Half-term was supposed to be relaxing, but it wasn’t for Nigel-Milford-Haven,
Junior Master at St Birinus Middle School. He was firmly under the iron rod of
his mother, who had compelled him to complete his decoration of her Cornish
bungalow’s bathroom, with the force of the estate manager in the parable
who issued the wedding invitations that couldn’t be refused, on pain of
damnation. Even then, those invited could and did make excuses, but this
was not a viable option for Nigel, as Judgement would have begun there and
then and the mouth of Hell would have opened on the telephone.
Nigel felt like adopting as his patron St Jude, he who supports Lost Causes,
but he could not serve two masters: he was a committed devotee of a
different saint at the moment and he could only serve one master and one
mistress at this particular time. He had prayed to be excused, but Jude had
only confirmed that he should bend to the will of She Who Must Be Obeyed.
Even St Birinus had been a bit of a dead loss in his experience over the term.
Nigel supposed that he ought to have been grateful to the aforementioned
one for, at least, granting him a job, but sometimes he considered it a
As he rollered the ceiling he practised his rapid-fire delivery of consonants, to
gain fluency for his Christmas concert eponymous role in Britten’s St Nicolas.
Copper-bottomed coffee pot, he pronounced over and over again.
Copper-fottomed botty-pot! No..
Nigel! What are you blethering on about?
Nothing, mum. Copper-pottomed boffy-cot!
There’s your tea. I thought you’d have been finished by now.
Damned with no praise. Not even the faint variety. Nothing changed
over the years. No wonder he had a tendency to low self-esteem, which
the boys picked up on all too easily.
He supposed it had left him with a legacy akin to humility which might help
him in the convincing portrayal of a saint. But he bet that Nicolas had never
been so sorely tried and that he had never been cajoled into painting his
mother’s ceiling, to her exacting standard, in his well-earned school holidays.
Frankly, he thought that it had been nothing short of miraculous that he had
not tipped the paint pot over her head. He could have explained the action
away with a reference to Martin Luther’s casting of an ink pot at a demon’s
head. Perhaps. As it was , he was practically served up a diet of worms,
the maternal cuisine not being up to the divine Delia or the meretricious
Mary Berry. Oh, for the canteen of St Birinus!
Only three days left and he still hadn’t conquered that tendency to go flat on a
downward phrase. Geoffrey Poskett had kept raising his finger at him in
rehearsal, which Nigel had, at first, thought was a crude signal that something
was amiss, but which was later explained to him was the time-honoured gesture
to indicate that more diaphragm support was needed.
If only he had retained Snod’s old Panama to keep the spatters off his face,
but he despaired of ever keeping his mother out of his hair!