Snod had felt unwell and listless since Quinquagesima, or the Sunday
before Lent. He always felt depressed at the thought that someone-
God?-might expect him to deny himself in the edible line.
Most of the boys were at home, or in San, with streaming colds. He
felt that all he could do was to recline on his battered sofa for a
couple of hours till some epiphany would dazzle him with a
personally delivered illuminated manuscript announcing what
he should do next to facilitate the Transfiguration of the Ordinary.
Meanwhile, he read and re-read the letter from Diana. No, that
wasn’t the divine set of instructions, but it was miraculous all the
He placed the heart-shaped diamond ring in its plush-lined shagreen
box into his holdall and, notifying the Headmaster’s Secretary that he
was going to a relative in Bradford-on-Avon to recuperate, he
opened the door of his ancient vehicle and drove out of the school
grounds, telling himself that he wasn’t lying, since he really did have
a blood relation there: namely his newly-discovered daughter,
How fortuitous that he had booked that advanced calligraphy course
in Bath for half term. He could simply extend the number of nights
that he required accommodation and would create a longer break. It
was the perfect alibi. Mind you, why should he need an alibi when
he wasn’t doing anything wrong?
This Catholic guilt is getting to me, he thought. I prefer Low Church.
They don’t deny themselves so much.
He had texted Diana and they had arranged to have lunch at The
Longs Arms, South Wraxall, just outside Bradford-on-Avon. Thank
goodness he wasn’t an abstainer in the Lenten tradition, for the
menu looked mouth-wateringly enticing.
That was the plan, if only he could find his way there. Diana had said
that Drusilla would stay at home, in order to give them privacy to talk
about the intervening years since they had last met.
He loved the name and thought about the semantic fun he could
have had with the boys, teasing them as to whether Long should
have a final ‘s’ or not, or whether an apostrophe came into it.
He was suddenly aware that he had driven over the narrow bridge
in Bradford three times and had still not seen a sign for South Wraxall.
He might have to twist the long-longs-ha!arm of the law to direct him.
But there was never a constable around when you wanted him.
(It didn’t even occur to Snod that he restricted his thoughts to a generic
Or if you did see one, you had probably taught him in 1976 and
knew his intellectual limitations.
He was going to be late. What if she thought that he had stood her
up? He had driven a very circuitous route and stumbled upon Lower
Wraxall. Stopping and winding down his window, for there was no
electric system in his jalopy, he addressed a tractor driver politely
and asked if he was near his destination.
The farmer looked puzzled and said that he had never heard of it.
Snod was beginning to panic. He had no satellite navigation system
either, usually trusting to a map, but, for some reason, there wasn’t
one in the driver’s door. He must have removed it when he had the
car valeted at Christmas. He would never purchase anything so
vulgar as a sat nav. It sounded like a Cockney Rhyming slang for
the abbreviation of a water closet.
Thanking the man nevertheless, he set off down a very
narrow lane, hoping against hope that he would arrive there
serendipitously, or would encounter a signed junction.
Yes, he was actually there in a few minutes. How could the farmer
not have recognised the name of a village about a mile away? Surely
nowadays they go on package holidays all over the globe and get a
neighbour to cover the lambing or harvest, or whatever. Mind you,
that particular example had looked a little, how could he say this and
remain PC?- inbred. He felt he should deny himself for such a sinful
thought but decided that the penalty should definitely not be related
to anything comestible.
He would wear that scratchy jumper later in the week- the one that
his great-aunt had knitted him for Christmas. It could double as a
hair shirt. Nothing too punishing- he wasn’t a Roman, after all. He
preferred to adapt the Pauline concept to his own agenda: sin a little
bit more to avail himself of free grace! And if that was
Antinomianism, well, it was a lot cheerier.
He parked behind the pub and, smoothing what was left of his once
wiry curls, he checked his Windsor knot and rubbed his sweaty palms
on his corduroys. He licked his wrist and smelled his saliva and
entered by the rear door, as if he hadn’t the self-esteem to use
anything other than the tradesmen’s entrance.
She was standing in the narrow corridor, down from the Ladies’
Room, affecting to study the sepia photos of Wraxall in days gone by.
She turned round. He’d have known her anywhere.
Drat! He’d left the roses in the flat.