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Nigel Milford-Haven sighed as he painted the bathroom ceiling of his mother’s

Cornish bungalow.  He supposed that White With a Hint of Asparagus

complemented her Seventies avocado bath ensemble. Probably retro lovers

would die for a suite like that, but he preferred a clean white Shanks.

Sweat was dripping into his eyes as he used the roller, so he had utilised

the battered Panama which Augustus Snodbury had carelessly left behind

at the seemingly interminable Monteverdi concert he had attended the

previous week.

Nigel intended to produce it with a flourish to the ageing schoolmaster on

their return to St Birinus Middle School at the start of term, but now he had

managed to decorate it with a few paint drips and he wasn’t sure whether

turps would remove them, or would turn the whole item of headgear into a

sort of mushy papier mache mould, redolent of some rare rainforest bird’s


His wretched mother came in from time to time to inspect the progress.  She

gave him a running commentary on how well other members of their family

were doing and subjected him to lengthy panegyrics concerning the academic

success of his nieces and nephews.  He counted the seconds until she would

commence on her eternal theme as to why he did not have a girlfriend.

This focussed his thoughts on Drusilla.  He wondered if she was

experiencing a similar trial, in that she had been burdened with two parents

this summer.  Would Snod still be hanging around, or would he have moved

on? Not in any transcendental fashion, he corrected himself.  For indeed, Mr

Augustus Snodbury had never been concerned by the vagaries of style and

la mode.  Some men would sport a Panama with a degree of loucheness,

affecting the pose of a lounge lizard who finds himself inadvertently thrust

like a mad dog into the midday sun. But Gus merely donned his particular

straw hat as a shade against contracting any of these nasty scabs which

seemed to irritate his pate and which his GP said were caused by too much

exposure to UVB rays- or was it UVA?  In any case, he wasn’t taking the risk.

Nigel climbed down the ladder, anticipating a cup of tea.  As he stepped off the

final rung, he noticed that the post had arrived and stooped to pick up one or

two letters-mostly junk mail.  To his surprise, he recognised the handwriting of

the school secretary, who had re-directed a postcard which had been

addressed to him. His heart leapt when he saw that it was from Drusilla.  It

featured a chateau- Sully-sur-Loire- and in French was printed the phrase:

Jumelee Avec Bradford-on-Avon, which might explain why they were there.

Dear Nigel,

Having a wonderful time and the parents both in good form.  Something to do

with the house wines?!

Unfortunately Daddy- (!)-has had some sort of sunstroke, so wondered if you

could retrieve his favourite hat and bring it back to school?  He was so

absorbed in the lovely music that he left it on his seat at the interval and,

as you know, we had to rush off as we had left something in the oven.

Thank you so much,

Drusilla Fotheringay.

Hmm, analysed Nigel.  No ‘wish you were here’.

Then he took off the hat and panicked.  How could he return it in that state?

I told you to wear my shower cap, Nige.  Oh, who sent you the postcard?

I do hope it is from a girlfriend..and his mother handed him a china mug, while

simultaneously inspecting his day’s oeuvre.

I doubt it, said Nigel ruefully.  How all things do conspire against me.

Nonsense, retorted his mother.  It’s just a matter of making a bit more effort.

That’s what your school reports always used to say, didn’t they? You just

need to get out and about a bit more.  I’ve got us two tickets for that opera

you were banging on about.  You might meet a nice girl like that Katherine

Jenkins there.

Katherine Jenkins - Live 2011 (39).jpg

What-Carmen? Nigel was really surprised.  But I’ve got nothing to wear!

He wasn’t entirely sure that Katherine Jenkins was all that his mother

supposed.  Sometimes the mater was not such a good judge of character

as she thought.  Probably she was getting the singer mixed up with

Kathleen Ferrier. More her era.

As to character analysis, Snod usually nailed a miscreant in one damning


Nigel tried to rein in his wandering thoughts.

You can wear your father’s linen jacket It was a bit crumpled when you

brought it down from the attic in that old suitcase I asked you to carry, but I

ironed it and the smell of mothballs is not too bad now that I’ve aired it. You

can throw that old thing out, she said, snatching the flattened mess on his

head and putting it in the kitchen bin.  Dismissing his protestation, as if it

was an irritating boy who had finished a rather late detention, she added:

There’s a practically unused hat of your father’s, identical to that one, in the

black sack.  I was going to give it to the charity shop, but you might as well

have it.

And no one was more surprised than Mrs Milford-Haven when her somewhat

reserved son hugged her and danced her round the ladder, humming the

Toreador song.