ago, I replied.  In the mid-to-late nineties.  We

took some students with us.  We saw quite a bit of the

country, as we travelled its length on the train, from Beijing.

That must have been fascinating.

Well, we had guides to keep an eye on us.  I think I wrote

down my impressions at the time. I’ll try to fish them out.

No doubt another poem is coming my way, sighed Brassie.

Aren’t you the lucky one?! I retorted.

GRADUATE OF TV UNIVERSITY

Our Zhaoqing guide was a smiling Tiger:

See, I used to be a buffalo boy,

he said.  And now my family benefit

because I send some of my wages home.

You’ve heard of TV University?

That’s how I studied English, got this job.

Deng’s motto was ‘not the best; good enough.’

He prattled on his microphone.  It worked.

Look! he grinned.  I even have tiger teeth.

Maybe I’ll save up for some dental work.

He switched off and so did we: too fatigued,

having just journeyed for 36 hours,

from Beijing to Guanzhou by the night train.

Buffalo boy would have conjured up jade

ornaments, bronzes collected by those

who appear on Antiques Roadshows.  But now,

having seen settlements in paddy fields;

putrid ponds, wallowing pigs, flash motorbikes,

ancestral headstones placed among sparse crops,

we knew where he had come from; just how far

he had travelled; understood Hope Project,

where wealthy cities subsidise the poor.

Though awash with Americanisms,

at ease in marble foyers of hotels,

he sat and ate his meals apart from us,

smiling at our ineptness with chopsticks:

romantic buffalo boy, denying

the not-so-distant cannibalism

China practised through desperate famines.

We turned up our noses at jellyfish;

he was grateful for a well-filled rice dish.

At the end of our stay he gave out forms,

requiring us to measure him against

some idealistic concept of guide.

Although he told us very little,

between the lines he’d told us quite a lot.

He got his tip, learned a few extra words

which alienate him further from his home.

So what, if he gains some gleaming moped,

pays many yuan for a cosmetic brace;

orthodontically has a Western face?

His buffalo will be slaughtered for food

and a billion tigers may show their fangs,

while we watch TV University

and travel the Web, rather than the world.

Maybe one day we’ll meet him again on some screen

and we will recognise him by his smile-

the one that doesn’t seem to reach his eyes,

but demonstrates his newly acquired bite.

Tunnel Vision

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Let the train take the strain- she had echoed that advertising hype,

originally linked to British Rail, as she parked her car at Keighley

Station.

She was preparing to meet a friend at The Tourist Information Office

in Haworth.  They would have coffee in one of the pseudo-authentic

shoppes on either side of the steep hill, which is the backbone of the

historic village.

Maybe then she would bring herself to show Anna the photocopy of the

letter which had been troubling her so greatly.  Afterwards they might

walk round the museum which drew the literary faithful from all over the

world.  Then she could catch the train back to Keighley and retrieve her

car, before returning to Harrogate.

The rail journey would not take long.  It was the nostalgic, comforting

element which attracted her.  The Worth Valley Line, with its steam

locomotives and Victorian stations, which had featured in televised films,

such as The Railway Children, had been on her bucket list of attractions

to be visited, for some time.

Once speed picked up, she felt her jangled nerves calmed by the rhythms

of the engine and snatches of verse associated with her childhood sprang

to mind:

This is the Night Mail crossing the border…

Imagine rhyming ‘border’ with ‘postal order! she mused.

Standing up, she looked out of the open vent at the top of a rather grimy

window.

Ouch!

She had not realised that sparks were literally flying and a smut had

entered her right eye, which began to water profusely.  Perhaps she

should remove her contact lens?

Opposite, a woman sat, reading a letter.  Quite small and somewhat

insignificant, she was dressed in dark clothing and seemed intent on her

correspondence.

Laura left her to her own devices as she was not in a mood for chit-chat

and since she was now seeing double, she dabbed her inflamed eye with

a clean tissue, which probably made things worse.  She managed to

extricate the lens with some difficulty.

The woman in the corner reminded her of her own letter, with its many

ambiguities. (At least, Laura was trying to interpret some of the phrases

as charitably as she could.)  However, the speck in her eye felt like a beam

and not a proverbial mote.  A saline deluge would have flushed the irritant

from her eye, but she had no idea how to deal with the emotional

inflammation she was experiencing.

An objective opinion from another woman would be welcome.  But did she

really want to know the truth?

Suddenly they were in a tunnel.  She could have wished to remain in the

velvety comfort of darkness forever.

She stepped off  into the surprisingly height between the carriage and the

platform.  Someone had taken her arm.  She was still having problems with

her vision.

She blinked and made as if to offer a polite appreciation and found herself

staring into the solicitous face of her fellow traveller, who promptly vanished

into the crowd, before Laura could express her thanks.

She bent down to rummage in her shopping bag for her ticket and it seemed

to have fallen out onto the ground.  But, on closer inspection, it was a

different colour than the one she had bought.  Maybe the woman had

dropped it.  She had disappeared, however, so Laura stuffed it into her

pocket, with her gloves.

She had to climb Main Street, which had been an open sewer over a century

before.  A blast of cold buffeted her.  She frowned at a wind turbine which

reminded her of an albatross which, if she had possessed a crossbow, she

would have shot down. The rotors, spinning round, combined with her watery

eye to create a sense of vertigo.  The conservationist in her battled with her

aesthetic sensibility.

Outraged sensibility– that was something to be buried in her subconscious, if

she was to survive.  Self-pity was not to be fed, nor her creative imagination

indulged.

She was too early.  Always too early.  So conscientious; so careful of other

people’s feelings.  What good had it done her?

Anna would be late.  She always was.  It would be warmer to shelter in the

church than to stand on the open corner.

She passed a little shop bedecked in sheepskin rugs and commemorative

tea towels.  The graveyard beckoned gloomily, with mossy slabs and desolate

cawing.  The spartan parsonage overlooked the scene, with its controversial

extension.

She reached for her gloves and pulled out the piece of paper.  What was it?

it was a ticket, but curiously it purported to be an entrance ticket for The

Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.

Puzzled, Laura put it in her handbag and set off to check on Anna.  There she

was at their mutually agreed rendezvous, apologising profusely, as usual.

They headed for one of the tearooms- the nearest one.

Nothing in it, I’d say, re-assured Anna.  Too casual; too chatty.  She just

sounds insecure and desperate to me.

Laura felt relieved of a huge weight on her chest.  They even visited the

museum and as she studied the contents of the glass cases, wondering

at the doll-like kid gloves, the tiny waisted dresses and yellowed bonnets,

she felt that same sense of disassociation from reality that she had felt

during her drive from Harrogate that

morning.

She resolved to destroy the letter when she went home.  She didn’t want

some future literary critic to get their hands on her correspondence and

to publish some speculative theory about her personal life.

They paused at the family portrait by Branwell Bronte.  Why had he felt

such utter self-deprecation?  Why had he felt the need to erase his own

image?

Anna couldn’t fathom why anyone could lack self-confidence.  Laura made

no comment.

Then they came across the portrait of Charlotte and the written

explanantion of her trip to Brussels with the subsequent broken-hearted

return to Haworth and the realisation that her infatuation with M Heger was

not- could not– be reciprocated.  All he could offer her was sincere friendship.

Laura was riveted by the eyes in the portrait.  A chill far colder than the one

she had felt outside gripped her heart.

That quizzical smile seemed directed to her personally.  She knew, with a

confidence that she did not yet feel regarding the letter in her handbag, that

the passenger in the compartment had been none other than Charlotte

Bronte.

The letter that she had been perusing so intently must have been the hurtful

reply from her employer.  Laura felt as if she had been touched by a native of

Dreamland, as Charlotte herself would have put it.

There was gentleness and empathy in the eyes.  Laura continued to read of

the novelist’s survival and marriage to the curate- the unremarkable curate,

who turned out to have some recommendations after all.

Life for her too would go on.  She would survive her own fantasies and lay

her own ghosts.

There aren’t any spectres- except in your own imagination, Charlotte seemed

to say.

I still don’t understand Branwell, Anna remarked.

I do, replied Laura.  He just thought of himself as a figment of his own

imagination.  And why wouldn’t a young man of sensibility, if he inhabited

as confined a place as this?

Pilgrimage over! Anna stated in her pragmatic fashion.  It is too spooky

in here.  Let’s go and buy some fudge.

Laura thought that her friend sounded like a computer game.  She

wasn’t going to show Anna the ticket, but she was reminded of the

century that she must continue to inhabit.

Thank you, Charlotte, she whispered and, dropping the ticket into a

donation box, she stepped out of the time warp and into the rest of

her life.

Dis-carding

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Harold Harvey - Winding Wool

Harold Harvey- Winding Wool

(Psalm 102: 26)

They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment, as a vesture shalt thou change them and they shall be changed.

Candia, I’ve joined a knitting group, confided Brassica.  It’s

ever so relaxing and the old ladies who tutor us are founts of knowledge

about all things domestic.  Do you fancy coming along?

Not likely, I replied. Nothing personal, but I knitted most of my childhood

away, as I was taught by my granny.  Fair Isle, Aran, lacy patterns- the

lot.  The arthritis in my neck would probably do me in.  It’s bad enough

typing out all my posts.

But you haven’t published anything for over a week.

All right.  All right- it was my significant birthday and I was a little

busy.  However, if you like I’ll post an old knitting poem.

Yes, do, said Brassica- I think, sincerely.

DIS-CARDING

Although the Revolution’s tricoteuses seemed to lack compassion,

continuing to ply their spattered textiles in the shadow of the block,

from them my grandmother drew her grim determination,

as she created new from old, transcending all the limitations of the clock,

unravelling the past and resurrecting garments, phoenix-fashion,

resuscitating the obsolete, tethering all the tricks of transmutation.

And when my arms, like Moses’*, felt the strain,

supporting yet another elongated skein,

while she wound the interminable yarn into a tortuous ball,

which would have amply led her through King Minos’ hall;

although in Clotho’s** posture, I staged no insurrection,

secured in a cat’s cradle of familial connection.

She monitored the tension while her matriarchal web she wove,

paralysing her kin by invisible cords of love.

And when her last dropped stitch had been incorporated neatly;

completely disentangled all the snarled knots and joins,

Atropos*** snipped her thread and cast her off discretely.

Turned over, we made sense of her designs.

Robert Gemmell Hutchison, Woman and Child Winding Wool by Robert Gemmell Hutchison, late 19th–early 20th century

* Exodus 17

**Clotho- spinner of the thread of life.  The youngest of the Fates.

*** -‘the inevitable’- the fate who cut the thread of Life.

Gender Transformation

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https://jaysanalysis.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/ovid.jpg?w=529

It was Dressing Up Day– an end-of-term concession to the spirit of Misrule

and a nod to boy bishops and topsy-turvy mayhem at St Birinus Middle

School.  Although a challenge to discipline, it generated some charitable

donations, for the boys who dressed up had to pay into funds for Curs

in Crisis.

Sir! Sir! A forest of hands waved at Mr Milford-Haven as he came into the

form room to take the register.

Sir! Guess who Boothroyd-Smythe is meant to be?!

Nigel paused and immediately the class sank into their seats, as one.

He was under the impression that his training session on classroom

management must have delivered results, but then he saw the

shadowy face of Senior Master, Mr Augustus Snodbury, grimacing

through the glass porthole of the classroom.

Sir! They were quieter now, but still fizzing with exuberance.

Boothroyd-Smythe simpered.  He was wearing some kind of white

satin all-in-one.  Nigel didn’t know how to describe it to himself.  Had

the boy raided his mother’s lingerie drawer?  He averted his gaze and

knew that he was being sucked into a black hole.

Sir, don’t you know who Caitlyn Jenner is?

Nigel couldn’t say that he did.

What about the Kardashians?  Sir!

Nigel wondered if they were assault rifles. Settle down! 

He handed Boothroyd-Smythe a Wet One.

Wipe that lipstick muck off your mouth before Assembly! he ordered.

Aw, sir!

Post-Assembly, the first period was Class. Civ. Mr Snodbury had already

selected a passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He’d show the little

blighters!

Boothroyd-Smythe!

Sir!

Translate the following lines- after Teiresias experienced a ‘strange’

transformation. (You wouldn’t be allowed to use that adjective nowadays,

he thought.)

The boys were fully engaged by the argument between Jupiter and Juno

as to who had the best time in bed- men or women. You had to hand it to

Old Snod- he picked some racy passages for discussion and yet the parents

couldn’t complain, as they had all signed up to paying a fortune for their

offspring’s Classical Education. Some parents had blushed in the school

yard when confessing that the previous evening’s prep on Daphnis and

Chloe had taken them out of their comfort zones,

and they didn’t mean their grammatical limitations re/ the subjunctive.

You see, clarified Snod, Teiresias had experienced love from both angles,

having been changed into a woman for seven years.  He knew what it was to

cry when criticised.

(The latter jocularity went over their heads, but then Snod’s lessons

were for his own enjoyment as much as for theirs.)

Sir!  Did he change back then?

He did indeed.  Ita vero.

How?

A glare! A hand went up.

Acknowledgement.

How, sir?

He spotted the original two snakes that he had cudgelled when they were

in-ha!- congress and whacked them-thus!

And he banged the wooden blackboard pointer on the floor, startling

Young Fitzherbert, or Sherbert as he was known, which had been the

intended effect.

Pay attention! So, to conclude: what do we learn from all this gender

transformation?

There’s nothing new under the sun, ventured Ingoldby-Pritchard,

uncertain that he had pulled the correct aphorism out of the metaphorical

hat.

At one level that will do, Snod graciously conceded. And who do you think

was right- Juno or Jupiter? His gaze fell upon Sherbert, who slightly leaked

into his lederhosen.

I’m afraid I wouldn’t like to say, sir.

…is the right answer.  Never, I repeat never come between a man and his

wife.  Life lesson Numero Uno.  Never side with one against the other. The

Battle of the Sexes will never be won.  Lesson Numero Duo.

Boothroyd-Smythe shuffled in his chair and looked at the clock.

The clock is for me-not you!  And, by way of revision for next week’s mini-

test, what should you do if manhandled by Potiphar’s wife, or any other

spoken-for woman?

(This was a reference to last week’s RS lesson on the insufferable goody

two shoes with the rainbow coat, Joseph.)

Flee, sir! they chorused.

That covered the Ethical assessment objectives for the termHe must

remember to note down in his planner the date on which they had been

covered.

Well, off your marks then!  Don’t be late for Mr Milford-Haven’s lesson, or he

will be within his rights to banish you into exile in a remote province on The

Black Sea – a fate suffered by Naso, or a poet also known as-?

Ovid, sir! they cheered.

Yes, the big-nosed one.

On the way out he confiscated Boothroyd-Smythe’s phone.  He was not

prepared to be photographed with the ridiculous boy in one of those inane

selfies-even if the boy did look remarkably like that Jenner person who was

all over the news like a rash.

The wretched boy could collect his property from the Bursary at close of play

and pay a fine toward Curs in Crisis.

It’s not the Despair…

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Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master of St Birinus’ Middle School,

sank into the greasy chintz of his favourite armchair in the corner

of the staffroom.

He put down his mug of builders’ tea and picked up a glossy

magazine.

It was the June edition of The TES.  He had managed to survive

for nearly forty years without having opened its covers. On this

occasion, however, he had completed all the crosswords in other

publications, so he took a look at the editorial.

Could the old hands be the Saviours of Schools? ran the

heading.

Snod had no wish to take on the mantle of a Messiah.

Apparently Baroness Warnock wanted to place older

people from other professions into schools, in a quest to

elevate the status of teaching and to ease staff shortages.

Gus slurped some lukewarm tea.  A second profession! he snorted.

I’m just about about oven-ready and I haven’t finished my first one

yet.  It’s all right for them to bang on about people being at the height

of their powers and having energy, imagination and further capacity for

work.  They should try having 2C on a Friday afternoon for a double.

He continued to read about ‘the dormant talent between retirement

and the Pearly Gates.’  He nearly had a heart attack.  Or was it the

after-effects of too much steamed pudding and an inactive lifestyle?

Whatever.  He had no wish to join a ‘crack team of creaking

interesting educationalists‘- not now, nor in the future.

There seemed to be other riveting reads lying on the table.  He picked

one up: Life at the Chalkface by Mike KentThe author claimed to have

compiled a ‘love-letter to thirty eventful years’ in an endlessly fascinating

and challenging post, or series of posts.  Snod wasn’t going to spend any

time finding out the details.  The only semi-interesting snippets appeared

to involve a description of a fight between parents at a school play. (Well,

Gus had experienced that scenario on many occasions.)  There was also a

compelling account of pigeon infestation in a school roof.

Pigeon 8

Snod wouldn’t have thought there was anything endlessly fascinating about

either of those incidents and, if that was the best the author could offer by

way of entertainment, then, frankly, he should have got out more, or perhaps

have got out of teaching.

Having started flicking through the publication, Snod felt that he should finish

and so he picked up on a remark by Prof Engelmann.  Here was something

with which he could concur:

Teachers should be consumers of curricula, not their designers.

Precisely.  As Dr Johnson said, if one knew where to find knowledge,

it circumvented the need to carry it around in one’s noddle.  If young

newly-qualifieds wanted to generate masses of worksheets, then let

them.

If Snod could pinch someone else’s lesson material, then all the better.

He would then have time to do something more important, such as watching

Test Matches.

As for taking failing children into a summer school for extra tuition, it would

be over his dead body- perhaps literally.  If the Baroness thought that retired

diplomats and business people were going to flock into schools, carrying a kind

of authority that- sadly- teachers did not possess, then she was deluded.

Most of that particular breed are out playing ex-pat golf and improving their

handicaps.

He threw the magazine onto the floor and sighed.  It’s as John Cleese said

in his role of Head Teacher, Brian Stimpson:

‘It’s not the despair… I can take the despair.  It’s the hope I can’t stand.’

Perhaps Snod was exhausted by the Summer Term, but teaching for him

was increasingly like the exam season for Tom Bennett.  And the latter

described the pressure thus:

[It’s] like passing a kidney stone…you desperately anticipate it at the same

time as wanting it to be over.

But perhaps the Baroness had been spared such experiences.

Aelfryth at Longparish

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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9d/Dead_Man%27s_Plack_-_Hudson.jpg/220px-Dead_Man%27s_Plack_-_Hudson.jpg

(Monument to Aethelwold at Longparish, Hants, UK)

I never saw myself as a ewe lamb-

a description more apt to Aethelflaed,

or ‘White Duck‘ as she was precisely known.

Not for me metaphor’s limitations.

I was once bound to the king’s betrayer.

A lie had thrown his Master off the scent.

It was reported that I was quite drab.

But the concupiscent wolfhound tracked me down.

Royal eyes didn’t have wool pulled over them.

I’d braided my hair by the burnished gleam

of my husband’s targe. I blinked at the king

and felt Edgar undress me with his gaze;

appraise me as a type of Bathsheba.

And when the king rode down from Cranbourne Chase,

Aethelwold met him in Harewood Forest,

to be stalked as ruthlessly as any prey,

his screams masked by the baying of the pack.

I’d willed that he should turn into a stag.

And maybe now he rides with The Wild Hunt.

It’s said their hooves don’t even touch the ground.

Aethelwold was the phantom in our bed.

I bore Prince Aethelred then Edgar strayed.

He nevermore trusted his advisors,

nor pious priests who would pointedly preach

about Uriah, Nathan and David.

Prophets really know how to rub it in.

Sometimes I watch a deer drink from a pond.

I hear its groan and see it torn by hounds.

Is it the hubristic Actaeon and

am I Artemis? Or, like Narcissus,

who loved his own reflection, will I look

into this stream and see my nemesis?

I cannot be The Goddess of Light for

she would not beat her son with a candle.

But I’ve produced a right royal milksop

who flinches before a taper and whines

for the company of his step-brother.

If I felt constrained at Wherwell years ago,

when I was wedded to my first husband,

I can tell you it was nothing like this:

an Abbess in a penitentiary.

I wish that I could morph into a hind

and flit through the forest with Aethelwold,

as fleet of foot as Artemis herself,

but leaving no trace to those who follow.

If only I’d seen the wood for the trees.

All Saints, Bransgore (New Forest, Hants)

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DSCF6476

(image of Lt Manners’ monument, All Saints, Bransgore

copyright Candia Dixon-Stuart)

Over the graveyard’s barbed wire fence I spot

two white horses, as if through a gun sight.

My lens fails to foreground a red poppy

spared from mowing round the War Monument.

Can I see clearly down a century?

Now strong sunlight obscures my vision,

but then it was an early morning mist:

Lt. Manners squinting down the ride,

looking for a paternal miracle.

But no one wagered on this outcome.

There was no unexpected coup de grace-

the response rather from artillery.

Soon two Old Etonians lay dead.

Grenadiers shared a blood-soaked sylvan bed.

Here prickly furze and gorse on Thorney Hill

excoriate its brow; leave cicatrices.

Bronzed youth leans his head on his haversack,

clean puttees tightly laced; his belt buckled,

while dreaming on his military mat.

In the peace of the Rond de Reine he meets

his uncorrupted, virginal sibling-

she of the seraphic face on doors

and oculus of this sanctuary.

They embrace in an Indian summer.

She rests in Clovelly; he in the Retz-

beech forest around Villers-Cotterets.

While, for the next six years, Lady Constance

stares out of a different window each day,

at Avon Tyrrell, but she never sees

her heart’s desire.  And so she goes to them.

She’d yearned for an Apocalyptic steed:

a pale white Pegasus which would bear her

beyond the realms of possibility,

to meet both children on the moors once more;

to laugh with gypsies; listen to birdsong.

At peace in the silence of the forest,

the sharp sting of death is now neutralised

in a temple of togetherness, lulled

by the gentle Te Deum of the bees.

Notes:

The wager refers to Manners’ father who won The Grand

National and with the proceeds of his bet, built Avon Tyrrell.

Lt Manners’ older sister died in India, of cholera and the

church is a memorial to her.

Lt Manners was an Old Etonian and other school friends lost

their lives in the same rencontre.

Avon Tyrrell had 365 windows, being a ‘calendar house’.

Permission Granted

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Image result for letter

Mr Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle, opened the parental

letter which he had insisted should be sent.

Mum will send you an e-mail, sir, Peregrine Willcox Junior had simpered.

Paper notification is what I require, child, Snod underlined.  I don’t trust

new-fangled technology for record-keeping.

Blimey! thought Peregrine-or something to that effect.

And so it was that a letter, curiously addressed in childish,

round cursive script, landed on the form desk.  There was no

accompanying apple, with, or without a resident worm.

Once the bell had rung and the boys had filed out to Assembly,

Snod took a closer look.  You will have detected a reckless dismissal

of his need to attend such ritualistic gatherings.

At least the missive did not terminate in the infamous:

Signed,

My Mother.

So… Mrs W was in the travel business.  Might be good for an upgrade.

He had heard of teachers who had taught boys who had become pilots.

Such students frequently proved to be good contacts when a favour was

required from the airlines.  He was short on such sources of beneficence.

But, no-this mother was complaining about the Gove effect.  She could not

comprehend why she could not take her offspring on holiday during

term time.

(OGL image)

Nothing much gets done in the last couple of weeks, she observed.

In your opinion, thought Snod, but in the case of your bratlet, nothing

much gets done all term.

Mrs W went on to recognise that she could face a fine of £60 per day.

She made the point that she would be saving that amount (and more)

by travelling off-peak.  She did not fear the Birnam Wood of prosecution,

nor the Dunsinane of incarceration.  She seemed to fear no man of woman

born.

Aha! reflected Snod.  Never underestimate the power of metaphor.  A wood

did come towards Dunsinane!

He anticipated the appeal to Human Rights and was not disappointed.

She quoted the CEO of a Cornish tourist board who advocated family

enrichment weeks.  Cornwall- that was where that wretched Milford-Haven

hailed from.  The Junior Master didn’t seem to have been enriched by his

upbringing down that neck of the woods. Perhaps it was the radon that

had affected him.

This woman seemed to think that Snod should turn up to teach whether

her child was in absentia or not.  She suggested that staggering the school

holidays might be a good idea.

I would be the one who would be staggering, fumed Snod.  I’m practically

a stretcher case by the end of June as it is.  When am I expected to re-

charge my batteries?  I will not utilise the ghastly phrases about losing my

mojo, or va-va-voom.  I just need to vamoose.  Preferably for eight weeks.

This out-dated long summer break is tied to our agrarian past, continued Mrs

W.  It might have made sense when children were needed to bring in the

harvest.  Things have moved on.

I wouldn’t agree with you there, Snod scowled, though mollified that she

had used a Latin based adjective.  The only interest the children of today

have in land management is an unhealthy curiosity in scything, as

demonstrated in Poldark.  It would do them a lot of good to bring in the

hay, whether the sun shone, or not.

He suddenly remembered how he had assisted the groundsman in his

school  holidays, when no one had collected him and he had not been

invited home with any chums.  He had felt abandoned like the youthful

Scrooge in Dickens’ heart-rending tale.

The summer holidays had stretched out forever.  How bitter some of his

experiences had been back then.

Suddenly he felt quite benign.  A snatch of that awful song from a

Disney film came to his mind.  Let it go!  It will be one fewer ink

exercise to mark.  He, or she, who pays the piper calls the tune.  And,

yes, Mrs W pays the school fees, whether her son attends or not.  It is

just a pity that a greater proportion of that payment doesn’t filter down

to the rats who, as in my case, are contemplating leaving the sinking

ship of Education anyway.

And was he a piper then?  He had no intention of leading his students

into a Rip van Winkle cavern.  Maybe he did induce sleep in some, especially

on a Monday morning.  That would be his drone.  Piper…drone!  Puns had

always amused him.

No, the boy could go.  What did he care?

Felicitously, Snod didn’t have to worry about what to teach in Period

One.

The woman had jolted his memory of how successful a source

Browning’s poem could be.  Now where was that copy of Narrative Verse

through the Ages?

Maybe his tolerance and compliance might be good for an upgrade after

all.  Hamelin– he didn’t think he had been there.  Maybe he and Virginia

could take a river cruise down the Weser?  He wondered if that might tie in

with the consumption of some fine German wines.  He would ask Mrs W for

advice.

No problem, Mr Snodbury.  We can arrange a Hanseatic cruise for you with

a two day Schlachte Embankment break.  Tell you what- we will throw in a

complimentary Musicians of Bremen beer garden experience at no extra

charge, in view of all that you have done for Peregrine since last year.

It wasn’t exactly Moselle and Riesling, but at least that was some of

the school hols sorted.

Beast of Bolsover II

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It was the end of the week and the St Birinus’ Middle Staff Meeting had rolled

around once more, with terrifying regularity.  The gathering was a

sacrosanct feature on the school calendar.

Mr Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master – ‘Snod‘ to all and sundry-made his

slightly tardy arrival.  Some bitchily said this was in order to achieve a

grand entrance, but Scarlett O’Hara he was not, nor even Raina from

Arms and the Man, though he DID know the original source of Shaw’s

play’s title, being a Classicist.

He knocked the door peremptorily, provoking Mr Geoffrey Poskett to

move his lithe frame which was appuyant against the staffroom exit.

Who does he think he is?  Black Rod? The Head of Music fulminated

silently.  Geoffrey had conveniently positioned himself so as to be

able to leg it over to lunch while there was a possibility of Spotted

Dick still being on the menu.

Snod directed a crushing glance in his direction and slid past him,

negotiating his path towards his favourite seat in the front bench,

correction: front row, from which he preferred to challenge The Head

Teacher, pretty much in the sarcastic manner of Dennis Skinner, MP,

in The House of Commons.

But, mehercule! Qu’est-ce-que-se-passe ici?

He whom the Junior Masters had nick-named The Beast of Bolsover II

had been supplanted.   A probationary Minister, nay, Master was

ensconced in Snod’s favourite armchair.

Image result for armchair

I think you’ll find that I had reserved that particular place, Snod

menaced, looking for the evidence of his battered and displaced

hymnal.

I didn’t realise that places could be reserved, replied the impertinent

pup.

Don’t take that particular SNP tone with me, young sir, Snod

answered.  I inherited this chair three decades ago, on the demise

of its previous incumbent, my own House Master, Mr Stickland.  It is

directly in the line of fire and consequently only for occupants of a

rebellious nature.  You, sir, have not enough experience to be able to

sabotage at the appropriate level.  Half the Junior Masters are toerags

compared to…

Kindly withdraw that pejorative remark, Mr Snodbury, commanded The

Headmaster.

He was also looking at the clock and was itching to conclude proceedings

so as to leg it to the refectory as fast as was decently possible.  Nursery

puddings-yum!  He wasn’t allowed them at home.

Snod threw his hands in the air.  All right, sir.  The other half aren’t.

The Headmaster gave up any idea of ingesting the last of the

steamed pud.

It wasn’t that Snod sought to emulate Dennis Skinner, except in that

old curmudgeon’s conscientious record for best attendance and so on.

However, Snod and the MP shared an appreciation of the importance of

Custard- Freudian slip!– Custer and his Last Stand.

Charles Marion Russell - The Custer Fight (1903).jpg

Early bath, Mr Snodbury! warned The Headmaster.  The Battle of Little

Bighorn had not even commenced.

Everyone sniggered.  The usurper, however, moved to the seat behind,

chiefly because he required the support of The Senior Master in a little

matter in which a parent had complained about the distinct lack of prep

that he had recently set and marked.

Boys to be discussed…? The Headmaster wearily inquired.

Boothroyd-Smythe, a Form Master suggested.

Everyone groaned.  The Supplanter sweated under his collar.  He knew

he was in for it.

Can you comment on this homework matter, Mr Snodbury?  The

Headmaster appealed.

Certainly, sir.  It is a matter of ‘when posh boys are in trouble they seek

to sack the servants.’

Resolved then?  Let’s go to lunch.

Collective stomachs rumbled gratefully.  Mr Poskett heard nuances of

an aleatoric symphony of  Avant-Garde music.  But then he had just been

teaching John Cage to an unresponsive bunch, so the similarity sprung

to mind.

Thereafter, The Junior Master gave place to his elder and better as

he knew that his career at St Birinus’ was entirely dependent on his

ability to extract a Get Out of Jail Free card from Mr Augustus Snodbury,

Senior Master.  And with this revelation, he joined the ranks of

faithful acolytes.

En Retard

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John Boothroyd-Smythe took his half term envelope out of his

rucksack and gave it to his mother.   This was a miracle in itself.

Usually it would fester among his rugby socks for weeks on end,

until his mother suddenly realised that she was deficient in some

vital piece of information for the following weeks.  Then she would

launch a search party to discover the whereabouts of the said

missive, which, by then, had semi-biodegraded.

A red slip fell out of the envelope.  She picked it up and

expostulated:  They’ve got another think coming!

The piece of paper was headed: En Retard! She was being fined

ten pounds as she had seemingly been late on at least three

occasions in the previous half term.  Late in picking John up

in the afternoons.

They must have got the idea from that school in the news…what was

it?  Oh yes- Henley Green in Coventry.

Don’t pay it, mum, her delinquent son advised.   Who shopped you-

Mr Milford-Haven?  He has to wait till every boy has been collected

from the yard.

Yes, that snivelling Junior Master, apparently.  That is his signature

on the form, is it not?  They’re probably trying to raise money for a

cushy new armchair in the staffroom – one into which they can sink

at the end of a particularly hard day while we parents battle through

the rush hour traffic to pick up the children that subsidise their lotos-

eating.

John concurred.  He didn’t know what lotos-eating was, but it

reminded him that he was hungry.

Well, I’m going to complain to his line manager…

John looked blank.

Mr Snodbury.  He is sure to support me in this infringement

of human decency.

John was not so confident.

Well, the old duffer is behind the times himself.  But, leave it till

tomorrow, mum.  What’s for tea?

***********************

Three times.  When?  How had it happened?

There was the Tuesday when she had had a puncture after hitting

that pothole and she had had to wait ages for the Roadside Rescue

chap.  But when else?

Oh, she remembered that she had got her shoulders stuck in a dress

that she had been trying on and had had to solicit assistance from

one of the salesgirls.  She was embarrassed as she had only had her

second best bra on.

But when was the third time?

Ah.  She had been delayed when she had been stopped for

doing thirty-five mph in a thirty zone and had had to agree to go

on a speed awareness course, or take points on her licence.  She

was being punished twice.

Mr Snodbury picked up the phone in the office of The Head’s PA, Virginia

Fisher-Giles.

Who is it? he mouthed to the silk-stockinged one.

That dreadful Boothroyd-Smythe woman, Virginia whispered.

Well, Mrs Boothroyd-Smythe, as my own venerable Housemaster

used to say: ‘Life isn’t fair’.  In fact, Mr Quentin Stickland, or ‘Stickler’

as we were wont to call him, did once address me on the matter of

timekeeping, in my days of callow youthdom.  He looked pointedly

at his pocket watch and reminded me that punctuality was- and indeed

is- the politeness of princes. And once, when I was thirty seconds late

for hymn practice, he admonished me with his personal recollection that

he had never been tardy, even throughout The General Strike of 1926,

so he could not comprehend my problem.

Gisela knew that she was on a losing wicket.

But Snod was in full reminiscence mode now.  You know, that dear old

boy was in Registration before 9am every morning, for forty-five years.

The only occasion that he didn’t quite make it was when he collapsed

outside the Form Room at 8:59 am and breathed his last.

That was when the hour hand on the school clock-tower froze, in 1962.

So, you see, Mrs Boothroyd-Smythe, your contribution, along with those

garnered from the-ah-less punctilious parents, will go some way to the

restoration of the clock, in his honour.

Who knows?  I may even have the privilege to honour his memory once

again, as I did at his first Memorial service when I recited a bowdlerised

and truncated version of his favourite poem by Marvell.  The lines about

hearing at one’s back the wings of Times’ chariot seem especially apt in

these days of casual dilatory behaviour…

But there was no back-channelled response.  At his back, Snod could only

hear the buzz of the dialling tone.

Gisela would pay up.  She just didn’t have the time, nor inclination, to

argue.

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