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Mr Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster of St Birinus Middle School, was over-

excited as usual.  It was almost the end of September and he had given a

great deal of consideration- mainly in the wee sma’ hours-to the

programme for his showcase Christmas term concert.

Greetings, chaps and chapesses! he enthused. (Several singers groaned.)

Welcome to the parents and staff who are supporting the boys in the end of

term concert.  I am delighted to announce that we will be performing Britten’s

Ceremony of Carols and St Nicolas. If ever there was an accessible

programme, then this is it.  Now I know that you will be wondering who the

soloists are going to be and I can announce that the youngest boy in the

choir will be the youthful Nicolas, as is traditional..

Here some parents looked as if they were about to vote with their feet, as

they had assumed that their mini Peter-Pears-in-the-Making was going to

land the eponymous role.

Peter Pears publicity photo 1971 crop.png

In fact, John Boothroyd-Smythe might have been a good choice as he

had nerves of steel, but his voice was about to break.

Geoffrey couldn’t imagine the latter springing from his mother’s womb, singing

God be glorified!‘  He had tried to keep the delinquent on board, but when he

had offered him the part of the final member of the trio of pickled boys,

Timothy, Mark and John, the ingrate scornfully replied, Who wants to be a

singing sausage?

The answer to that was none of the boys, particularly, but all of their parents

were gagging for them to be chosen and were ready to literally sacrifice their

darlings, whether they were to be actually preserved in brine or not, for the

sake of a favourable mention in a review in the school magazine.

John’s rudeness had earned him a detention with Mr Snodbury.  When he saw

the on-duty master reach into his briefcase for a quick snifter from what looked

suspiciously like a hip flask, John felt that the old boy would have been first

rate as a pickled adult.

John’s interpretation of the boys as Frankfurters, or chipolatas, en vinaigrette,

was somewhat literal.

Geoffrey had bitten back a comment to the effect that the role of

metamorphosed, or resurrected bratwurst would be highly appropriate for

such a pupil as himself.

Some of the semi-professional male instrumentalist members of staff who had

turned up to lead the Junior String Orchestra had been hoping for an elevation

from the ranks and  longed for a recognition of their solo tenor voices.  In

short, they wondered if one of their cohort might land the part of the adult


And so it came as a surprise when Poskett announced that Mr Nigel

Milford-Haven was going to sing the role of the saint, in view of his

enhanced experience which had been finely tuned– ahem!( he was aware

of his own pun) at the Bath Monteverdi workshop over the summer.

Nepotism! muttered one of the viola players, but that was to be expected

from a musician in their section.

Over tea in the staffroom the following day, Nigel raised the subject very

casually with Mr Snodbury as he stood in line to choose a biscuit from the

hostess trolley. He mentioned that he had been elected to sing the part of

the Bishop of Lycra.

Snod looked at him as if he was a first former and corrected him: Lyra, sir! 

Lyra! He then snaffled the last Bourbon biscuit, which Nigel had been eyeing

throughout the conversation. Still, he couldn’t have everything, he supposed.

Cup of tea and bourbon biscuit.jpg

Lyra, yes, of course, that’s what I meant to say, he stuttered.  Yes, it’s a

marvellous piece and the eighth movement is so homophobic.

Snod put half of the biscuit in his mouth and sprayed Nigel with a cascade of

dark brown crumbs:  Homophonic, you ass! 

He was clearly not having a good day.

Nigel considered reporting the Senior Master to the union representative

and fantasised about receiving enormous damages for his loss of self-esteem

and injured feelings, but to complain might mean that his stellar role would

be endangered and it was too important to risk that.

I heard the parental chorus sang the Old Hundredth fairly competently, Snod

remarked, as if nothing untoward had been voiced.

Yes, sir!  He was relieved that he was on surer footing now and sat down

beside Snod in an ingratiating manner which irritated the eminence grise.

The boys enjoyed the part where Nicolas is enjoying his bath, he volunteered.

Snod had heard that there had been one or two sniggers at this point.

We rehearsed the section where the bewildered mothers were looking for

their lost sons.  They assumed that the ‘wurst’ had happened.

Nigel congratulated himself on a very good joke, but Snod ignored it.

There’s a plethora of that type of female in the school yard, I always find.

Snod drained his tea in one-a practice he had perfected over many a break.

I don’t suppose Poskett was other than spoilt for choice. I hear he gave

the parts to the pushiest ones as usual.

I don’t know about that, Nigel practised being pontifically diplomatic, if that

wasn’t an oxymoron- ie/ he tried to sit firmly on the fence on any thorny


I expect that you can relate to the sixth movement, as can we all, mused


How so, sir?

Isn’t it a description of the barren years of incarceration? Snod said wryly.

Still, everyone gets their Nunc Dimittis in the end.

He was hoping for his very soon.  Pension! God be glorified!  But you will have

to wait much longer for yours, won’t you, under the new government

regulations?  Never mind- God moves in a mysterious way.  Maybe you will win

the lottery, if you say your prayers.  You should buy a ticket in our

consortium. A tenner a month, that’s all.

Is that Camelot? asked Nigel who was somewhat otherworldly regarding such

vices and, in that respect, made more of a a convincing saint than any other

member of staff.

Camelot? repeated Geoffrey, who had only three minutes of break left, having

collected his large bundle of hate mail from his pigeon hole, all protesting about

his casting skills. Oh, there’s no Bourbons left!  He looked devastated.

Camelot! Now there’s a good summer musical for you, suggested Snodbury,

rising from his club chair. I once sang the role of King Arthur many moons ago,

but I leave you my musical mantle, Milford-Haven.  Even Elijah had to divest

himself of his garment so that the young Elisha could grow into his sandals.

Gentlemen, adieu!

And though there was no rushing wind or cloud of unknowing, he cast a

cursory glance at his empty pigeon hole and left humming:

Don’t let it be forgot

That once there was a spot

For one brief, shining moment

That was known as Camelot..

And Geoffrey and Nigel had to admit that there was a deal of musicality left

in the old dog yet!  In fact, there was even a look of the young Richard Burton

in his profile- or was it Richard Harris?  Both were before their time.